Recently, I was interviewed by Raelee Chapman of the Asian Books Blog in Singapore. The interview went live yesterday and it focused on my experience self-publishing my first novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, and on my writing process, background and goals. Click here for the interview. Enjoy.
First of all, I have to apologize. It's been ages since my last post but there's a good reason for that. I've been busy.
As Chinese New Year approached with The Year of the Ram charging towards us, I looked up what the Monkey's (my sign) prospects are in the Ram Year. "Early productivity with minor financial challenges." Oh yay! And, oh yay. Not. 'Productivity' can mean so many things but I like to think that having a plan and accomplishing things towards fulfilling that plan is a form of productivity and, in the end, it will yield results. The consequent concern, then, becomes when those results actually happen. Those results - securing a literary agent, getting my YA fantasy novel picked up by a publisher, becoming a working writer - haven't happened yet but I've been making some effort and, hopefully, some headway into achieving those things.
With the Ram whispering in my year, I've been feverishly sending queries and pitches to agents on an almost daily basis. However, with a full-time teaching job, a son to raise, a family to spend time with, workouts to improve my health and fitness, a second job as a coach (it's spring season so Outdoor Track and Field is in full swing and I'm one of the Throws coaches), my time for writing is at a minimum. Here lies the conundrum. I've been working hard on trying to secure an agent and/or publisher. That, unfortunately, leaves me little time to do any actual writing.
I'm not asking for anyone's sympathy or a pity party and, perhaps, it's the OCD that runs in my family that's making focus largely solely on the business end of my writing career but I can't seem to find the balance between the business and the creative sides of being a writer. So, my fellow writers, how do you do it? I'm asking because I'm open to suggestions and when I'm not creating I feel like something's missing. Honestly, I get pissed when I don't get to add any words to my current manuscript. So, please, if you can offer any real world tips, send me a comment or an email. They'll be received with great appreciation.
As for the "financial challenges" the Monkey could have this year, who knows? Challenges don't have to be negative, after all, and if it's worth mentioning I'll write about it in a future post.
Confidence and Passion: A Writer's Essential Allies...Or, How To Feel Good And, Hopefully, Succeed At A Pitch Slam
It seems that the idea of change is on my mind. In one of the latest posts in my food blog, Panlasa, I talk about the changes in the way I make some dishes now compared to how I was taught to make them years ago. Here, I'm going to talk a little about the agent pitch session at this year's Writer's Digest Conference and how it has changed and how my tactical approach to pitching my work to agents may have also changed since the first time I participated in it in 2010.
I've participated in the pitch slam three times now. The first was, like I said, in 2010. That was the last year when it was part of Book Expo America (BEA) and Writer's Digest hosted BEA. The subsequent pitch sessions I attended were in 2011 and just this past August. In 2010 and 2011, I'd pitched my first (and, so far, only published) novel, Back Kicks And Broken a Promises. Unfortunately, it wasn't published through an agent, with a bestseller-making bid war and with the engine of a big traditional publishing house behind it.
When I pitched in 2010, I'd really done it just to get the experience. But I'm not going to lie. I did hold on to the dullest glimmer of hope that something might happen and I wasn't going to turn it away if it had. I'd have busted my butt to finish and polish my novel. The conference hosts's recommendation was for an author not to pitch unless his book was finished or, with utmost certainty, the author knew exactly where his book was going. The pitch session was also part of the conference, not requiring a separate fee. I decided to pitch two agents. One is Asian. I chose her, yes, because of that. I'm Asian and Back Kicks has an Asian American protag, is strong in Asian themes and is set as much in Asia (Singapore and The Philippines) as it is in America (New Jersey). This agent did ask for a submission but she obviously passed and, naturally, I was bummed out. But, I was okay with it. I hadn't felt a strong vibe with her and, really, my novel was only about two thirds done. The other agent I pitched that year, who I pitched because she's from New Jersey, also passed but she was very pleasant, encouraged me to keep writing and said she'd welcome future queries from me.
In 2011, Back Kicks was finished and I was fully ready to put it out to the world. The agents I pitched were very receptive and gave my book - its pitch, anyway - some very encouraging and flattering words. Three of them - I pitched five in the time I had - said the story reminded them of Junot Diaz's Pulitzer Prize winning The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao. All five agents requested pages and/or the book's synopsis. Alas, they all passed. So, feeling that my book was ready to go out and wanting to put some closure on it, I self-published it through Abbott Press, the then brand new indie publishing arm of Writer's Digest Magazine, in 2012. A year later, I made further revisions and updated my book with Abbott. Now, I can say I'm truly done with it. I'll still promote it and such but, in my mind and heart, it's a done deal and I can't and don't want to change it further. The agents I pitched in 2011 were YA generic, literary or adult fiction focused.
