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Author & Agent Interview: Leilani Lamb and Hannah Andrade

Today, we are thrilled to be interviewing Leilani Lamb, a Kanaka Maoli writer, and her literary agent, Hannah Andrade. You can learn more about Leilani on her website and Twitter, and more about Hannah on her agency's website.

We started this Author & Agent blog series to spotlight Pacific Islander creators and their agents for Asian and Pacific Islander month. Our hope is that this series will inspire other Pacific Islanders interested in pursuing traditional publishing as creators or as agents. As we learned in the creation of our website, there is not a single Pacific Islander agent, and we hope to see that change.

Thank you for joining us!

Leilani's Interview

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and the project for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?

I grew up steeped in the stories and myths passed down by my parents and grandparents, and the legend of Hiʻiakaikapoliopele resonated most deeply of all. As a child, I found courage in her bravery and selflessness.

During the pandemic, when we were all isolated from the people we loved, I revisited Hiʻiaka’s story and saw it through a new lens. Her legend was an examination of love in all its (healthy and unhealthy) forms, validation that families can be messy, and permission to navigate how I fit into mine. It was exactly what I needed at the time.

I wrote KAIKAINA shortly after, a deeply researched retelling of the myth of Hiʻiakaikapoliopele that had been passed down for centuries through oral tradition. It was important to me to share this story with fidelity, in the wake of the systematic erasure of Hawaiian culture that followed. I knew I had to find an agent who understood what I was hoping to do with this novel, and that journey led me to Hannah.

What resources did you use to compile your list of agents to query? What criteria did you use to build your list?

I used the Big 3: QueryTracker for response timelines, Publishers Marketplace for sales history, and Manuscript Wish List for fit. I built a list of agents at agencies with strong sales who were well-regarded in the writing community. While I did query agents who had been in the field for a while, I was personally drawn to the idea of working with a newer agent at a reputable agency who could provide more hands-on editorial support while we built our careers together.

Did you tailor your query to each agent?

Very broadly. As I was compiling my query list, I found consistencies across MSWLs that fit my book. For example, many agents sought “myths from underrepresented communities,” “morally grey MCs,” or “messy family relationships.” I wrote a handful of housekeeping options that spoke to these common MSWL items and plugged them in for each agent as appropriate. This approach helped me distill my book down to its core marketable themes, which proved to be a useful exercise for revisions as well!

What about Hannah made you query her?

Where can I begin? Upon first glance at Hannah’s MSWL, I knew she would be an amazing champion for this story. I deeply appreciate how she consistently champions underrepresented voices and highlights the importance of diverse stories where identity isn’t the focus. While I write often from my perspective as a Native Hawaiian and Vietnamese woman, my work is about so much more than my marginalizations, and I wanted an agent like Hannah who would see that in my writing (and me!).

From a practical perspective, I was exclusively looking for agents who described themselves as editorial. Most of my growth as a writer has happened in revising, and I wanted an editorial partner who could help me lean into both my strengths and my opportunities to grow.  

From a deeply impractical standpoint, Hannah mentioned loving k-dramas and—as any k-drama fan can attest—we’re always looking for like minds (and show recommendations)!

What advice would you give creators looking for representation?

Find your community and buy a lot of cake (or treat of your choosing!). I cannot express enough how critical it was to my mental health to have a community of other querying writers who got it. Querying is uniquely hard and it’s not a process that many of us have had the opportunity to build resilience around. The community I’ve been fortunate enough to build has been the best thing about this experience by far.

Also, cake! Having a go-to treat to boost your mood when those hard rejections come in (and they will, through every step of the publishing journey) is imperative. Other friends have healthier treats like going on hikes or buying cute stickers, but for me it will always be cake.

When Hannah offered, what made you decide to sign with her? What criteria did you consider?

No one tells you how hard the decision period is! I had several offers to choose from and each one fit my querying criteria—established agency, strong fit, well-regarded. I felt a lot of pressure to make the “right” decision until I spoke to friends who went through the same thing, who helped me reframe it as “right for me.”

After the call with Hannah, I felt like she was the right choice for me. Her editorial vision was spot on and I was thrilled about her submission strategy. She was clearly thoughtful, strategic, and as hungry as I was. Still, the decision period was a fever dream of stress and I struggled to reconcile my head with what I felt in my heart.

That’s where client calls came in. After speaking to a handful of Hannah’s clients, I knew she was the right agent for me. Communication and transparency are extremely important to me, and Hannah’s strengths on both fronts rang clear through her client’s testimonies. It was a whirlwind two weeks squeezing in both agent and client calls, but making the time was so worth it. What advice would you give to Pacific Islander creators looking for agents?

This is advice I have for all creators, but I want to really emphasize it for my fellow PI writers: be discerning in the feedback you take. Early in my writing career, I took all feedback without reservation and that quickly led to losing the heart of my stories. As I grew in my craft, it became easier to tease out the difference between suggestions that would improve the work and those that were more reader preference.

This gets especially challenging when we grapple with balancing our identities with the demands of the amorphous “market.” KAIKAINA is a deeply researched, unapologetically Hawaiian novel. It was important to me to share this myth with authenticity, because as a child I yearned to see the Hawaiian stories I grew up with centered in media. Instead, I found a problematic mishmash of Pacific Islander cultures that was misguided at best and offensive at worst.

When I started querying KAIKAINA, I received feedback from some early readers urging me to westernize it to improve its marketability. Suggestions included removing the ʻokina from Hiʻiaka’s name to improve legibility, setting the story in a place familiar to western readers like a high school (!), and adding definitions of Hawaiian words in the footnotes instead of relying on context clues. Every creator I know from an underrepresented community has received feedback like this.

Beta readers are invaluable partners who can help us improve our pacing, plotting, and so much more. But when feedback veers into a reflection on the marketability of marginalization, we must protect our peace and pass.


How long have you been signed together? What’s your favorite thing about Hannah?

Hannah and I have worked together since October 2022, across two books that could not be more different (KAIKAINA and a romantasy that reads like a k-drama in all my favorite ways). There have been many bright spots about working together, but what stands out the most is her editorial eye.

I’ve grown so much as a writer working with Hannah. Together, we discovered that my voice really suits adult fiction and I’ve thrived leaning into that audience. She’s a true collaborator who knows my strengths and pushes me to improve on my weaknesses (“feelings!”). We’re currently revising KAIKAINA for adult audiences and I am so excited about it.

In that spirit of collaboration, she has been an incredible partner on the business side of publishing. She’s thoughtful, strategic, and communicative—I know my work is in good hands with her, and that security is so critical in a field that can often feel all too tenuous.

Hannah's Interview


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