Skip to main content

Debut Author Interview: Helen Hoang, Author of The Kiss Quotient

We spoke to Helen Hoang about her debut romance, The Kiss Quotient, in our September issue and since the novel’s release, it’s generated buzz from The New York Times, Bustle, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, Publishers Weekly and more. Read an interview with Hoang.

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. 

Image placeholder title

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 Those stories, however, will remain unpublished as I think of them as my practice books.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.

Brand Basics: 6 Debut Authors Discuss Their Author Platforms and Connecting with Readers

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.

 Your First Novel Revised and Expanded Edition: A Top Agent and a Published Author Show You How to Write Your Book and Get It Published

Your First Novel Revised and Expanded Edition: A Top Agent and a Published Author Show You How to Write Your Book and Get It Published

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.

Find Hoang online at, and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at @hhoangwrites.

Read more in the September 2018 issue of Writer's Digest, or subscribe to get WD all year long.

Image placeholder title
The Importance of Book Clubs for Writers: Hanging Out in, and With, Books

The Importance of Book Clubs for Writers: Hanging Out in, and With, Books

Reading is often an independent practice—but book clubs offer a chance to share the experience and learn something along the way. Here, author Sheila Liming discusses the importance of book clubs for writers.

Unknown Number

Unknown Number

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, a message from an unknown number has surprising consequences.

Kerri Schlottman: On Giving Literary Voice to Visual Art

Kerri Schlottman: On Giving Literary Voice to Visual Art

Award-winning author Kerri Schlottman discusses the real-life documentary photograph that helped inspire her literary novel, Tell Me One Thing.

From Script

The Secret as a Narrative Framing Element (From Script)

In this week’s roundup brought to us by Script magazine, read more filmmaker interviews from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, including an exclusive interview with Sundance’s U.S. Dramatic Audience Award and Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award winning filmmaker Maryam Keshavarz.

How To Write a Protagonist Leading a Double Life

How To Write a Protagonist Leading a Double Life

Inspired by personal experiences, author Kyla Zhao discusses how to write a protagonist leading a double life.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Romance Writing Virtual Conference, 6 WDU Courses, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce the Romance Writing Virtual Conference, six WDU courses, and more!

Popular Fantasy Tropes for Writers

21 Popular Fantasy Tropes for Writers

Here are 21 examples of fantasy tropes for writers to consider and subvert when writing fantastical fiction.

Writing Goals and Intentions: 25 Prompts

Writing Goals and Intentions: 25 Prompts

Make this year your most successful writing year ever by considering the following questions to set your goals and intentions.

Is a Personal Essay Considered Journalism?

Is a Personal Essay Considered Journalism?

Journalist Alison Hill answers the question of whether or not the personal essay is considered journalism by defining the genre and offering examples. Plus, outlets for you to publish your own personal essay.