This time, I didnt just go in with the idea of a book or a newly finished manuscript. I went in with my heart and my mind. Huh? Back Kicks, like many first books, is semi-autobiographical. This can work both positively and negatively. For me, while there is a story with sub-plots, arcs and strong characters, I think it worked against me. I never like talking about myself. In typical writerly mystification, I have self-confidence and self-esteem issues and I don't think my life is very interesting yet I can write about parts of it, albeit fictionalising it, and share it with the world. So, because of my lack in self-confidence and, perhaps an artist's self-loathing, I likely didn't present myself all that passionately about my own book.
In 2014, it was a lot different. For one thing, I thoroughly researched my targets and went with the agents who, based on their bios provided by the conference organisers, were close to being a 'perfect fit.' What I've written is a YA fantasy auctioneer called Sky Warrior. It's a fun, educating and entertaining novel that I would want to read, even if I hadn't written it, and wish were a movie. There's nothing high falutin' about Sky Warrior. There's multiculturalism, action, martial arts, magic. What's not to like? Perhaps the difference in 2014 is that I'm coming to terms with what I want to write and not what I think I should be writing. At least for me, talking about and reading Back Kicks was like touring my own head. With Sky Warrior, it's a case of being taken somewhere far away and very different from where real life lives.
I pitched five agents last August. One was a movie producer and she asked me for a business card. Her partners have since passed but we're keeping our lines of communication open in case her partners change their minds and if I have anything else she might like. Two agents passed at The Pitch Slam but their bios didn't state they weren't into 'high fantasy,' which is what one of them called my novel. They both complimented me on my pitch, however. The other two were super excited. One, after I finished my pitch, said, "You had me at gung fu." Naturally, I was jazzed. I've since followed up with her and I'm still waiting to hear back. The other one was even more enthusiastic and we discovered that our sons both enjoy Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender. I've followed up with her and she replied and she asked me to give her more time and said she'll get back to me soon. That's better than getting the broom.
So, if I can be so bold as to offer any kind of advice about pitching to agents, it's this: be passionate and know who you're talking to and/or know who you want to talk to. Nothing may come from what happened at The Pitch Slam last summer. Of course, I'm hopeful something will especially in light of how enthusiastic the agents I pitched responded to my novel. But, if nothing does, I know I can go with Sky Warrior to other agents feeling confident and passionate about it. And, nothing is more contagious and fostering in trust than confidence and passion.
Above, Left to right: Me, Elisa Pupko, Peter Mercurio (school principal), Honi Wasserman (school media specialist)
For years, since I was a child really, I've written. Since the early 1990s, in fact, when I was getting paid for articles I'd written as a freelance journalist, I've called myself a 'writer.' Since the mid-1990s, when I started writing screenplays, going into the 2000s, when I started earnestly writing fiction, and today, with one indie-published book under my belt and on the verge of finishing my second novel, I've been working on becoming a full-time writer. In addition to, hopefully, being able to support my family that way, I've also tried to establish, within myself and those with whom I interact - inside and outside of the writing community - a writing identity. By that, I mean for people to see me, first and foremost (outside of being a husband, father and martial artist), as a writer. I often describe myself as a "writer trapped inside a teacher's body." I'm a teacher by trade, as the saying goes, but in the land of Hard Work And Perseverance and it's close neighbor, Where Dreams Come True, one day, what I do and who I am will become one.
Well, my writing identity took a major boost last month when I spoke at my son's school. My son is in kindergarten and I was asked by one of the class moms, who's a writer herself, to be one of three speakers at the school's launch event for its annual Academic Fair. The theme this year was 'Literacy, Literacy Everywhere - Characters.' The other two speakers were Elisa Pupko, a New York-based actor and founder of Treasure Trunk Theatre in Brooklyn, and the school's media specialist, Honi Wasserman.
Each of us presented for about fifteen minutes during which we shared our own take on the theme. Honi read from Dr. Seuss and Gary Paulsen, extolling the virtue of books. Elisa shared pictures from several of her acting experiences and discussed how she uses elements like a play's setting (location, era), costumes, her characters' age, their physical appearances, limitations and their social statuses to inform her interpretation of a role she's playing.
Me, I discussed how literacy is a skill but more than that, to borrow from the rock group Queen, how literacy is a kind of magic. And, I truly, mean that. I didn't simply use such a 'ruse' to get the K-2 and 3-5 audiences to buy into what I was saying. Literacy - reading and writing - is magic. Words take you places, let you be other people, do superhuman things. And that's when you read a book. When you write something and create worlds and people and put them together in interesting, educating and entertaining ways, you become the magician.
