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An Interview with Helena Hoayun upon receiving an offer of representation.

10/19/2019

Helena Hoayun (hhoayun on QT) has signed with agent Uwe Stender of Triada US Literary Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
My novel is a YA Fantasy about a monk who leads ghosts to the afterlife and a blacksmith who wants to resurrect her sister -- the only girl who can stop a sudden onslaught of demons. Even though I started writing it back in autumn of 2018, the first inkling of an idea came to me after I graduated college in 2015. When I moved back home, one of the first things I did was play Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening on Gameboy Color (for the thousandth time). That sparked the initial inspiration. The story formed more so after I read Garth Nix's Sabriel and Laini Taylor's Strange the Dreamer, and I think I realized I had a new story on my hands while I was playing Breath of the Wild. So a bunch of things inspired me!
How long have you been writing?
Ooh, tough question to answer. Forever? I've been writing since I was a kid. Again, making my way back to Link's Awakening, I used to write Legend of Zelda fan fiction. They were essentially little coloring books with pictures and a bit of dialogue. I also had a ton of fan fiction for Pokémon and Teen Titans. The first novel-length manuscript I wrote was in the summer between freshman and sophomore year of high school. It was approximately 360 pages, written long-hand in composition notebooks, and it was essentially a Harry Potter rip off. I wrote a trilogy for that before I realized I should write something totally original. Long story short, I've written 6 full manuscripts (excluding revisions) before my current YA Fantasy.
How long have you been working on this book?
In terms of plotting and actual writing, just over a year. But like I said earlier, ideas started forming way back in 2015.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
YES. Oh my goodness, YES. The last manuscript before this current one nearly made me quit writing altogether. I wanted to publish that last one, so I worked really hard on it, but I had never gone through revising before. Not really. I used to just write one draft and move on, but that last one was the first time I tried to edit. It ruined me. I didn't understand how to do it. I couldn't part with scenes that I loved even though they weren't working. I fell into a bad depression because I felt like I was an awful writer for not being able to fix my work. I thought I'd have to sell my soul and write completely for the market. It was crushing. After reading Strange the Dreamer and realizing I didn't have to conform to anyone's standards but my own, I decided to set that last manuscript aside and try writing my current one. Best decision of my life. I was lucky to have my boyfriend's encouragement through all of it. He really kept me from giving up. Also, reading about my favorite authors' struggles and triumphs helped me understand that it's natural to feel the way that I did.
Is this your first book?
Nope! Seventh at this point (if we're only counting full-length novels).
Do you have any formal writing training?
Yes. I have a B.A. in Editing, Writing, and Media. I also took a few creative writing classes during college.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
Hmm, yes and no? I tried doing the "write 2,000 words every day" routine and ended up fluffing scenes. It was pointless for me. I also tried not editing my manuscript as I wrote, and that didn't work for me either. So I kind of just go with what I'm feeling. Sometimes I am able to write every evening at the same time for several weeks straight. But then something in me changes and I'm no longer able to do that, so I need to wake up at 5 am and get the writing done that way. It varies constantly.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Well, my current Word doc is labeled "Fantasy Edit 6," so there you have it. In all honesty, I did several chunk edits in each of those drafts, so it's probably more than that. And don't get me started on how many times I redid my first chapter. 20 times? 50?
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Absolutely! I was hesitant at first because I am a super introvert and am horrible at putting myself out there to ask for help. Luckily, some people found me on critique match ups and Goodreads and Twitter, so I now have a wonderful support system of beta readers and critique partners. My sisters and boyfriend also read my novels, and I know everyone says don't count family as beta readers, but to be quite frank, that's awful advice. My sisters read widely in the genres I like to write, so I trust their opinion. They're also incredibly brutal and honest with their critiques, so that helps. And my boyfriend is my cheerleader (which we all need in beta readers sometimes!), but he is super smart, so I always go to him for mechanics and whether things are working realistically in my story.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I tried pantsing before, and it did not go well. So I normally outline. Sometimes I have a scene in my head that flows naturally, so I'll just go ahead and write it without an outline. It's a bit of a mix, with me mostly outlining the major plot points and allowing myself to be creative in certain scenes. In general, I need to map out the beginning and end so that I know what I'm working towards.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
This is my first time querying. I started in June after PitMad and received a full request less than 24 hours later. I'm not going to lie, I kind of shrugged it off because I thought that was the norm. I definitely came in with a humongous head and feel incredibly humbled after all of the rejections I received. Towards the end of summer, I decided to rewrite my query and first chapter again after I received a particularly painful rejection. And I'm so glad I did because I ended up with 20 full requests after that, 6 of which were offers. So in the end, I only queried for roughly 4 months, though it felt much longer than that.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I sent out a total of 57 queries, but I know there are some writers who've amassed 100+ rejections, so in that regard, I consider myself fortunate.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I made sure the agents I queried represented fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and other genres I might be interested in pursuing. I also made sure they (or someone in their agency) represented MG, YA, and Adult, as I know I'll want to traverse those other categories eventually. However, halfway through querying, I accumulated about 200 agents on my master list. Honestly, that was a bit ridiculous because not everyone I jotted down was someone I would want to work with. I was just getting desperate. So I'd advise against querying every agent under the sun, as not everyone will be a good fit (even if it seems like it on the surface).
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Definitely. I did PitMad again in September and made sure to add that to my personalization if they liked my pitch. I also had a couple editors from a big publishing house like my pitch, so I mentioned that as well. But for traditional cold querying, I made sure to research MSWL, Twitter, agency websites, etc. to see what the agents were interested in. And I always added that tiny bit to my query letter.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Someone once told me that it only takes one yes. At first, I thought that was true. But it really takes one "right" yes. Make sure you query agents you actually have an interest in working with. If you receive an offer from someone you truly don't want to work with, DO NOT ACCEPT THAT OFFER, even if it's the only one on the table. No agent is better than a "bad" one (or in other words, someone with whom you won't be able to cultivate a good relationship). You need someone who has a genuine interest in your career. Don't get blinded by fancy sales numbers. Don't get starry-eyed over the size or popularity of their agency. If something feels off during the phone call, go with your gut and don't enter into a bad partnership. Along the same lines, if someone does offer and you aren't happy with them, don't nudge other agents about your offer. I received a ton of rejections that were basically "I really love your story and writing, but can't finish by your deadline." Just tell the offering agent that you aren't interested (politely, of course). That way, you won't let a bunch of great agents slip through your fingers.