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Unveiling Irene Te’s ‘This Place is Magic’: A K-Pop Idol’s Heartfelt Journey Home

Welcome back to my Author Spotlight series, available on my blog and SubStack. This series is a celebration of the indie author community, offering a platform for authors to share their publishing journeys, connect with readers, and provide valuable insights into the world of book marketing. It’s an initiative to spotlight upcoming releases and give you, the reader, a chance to discover your newest favorite read.

Today, I am turning the spotlight on Irene Te, whose debut novel, “This Place is Magic,” is scheduled for release on the 30th of April and is currently available for pre-order. A narrative that expertly blends the allure of K-Pop culture with the relatable search for belonging, Irene’s book is an addition to the cozy contemporary genre that is sure to resonate with many.

In “This Place Is Magic,” readers meet Eunjae, a disillusioned K-pop idol who discovers a newfound sense of purpose far from the limelight’s demanding glare. The story takes us from the bustling streets of Seoul to the comforting embrace of a place called Wanna Waffle, where love, acceptance, and the possibility of a new beginning await.

As Irene’s PA and marketer, I’ve had the privilege of assisting with her marketing efforts, which encompass managing her social media overview and ARC & Street Team management. These initiatives are essential in building a loyal reader base and enhancing the visibility of “This Place is Magic.”

A Conversation with Irene Te

Can you share with us the moment you realized “This Place is Magic” was more than just an idea and something you needed to bring to life?

I know that an idea needs to become a full-fledged story when I start to see full scenes playing out in my head. I definitely don’t get these in the right order from the beginning, but when they’re cinematic and even come with dialogue and emotion, I know I’ve got a story and not just an idea.

The blend of humor, warmth, and K-Pop culture is certainly unique. How did these elements inspire the story of “This Place is Magic,” and what do you hope readers take away from this combination?

Well, I personally think K-pop is both beautiful and absurd. I love that absurdity and see so much joy and humor in it. The stage outfits, the airport fashion, the music video concepts, the inside jokes and banter, the legions of devoted fans — K-pop has its own distinct language and customs, as if it might be a separate country unto itself. I wanted to pay homage without flinching away from the industry’s harsher truths. But more than that, I wanted to show the inherent warmth to be found in many of these groups of young men and women who essentially grow up together, often becoming lifelong friends bordering on siblings. Like my protagonist and his brothers in Apollo, idol groups are family units. All of these elements are present in the book and I hope readers are able to see both the magic and the reality of K-pop when they read it. More than that, I hope readers find comfort in this story and the different kinds of love portrayed within it.

What has been the most exhilarating part of the journey to publication for you?

Connecting with readers! Always! The people leaving comments, sending me waffle emojis, and yelling in my DMs are the reason why I keep writing — thank you for giving this story a home in your heart! But it was also incredible to hold the actual book in my hands (I totally sat down on the floor and cried), and just recently I watched a bookseller put it on the shelf at my local indie (guess what? I cried again). The journey has been exhausting, but to pursue a dream and make it happen is beyond rewarding.

Can you describe a particular obstacle you faced while publishing “This Place is Magic” and how you overcame it?

I think the biggest obstacle was publishing a book that isn’t exactly easy to box into a particular genre or market to the tropes that are popular right now. Cozy contemporary is not the hottest ticket out there, but I tried to have faith that readers exist who were looking for this book the way I was looking for this book. And I also overcame this obstacle by ensuring that the book was the best and highest quality it could possibly be so that my work would speak for itself and stand on its own.

Reflecting on your path from concept to publication, what is one lesson you’ve learned that you would pass on to aspiring debut authors?

Give yourself more time than you think you need. There are plenty of suggested timelines and people offering expertise when it comes to the process of publishing a book, but take whatever they’re telling you and give yourself as much extra time as you can. Unexpected things are bound to happen, and you’ll save yourself stress if you set a longer timeline.

Every author has a different approach to writing. Could you give us a glimpse into your typical writing day or your process for developing such engaging characters?

My writing days are defined by flexibility. I do write every single day, but I never require a set word count. Some days I have the time, bandwidth, and momentum within the story to write as much as 3000 words, but there are many many more days when I write 500 or less. Sometimes all I write is a sentence. All of that counts as writing, for me. As a full time grad student and a mom, flexibility is how I make it possible for myself to write. I’ve also trained myself to do 90% of my writing on my phone; I use the Novlr app and write wherever I am, whenever I have the time. For TPIM specifically, I drafted in the middle of the night when everyone in the house was asleep and I finally had some peace 😅😅

Now that you’re close to the release date, what marketing strategies have you found most effective in building anticipation for “This Place is Magic”?

This is a strategy learned from marketing my day job as a freelance curriculum designer, but it applies to selling a book too: take high quality product photos! This can definitely be achieved with your phone, but put care and effort into how you present your book for sharing on social media. You can achieve something that looks great and gets people to stop scrolling just through simple adjustments to how you shoot and edit your photos.

If you could do one thing differently in preparation for your second book, based on your experiences with this one, what would it be?

I would hibernate for about fifty years prior to the start of my launch schedule. Why didn’t I hibernate first? Guys, I am SO tired. LOL.

You’ve woven a variety of tropes into your novel. Was there one that you particularly enjoyed exploring, and might we see it make a return in future works?

This Place is Magic doubles down on the found family trope because it’s one of my favorites. My protagonist found a family with the other members of Apollo, and then he found a family when he stepped through an orange door into a waffle restaurant years later. Families can come in so many variations, right? And the relationships and dynamics within families are also really nuanced; no family functions exactly the same as another. So you will definitely see more of this trope in future projects from me, there’s plenty to explore there!

Finally, with “This Place is Magic” soon in the hands of readers, what advice would you give to fellow authors about to embark on their debut publishing adventure?

There are so many free resources out there — be willing to learn and do the research before you decide you want to self-publish. Don’t cut corners; look at how traditionally published books are packaged in your genre and strive for that level of quality. But also, invest in high quality art as much and as often as you can. This includes your book cover, but also art that you can use for merch, promotional materials, and your graphics on social media. I have never regretted commissioning art for my stories and I love to support the artists who have illustrated for me over the years and across different projects. Plus, give yourself the gift of seeing your characters come to life in this way! It never gets old and some of my favorite people/dearest friends are the artists I’ve commissioned! Be sure that you’re asking the artist for their commercial rate(s) so that they’re being fairly compensated. This is going to be higher than what you’d pay for personal use, but if you’re putting their work on marketing materials and graphics, pay the commercial rate. 

I’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Irene Te for her openness and trust in this collaboration. It’s been a joy and a privilege to support her through the exciting journey toward publishing “This Place is Magic.” Irene’s dedication to her craft and her story is a testament to the vibrant spirit of the indie author community.

For those eager to step into Irene’s enchanting narrative, pre-orders are available on Amazon and can be added to your TBR on Goodreads. To stay updated with the latest news and connect directly with Irene, follow her on her Website, Instagram, Pinterest, Substack, and Tumblr. Also, don’t miss out on exclusive content by subscribing to her Newsletter. Join us in celebrating the release of “This Place is Magic,” and discover the joy of finding where you truly belong.