Want to know a publishing secret?
It takes time.
Ha, some secret, huh? Like duh! Who doesn't know that?
But guess what also happens?
Sometimes, that time continuum breaks, bursting open with every opportunity you hoped and wished for! And so the ride begins...
Keep reading on for author Ananya Devarajan's path to publication!
1. Welp, the first question is the one all in the writing community love to know! What’s the story of your publication journey (agent to published book)?
I wrote KISMAT CONNECTION in September 2019 when I first started studying at the University of California, Irvine. At the time, KISMAT CONNECTION was nothing more than a passion project to keep me sane between rigorous biology and chemistry courses, but it soon became the book of my heart. I completed the first draft in March 2020 (the one good thing that came out of a global pandemic, honestly) and revised with critique partners until July 2020, which is when I sent out my first query.
In September 2020, I participated in PitMad and received quite a few agent likes—one of which was from Ann Leslie Tuttle at Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret LLC, who is the wonderful agent I am signed with today! We revised KISMAT CONNECTION together until the end of November 2020, and a few days later, I officially went on submission.
After a few months of anxiously checking my email inbox, I got the call I’d been dreaming of since my childhood! In May 2021, KISMAT CONNECTION was offered a deal from Inkyard Press, and my life truly hasn’t been the same ever since.
2. Your debut, Kismat Connection, is categorized as a rom-com, but it’s description shows a speculative element based on Indian astrology. Was it always your intent to have this element in a rom-com? In such a large genre, how can an author make their romantic comedy not sound like “more of the same”?
To be honest, KISMAT CONNECTION is simply a reflection of my own life experiences. Indian culture has always felt so magical to me, and astrology is a key element of the whimsicality that defined my childhood, so I knew I wanted to incorporate it somehow when I was outlining Madhuri and Arjun’s story. I never would’ve characterized this very-real aspect of my culture as “speculative” until my agent first used the label to describe my stories. The longer I thought about it, the more I realized that she was right—I had tapped into a genre much larger than what I had originally intended and in doing so, I’d created a brand for myself as a young adult romance author with a penchant for the speculative.
This leads me to the topic of standing out in traditional publishing. It sounds cliche, but if my journey means anything, it’s that being yourself (and incorporating this individuality into the heart of your stories) takes you incredibly far in this industry. In a more specific sense, making a romantic comedy stand out is a matter of taking an existing trope and spinning it on its head until it’s distinctly you. That’s your unique hook, and that’s what’ll set you apart in the market.
3. Wattpad was your first writing experience with a wide-reaching public forum. While some may scoff at fanfiction and other public reading sites, how do you think this benefited you as a writer? What made you want to cross over into the realm of traditional publishing?
Wattpad was a game-changer for me. Producing quality fiction for an audience on a weekly, sometimes daily basis, is quite the challenge, and it pushed me to develop my craft consistently and quickly. Wattpad was a safe environment for me to experiment, learn, and grow as an amateur writer at the age of fifteen. Without these pivotal experiences, I doubt I would’ve acquired the skill set needed to find my agent at eighteen and earn my book deal at nineteen.
Still, I knew I didn’t want to write on Wattpad forever. I’d always dreamed of seeing my books on a Barnes and Noble shelf, and the only way for me to do that was to take what I learned on Wattpad and use those lessons to break into traditional publishing as a young woman of color. It was an overwhelming transition at the time, but I’m so happy I ultimately made the switch.
4. Some may not be aware of your age or that you’re also a full-time college student (STEM major). Have you found this to be a challenge or a bonus in regards to publishing’s perceptions of your work or capabilities?
I am lucky enough to say that I have not yet been perceived as lesser than in the publishing industry because of my age, but I do think this is a rare experience to have as a teenage author.
Looking back on my journey to publication, I believe I was able to avoid these negative perceptions due to the extreme caution I felt when disclosing my age. I never included my age in my queries, and my agent didn’t mention it when we went on submission either. My worst fear was a publishing professional judging my talent prematurely because of how old I was, so I wouldn’t mention it until I was completely comfortable with doing so. It isn’t ideal that I felt the need to hide my age in order to succeed, so I do hope that this paranoia doesn’t persist in future generations of young writers.
5. How do you keep a balance between school, writing, and personal life? Do you think it’s important for writers to set boundaries between writing life and other parts of their life?
Honestly, I’m still searching for the perfect balance of the three, but I’ve realized that what works best for me is compartmentalization, which is the idea that not everything I need to accomplish in life has to be done simultaneously. For example, I try not to draft or revise when I’m studying for exams during the school quarter, and I try not to study when I’m on a publishing deadline. I try not to do either when I go out with my friends for dinner, or when I spend a week with my family on vacation. I will admit that I haven’t perfected this technique yet, but it has made coping with the various stressors in my life significantly easier.
As for establishing boundaries as a writer, it’s a huge yes from me. It is incredibly easy to burn out when I’m overly-invested in something I care about, so I do my best to incorporate a balance with frequent breaks where I engage with neither writing nor school nor my personal life. I’ve noticed that doing so has allowed me to approach my responsibilities from a fresh and energized perspective, and I no longer feel the drain commonly associated with burnout.
6. Can you tell us what other WIPS we might see from you in the future?
Yes! My sophomore young adult romance novel features Raina Iyer, first introduced in KISMAT CONNECTION as Madhuri Iyer’s talented, intelligent, and headstrong younger sister. Taking place in the same magical universe as KISMAT CONNECTION, this novel follows Raina as she navigates first love, heartbreak, and... an unexpected time loop.
Ok, now it’s time for the ‘fun’ questions!
7. Kismat features girls in STEM, and swoon-worthy romance! So, let’s build a perfect boyfriend-bot. Name the parts:
Ananya’s Perfect Boyfriend Bot (who is essentially Arjun Mehta, one of the main characters of KISMAT CONNECTION)
A pure and truthful heart as his guiding force in determining right versus wrong
An ambitious mind for keeping up with his girlfriend’s impulsive adventures
A charming smile with the power to make any girl fall in love with him
An unwavering loyalty toward his family and friends
A handsome black kurta with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows ;)
8. Unpopular book or writing opinion?
Yes, synopses are the worst, but they can also save you from a lot of big-picture revisions in the future. Therefore, my unpopular writing opinion is to always write a synopsis before you write the book—you won’t regret it once you do.
9. Quarantine is over for most of us, and as salons were closed and public outings were a no-go, hair care is something many of us missed. Since you have such a gorgeous, long, and luscious mane, would you share a few hair care tips with us?
Awww, thank you! My biggest hair care tip is a product that was passed down from my grandmother to my mother and now, to me: coconut oil. I typically massage a good amount of coconut oil into my hair and let it sit overnight before washing it out with shampoo and conditioner. My hair has always been strong and soft because of it.
Author Biography: Ananya Devarajan is an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, pursuing a major in Biological Sciences with a minor in English. Her love for storytelling began on Wattpad, where she grew her audience as a Featured Author, and she later went on to win first place in TeenPit 2019. Now, Ananya writes young adult romances featuring dynamic Indian teenagers, lighthearted drama, and swoon-worthy banter. Her debut novel, KISMAT CONNECTION, is slated for publication in Summer 2023 by Inkyard Press/HarperCollins. She is represented by the wonderful Ann Leslie Tuttle at Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret LLC.
Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58255457-kismat-connection
Website Link: https://ananyadevarajan.com/
Twitter/Instagram Handle: @ananyad12