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Let’s Get Lit Book Fest|| #AsianWeek Author Interviews with 6 amazing authors

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Hello everyone! I am so excited today to bring to you’ll the amazing Author Interviews for the #AsianWeek for the Let’s Get Lit Book Fest!

The Let’s Get Lit Online Book Fest is a six week long online event to celebrate and highlight debut and marginalised authors with books coming out this year. You can find out more about the fest on our official Twitter page here and our Instagram page here.

This week, I will be hosting  Asian authors along with Lili @ Utopia State of Mind and Noura @ The Perks of Being Noura. You can check our blogs throughout this week as we’ll be hosting interviews, a panel and a showcase with amazing Asian authors this week.

Today, I’ll be bringing to you” a panel interview with six amazing authors!! Today on the blog we have Rin Chupeco, Lori M.Lee, Swati Teerdhala, Lyla Lee, June Hur and Prerna Pickett!

You can check out the Author showcase HERE and the Book showcase HERE

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1. Please introduce yourselves and explain what experience you have in the writing industry.

Rin Chupeco: My name is Rin Chupeco, YA author! My first book was THE GIRL FROM THE WELL, published back in 2014, and I’ve been writing ever since. Before that, I worked as a tech writer for a telecommunications service, and also wrote for travel publications from 2008-2010!

Lori M. Lee: Hi! I’m Lori, author of the forthcoming YA fantasy FOREST OF SOULS. My debut book, GATES OF THREAD AND STONE, released back in 2014, followed by the sequel THE INFINITE in 2015 and several short stories in anthologies in between. I’ve been around for so long that I can say I participated as a mentor in the very first Pitch Wars way back in 2012!

Swati Teerdhala: Hi! I’m Swati Teerdhala and I’m the author of The Tiger at Midnight trilogy. The first book, The Tiger at Midnight is out now in hardcover and paperback, and book 2, The Archer at Dawn, will be out May 26th!

Lyla Lee: Hi! My name is Lyla Lee. I’m the author of the Mindy Kim series as well as the upcoming YA novel, I’ll Be the One (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, coming out next month!). Inspired by my English teacher, I started writing my own stories in fourth grade and finished my first novel at the age of fourteen. I spent the next eight years in the querying trenches and, while studying Psychology and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, I worked various jobs in Hollywood. I got my literary agent shortly after graduating from college and sold my books two years after that. When I’m not writing, I’m teaching kids, petting cute dogs, and searching for the perfect bowl of shaved ice.

June Hur: My name is June Hur and I was born in South Korea, raised in Canada, and studied History and Literature at the University of Toronto. I’m the author of THE SILENCE OF BONES, a YA historical mystery set in Joseon Dynasty-era Korea. It was recently selected by the American Booksellers Association as one of the top debuts of Winter/Spring 2020.

Prerna Pickett: Hi, I’m Prerna Pickett. My debut young adult contemporary romance, If You Only Knew, is about a boy recently released from jail and the daughter the prosecutor who put him away and how they fall for each other against the odds. It released February 11th of this year.

2. What’s something about the publishing industry that you wish you knew when you first started out?

Rin Chupeco: That books aren’t promoted evenly across the board. There are some amazing books that will thrive despite a lack of marketing, and there are books that will be successful regardless because of the immense marketing campaign behind them, and that there are excellent books that fall to the wayside because they’re not given the same budget as others. I think I was fairly lucky with my own books considering everything, but there’s this assumption outside of the industry that the only requirement for books to make a success of it is for them to be good, but that’s only one factor. There’s how much money thrown behind a book to keep it visible, there’s a lot of guessing on what future ‘trends’ would be genre-wise, and there’s also a bit of luck, like if you just happen to hit the market with the right book at the right time, which is difficult to do because no one is really quite sure whether the timing is good or not until it happens and you start seeing the results.

Lori M. Lee:  Success is often as much about timing and luck as it is a compelling book. That’s just kind of the nature of the business. So many books come out that it’s impossible for all of them to break out. Marketing dollars have to be allocated. While the creative process can be magical and deeply personal, the actual publishing part is a business, and it can be easy to forget that because we pour so much of ourselves into our books.

Swati Teerdhala: The publishing industry, more than many other industries, is slow. Things don’t move particularly fast in publishing for a variety of reasons. It’s really important to develop the muscle of patience and to take the time to understand why something might be taking longer. Or to realize it’s all out of your control! I highly recommend the latter, haha.

