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An Interview with Swati Hegde upon receiving an offer of representation.

06/11/2022

Swati Hegde (swatithegeek on QT) has signed with agent Rachel Beck of Liza Dawson Associates.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
My book is a desi rom-com, set in Mumbai, inspired by Jane Austen's EMMA. I've always been a huge Austen fan, and the idea for this came when I realized there are very few desi Austen retellings set in India. I also love writing about love and relationships, so the matchmaker element from the original EMMA drew me in.
How long have you been writing?
Oh, since I was a wee 7-year-old! I started by writing cringey MG and YA fantasy scrawled in the pages of notebooks, but seriously started considering a career in writing about 6 years ago, when I graduated college.
How long have you been working on this book?
I finished the first draft in March 2021. My agent at the time did not connect with this book (she signed me for a different rom-com), and we ultimately parted ways. I started querying again in September 2021 and signed with my now-agent in June 2022!
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Oh, countless times. Querying in 2021/2022 is harder than ever, and with every rejection, whether on a full, partial, or query, I felt like maybe my first time being agented was a fluke. It was my loved ones and critique partners who kept me going. They had faith in me even when I had lost all hope.
Is this your first book?
Nope, it's actually the 6th book I've queried!
Do you have any formal writing training?
No, but I'm a freelance copy editor by day, and I work on manuscripts and query letters for a living. I also interned with Hachette India briefly in 2018.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I'm most productive before 3 pm, so I get all my writing done before that. But I don't push it if the words don't come. There's always tomorrow!
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
A few times. After feedback from my beta readers and critique partners, I queried the third draft of this book, but I did not revise at all once I started querying. My draft was the same throughout the 9 months I was in the query trenches.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I usually write without outlines, but since this is a retelling, I had to outline most of it to make sure it follows the plot and themes of Austen's EMMA. It was surprisingly easy to be a plotter for a change!
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I queried this book for 9 months, but I've been in and out of the trenches since 2018 with 6 books total (including this one). I found rep with the 5th book as well, but the agent and I parted ways a year later.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I sent about 130 queries across US and UK agencies, and I received 50-something full requests.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
1st, they MUST rep adult romance. The agent OR their agency must have solid sales in fiction, if not romance. They must have shown interest in championing diverse voices, since I am a woman of color. I don't have a Publishers Marketplace account, so I gathered this info from the agency website, Twitter, and agent interviews. QT was very helpful in this regard!
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
I didn't force a personalization for every query, but I tailored it when I could. Like if my book matched their MSWL, I would mention it not just in the query letter but also the subject line. If the agent liked retellings of classics, I would make sure "Austen Retelling" was in my subject line. If they were hungry for diverse romance, I'd put "BIPOC/Desi Romance" so it would catch their eye right away.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Rejection is JUST redirection! If you get rejected, it simply means that agent wasn't the right fit for you, and trust me, you want someone who is madly in love with your writing and its potential, not just someone who kinda-sorta enjoyed your book. It's better to be unagented than have the wrong agent, so do your due diligence.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Here it is!

Dear [AGENT],

Jia Deshpande has the perfect life: a loving family, check; a writing job with India's biggest dating magazine, check; an anonymous relationship blog that gets thousands of weekly views, check! The final item on her to-do list? Become India's best millennial matchmaker.

After successfully setting up not one, but two women with their future husbands, Jia sets her sights on her next project: plain-Jane newbie journalist Charu with the hottie from work. The only obstacle in her path to matchmaker-stardom is her cynical family friend Jaiman, better known as the apple of her dad's eye, an overall pain in the ass, and the only person she's ever been attracted to. Not that she'd admit it to him.

Jaiman Patil has always had just one dream: run a successful pub in Mumbai. But the bills are stacking up and profits are dwindling, and he has to do whatever it takes to keep J's Pub afloat. Especially once his arch-nemesis from culinary school starts his own pub next door and catches not just the pubgoers' attention, but also Jia's—the woman Jaiman has (secretly) loved for years now.

When Jia's matchmaking goes haywire, breaking a string of hearts along the way and pulling Jaiman into the mess, she realizes there's a lot more to love than she thought—especially when it comes to her own life.

[BOOK TITLE] is a desi romantic comedy set in Mumbai, pitched as a contemporary take on Jane Austen's EMMA with vibes of SET IT UP and HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU, complete at 75,000 words. It is written in dual POVs and also features snippets from Jia's anonymous blog.