Left: Discussing creativity and imagination
with an excerpt from my favourite book,
The Little Prince
I explained to them that my creativity came from many places and how I expressed that creativity with poorly written short stories and unfulfilled story ideas when I was as young as nine or ten. I recalled to my listeners that my brother and I grew up playing with action figures. (I'm a guy so I have to say 'action figures' but, really, they were dolls.) We had eight inch dolls of superheroes and movie characters from The Planet of the Apes (the original) and the original Star Trek series. They were made by Mego. I also had a GI Joe and my brother had dolls of Steve Austin and Jamie Summers. For those of who too young, that would be the main characters from The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.
Anyway, at first, my brother and I played with them as they were. Captain Kirk was Captain Kirk, Supergirl was Supergirl and so on. Eventually, however, we started creating different characters for them and we would rearrange our bedroom so it would become another world. One time, we folded our mattresses and turned them into mountain ranges. One of our Klingon figures was the town's mayor. We wrote newspapers for the dolls to hold and 'read' and we even cut out tiny monetary notes. What I didn't realize at the time was that I, with my brother, was being creativity. I was even more clueless that my creativity would get me to writing screenplays and novels and speaking in front of impressionable young people. So, basically, I told them that anything and anyone can spark their creativity and imagination.
I also emphasized that they must do everything they can to prevent from losing their imagination; to remain a child when reading and writing. To illustrate this, I read from my all-time favourite book, The Little Prince. I read from the opening section. To prevent a spoiler - and if you haven't read this wonderful book or you haven't read it in ages, make sure you do so now - I'll just say I read the part about the boa constrictor and the hat.
Finally, I offered a bit of writing advice with a more practical bend. Since the theme was characters, I told them that character is action. I told them it's better to show their character being good - or bad - instead of merely writing or saying so.
Funnily, as things work out, as I was sharing my pearls of wisdom, I found myself feeling that I was talking more to myself than to my son and his schoolmates. Grown ups, you see, like myself can be such fuddy-duddies. We say "Stop!" and "No!" too often and we want things to be just so and exactly what and how they were intended to be. And, ironically, I think we become more fuddy-duddyish when we become parents, albeit without realizing it or intending to be. So, whether you're five, like my son, or forty-five, like me, remember these things - literacy is magic, don't lose your imagination, character is action, don't be a stick in the mud - and live by them. As writers, remembering these things is invaluable to our process and what we do. As readers, they make the book's enjoyment that much more meaningful. And, if you can enjoy reading and writing with a refreshed childlike innocence, you'll participate fully and enjoy another crazy thing: life.
Happy creating everyone!
A Writer's Editor - RIP Monica Harris
It's strange how people affect us, impact upon our lives and leave some kind of indelible impression. And, I'm not referring to the people we've known the longest or the most intimately. Sometimes, more than we might realise at the time, these individuals are people we've met only a few times or, in some cases, only once.
I was reminded about this just a week ago when I checked my email and found one from Twitter. I get these often, as I'm sure many of you who have a Twitter account do. It's an email suggesting people for me to follow; the suggestions generated by some program that analyses trends, hashtags, followers, those who follow you, etc. Well, one of the suggestions was MHM Editorial Services (@mhmedits). It'd been a while - probably a year or so - since I'd last thought about MHM but I recognised the name immediately and my initial thought was "Don't I already follow this account?" So, I logged into my Twitter account and checked it out and, just as I suspected, I already follow @mhmedits. I further learnt, however, that MHM's account is no longer active due to the death of its account holder. Likewise, MHM Editorial Services is no longer operating.
Upon discovering this, I felt like I'd been kicked in the gut and slapped in the face. MHM Editorial was an editing business run by Monica Harris. I met her at the 2009 Book Expo America and a few months later we met at the lobby of a New York hotel where my sister-in-law and her husband were staying. My wife came into New York with me. She had breakfast with my in-laws and I had a meeting with Monica.
A few weeks before our meeting, I'd emailed Monica the first ten pages of my novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises. She was more of a content editor versus a line editor but she did offer suggestions in syntax and caught some typos as she made useful comments on the various red flags she found in the book's plot, character motivation and dialogue. As most editors do in this kind of situation, Monica went through these pages for free. To edit more would've required a proper business arrangement which, after considering my self-publishing budget, I could not pursue. In spite of this, Monica more than welcomed my emails that were full of general questions on publishing. She also, even months after our meeting, willingly accepted and promptly answered my questions asking for further clarification of the comments she'd made on the pages she'd read. To me, this showed a true dedication on her part of being a writer's editor; being more concerned about the writer creating the best work he or she can produce and understanding what he or she needs to do than performing quality editorial services and writer support just for a buck.