Lyla Lee: I definitely wish I knew that finding success in the industry is a marathon, not a race. Especially as a teenager, I was so focused on “how soon” I would get published and on how fast I finished my books. This led me to send books to agents that were only line-edited rather than full on revised. Despite the fact that I queried agents since I was 14, don’t think I properly learned how to revise and rewrite my books until I was writing papers and workshopping screenplays in college. I was also always “in a rush” to get published, which sucked the joy out of the journey and the craft for me. Publishing is also highly subjective and so much of your success depends on timing and luck. You have no idea when you’ll get where you want to go (if you ever do!), so the best thing you, the writer, can do in the meantime is keep putting your best work out there and continually take care of yourself so you are in this for the long haul.

June Hur: Back when I was querying, I focused so much on getting published that I put life on hold, neglecting my social life, my mental and physical health. I told myself that I’d live life again once I landed an agent. But now as a published author I realize that this way of thinking becomes a habit that’s hard to break out of. You end up getting busier once published, and it’s so much easier to tell yourself, “I’m going to neglect so-and-so until I get this work done.” But the work never ends if you want to pursue publishing as a career! So I wish I’d learned early on how important it is to find a hobby other than writing, and how crucial it is to enjoy life and practice self-care whatever your circumstance—whether unagented or agented, published or not, etc. 

Prerna Pickett: That you will write queries and synopses for the rest of your career! It’s never ending! And that rejection is still possible after getting a book deal and is very normal! Make sure you’re always working on the next thing.

3. Do you have any challenges you’ve faced, personally or professionally, in the industry that you’d like to vocalize?

Rin Chupeco: Oh, there’s a lot! Aside from being POC, there’s that added layer of “You’re not even American, what makes you think you’re as good an English writer as one?” that I’ve had to deal with early on, though that criticism has decreased substantially with every book I write. I haven’t had to deal with this particular problem with agents or publishers (though I’ve been asked to whitewash my characters once), because a lot of the criticism came mainly from readers and other authors. (Of course, this is their opinion and something you really can’t do much about, anyway!) I believe that there’s a lot of excellent authors in the Philippines, but since we’re not known as a nation of writers (of English, at least), there’s that assumption that our writing is somehow of lesser quality, and that’s something I’ve always tried my best to work to prove wrong.

Swati Teerdhala: One of the things I’ve faced is the idea that all Indian-Americans are the same and their experiences are the same. More specifically, I’ve definitely come across people within the industry who have a “Highlander” mentality, aka there can only be one Indian author. Typically it’s not even that specific. It’s only one South Asian of any kind. And I’ve actually had this said/communicated to me directly. Which is frustrating! I’m Indian-American but if I’m being precise, I’m South Indian, Telugu, and Hindu. My identity has depths. Many people assume that being Indian-American is a monolith and/or we all speak the same languages at home, eat the same food, and have the same traditions. It’s frustrating of course, but it can also be demoralizing to hear from the industry that they only want one version of your culture and stories.

Lyla Lee: As a queer Asian American writer who often writes about my race, culture, sexuality, and other personal themes, I definitely got a lot of “I can’t relate with this story” from publishing professionals and other people who read my books (I still do!). The industry is unfortunately still very white and heteronormative, so it’s definitely harder for POC and/or queer writers to get their work out there.

June Hur: The challenges I’ve faced are more personal, in that as a history enthusiast, I really value historical accuracy. Yet being a diaspora Korean means that I lack the knowledge that Koreans born and raised and educated in Korea might have, and this becomes a barrier with my research. I knew I might end up missing details required to be accurate, and when it comes to historicals, history buffs can be brutal—so the fear or making a mistake was a reason why I initially hesitated about writing a Korean historical. But in the end, I realized that it’s better to make small errors than avoid the work of writing the book you wished you’d read as a teen: a book written in English about someone who looks like you, a book about the history of your homeland that you grew up disconnected from, but wish you had more connection to. 

Prerna Pickett: Thus far in my publishing journey my experience has been positive. The only challenge I’ve faced is with myself and my own insecurities when it comes to writing authentic Indian characters. As an immigrant I often feel unqualified when creating characters with my background, but I’ve learned to push past all of those little voices in my head that tell me I’m not good enough. My stories are needed, they’re authentic, and they are relatable. I do have friends whose experiences have been less than stellar. If that’s the case for you, please remember to be your own advocate and find yourself people who will support you and stand up for you when challenges arise.

