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College senior Chloe Gong’s debut novel is “These Violent Delights."

Credit: Sophia Zhu

College senior Chloe Gong was named one of the youngest bestselling authors this year, according to The New York Times.

Gong’s debut novel “These Violent Delights” is a retelling of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” set in Shanghai in the 1920s. The book, which came out in November, follows the blood feud of two rival gangs and the love interests, Roma and Juliette.

“It’s quite rare for a debut book to hit the [New York Times’ Bestselling] list,” she said. “The established authors have the clout to actually make those sales numbers, so it was definitely a huge shock.”

Gong credits her book sales to her familiarity with her audience. She said she was familiar with the audience of young adult fiction novels as a young adult herself, noting that she wrote the first draft when she was 19 years old. She added that she also had the advantage of being familiar with social media, which allowed her to promote her book to other young adults on TikTok.

“I had a lot of ideas leading up to the release about how I would want to get the word about my book out on social media,” she said. “Maybe a 40-year-old debut wouldn’t necessarily think to do [that] because they’re not of the target audience.”

Gong, who has over 16,500 followers on TikTok, added that while she is unsure if her TikTok videos increased her sales substantially, they allowed her to connect with and have direct access to her target audience.

Gong wrote eight other manuscripts of novels before sending "These Violent Delights" to publishers. She said she wrote in her free time in high school to grow as a writer and to have fun. 

“I wasn’t taking myself very seriously,” she said. “I was just writing whenever I could.”

She had the idea for the book the summer before her first year at Penn, inspired by her fascination with the 1920s, her love for Shakespeare, and her family’s origins in Shanghai.

Throughout her first year at Penn, Gong said she began outlining and jotting down notes for the novel but did not start writing it until the end of her first year. After finishing the first draft, which took her two months to complete, she started emailing agents to pitch her novel.

“The timeline for this book is quite unconventional because I went about it while in school,” she said. “Most authors [write] more routinely along their pre-established, everyday adulthood life.”

After signing with an agent a month after finishing her first draft, the book was revised to increase “marketability” and then auctioned to publishing companies. Publishing company Simon and Schuster won the auction, giving them the rights to edit and publish the book, she said, adding that the published book is now very different from her first draft.

“The thing about traditional publishing is that so many hands go into it because they tend to have a certain vision that is very experienced with what the market is looking for,” she said. “There are a lot of misconceptions about traditional publishing, because people think editors change your work, but it’s absolutely not true. Editors only ever make it better.”

Gong said a sequel to “These Violent Delights” is expected to be published in fall 2021.

“The amazing thing about sequels is that you get to hit the ground running, because you don’t need to introduce the characters, the setting, or the world. It’s already there,” she said. “Readers that really enjoyed book one will really enjoy book two as well.”

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