As insightful as Monica was with my manuscript, she was also ahead of the curve when it came to self-publishing. In the last ten years or so, independently publishing one's own work has grown and become less taboo. Anticipating the growth of indie published books, Monica specialised in serving the independent author, leaving her editing posts at traditional publishing houses and forming MHM Editorial.
I didn't know Monica very well, at all. I only met her once. But, the integrity in her approach to my work and the dignity she offered me as a green first-time author, has left a lasting impression on me; so much so that, when I found out she'd died, tears pooled at the bottom of my eyes. I felt like a friend had died, albeit one with whom I'd lost touch.
I'm an indie author hoping to break into the mainstream with an agent and a traditional publishing house. Thanks to Monica, I'm less ignorant about the entire process and I feel more secure about my work and vision being my work and vision. For that, I thank her. And, whether you're an indie or a traditionally published author, I hope your editors possess the character and love of her craft the way Monica did.
RIP Monica Harris. The publishing world, especially that of the indie author, misses you deeply.
November - The Writer's Month
It's November 1st and, in addition to it being All Saints' Day, it's National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. I participated in NaNoWriMo last year and I 'won' it. I wasn't the sole winner. If a participant finished the first draft of a novel, at a minimum of 50,000 words, you were considered a 'winner.' Most novels, really, are 70,000 to 80,000 words long but 50,000 is absolutely doable in thirty days and becomes the seed for revisions, which can include making the novel more complex and reaching the bench mark 80,000. I'm actually in the process of finishing revisions for the novel I first drafted during last year's NaNoWriMo (Born From A Stone, book one of my Sage Of Heaven series) and I'm challenging (pressuring?) myself to also finish the first draft of another novel, Aliens Among Us, which is book one of my series of the same name.
I discovered earlier today that November is also NaBoPloMo. (Say that out loud a few times. Doesn't that sound like you've just come back from the dentist, tongue swollen and numb from novocaine?) Anyway, NaBoPloMo stands for National Blog Posting Month. If you're reading this, you're likely a blogger also. And, diligent bloggers, of which I am not one during the months of August through October because of a packed schedule, put up new posts several times a week, if not daily. Well, just as NaNoWriMo helps me with the discipline of sitting down to write and work on my current projects, NaBoPloMo will help me keep in touch with my subscribers. And, the goal of NaBoPloMo is for participants to post a new blog everyday. Like NaNoWriMo, NaBoPloMo has a site where you can register and get more traffic to your blog and through which you can make connections. Check it out here.
Really, NaBoPloMo is, in my opinion, an extension of NaNoWriMo. While WriMo is focused on writing a novel, both are about writing. That's why, with two global reaches to promote writing and reading (let's face it, both are reaching all areas of the world thanks to Twitter and other social media), November has become, for me, 'the writer's month.' Add to this that I took my first Gotham Writer's Workshop in the fall and this time of year is truly all about writing. Of course, I write all year long but there's something special about this time of year that jump starts or adds an extra spark to my involvement with words; not just as an author but as a reader, too. Maybe it's because we're going to be falling back an hour and enjoying less daylight and spending more time indoors. Maybe it's because it's getting colder and we'll be cozied up with a blanket, a warm dog at our feet, logs crackling behind you in your fireplace. Whatever it is, the next few months we'll all be spending more time inside and for many of us that means more reading and writing.
Good luck to my fellow writers, whether you're participating in NaNoWriMo and/or NaBoPloMo or not.
After all, it's about showing up and putting the words down that gets the job done.
This time of year is usually my busiest. The start of school (I'm a teacher in my non-writing life), catching up with any and all changes to how things are happening at work (this year, it's all about Student Growth Objectives (SGOs) and International Baccalaureate (IB), coaching volleyball (in New Jersey, volleyball is a fall sport) and trying to find time to write. This year, there's the added responsibilities that come with kindergarten, which my son just started, and I'm also exercising more.
So, it's with equal amounts of enthusiasm and relief that today - actually, less than an hour ago - I finished going through my WIP, Sage Of Heaven, and making revisions. My manuscript will go through more revisions as I make the changes in its Word file but, nonetheless, it's getting closer to what I call a working draft; a draft I will feel comfortable workshopping to willing readers (Alex London, author of Proxy said he'd be willing to read it so I know it'll go through, at least, one exceptionally talented set of eyes which are, in turn, attached to a very talented and creative mind) and one with which I can solicit agents.