4. Did you come across any surprises in the making of your book?

Rin Chupeco: I was fairly surprised at how much of myself I put into my books without knowing until after the fact, especially when I tend to be very private offline. When I wrote THE GIRL FROM THE WELL, for example, I’d initially just wanted to write a psychological horror story through the point of view of a creepy Sadako-esque character, and didn’t realize how much of my own rage and anger I wound up putting there, and that eventually became a theme with many other books, especially with THE BONE WITCH series. I’ve also written some personal, more vulnerable things about myself that I definitely didn’t expect to add, like trauma and PTSD and grief, and it wound up being cathartic for me, because having those shared traits is also how I was able to understand my own characters and write them better.

Lori M. Lee: Maybe the biggest surprise was that the book became something I realized I would have loved when I was a teenager. I know we always say things like “write the book you want to read” but this became the book I would have NEEDED. Asian characters in a medieval-type fantasy? As the heroes?! Teen!Lori desperately needed to know that she belonged in those kinds of stories because even as fantasy found a place in her heart, she never quite found her place in fantasy. Forest of Souls is me giving other diaspora teens that place.

Swati Teerdhala: So many! Writing is a different beast than publishing. Publishing is a business at the end of the day and through the process of my first book, I learned so much about what and how things are prioritized within houses, how to advocate for yourself, and also, that making a book happen is hard work and there are so many amazing people who make it happen.

Lyla Lee:I think I was the most surprised by the response, both in and out of the industry, to my books. Both the Mindy Kim series and I’ll Be the One are very specific books that are highly personal to me and my background, experiences, etc. I spent a lot of time working on both projects thinking that no one would want to read them. I’m pleasantly surprised and very grateful that this has not been the case.

June Hur: I was surprised by how many edit rounds were involved in the publication of a book!

Prerna Pickett:  I had no experience working with an editor before and I was surprised by how extensive the process was. Revising is hard enough, but editing is a whole different level. You really have to keep track of what changes you’re making and where you’re making them and how it will impact the rest of your book. The editing process is also a joint effort and it’s really important to be on the same page as your editor. And remember not to be scared to talk to your editor! They’re there to help you!

5. Do you know any helpful facts about the industry common writers might not know about?

Rin Chupeco: Most often assume that you need to be in the United States to be published there, and that’s not the case. That’s the most common question I receive – people express astonishment when they learn that I live in the Philippines, and they assume that where you live has a lot of bearing about whether or not agents and publishers will treat you seriously. While there are always going to be a few exceptions – I have had my own experiences with those, and had heard even worse horror stories from friends – agents and publishers are always on the lookout for good books, and for the most part whether or not you are an American citizen has little to do with it. As I mentioned above though, it’s also people adjacent to the industry that can sometimes be the bad eggs, and I do want people to come into this career forewarned about this.

Lori M. Lee: We have so little control over our covers, which is something that always surprises people. I was EXTREMELY fortunate in that my publisher’s design team wanted my input and didn’t settle until we were all happy with it. But that’s not always the case. Oftentimes, an author will be shown their cover once it’s finished and have very little say in how it develops or the final product.

Swati Teerdhala: Those big books? They make it easier for publishers to take chances on debuts or less commercial books. Also, in so many ways, publishing works like a venture capital firm. I work in the tech industry as my day job and I see so many similarities between tech startup founders and authors. You own your product (your book) and publishers invest money into you and your business, hoping it will be successful someday. If you approach publishing and interacting with the industry from that mindset, it really alleviates so much heartache. It’s truly not personal.

Lyla Lee:The industry is highly subjective and volatile. I was there for the rise and fall of urban fantasy (late 2000s), the rise and fall of dystopia (early 2010s), and the rise of contemporary books (late 2010s). Trends come and go and most of it is highly unpredictable (who could have guessed that we’d get a new Twilight book in 2020??) so the best you can do is write what you’re most passionate about instead of just blindly following trends.

June Hur: If you’re under a contract for more than one book, don’t stop writing! As in: take breaks, practice self-care, but when you have large chunks of time after you submit your manuscript to your editor, work on your next book. Because you’ll end up under a tight deadline for your next work (as tight as a few months!), and if you want to avoid a panic-induced scramble to think up not only a new book idea but to have it written out and polished—it’s wise to get started as soon as you can.

Prerna Pickett: I think at this point pretty much everything about the publishing process or the industry is readily available on the internet. Whether on Twitter or various websites, there are a lot of tools to help authors figure out how it all works. Some of my favorites are Publishing Crawl, MSWL, Query Tracker, and Absolute Write Water Cooler.

