Swati Hegde: My Reign Has Just Begun
Did you catch that Game of Thrones reference? Ha, after interviewing Swati Hegde, I couldn't help myself. This famous Daenerys quote fit her advice and story perfectyl
And yes, that is how you should approach your writing career--as a reign.
Not a stint. Not a blip. Not a moment in time.
But as a period of time.
The beginning and length of that period can vary. It may come on and off. It may go up and down, start high, start, meh, start low then shoot to the sky.
But no matter the trajectory, always, always keep the main thing the main thing: remember that you're building and leaving a legacy.
And long may you reign in your pursuit of writing some damn good books!
Welp, the first question is the one all in the writing community love to know! What’s the story of your writing journey?
Oh gosh, I don’t even know where to begin! Well, I began by writing short stories and eventually (really, really poorly-written) YA fantasy in middle school. It wasn’t until college when I got into reading romance novels that I tried my hand at writing one myself, and then I didn’t quite stop! After I graduated college, I started my querying journey. I tried Indian agents and publishers first, but my writing didn’t quite fit the market, so I did some research and started querying US/UK agents instead. My first four books got maybe 10 full requests among all of them. Book 5 had better success—I signed with my former agent, but ultimately we parted ways. Book 6 did it for me, though: my wonderful agent, Rachel Beck at Liza Dawson Associates, signed me for it, and we sold book 6, aka MATCH ME IF YOU CAN, in a 2-book deal to Penguin Random House. It’s been surreal and also everything I’ve ever wanted. But this isn’t the end, because I have even more ambitious goals for my career moving forward.
Congrats on your debut, MATCH ME IF YOU CAN! Rom-coms are an evergreen MSWL which probably means the space can become very competitive. What advice would you give to authors in coming up with hooks to stand out? Besides that, to what degree should an author stretch their mind about a hook?
Romance and rom-coms are very trope-driven genres. I don’t think readers will ever tire of any trope—there’s an audience for everything! But I feel like focusing on what hooks are hot and trendy right now is not the best idea for debut authors. With publishing having long (and I mean really LONG) timelines, by the time you finish drafting your super marketable, super trendy book and start querying it, or even go on sub with your agent, that trend may well have passed or become saturated. These things aren’t in our control as authors. If you’re a debut romance/romcom author or finding your footing in publishing, my biggest advice for you is: work on crafting your authorial voice. Write characters that may or may not be “likeable” but that your readers will root for and want a happily-ever-after for. Write books that YOU want to write, that you’re willing to reread and rewrite and revise and edit over and over. Also… I hear this a lot in the writing community: “My book died in the query trenches/on submission.” That’s not true. No book is ever “dead” because you can always bring it back to life, whether that’s with a new agent or editor or just a fresh perspective for revisions. I know this for a fact because my book 5—yes, the one that I thought “died” on sub with my former agent—will very likely be my second book in 2025! You’ve been quite transparent about your agent journey and leaving rep to find a new one is a part of publishing that isn’t talked about as something such as querying. What would you tell authors to approach seeking new representation?
à It’s never easy to leave your agent, even if things aren’t visibly working out. I deliberated over my decision for months, especially because it had taken me 4 years just to find rep that first time around! But the book my former agent had signed me for didn’t get any offers on submission, and our visions didn’t match for my next book (aka MATCH ME IF YOU CAN). I left and queried MATCH ME again for 9 depressing months, but in the end, it was the BEST decision I’ve made in my entire author journey. My advice to authors who are on the fence about leaving their agents or who are already back in the query trenches: it’s a tough decision, and the first few months afterward are gonna suck. You’re gonna want to give up many, many times. So find your people who will cheer you on and listen to you vent over and over again. Maintain a “hype file” with every nice thing anyone has ever said about your writing and read it every day, or as needed. Your writing got you an agent once; it’s a proven fact. Why can’t it happen again? It will. Put your mental health first, but try to keep going. You’ve got this. Oftentimes, books with a strong romance element sometimes get promoted as romance or romances with a funny character are pushed as rom-coms. Do you think this type of marketing needs to become more true to the category? What do you think separates these stories from one another?
In my opinion, rom-coms still have a romance-focused plot, but the concept or premise is entertaining or comedic in some way. With MATCH ME IF YOU CAN, we have a heroine who is a relationship magazine writer by day, but bashes her own employer on her anonymous dating advice blog by night. Oh, and she’s an aspiring matchmaker who’s never been in love herself. It’s a comedic premise with a lot of potential for humor and hijinks. I think that’s what makes it a rom-com and not strictly a romance. My book 3 will likely just be romance and not rom-com: it’s tropey but not comedic and deals with heavier issues. The problem with the industry right now is that it markets almost every contemporary romance with some on-page jokes as a rom-com because it’s less “shameful” in the average person’s eyes to read rom-coms than romance. This upsets a lot of OG romance readers, for obvious reasons. “Romance” is not a guilty pleasure genre. It’s a worthy genre and deserving of respect. So I really hope this marketing gimmick dies out, and publishing starts marketing romance and romcom novels differently. You also provide editing services. So, I’m going to make the probably correct assumption that you are deftly able to self-edit. How important is this skill for someone seeking publication? What would you say is something a CP or beta reader, or even an editor, can’t do for you during the writing process?
Self-editing is an important skill for any author regardless of which publishing path you take. Understanding the key concepts of fiction writing and how to apply them to your manuscript is a MUST if you want to write and publish high-quality novels long-term. And one thing that’s hard for your CPs, beta readers, editors, or even your agent to help you “fix” is your voice. Voice is one of those things that’s very subjective, and an external party can’t always help you with it. To master voice, make sure to read books in your genre and figure out what you like and don’t like about those authors’ voices. Write fanfiction of your characters doing random, non-plot stuff that won’t always make it into the final draft so you can understand them in a no-pressure way. And, most importantly, hold your vision for your book close to your chest and write from the heart.
What is your writerly form of self-care?
Reading other romance or rom-com novels, but outside of that, I LOVE bingeing reality TV on Netflix, especially if they’re relationship-centric. Love is Blind and Too Hot to Handle are two personal favorites. And also The Circle!
Ok, now it’s time for the ‘fun’ questions!
Who is your dream choice to write a screenplay for your novel? I don’t actually know a lot of screenplay writers! Whoever it is, I hope I get to be involved in some way, and the movie continues to be set in Mumbai, just like my debut novel. No whitewashing over here!
Unpopular book or writing opinion? I’m sure all of BookTok will disagree with me, but romance novels don’t need to be steamy or spicy to be good romance novels. It’s 100% a reader preference, but a romance novel can show intimacy and tension between the MC and LI even if it’s slow burn/fade to black/closed door. This is coming from an author/reader who prefers her romance novels low on heat.
Your author brand as an acronym of your name is…
A: Ambitious AF
Swati Hegde is a desi romance author. By day, she's a freelance editor and mindset coach for writers. She is also a self-proclaimed coffee shop enthusiast who lives in Bangalore, India, and can usually be found at the nearest café with a hot mug of tea.
Swati is represented by Rachel Beck at Liza Dawson Associates. Her debut romantic comedy novel MATCH ME IF YOU CAN releases in 2024 from Ballantine Bantam Dell, Penguin Random House.
MATCH ME IF YOU CAN Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/63277072-match-me-if-you-can
Website link: https://www.swatihegde.com/