I'm planning on having the new Word doc ready by - hopefully before - the end of this month so I can devote November to NaNoWriMo and get the first draft of book two of the Sage Of Heaven series writen or book one of my Aliens Among Us series completed. The volleyball season will be over by the time NaNoWriMo starts and I'll have more time to devote to writing so this is doable. I did write the first draft of Sage Of Heaven through NaNoWriMo, after all.
There's still loads more work to be done with my current manuscript, especially if it does successfully garner me an agent, but I am breathing a sigh of relief that its current round of revisions is completed because, honestly, I wasn't sure they'd get done before the end of the year. So, for you fellow writers out there, especially those like who are not (yet) fulltime writers and who wear multiple hats that it's difficult to reconcile each one, rest assured that if a slow poke procrastinator like me can finish something then all of you can - and some.
Happy writing all!
My afterschool Creative Writing prorgam started out as a club for which I got paid a small stipend of $420 per six-week (once a week) session. After being informed that I needed to have at least six members in order to get paid, it's now purely a volunteer endeavour. (Right now, I have three students.)
And I love it.
I've written since I was about eleven - the age of my youngest student - but I didn't have the priviliege of having my stories critiqued by fellow writers nor, outside of my English Language and English Lit classes, did I have the opportunity to learn about the craft of writing. Even then, in Language, we learnt basics (metaphor, simile) and in Lit it was about plot, character lists, setting and theme. My workshop is open to all kinds of writing because I don't have the time, unfortunately, to run separate workshops. Really, though, writing and creating stories is the same regardless of the kind of writing you do. Ultimately, I'm teaching what I know about the creative process and not just about form, style, voice, POV, structure, etc. Furthermore, with raw, young writers, it's about the commonalities of character development and "show, don't tell" that we're concentrating on.
I don't mention this to pat myself on the back for providing a free writing workshop. That's not why I'm writing this post. What I do want to say is that it's been a tremendously rewarding experience. It's been inspiring, too, and adds a boost to my own writing projects. I've managed to maintain daily writing, since I 'won' NaNoWriMo last November, but sharing what has been shared with me about writing, from what I've learnt from places like The Gotham Writer's Workshop, helps me keep on my toes. As a result of running my workshop, I've become more diligent about reading my Writer's Digest and Publisher's Weekly subscriptions for anything that might help my students develop in their writing pursuits. I've also become extra motivated to finish some of the projects I'm working on. And, giving my students suggestions and ideas, I'm able to look at my own plotlines and character motivations with a more discerning eye.
What's really exciting is to listen to my students talk about their work. They have grand ideas about being the next Michael Bay or Peter Jackson or Christopher Nolan and about the second and third books of their dystopian/scifi novels, even though the first one isn't near being finsihed. I don't say this condescendingly, the way some adults with experience and/or expertise in an area sometimes do when young people talk about their goals and dreams in that same area. Rather, I am genuinely excited to hear what they have to say because their enthusiasm is contagious and it reminds me of when I started taking writing seriously and how I had the same dreams. Now, wiser, I still have those dreams and aspirations but they're tempered with understanding. I've had some some success and more failure but, yet, I forge on. Moreover, some of the students in my workshop are really tuned in and have great instincts as far as character developement and character motivation are concerned. One of them, the screenwriter, has a fantastic idea that he's obviously been thinking about and plotting for a long time. And, my dystopian writer, has some unique storylines that the fans of Divergent, Legend, The Hunger Games and Twilight will enjoy. The ideas she has, as far as I am aware, have not come up in any recent works of popular YA fiction. She's really on to something and I'm proud to be helping her develop her voice and writing style and her story; especially as a fan of some of those books I listed.
Running this workshop, which I try to run like a Gotham Writer's Workshop class with 'The Booth' as our critiquing format, has been a great way for me to share what I've learnt about writing and, hopefeully, a way for some young people to get closer to realising their own hopes and dreams. It's my way of giving something back to the writing community that has welcomed me into its membership. It's also made me realise that, while I still have much to learn, I have already learnt a lot. Last week, with only my screenwriter's work being critiqued, I helped him get through some major stumbling blocks and there were several 'lightbulb' and 'Aha!' moments that will move his story forward. It was a fantastic session-each is only an hour long-and it made me feel like I was in the writers' room, collaborating ideas, for a movie or TV show. It felt good, for me, to help him breakthrough. This class has also reinforced the importance of sharing your work; of talking it out and workshopping pages. Writers need each other.
