“Throughout my experience leading up to signing with my agent, the underlying factor that helped me reach that goal post was all the wonderful people who helped improve my writing and cheered me on”

Author Daphne Dador is no stranger to mentoring programmes, and a strong advocate of writing communities – and it all started with WriteMentor

What made you apply for the WriteMentor mentoring programme?

Applying to WriteMentor’s Summer Mentorship Programme was easily one of the best decisions I’ve made with my writing career. 

At the time, I applied I had completed my first manuscript and had no clue what I was doing. So WriteMentor’s mission to assist budding authors elevate their writing craft and take them to the next level sounded like the perfect next step. 

Additionally — and I will stand by this statement forever — the WriteMentor family is a supportive and friendly bunch who genuinely want to see its participants succeed. I was enthusiastic to join the crew.

What was your experience like?

WriteMentor’s summer mentorship program is like being in an accelerated college course complete with homework (writing exercises), reading (craft books), deadlines, late-nights, salty snacks, and bonding with fellow mentees going through the same journey. 

A highlight of my experience: my fabulous mentor, Marisa Noelle. We laughed, we cried, we kicked some — well, I’ll keep this PG-rated! Marisa is an amazing mentor, colleague, and friend. She taught me foundational writing skills I continue to use today and remains a confidant and shoulder for me to cry on. 

I must also stand atop a mountain to shout about the friendships I made among my WriteMentor cohort, affectionately the “COVID class of 2020.” My YA crew still keeps in touch, I continue to pepper my amazing and talented CPs with random questions and story ideas (hi Jeff, check your messages), and I’ve got open invites to visit writing colleagues in all four corners of the planet. It’s a blessing to be part of our little, but mighty writing family.

Tell us about your writing journey from start until now?

So far, my writing journey has been like Disneyland’s Space Mountain: dark, fast, and twisty. Also, I cried the last time I rode Space Mountain — as an adult — so that’s appropriate to describe my experience too. 

In 2018, I vowed to start and finish a novel after beating cancer. (Nothing like staring death in the face to get motivated.) After countless revisions and finding CPs, (thank you team Sloth & Steady) this manuscript eventually became the YA sci-fi that I submitted to WriteMentor in April 2020. After Marisa decided to mentor me, my writing journey took off like a rocket. 

I rewrote my novel over the summer then received a few likes from the WriteMentor agent showcase and many from the #PitMad twitter pitch contest. However, after a few rejections, I wanted to strengthen my YA’s submission package. This led me to apply and get into my second mentorship program the Avengers of Colour in September 2020 with my amazing mentor Kess Costales. Kess offered a second pair of eyes on my submission package and helped me unpack the query process of my journey. However, as I was tweaking my YA under the Avenger’s program, I decided I needed a mental break and worked on my next book.* 

My second novel was the book that got me signed with an agent. It was a middle grade spooky adventure with Filipino folklore, and it came together fast thanks to the lessons I learned from my mentorship experiences.

I wrote my MG novel NaNoWriMo-style (fast draft) in a month, worked with CPs, and by December 2020, I was querying my second book. I also had a strong performance during the #DVpit twitter pitch contest. But in January I decided I wasn’t a hundred percent about my MG’s pages, so with fingers crossed I entered another mentorship program.

Miraculously, I got into my third mentorship with the Author Mentor Match program in February 2021 with my brilliant mentor Tracy Badua. Under Tracy’s expertise, I tweaked my MG and found a real passion for the MG voice and storytelling. In May 2021, my book was done in time for another #PitMad contest in June. 

My head is still spinning from that #PitMad round. I received several likes from agents, which resulted in multiple offers. I signed with my agent the sensational Tara Gonzalez later that month. If you do the math (and I did), I was in the query trenches for one year, seven months with several breaks in-between as I did three mentorship programs. I queried and pitched my two books to 60 agents and participated in six Twitter pitch contests. The last year and a half was quite the roller coaster in more ways than one!

Throughout my experience leading up to signing with my agent, the underlying factor that helped me reach that goal post was all the wonderful people who helped improve my writing and cheered me on. And this thrill ride all started with WriteMentor.

Can you tell us a little more about the book you worked on and signed with?

Yes! Delighted and excited to! It’s a paranormal middle grade cross between Goonies and City of Ghosts about Cassie, a 12yo underdog ghost hunter, who wants to win a mentorship contest with her ghost hunting idol. To achieve her dream, she must solve a local ghost legend, but no one wants to join her investigation crew except a strange boy — who turns out to be a cursed spirit returned from the dead! Additionally, my protagonist learns a lot about her heritage with the help of her grandmother who is a ghost enthusiast and researcher. Traditions, spooks, and monsters from the Philippines make an appearance throughout the novel.

While my book is a spooky adventure story, it’s also about a young girl who struggles with being accepted by her immigrant family, fitting in with peers, and her friendship with a fellow lonesome soul. I’d love for this book to appeal broadly, but there’s also a special hope that BIPOC kids who are into the goth/alternative scene will feel seen. It was a real blast writing Cassie’s story, and I hope it gives kids a good scare, a fun adventure, and joy.

What is your best piece of writing advice that you learned on the programme?

Sorry, I can’t do just one! I learned so much good advice from my WriteMentor colleagues including giving credit where credit is due! Check out the wisdom and inspiration of the WriteMentor community:

C.H. Barron: Remember what’s your WHY? Pain and doubt go hand in hand with the act of creating. Remembering why you started this story in the first place can help you get through all the tough moments. Write your WHY down & keep it close as you go through all the ups and downs. 

Jeff DeLeon: Look for CPs that will elevate your weaknesses vs. criticizing your strengths. I’ve had CPs outside my genre say, “I don’t get the spaceship stuff, but why wasn’t she angrier to be abandoned?” And that’s a damn good CP. 

George Jreije: Managing expectations is KEY to having a career in this industry. There is SO MUCH REJECTION. It’s crucial that you learn to persevere during those moments, continuing to be productive even when you feel disappointed because you will, and that is totally normal! 

Why do you think mentoring is important for writers?

I think mentorship programs are a great way to learn from an industry professional and find a community, but they aren’t the only vehicle for a writer to gain these experiences. Finding strong critique partners, attending workshops with industry professionals, and joining writing groups can get you the same results. 

One of the amazing aspects I cherish about the writing community is the willingness of complete strangers to help one another. If you need help, chances are you can connect with someone on Twitter and, of course, through groups like SCBWI, #DVcon, Manuscript Academy, and WriteMentor. Please do check out WriteMentor’s conferences, workshops, and publications!

While I fully endorse writing mentorship programs and encourage everyone to apply, I think writers should view them as one vehicle available to help improve their writing. Though a complete blast, they’re certainly not the only ride in town.

*I had a good LMFAO laugh with my husband when he read this, quote, “only my wife takes a mental break by starting a new book!” I want to acknowledge that mental breaks differ person to person and I’m certainly not advocating for anyone to do more work! I have a whole other rant on self-awareness and OPP (other people’s processes) and just because one author “does it this way” doesn’t mean you need to do the same. 

Twitter: @daphnedador

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