“I’m looking for authors with a distinctive, compelling voice; a surprising and evocative story with engaging characters; and a unique perspective, whether that’s in fiction or nonfiction. This should be someone who understands the importance of collaboration in this process, accepting that their book may take on a different form, but being open to that direction and guidance.”
— Wendy Wong, Ballantine/Penguin Press
Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings 20-25 literary agents and book editors to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 29th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 24 – 26, 2022, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our visiting agents and editors here.
An Interview with Wendy Wong
Wendy Wong (she/her) was a food writer for several years prior to her pivot into publishing. She worked at a small educational publishing company before joining HarperCollins, where she acquired titles for Harper and Harper Business such as The First, The Few, The Only by Deepa Purushothaman, a Financial Times business book of the month. She is currently an associate editor at Ballantine in Penguin Random House, focusing on commercial and upmarket fiction in the areas of historical, contemporary, multigenerational, social horror, and the lightly speculative, along with narrative nonfiction in the areas of big think, memoir (especially blended with reportage), essay collections, and cultural criticism. She is drawn to work that dives into subcultures, social commentary, and cultural traditions; books that use an intimate focal point as a lens for a larger deep dive; and nuanced work that centers marginalized experiences, particularly at the intersection of race, gender, and class. Themes of interest include millennial issues, complex relationship dynamics of all stripes, liminal spaces, diaspora, belonging and community, and all things food.
Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?
Wendy Wong: I’m equal parts cheerleader/brainstorm buddy/advisor/liaison/the human equivalent of your phone’s annoying calendar alerts. Each author and project is unique, and my goal is for their book to be the best version of itself it can be, while also staying true to the ideas that the author is aiming to convey. I make clear from the beginning what my editorial vision for the book is, making sure the author and I are aligned so our conversations stem from a shared place of understanding and love for the book. If there’s anything they’re uncertain about or want to talk through, I’m here for it all. We also work together to find a schedule that works best in positioning the book, and logistics/deadlines that work for both the author and the various teams in my publishing house.
Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?
WW: Writers from marginalized communities are not a requirement, but they are a priority. I’m looking for authors with a distinctive, compelling voice; a surprising and evocative story with engaging characters; and a unique perspective, whether that’s in fiction or nonfiction. This should be someone who understands the importance of collaboration in this process, accepting that their book may take on a different form, but being open to that direction and guidance. Someone who’s excited to learn the ins and outs of publishing and be deeply involved in every step of the process, knowing that goes beyond just writing the book (though it’s obviously the major milestone).
Scribe: What’s one piece of advice you find yourself giving to others time and time again?
WW: My advice for authors is to really immerse yourself in the genre(s) your book falls under, find those comps your book is aligned with, get a sense of which books are most successful in this space right now, and read, read, read. Read widely so you get a strong sense of how you can describe your book and who your realistic target audience is. You will always be your book’s #1 expert and advocate, so learn and prepare as much as possible so you can speak at length about your book’s story, characters, message, and importance. The right people–agents, editors, your marketers and publicists, booksellers, your readers–will recognize that passion and become just as excited about the book as you already are.
Scribe: What excites you the most about the publishing industry today?
WW: I’m excited to see the centering of marginalized characters and their stories popping up in genre and genre-adjacent fiction (ex: When No One is Watching, Portrait of a Thief, The Year of the Witching, Honey Girl). I’m also a major fan of books that can successfully meld different genres or styles together, like contemporary/romance/magical realism with a heist (Gold Diggers), historical/horror/thriller (The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires), contemporary/thriller/sci-fi elements (The Other Black Girl), or multigenerational novels with a fantasy thread (The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina).
Scribe: Tell us about a recent book/project that you worked on that excited you and you want everyone to know about?
WW: Back in October I acquired a brilliant historical sci-fi novel called OUR HIDEOUS PROGENY. It’s a queer, feminist spin-off of Frankenstein, featuring a young woman and her husband who are struggling paleontologists in London’s Victorian-era medical society. She stumbles upon her great uncle Victor Frankenstein’s diary, and together they embark on a mission to create their own creature and establish a foothold in this community, all while she finds herself falling for her husband’s sister along the way. It’s a propulsive, beautifully written tale that is both historically and presently relevant, about women’s ambition and autonomy, and finding love and acceptance at the margins of a society you may be better off without.
Click here for more information on the 2022 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 24-26) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.