Last school year, 2011-2012, I ran one Creative Writing workshop and I had two students. This year, I have three and we're in our second six-week session. The writing is pretty good, too, and with each submission it's getting better. It's exciting to see students come in with their own ideas, some more fleshed out than others but all with great passion and enthusiasm. For those of you reading this post who are writers, and you don't already do so, I encourgae you to run a program. Some of you might do so professionally already, as a writing teacher in an MFA program or through a workshop like Gotham. Some of you might be freelanceers, like me, who still have a day job and spends early mornings and late nights getting your pages written. Whoever you are, remember why you started writing and, when you meet a young person who writes or who expresses an interest in starting, make sure you help nurture his or her passion for it.
Happy writing all!
One Year On - Ten Things I Learnt In The Year After My Book Came Out
A year ago, on 7 February, my debut novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, came out. After years writing and creating several versions of the work, and after thoughtful feedback from fellow writers, I decided on first person POV and a linearly told story. Also, after some positive responses, over three years of trying to solicit an agent but failing to do so, I decided to self-publish and get my book ‘out there.’ Overall, I’m happy with my decision to go indie but, as with anything else, hindsight is twenty/twenty and there were some lessons learnt.
Here are the ten most influential things I learnt about the publishing process and myself, as a writer, over the last twelve months. For those of you who’ve already published, indie or traditional, they might be lessons you’ve yet to learn or they might be things that happened to you as well. And, if that’s the case, feel reassured that you’re not alone. If you’ve yet to publish, maybe my experience may benefit you as you forge ahead in publishing your own work.
1. Believe in myself. When I began the publishing process, and after my novel came out, every discussion I had with a rep from the publisher, every production item I approved (cover, inside layout, etc), every email I sent to a bookseller, I left with feelings of doubt. I second-guessed everything. After all, who would want to read anything I’d written? What did I know about any of this, having never done it before? I kept thinking that anyone I tried to promote my novel to would think that I was just some guy who wrote a book - and, everyone can write a book, right? Big deal. But, once I calmed myself down, I reminded myself that I’d taken this book through three rounds of workshops at The Gotham Writer’s Workshop in New York City, one of the best (my and others’ opinions) and most respected writing programs around. I’d done the hard work. No one panned my work and some of my fellow writers even picked out sections they really liked. I also realised that my book does not define me as a person. The book that came out last year, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, is fiction, while also being semi-autobiographical. In that regard, it is very personal. I also put a lot of my life into the writing and production of the book but, even then, if it’s hated or loved that doesn’t meant I’m hated or loved. As a writer, I can be judged by my work and how it moves the reader but it doesn’t define me as a man.
2. Promotion is hard. I knew, going indie, that I was going to be responsible for the promotion of my book. Even some traditionally published authors have to do their own promoting. From what I’ve read and heard at conferences, it’s the big names - the Kings, Rowlings, Meyers, Picoults, Franzens, etc - who get their publicity done for them. Even then, some of are still doing their own promoting. Many of us who indie-publish still work a day job (and maybe a night or second part-time job) and, like everyone else, we have other parts of our lives that need to be taken care of. So, promoting one’s work can, sometimes, be that ‘extra’ thing to be done at the end of an already long and arduous day. Nonetheless, it has to be done. A Facebook page, a website, a blog and a Twitter account are the minimum you’ll need. You’ll need to build your platform; the 'who you are, what you’re about' centre of your writing and public persona. Do all of that even before you get your book into a publisher or agent’s hands.
3. Print out pages. I thought I was being efficient when I reviewed the PDF copy my publisher sent me on my laptop. Papers can get bulky and we’re in the ‘e age’ anyway, right? On some level, too, I thought I was saving money. However, looking back, I regret not printing out a hardcopy. PDFs don’t always look like a Word document. They’re not brightly lit. It looks like the page in a book and, sometimes, on the screen, unless you magnify a lot, they can be hard to read. Add to that, I probably need a new glasses prescription and I do most of my writing at 3am, with tired eyes, so I was bound to make mistakes and miss things. A writer will always miss stuff in his own work. That’s normal but it doesn’t help when he doesn’t review the final copy the properly. As a result of my efforts at being efficient, I discovered some typos in the final product that I need to correct. And I will correct them but that’s another out of pocket expense with the publisher. If I had printed out pages, I might have caught more of the errors I missed.
4. Have a budget before you start (It doesn’t have to be a big one). When I decided to self-publish, it was the end of the summer. It wasn’t until the following December and January when I had to start paying for things. The money was there for the publishing process. It’s the after stuff where a pre-determined budget comes in handy. Revisions (beyond the free first round), promotion, entering contests for self-published books, paying for book reviews (from companies like Kirkus Indie or Blue Ink) are where the budget will really be needed. Treat your writing as a business, if you’re looking to make a profit, from the start and not just after the book comes out.