6. Do you feel like your writing paves the way for others in your community?

Rin Chupeco: I don’t think I can make any such claims myself, because the readers have to be the ones to decide if my writing speaks to them or not, but that’s always the hope! The list of published Filipino authors in the US is growing, and I’m just happy to be one of them!

Lori M. Lee: I hope so! I know that my contribution is small compared to others, especially the amazing people who made We Need Diverse Books happen, but the little things that we all do matter as well. When combined, we create a force for change, and it’s truly been amazing to be able to watch the publishing industry evolve towards more inclusive stories in real time!

Swati Teerdhala: I certainly hope so. The Tiger at Midnight was my chance to write a YA fantasy that was truly Indian-American, combining the best of both worlds. It has my favorite YA tropes alongside elements from old Indian and Hindu epic tales I grew up hearing. I’d love to see more and more books that pull from the wide spectrum of history and depth of India and hopefully my writing helps other Indian-American writers see that we need their stories too.

Lyla Lee: I hope so! I wrote I’ll Be the One and the Mindy Kim series because I didn’t see the kind of representation that I wanted as a kid or a teenager. When I was a teen, especially, I spent most of the time writing books about white characters because I could have never guessed that I could sell books about people like me. I hope people who share aspects of my identity (race, sexuality, etc.) will read my books and realize that stories about people like us are “marketable” and “relatable” too.

June Hur: Even in a little way, I do believe my work paves the way for other diaspora Koreans. I feel like many of us, including myself, are hesitant to write Korean historicals due to how few Korean historicals there are, particularly in YA literature. So my hope is that by writing one myself, I’ll be able to give other diaspora Korean writers the courage to write about their homeland—even if they’ve never stepped foot on Korean soil before. I believe that writing about our homeland is a way for diaspora writers to reclaim their roots.

Prerna Pickett: I don’t know if my writing in particular will pave the way for members of my community, that is yet to be seen. My hope is that it will open doors for other Indian authors. I want nothing more than to support writers in my community. There is plenty of room for all of us! I would also like to recognize some authors from my community that have already paved the way for writers like myself. Such as Sandhya Menon, Tanuja Desai Hidier, and Nisha Sharma. And that’s just on the YA side. There are many successful adult authors from the Indian American community as well.

7. What were some of the best surprises you’ve had getting into the industry?

Rin Chupeco:There’s an amazing sense of camaraderie among a lot of authors for the most part, and I think it’s because many understand that we’re all in the same boat with the same troubles, so everyone’s problems also become relatable – like, we’ve been through the same thing, we know what you’re going through, too! There are still the odd outliers, of course, but for the most part the community has been welcoming. And then there’s also that rush whenever someone takes the time to email and message me about how they enjoy reading my books, or pointing out something I wrote that speaks to them and to their own personal experiences. It always makes my day whenever someone reaches out to let me know how they understood what my books intended them to feel.

Lori M. Lee: The generosity and kindness of many of my fellow authors are tremendous. As an extreme introvert who is super awkward, I’m forever indebted to those who made me feel welcome in the community.

Swati Teerdhala:The people. I’ve been so fortunate to meet some truly amazing, kind-hearted, passionate writers and people in publishing. As a bookworm at heart, it has been truly wonderful to meet so many people who feel the same way I do about book and the power of stories.

Lyla Lee:After ten years of being on submission (to agents or publishers) in some form, I got to see both the Mindy Kim series and I’ll Be the One sell at auction in a matter of days. Other than that, meeting readers, either in person or online, who are excited about my books, has been a very nice surprise. Writing is a solitary art, so I guess I never expected my books to actually resonate with other people. It still feels pretty surreal (in a very good way!) to hear that people are actually reading and relating with my books.

June Hur: The best surprise was partnering with an editor who really “gets” my work and genuinely appreciates Korean history!

Prerna Pickett: The people I’ve met along the way! So many supportive authors who are there to boost you, hold your hand, and be your friend. I have also loved getting reviews from fans. Knowing that people enjoy my book really makes my day

8. What experiences have you had that you’d like to avoid repeating?

Rin Chupeco:Haha, how long would you like this interview to be? There are a lot of micro-aggressions authors tend to deal with, particularly if they’re an author of color, or LGBTQ+, or both. There are a lot of white writers who’ve had to keep quiet about things that happen to them because there’s a lot of power dynamics involved that wind up hurting their careers even when they’re not in the wrong, so you can imagine how much worse it can be for a lot of POC and marginalized writers. I did not have a very good debut year, but not because my agent or my publishers weren’t supportive. It’s just that they aren’t the only people involved in this business that I had to deal with. All I can say is that I’ve grown quite the thick skin since my debut novel, and I’m more inclined to speak up when I see something I believe is unfair going on.

