The author of Bingsu for Two answers to many names. For some, she’s Tabitha. For others, Tabby. But with her readers, she uses her middle name. Sujin Witherspoon is a name she’s proud to have gracing the cover of her upcoming novel Bingsu for Two.
“You can tell this is a mixed person telling a mixed story, which is really important to me,” Witherspoon said. “Because I think I have had people assume I’m not Korean, which is valid, and they wonder why I’m the right person to be telling a Korean American story, and I want to avoid any confusion around that.”
The other practical reason, she continued, is that she uses her first name, Tabitha, in her day job, and she wanted to keep her writing and corporate lives from getting confused.
The consciousness of what name she’s using in different spheres of her life is one facet of Witherspoon’s decision to let no one but herself define who she is, similar to the characters she’s created in her novel.
A young adult rom-com, Bingsu for Two follows River Langston-Lee and Sarang Cho as they drift from enemies to lovers while working at a Korean dessert café owned by Sarang’s family. River, who is half-Korean, ultimately must choose between his feelings or meeting his family’s expectations. It’s a story of figuring out who you are amid conflicting pressures from others.
Writing Bingsu for Two helped Witherspoon explore her own multiculturalism, she said. Growing up in a biracial family, Witherspoon said her inability to speak Korean fluently once made her feel like she wasn’t Korean enough.
“And that meant so much to me personally, because I’m a writer, and words and being able to communicate means a lot to me,” Witherspoon said. “So to not be able to communicate in the ways that I want to in my mother’s tongue literally was very invalidating.”
While entering her senior year at the University of Washington, Witherspoon wrote the book at a time of uncertainty about her future. After years of unsuccessfully pitching an older fantasy novel, she knew it was time to change course. This time, she would write something purely for herself, not tailored to the demands of the publishing industry.
“I wanted to remember why I loved writing so much,” she said. “So I wrote something that was completely self indulgent, and had all of my favorite tropes and archetypes, and it was just supposed to be a really fun book.”
According to Witherspoon, the book only took two to three months to draft, but had been on submission for several more months before she got an offer from Union Square & Co., a publishing house controlled by Barnes & Noble.
Anahita Karthik, another soon-to-be-published author who connected with Witherspoon on Twitter, wrote about the exhausting process of finding a literary agent who will represent their book in a blog post:
The “‘don’t give up’ attitude is super toxic,” she wrote. “Hard work doesn’t always reap rewards; luck and timing absolutely do matter . . . Take the break you need and deserve, and get back to writing only when you’re ready to struggle again.”
Karthik wrote her debut novel Better Catch Up, Krishna Kumar, also a young adult romantic comedy, around the same time that Witherspoon wrote Bingsu for Two. The two became critique partners and friends, sharing drafts in progress and giving each other feedback.
For Karthik, the validation both from their friendship and the online writing community has helped greatly in her publishing journey. Both Karthik and Witherspoon participated in #DVpit, an online pitching event that started on Twitter. It was designed for historically underrepresented writers in the publishing world to pitch books to agents and editors.
When an author set with a publishing deal makes an encouraging comment online to a writer still in the querying stage, that can give the querying author a boost of confidence from seeing someone else’s faith in their work, Karthik said.
Writers seeking to get published often think that the publishing industry is a meritocracy, Witherspoon said in a TikTok video. But getting rejections don’t necessarily reflect who you are as a writer, since the publishing market can shift so quickly.
“The moral of the story is to write what you know and what you love and keep an ear to the market about what works and what people are getting tired of,” said Witherspoon.
Bingsu for Two is set for release in fall 2024.