Kiana Nguyen (Donald Maass Literary Agency)

Fantasy, science fiction

On Submission


Alyssa writes YA speculative fiction about the girls who grow up into villains. She herself grew up in Hong Kong and is currently studying medicine. If her characters came to life, she might have to perform surgery on herself.

I’ve been writing for publication since 2014 and queried my first manuscript for several months to no avail. I wrote, revised, and shelved two more manuscripts before entering my fourth into Pitch Wars 2017. A few months after pitching and submitting, I signed with my agent. After further extensive revisions, we’re now on submission while I work on my fifth manuscript.

I’ve been critiquing since I wrote my first manuscript at fifteen — I posted my stories in online communities and swapped with others for feedback. I’ve continued to beta read for friends, including now-published authors, and have an especially sharp editorial eye when it comes to queries. My experience as a former book blogger also lends me a broader perspective both in editing and on the book world in general.

I was a mentee in Pitch Wars 2017, so I’ve been on the other side of mentoring personally and know what support and guidance you’ll be looking for from mentors.

I’m a medical student with experience in scientific research, so I’ll be able to provide insight and help fact-check for science fiction novels! Fantasy writers, no need to feel left out — I can also critique your characters’ stabbing techniques, poison choices, and causes of death.

Finding a community was such a turning point of my writing. From the first draft to the querying process, writing can be very isolating, so it’s important to have both practical and emotional support. I’m lucky enough to have found other writers who helped me along the way, and I believe in paying it forward!

I’m also hoping for the opportunity to help a marginalised writer with their manuscript, whether it’s #ownvoices or not.

I’m looking for fresh and inventive speculative fiction that doesn’t shy away from the morbid or morally complex. Bonus points if it’s queer and/or Asian. If you sometimes worry that your manuscript is too weird or wild or wicked for the market, I want to help you bring out its potential!


  • Fantasy
  • Sci-Fi
  • Magical Realism/Fabulism
  • Own Voices
  • Urban/Contemporary Fantasy

Above all, I’m looking for fresh, inventive speculative fiction, especially if it’s dark and morally complex.

In terms of fantasy, I love epic fantasy for their worldbuilding, but I’m not a huge fan of a world that is inherently violent towards women and minorities. I also adore contemporary fantasy, especially set in rarely seen cities or even a fictional world. If your fantasy doesn’t have magic (a la The Winner’s Curse), I’d love to see that too!

I am a huge space nerd, and so I love science fiction set in space. I’m also very excited to see submissions featuring girl scientists. If your worldbuilding twists some aspect of real-world technology, e.g. steampunk, I’d definitely be interested in reading that!

I’m also hoping to see some dystopian and/or post-apocalyptic in my inbox.




  • Edit Letter (Big Picture developmental feedback)
  • Line edit (dropping notes into a Word Document)
  • Freestyle in chat

My process will be tailored to your expectations as a mentee. I’m a very goal-oriented person, so before even sending you an edit letter, I will chat with you about your timeline for revisions and your strategy for querying. If you’re unsure about this, I’m happy to work it out with you!

After that, I will write an edit letter based upon my general impressions regarding characterisation, worldbuilding, plot, etc. I feel that voice and pacing are my strengths in writing, so if that’s what your manuscript needs work on, I may be the right mentor for you! I will also give in-line comments as I read. I will be available via chat throughout your revisions to help you work out any further issues.

Finally, I will help you revise your query and other submission materials and otherwise support you through the querying process. Query-writing is one of my strengths and I’ll be here to make sure your query shines. If you’d like to join Twitter pitch contests, I’ve also had a good track record with these and will help you craft an eye-catching pitch! I will also give you guidance on how to select agents and query strategically.

I’m open to working with a mentee outside of their manuscript. For example, if you’re uncertain how to navigate social media or build the mythical “online presence”, my experience as a blogger will definitely come in handy!



Above all, I’m looking for a mentee who is not afraid to be ambitious! Be confident enough in your writing skills that you’re willing to make the necessary revisions to go forwards. Dream big about your writing career; be realistic, but also ready to pursue a long-term strategy. Keep going, even if you’ve shelved one or two or fifteen manuscripts. Take the initiative to pick my brain — I’m willing to offer my help if you’re willing to ask for it!

If you’re a teen writer or live outside the US/UK/etc., I’d love to share my personal experience in these aspects with you.



  • Asian-inspired fantasy/sci-fi, including diaspora stories
  • Dark fantasy/sci-fi with an antihero or villain protagonist — or really, anything with a fantastic villain
  • Retellings of everything from fairy tales to operas
  • Space operas
  • Dystopian or post-apocalyptic stories
  • Tragic stories, especially those with comedic elements
  • Unusual narrative structure — anything from unreliable narrators to dual POVs to non-linear timelines
  • Complex family dynamics and conflicts
  • In all genres: serial killers and assassins, heists, espionage, disguises, witches, monsters & demons, and “”unlikeable”” characters
  • Books without romance and/or with aroace rep
  • Books with f/f relationships. PLEASE. (tragic or otherwise!)


  • Anything too cozy or romantic — feel-good stories aren’t my thing
  • A white main character in an “exotic” Asian setting
  • Unambiguously evil villains



BOOKS: Jade City, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, A Darker Shade of Magic, Vicious, Wolf by Wolf, Six of Crows, Labyrinth Lost, His Dark Materials, A Series of Unfortunate Events

TV/MOVIES: Hannibal, Star Wars (especially Rogue One and The Force Awakens), Black Panther

MUSIC/OTHER MEDIA: Halsey, Lorde, Star Wars, Swan Lake, Salome, Pokémon