Author, author and living the dream

Never too young to publish a book

There are some who think that storytelling and writing stories are simple tasks. Then there are those who subscribe to the belief that every person has one good novel in them. But the truth is, having that good novel inside you and actually writing it are two very separate realities. To top it off, here’s the other reality check: Even when you’ve managed to create that novel that’s supposedly “bursting” out of you, is it good enough to land you a publishing deal—one that you’ll actually be paid for and not some vanity project you’ve fronted yourself? These are the dreams of the budding writer, the aspiring novelist.

At 23, Kyla Zhao already has a published novel

Kyla Zhao hails from Singapore. At 23 years of age, she recently sold her debut novel, “The Fraud Squad,” as part of a two-book deal to Berkley Publishing, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Set in Singapore, featuring an entirely Singaporean cast, “The Fraud Squad” has been described as “Crazy Rich Asians” meets “The Devil Wears Prada”—and that’s some promising beach read for January 2023, when the book gets released.

The main character in “The Fraud Squad” is a young woman who dreams of having her own byline in a high-society magazine. So she enlists her friends to infiltrate the Singapore socialite scene and finds that dream fulfillment comes with a weighty price of identity and self-awareness. Kyla, a remote Stanford University ‘21 alumnus, is living the novelist’s dream, in a crazy scenario of art-imitating-life... or vice-versa. At 16, she was writing about weddings for Harper’s Bazaar Singapore and interned on the editorial staff of Tatler Singapore when she was 18. She also did freelance writing assignments for Vogue Singapore. Now employed doing marketing for a tech company in Silicon Valley.

Kyla started writing as an intern for some of the most recognizable magazine titles in the world

For those who are living that same dream of one day being a published writer, here are some illuminating sound bites from Kyla:

“When I wrote the book, it was an escape from life, from our 2020 pandemic reality, which was just very depressing. I was very conscious about not basing the story on my own life. I simply wrote what I would personally love to read in a book, and I’m just thankful there were so many agents and editors who felt the same way. I’d say my experience in the magazine publishing world, as well as my personal interest in fashion and pop culture, allowed me to write authentically about the settings in ‘The Fraud Squad’.”

“‘The Fraud Squad’ does deal with serious emotional themes and relationship dynamics. I’ve been told my voice is breezy, which makes my book really easy to read and escape into.”

As for the process, she has these to say:

“I started writing ‘The Fraud Squad’ on June 28, 2020... My first draft was pretty messy and it took me much longer to edit my book than to draft it because there were many plot holes and inconsistencies I had to fix.”

“I did research into the traditional publishing process and realized the first step is to get a literary agent. So after I wrapped up my edits, I sent my book off to literary agents (known as querying). To my surprise, I got my first offer within two days, and eight more offers came within the next two weeks. The day before my 23rd birthday, my agent and I went out on submission, the process where she pitches my book to publishing houses. When multiple publishers expressed interest, my agent set up an auction. Ultimately, we decided to go with Berkley Publishing and the amazing thing is that my book deal was officially announced on June 28, 2021—exactly one year to the day I wrote the first word of my book.”

“I don’t think anyone should become a writer if they’re just looking to make money, because there really is no guaranteed payoff. You can spend years and years working on a book, and it might not even get an agent, much less ever get published... But that’s not to say writing an unpublished manuscript is a waste of time because I believe everything you write teaches you something about the craft, and about patience and determination.”

And most wisely, Kyla had this to say:

“I’m really happy for more Asian representation in the media. There’s this tendency for non-Asians to collapse Asians into a monolith just by the ethnic label, but I wanted to show in my book that the Asian diaspora is composed of colorful and vibrant lived experiences. To put it another way: None of my characters act the way they do simply because they are Asian, and I didn’t want their ethnicity to pigeonhole them into a non-Asian reader’s perceived caricature of how Asian characters should be.”

'The Fraud Squad' author Kyla Zhao proves that you got to be true to yourself until you make your dreams a reality

Kyla’s story isn’t one that happens every day, but for those aspiring writers here in the Philippines, it is living proof that there is an interest in Asian voices in the major global publishing world. And that when the stars, elements, and talent are aligned and in the right places, there is gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow.

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