5. POD (Print-On-Demand) pricing can be prohibitive. I published through Abbott Press, A Writer’s Digest Company, and I’m very happy with what they did for me and for my book. Probably, the only thing I wasn’t happy with is the retail price of my books. The ebook, at $3.99, isn’t bad. The hardcover, though, at $39.99, and the paperback ($22.99) are not so favourable. It was explained tome that the number of pages of my novel and because of the POD mode of publishing, the cost will be higher than traditionally published or small press books per unit for the reader. Outskirts Press, another POD company, has an option that allows the author to price his own book but it has limits and will reduce royalties. Even with this option, the price to the consumer is still on the higher end. If I indie-publish again, I might go a different route. Amazon’s Createspace, I believe, allows the author to determine his book’s prices but I think they specialize in ebook and paperback formats and not hardcover. Or, I might try a fixed run at a small press or something in the middle, like Book Baby. So, before you publish, make sure the end retail price is not going to price your book out of sales. Good writing will trump a high retail price but we live in leaner times and consumers are tighter fisted with their resources.
6. Learn formatting and industry specs. I mention this, specifically, because of my book’s cover. I’ve gotten a lot of praise for my book’s cover. And, after reading it, you’ll see how it fits nicely with the plot and theme. What I learnt about a book’s cover, when I got my feedback from the judges of The Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards, is that a book’s title should be readable from six feet away. This makes it better seen on a bookshelf, which is key if the book makes it onto a shelf in a bookstore. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this and, while my book is aesthetically and stylistically appealing, it doesn’t meet this standard.
7. Make connections. Writing is a very lonely profession. The people around me - my wife and my close friends - have been, and continue to be, very supportive. However, unless they’re also writers, I don’t think the people around us can truly appreciate the isolated and internal way of life being a writer is. Having said that, however, unless you’re Forrester, Sean Connery’s character in Finding Forrester, writers need support from other writers. Whether it’s to promote each other’s books, beta-read first drafts, offer suggestions to battle writer’s block, writers need writers. We can find each other on Twitter but, more specifically, connections are also made in website communities like The Independent Author Network, Your Book Authors, Goodreads, Scribophile, and others. More than the tangible benefits you can get from being connected to other writers, there is the sense of community you’ll feel. In addition to be pursuing a, naturally, lonely endeavour, writers also need validation. This doesn’t mean we need to be told our work is brilliant, whether it is or isn’t. Rather, it’s reassuring to know that our efforts and reasons for writing, as varied as they are, are worth something and that we are not alone, even if we’re lonely. Through the connections I’ve made and re-made since my book came out, I and/or my book has been featured in two newspapers, a magazine and reviewed once. At the time of this writing, Back Kicks And Broken Promises is being reviewed, for free, by Indiereader.com thanks to a connection I made.
8. Always have a copy of your book with you. You never know when you might be in a position to promote your work. You never know whom you might meet someone who has contacts and can/will/might talk about you and your book. Sometimes, though, you do and you’re not prepared. Last year, after reading Legend, I emailed the author, Marie Lu, to tell her how much I loved the book (her debut novel) and that I’d written a review of it. She was very flattered by my review and since then we’ve had some Twitter and e-mail exchanges; enough, I think, to the point that she might actually recognize my name. Well, shortly after our first email exchange, she gave a reading and book signing with three other authors in New York City. When I lined up to get my copy of Legend signed, Marie looked at me with recognition, probably from my Twitter picture. As we chatted, she asked if I had a copy of my book. Ugh! I didn’t and I kick myself (metaphorically) every time I think about this episode in my life. Having had a copy of my book to give her might not have led to anything but, then again, who knows? The worst part about this story: I’d thought to bring one then I decided against it, fearing I’d come across as presumptuous. Then, I decided to bring it anyway but I left it on my dining table.
9. Enter contests. Apart from the chance you might win or place - and many contests come with some kind of publisher/agent contact as a prize - you often get valuable insights into your book and/or a review of some kind. Most require some kind of entry fee (see Number 4 above) but it’s not usually so large that it’s unaffordable. I participated in NaNoWriMo last November and I completed the challenge. I ‘won.’ I finished writing the first draft of a novel in thirty days, which has jumpstarted my writing and there are even tangible prizes that come with it. I can get free copies of my book from Createspace and there are several discounts for various writing resources, as well. So, contests and challenges are beneficial.
