I am so excited for the Spring 2020 debut, THE HENNA WARS, a f/f romcom for fans of WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI, that I reached out to its author, Adiba Jaigirdar, for an interview. She graciously accepted, and now you get to dig into her thoughts on writing romance, querying as a QPOC author, and what inspires her. I hope you enjoy as much as I did!
Hi Adiba! Can you tell us about your querying journey?
AJ: My querying journey for THE HENNA WARS was…unexpected. When I started writing THE HENNA WARS, I honestly didn’t think I would even query it. I was writing more for myself than for anyone else. But the more I wrote and revised it, the more I thought it could actually be something.
I got quite lucky because I started querying pretty soon after To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Love, Simon, and Crazy Rich Asians had been released. A lot of agents were on the romcom train as a result. When I went through the #mswl hashtag there were so many people looking for a book similar to mine.
I had a really positive response rate as I began sending out queries, so I was cautiously optimistic. Then, DVpit happened and my pitch blew up. I was really overwhelmed and happy. But in the end, I only got to send one DVpit query because my first offer came through the morning after the pitch contest. I got three offers in total, which was both unexpected and very anxiety-inducing. I do think that timing and luck played a huge role in how quickly I went from the querying trenches to signing with an agent. I have a full How I Get My Agent blog post on my website.
While you queried, was there a moment when you felt like giving up? If so, what helped you persevere?
AJ: To be honest, I didn’t. I had a very specific querying strategy, which included being able to emotionally support myself. I’m not a very optimistic person, and I’m a QPOC Muslim author writing about QPOC characters. I was going into querying expecting failure, while also having absolute confidence in my book itself. All of that helped me fortify myself against rejections. At the same time, I was very lucky that my querying journey for THE HENNA WARS was quite short! About two months passed between sending out my first set of queries and receiving my first offer of representation.
What’s the easiest part about the writing process for you? The hardest?
AJ: The easiest is for sure drafting. I basically just word vomit when I’m drafting so I can write quite fast when I’m on a first draft. It’s just about getting ideas and things down for me so it doesn’t matter to me if it’s good, or even if it makes sense to anybody other than me.
The most difficult part is…being consistent. I often write things that are quite voice-driven and it’s just difficult to be consistent with voice for an entire novel through several drafts, especially if you have multiple POVs and so, multiple voices!
What’s the secret to writing a good, chemistry-filled romance in your story?
AJ: When I was younger I used to get very annoyed that a lot of the books I read didn’t really make obvious what characters liked about each other, and what made them attracted to each other. It made it difficult to root for them. When I write romance I try to think of the things that make people likable, admirable, attractive–both in romantic and platonic senses.
When you figure out who your characters are and why they like each other, it’s important to let the readers know what these things are. It’s much easier to build chemistry between characters when your reader knows what makes them tick, along with what they find attractive in each other. It’s also so much easier to write scenes and situations specific to what these characters will find romantic when you know these things about them!
Like a lot of things, romance is specific to your characters. What you might find romantic and swoonworthy is not necessarily what your characters will find romantic. So the most important thing for tapping into the chemistry between your characters is to learn about your characters and specifically how they interact with each other.
Favorite romantic tropes?
AJ: I honestly love them all, but my favourites are definitely enemies to lovers and fake dating.
What books/movies have influenced you as a writer?
AJ: Honestly, too many to list! When it comes to romance, though, I’ve been really influenced by Meg Cabot who was one of my favourite writers as a teen. I especially loved her Mediator series and The Princess Diaries series. I have also been really influenced by many Bollywood movies. A few I watched and loved when I was younger were Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum, Kal Ho Na Ho, Main Hoon Na, Mohabbatein. More recently, I have been influenced by diverse romances and their writers. For example, Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi and From Twinkle, With Love, Jenny Han’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Nina LaCour’s Everything Leads To You.
If you could work alongside any author as a co-author, who would you choose and why?
AJ: S. K. Ali. She is one of my favourite authors. I really admire the way she writes Muslims unapologetically and how she centers marginalised people in her stories. I think our writing style, voices, and themes are both similar and different enough to complement each other.
Do you have any advice for querying authors?
AJ: The most important piece of advice I can give is to take your time and not rush (patience is something you will really need in traditional publishing so best to get a head start). Take your time revising, ensuring you have dealt with all the relevant feedback from your betas and CPs, and making sure that your query/synopsis/manuscript are all in the best shape you can get it. With things like pitch contests, I feel like a lot of querying authors rush to pitch, and then query, their manuscripts. Pitch contests will keep coming up, and cold querying will always be there. Take your time and give your book its best shot.
Do you read writing craft books? Do you have any recommendations or resources for authors?
AJ: I don’t really read craft books! The best way to learn to write, in my opinion, is to read and study other books, along with practising your writing. In terms of resources, I recommend listening to Write Or Die to learn about other writers’ publishing journeys. I also recommend listening to Faridah Àbíké Íyímídé’s new podcast, The Write Type, which includes discussions with authors of colour about writing and publishing.
What’s something you know now as an author that you wish you’d known before?
AJ: I wish I had known publishing is all about waiting. You’re going to spend huge swathes of time just waiting for things to happen. Whether this is responses from agents, editors, edit letters, your cover, etc. You can spend your time agonising over these things that you really have very little control over or you can work on the thing that you do have control over: your writing!
I believe you’re based in Ireland–has that posed any challenges, with so much of publishing being focused in the States? Do you have any advice for international authors?
AJ: I don’t think it has posed any challenges at all–but maybe I’ve just been lucky!
In terms of advice, I recommend befriending people who are also based out of the States, so that you can commiserate together about the inevitable FOMO that you’ll experience. I also recommend trying to find writers within your own community, and also connecting with writers online.
As a POC writer in a white majority country, I really recommend connecting with fellow POC writers online (or otherwise). You’ll find they are best able to understand your specific struggles and best able to advise you accordingly!
You were an AMM mentor–do you have any advice for authors who plan to submit to a mentorship contest like AMM?
AJ: The first piece of advice might seem obvious but…follow instructions and make sure you’re submitting to someone who is looking for the genre you’re writing. I think sometimes writers think, “Yes, this person might not want SFF but they specifically want this trope that my SFF book has!” But the reason why mentors might not want to see submissions from specific genres is less to do with how much they enjoy that genre, and more to do with how well they can advise on how to revise it/who to query/what the market for that genre looks like.
The second piece of advice is to keep in mind that mentorship contests like AMM and Pitchwars can honestly be more competitive than querying. There are only a select few mentors, when there are so many agents out there. It can be really disheartening to not get into a mentorship contest but most authors (like me!) weren’t in Pitchwars or AMM, and found their agent and book deals regardless.
What’s a book you’ve been OBSESSED with lately?
AJ: I recently read and absolutely loved Dana L. Davis’ The Voice In My Head. It’s this amazing story about sisterhood, family, and faith. I listened to it as an audiobook narrated by Dana L. Davis herself and the narration was amazing. I highly recommend giving it a listen!
Adiba, thank you so much for your time!
Adiba Jaigirdar is a Bangladeshi and Irish writer. She lives in Dublin, Ireland. She is a contributor for Bookriot and has published short fiction in various anthologies, including Momentum and Keep Faith edited by Gabriela Martins. Her debut novel, The Henna Wars will be published by Page Street in Spring 2020. All her work is aided by copious amounts of tea and a whole lot of Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe.