In our “Breaking In” column in Writer’s Digest magazine, we talk with debut authors—such as Helen Hoang, author of The Kiss Quotient—about how they did it, what they learned and why you can do it, too. Since The Kiss Quotient‘s June 5 release, it’s generated buzz from The New York Times, Bustle, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, Publishers Weekly and more. This is an extended interview with Hoang, who appeared in the September 2018 issue.
WD: Briefly, what led up to this book? What were you writing before breaking out with this book?
HH: Prior to this book, I wrote historical/paranormal fantasy romances with a martial arts bent. They were epic in scope (at least, they were in my mind, haha) and a far escape from reality and the struggles I faced. Those stories, however, will remain unpublished as I think of them as my practice books. Not only was the writing “not there yet,” but the emotions and conflicts of the characters weren’t things I personally related to. I was writing what I’d read somewhere else, mimicking what I’d seen others do without entirely comprehending why, which is something I’ve done since I was a child to better fit in. Interestingly, I’ve learned that this is common social behavior for girls on the spectrum. It’s called “masking.”
The Kiss Quotient represents a turning point for me in several ways. First of all, I was personally undergoing diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder when I wrote this book, and my autistic heroine, Stella, helped me explore aspects of myself I’d never understood. Writing from her perspective gave me the most exhilarating sense of freedom. I didn’t need to mask or mimic, and this helped me find my unique writer’s voice. It also gave me the courage to face my insecurities in my writing instead of hiding from them like I’d always done. Unlike my other stories, this one takes place in a contemporary setting, somewhere I’ve actually lived, and the characters’ struggles were inspired by my own life. Many of the supporting characters are close depictions of my loved ones. I believe it’s a combination of these things that helped me “break out.” This book wasn’t an escape. It was about confrontation and acceptance, and it was deeply personal. [PQ]That’s some of the best writing advice I can give: Make your stories personal.
WD: What was the time frame for writing The Kiss Quotient?
HH: I wrote the first draft of The Kiss Quotient in about ten weeks, but it was basically a concept and a hundred thousand words of impassioned rambling. Yes, I made my critique partner read it because I didn’t know any better. The manuscript then underwent several major revisions before it was selected for Pitch Wars, at which point it was revised yet again under the guidance of my phenomenal mentor Brighton Walsh. She’s a great writer, and she helped me take the book to the next level. Overall, from first draft to polished final product, it took me about eight months.
WD: How did you find your agent?
HH: I found my agent, Kim Lionetti, through the querying process, and I’m so fortunate I did. She was precisely the missing piece that my book needed. The Kiss Quotient never would have come so far without her to champion it.
WD: What was the biggest learning experience throughout the publishing process?
HH: The biggest thing I’ve learned in publishing so far is how little control you have over any of it. As an author, all you can do is write the best books you can. Everything else—timing, popularity, sales, etc.—is just blind luck. Because of this, there is absolutely no sense in comparing one author’s success to another’s.
WD: Is there anything you would you have done differently, if you could do it again?
HH: To be honest, I don’t think there’s much I would change. I feel that my path toward publication has been a good one. It didn’t happen as fast for me as it did for others. Life got in the way so many times, and I always have to do things wrong before I can do them right. But I don’t have any regrets. Every failure and delay is another story to tell.
WD: Did you have a platform in place before your book deal?
HH: I did have a modest social media platform in place before my book deal, but I’m not sure it’s helped me gain significant readership. I’m not the type of person who writes viral posts, and I don’t have a massively popular blog. The best thing I’ve done to gain readers is improve my craft and write more books.
WD: What is the best piece(s) of writing advice we haven’t discussed?
HH: Perseverance. Earlier on, I said that publishing is all about luck, but luck won’t do you any good if you’ve quit. Hang in there, for as long as you can, and then longer still, so when your luck comes, you can grab it.
WD: What’s next for you?
HH: I’m currently working on the next books in the series that started with The Kiss Quotient. The second book is called The Bride Test, and the third book’s title is to be determined.