10. Believe in my work. As soon as my book went live, butterflies lived inside me for a good two weeks. I was filled with anxiety that no one would buy my book. I’m pretty sure that’s common for every writer. More than that, however, were feelings that the entire reading world would buy my book and call me out as a hack or fill my blog comment form and email inbox with challenges to every thought, word, reference, you name it that I put to paper. My fears, so far, haven’t come true. My book has made some sales, although VERY modest numbers, and no one has taken me to task on the content of my book. It’s fiction, after all, and semi-autobiographical at that. Even if someone were to come at it/me, I’ve come to accept that (and I knew this before) some people will love my work, some will hate it, and some will be indifferent to it. Either way, I wrote a book that has received more words of praise than otherwise and I did so with full commitment of mind, heart and soul. I hope it will entertain, educate and touch the minds and hearts of its reader and, from the feedback I’ve gotten, it has done that.
So, that’s what I’ve learnt about writing, publishing and myself since my book came out a year ago. As I work on my next book, the first in a Chinese-American fantasy series, I have some wisdom to turn to and an awareness of things to do, do better and to avoid. I don’t plan on indie-publishing for my next book, but I didn’t either for my debut novel. Hopefully, I’ll catch the proverbial break and get agent representation and a book deal. In the meantime, I’m going to tap my keys like the rest of us.
I hope what you’ve read here is useful in as you pursue your writing endeavours. If you have insights of your own, please share.
Happy writing all!
As a writer, naturally, I read. In fact, I'm one of those people who read several books at a time; reading twenty to thirty minutes a day from each book. Currently, I'm reading Dumpling Days by Grace Lin, Chosen by Denise Grover Swank, The Collective by Don Lee, and Inheritance by Christopher Paolini. I'd read more - books and minutes per day - but the realities of life don't prevent that from happening. Recently, though, I listened to an interview in which the author being questioned said that she doesn't read much when she's writing. She didn't say it exactly but she intimated that she's too involved in her writing that she just doesn't think about reading and she doesn't want to be influenced by what she might be reading.
I've often felt that way, too, but I don't think I could stop reading when I'm writing. And, in which stage of writing would I not be reading? The two - reading and writing - just belong together. Every writer is unique in how he or she approaches the books he or she is writing. Some of us outline while others don't. Of those of us who do, the way we do it differs greatly.
My work-in-progress is a YA, Asian-American fantasy series. As I worked on the first draft of the first book, I read Catching Fire and Insurgent, among other books. I'd read The Hunger Games and Divergent and I already wanted to find out what happens in each series so I was going to read Catching Fire and Insurgent, anyway, but I figured reading them as I was writing the first draft of Sage Of Heaven would help put me into a YA mindset. But, did they just put me into a YA mindset or was I influenced by them? I already had an idea of where the second and following books were going in Sage but I made a drastic decision as I came closer to finishing my draft. The change - switching the series' protagonist from one of the male characters to one of the female characters - makes the story more complex and interesting (for reasons other than the gender change) but, how much, subconsciously, was I influenced to do that because the protags in Catching Fire and Insurgent are girls?
In the last two years of writing Back Kicks And Broken Promises (which took almost ten years to write), I'd met, was taking workshops led by and read books by Matt de le Peña. Taking a pass at some of the passages in my debut novel, and at the risk of sound self-congratulatory, I think there are some parts that have a similar flow and tone as some of Matt's books. If you read Back Kicks and Matt's books - Ball Don't Lie, Mexican WhiteBoy, We Were Here - the subject matter is similarly themed. I was drawn to Matt's books for two reasons: he was the instructor of the first fiction class I took so I wanted to see if I'd like his work AND his books, with a male protagonist who's trying to sort out his place in this world, validated my own. Matt's stories come to us through a Mexican-American/Latino eye while mine are through an Asian-American lens.
I suspect the author who was interviewed in the podcast avoids reading other novels while writing either during the first draft/creation stage of her novels or until she submits a completed manuscript to her editor, agent or publisher. At that point, the work is out of her hands (although is a book, even after being published, ever out of a writer's head?) so she may have the time and intellectual and emotional freedom to sink into someone else's piece of fiction.
As I mentioned earlier, I'm reading Inheritance, the concluding volume in Christopher Paolini's series that started with Eragon. I bought it in 2011, when it came out, but at 800-plus pages, for me, it's an exercise in perseverance to finish it. I want to know how the series concludes so I will finish it but I'm extra motivated to finish it now because it's a fantasy story with dragons and wizards and Sage Of Heaven is also a fantasy story. The vehicles through which their stories are told are very different but they're in the same genre so Inheritance, while hopefully being entertaining, may offer me some insight into fantasy writing.
So, what is best? Or, is this another one of those things that's really different for every writer; one way working for some, another way working for others, and neither working for the rest? Should we, writers, read while we're creating and, if so, should we read in the genre of what we're writing in or a different one?