Swati Teerdhala: This is a tough one because I’m a firm believer that any mistakes you make or hardships you face help make the next chapter of your life better. So of course, I’d love to have an easy publishing path forward and be able to easily and successfully write many more books, but I know that part of the path is the struggle. They give every win depth. Really, I don’t have any experiences I’d love to avoid repeating. I think that’s hard to say. There are definitely situations I’ll go into now with a lot more clarity (events are hard, for example!).

Lyla Lee:I’m never not revising my books again! I’m definitely being more mindful about how I use my social media now, since as a teenager/new writer, I didn’t do my best to be professional in the past.

June Hur:Devaluing my own work (even though it stems from shyness). I worked hard on my debut and so it’s important to acknowledge that! Also, the act of devaluing my own work, I realize, is to disrespect those that supported me and poured so much time into getting this book out into the world

Prerna Pickett: I wish I had planned better when it came to my edits. I sort of dived in the first time around and it took a lot longer to get through them than I anticipated. Also make sure you find your people. It is really hard to survive without friends who have your back

9. Do you see yourself staying in this industry for a long time?

Rin Chupeco: I intend to stay here and refuse to leave until I croak. Being an author has been my biggest dream for a long time, and despite any industry problems that there are I am glad to be one!

Lori M. Lee: I plan to stick around for as long as the industry will let me 🙂 There are so many books I still want to write, projects I have yet to announce, and publishing-related goals I want to accomplish. Publishing has certainly given me some of my highest highs and lowest lows, but I’m sticking it out because being able to write for publication is genuinely a dream come true.

Swati Teerdhala: Fingers crossed! Not going to lie, publishing is tough. But it’s worth it to tell stories that hopefully add joy to people’s lives.

Lyla Lee:I’m hoping to! I have a lot of other book ideas that I’d love to get out there. I’ve wanted to be an author since I was in fourth grade so this is my dream career.

June Hur:I can’t say for sure since I’m just starting out, but based on what I hope would be the case—yes!

Prerna Pickett: The only people who survive in this industry are the ones who don’t give up. You have to keep going and the only way to do that is to keep writing, and since I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon I think I will be around for at least a little while longer.

10. Do you have any advice for people just getting into this industry?

Rin Chupeco: You need to have both the confidence of one who knows that you have something important to say with your books, but also the humility to understand that this is a team effort, that you need to help build and support other authors as well because good books benefit everyone in the long run. “Treat everyone the way you want to be treated yourself” applies here just as well as everywhere else!

Lori M. Lee: Find yourself a support system, however that looks like to you. Maybe it’s friends outside of publishing. Maybe it’s a hobby. Maybe it’s another author who’s at the same stage in publishing as you are. Maybe it’s joining an Extreme Knitting Group. Either way, find something or someone to help you de-stress when the words won’t come or when publishing disappoints you or when impostor syndrome hits. For me, it’s friends and listening to podcasts and audiobooks or running around in the backyard with my kids ❤

Swati Teerdhala: Don’t give up. I feel like I’m a broken record on this, but it’s so important. Half the time in life, and certainly in publishing, the ones who get to the finish line are the ones who don’t give up along the way.

Lyla Lee: Take care of yourself and take your time!

June Hur: One of the most valuable things I’ve learned is the importance of focusing on your own work. It’s so easy to let your eyes stray from your writing—and the moment they do, all you’ll see is people doing seemingly better than you. They might have a shinier book deal, their book might be receiving more attention, and etc. You’ll find endless reasons to compare yourself, endless reasons to feel discontent. So whenever I feel like I’m comparing myself too much, I end up going on a hiatus. I log off and return to my own work, and taking this break gives me the space to fall back in love with writing again.

Prerna Pickett: Make sure you’re patient with yourself. Writing is a long process and as someone who is impatient, at times I can jump the gun with my manuscripts. Get feedback from trusted readers, make sure you know your voice, trust your instincts, and don’t be afraid of rejection. It happens to all of us. And be kind to yourself. Always.

Catch the other events of the fest:

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Did you enjoy reading the varied views on writing and publishing from these authors?

Have you read any of the books by these authors? Tell me about it!!

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