We asked Ann Liang about her writing process, her views on the publishing process, and how she came up with the idea for ‘This Time It’s Real.’
What was your writing process like for This Time It’s Real? Did you have a writing routine or any regular rituals?
I wrote This Time It’s Real while I was a full-time university student, so although I tried to be as consistent as possible with my writing schedule, much of it was dictated by how heavy the coursework was or when my assignments were due.
Weekends and holidays were crucial writing times for me. I found that I always worked best in the mornings, so I would plan my schedule around that. Overall, it took around 2 months for me to complete the first draft.
How did you first come up with the idea for the book?
For me, book ideas never seem to come from just one place. A while ago, I had this very vague idea about a girl who makes something up in a journal entry or essay or something only to have it go public, but I kind of let it simmer.
Then I did an internship for a publication that reported on Chinese entertainment, which is how the elements of China’s idol culture and Eliza’s internship took shape (paired with the fact that I’ve always loved C-dramas).
The Beijing international school setting was inspired by my own school, and that helped tie all those other aspects together.
Ultimately, it wasn’t a linear process or a sudden lightning bolt of inspiration. It was more like fitting together pieces of a puzzle that you’ve been collecting over the years.
What was the publishing process like?
I’m really lucky in that the publishing process happened quite quickly for me, though at the time, it felt like it was taking forever. I found my current agent through my first book in 2020, and it took less than a week before I was offered representation by multiple agents.
Shortly after we sold my debut novel If You Could See The Sun, I started working on This Time It’s Real, and then I sent the completed draft to my agent.
My agent gives incredible editorial feedback and I trust her wholly with all my projects, so we were able to polish it up together quite quickly. She then came up with a list of editors to submit the manuscript to and sent it out into the world. I tried to be all cool and calm about it, but honestly, I was very nervous — you simply never know what’s going to happen and there are so many factors outside your control.
We got our first offer in a week, and then more editors expressed interest, and it wasn’t long before we were heading to a seven-house auction, which was absolutely surreal and beyond anything I’d dared to hope for. I’m based in Melbourne, Australia which means all of this was happening in the dead of night, and I just remember waking up to this massive adrenaline rush because there’d be updates waiting for me in my inbox.
I still can’t believe it worked out in this way. The timing was perfect too because, by the time the auction happened, I was set to be graduating soon. Knowing that I’d sold my next two books helped (somewhat) ease the panic of job-hunting and mapping out my entire future as an adult.
What most excites you about your book being published in 2023?
I’ll be turning 23 in 2023, which I feel is both such an exciting and scary age because you have more life experience but there’s also still so much you aren’t really certain of.
Also, since this is my first rom-com, and it’s something I’ve been working on for the past two years, I’m super excited for people to finally read it.
Do you have a favourite book or author?
It’s truly impossible for me to pick one favourite book or author, but just off the top of my head, a few I really love include
Foul Lady Fortune by Chloe Gong
As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh
The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
and of course, the books that shaped my childhood, like The Hunger Games and the Shatter Me series.
What inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve always loved reading and writing, and I’ve even had people tell me from a pretty young age that I could be an author. But for some reason, I didn’t process it until Year Eleven.
My history teacher had asked us to write a paragraph introducing ourselves and our passions and what we wanted to do in life. I wrote an unnecessarily long and in-depth essay about how I didn’t know what I was meant to do. She replied, very simply, that it was clear I was a writer.
What surprised you most about the publishing process?
The publishing process has been filled with surprises, but what’s really blown me away is how incredibly kind and supportive people have been about my book! I always try to keep my expectations as low as possible, so this was a very happy surprise.
What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
I have, at various points in my life, wanted to be: a professional equestrian, a stable hand (so I could be around horses in case the horse-riding part didn’t work out), a vet, a teacher, a data analyst, and – very specifically – a human resource manager (I believe this was because I did one of those career quizzes and this came up as one of the options).
I would be dead-serious about pursuing these career paths for a few months because I was inspired by a show or someone's advice, and then my interest would wane and I’d consider something different. My interest in writing has remained consistent, though, which I feel says a lot.
Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
Honestly, most days I still feel like an aspiring author, so I guess this is as much for myself as everyone else, but I’d say this: try not to let the writing totally consume you.
This isn’t a job where you can log off at the end of the day and not think about it again, so a lot of writers I know write throughout the weekends, after work or school, and through the holidays. It’s easy to let writing become the number one focus in your life at the expense of other things, but it’s okay to take a break or spend time on other hobbies or go on trips or watch a show.
If you could go back in time and give your past self one piece of advice, what would it be and why?
Be patient. It’s so hard to predict when things are going to happen in publishing, and you don’t want to be stuck in waiting mode all the time.
What is the best writing lesson/ tip you ever received?
Reading widely is obviously really important, but you can find inspiration from things outside books as well. Short stories, movies, shows, poetry, art, songs etc. All of it helps.
Want more? Read an extract of This Time It’s Real.
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