Category Archives: Writing

My publishing journey: Going on submission

After spending a year and half revising Sorcerer to the Crown under, er, challenging conditions, you’d think I’d be thrilled to go on submission to publishers. But to be honest it was sort of an anticlimax!

I’d sent the latest in several versions of the manuscript to my agent and was waiting for more edit notes, when instead she emailed me saying it’d gone off to publishers. She gave me a list of the editors she’d submitted the manuscript to, and said she’d asked them to get back to her in six weeks’ time. My face went from this: @_@ (its habitual expression in 2014) to this: O_O And it stayed like that for six weeks!

For those who don’t know how the submission process works — well, I don’t either, but in my limited understanding, this is what generally happens. Continue reading

Roundup: fanfic, shrimps, hipste Kelate and more

Podcasts

On Thursday I went to Broadcasting House (!) to take part in the first episode of Late Night Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4, which was on women in fandom. It was super fun — like a convention panel, only you had to keep remembering you were talking to a mainstream audience and stopping to define terms like “fanfic”. If you’re interested in listening to a lively discussion of women in SFF, the geek culture wars and fanfic tropes, you can download the podcast here:

Reclaiming the Nerdiverse

(And yes, we did discuss A/B/O on national radio with all our relatives listening. /o\ I confess I’m one of those old fandom grumps for whom A/B/O does nothing. In my day we had “we are spies who have to pretend to be married for implausible reasons and we fall in love as a result” and we were happy with that!!)

I also did a podcast with the fabulous Fran Wilde (Updraft out super soon!) and Aliette de Bodard (House of Shattered Wings out even sooner!), talking about food in our books:

An Intimidation of Shrimp: A Cooking The Books Roundtable

At the link I also reveal ~all my writing secrets~ and share my Big List o’ Regency Foods. I said this on the podcast, but I felt a bit like Sherlock Holmes explaining my methods and Watson going, “Oh, you’re nothing to call home about really, that’s easy!” Sigh. Anyway, if you’d like to know what “ruffs and reeves” are, go check it out!

Ghost words

I’ve been posting quietly to Where Ghost Words Dwell, the discarded writing collage project I do with a bunch of cool writers. Here are two of my most recent contributions:

The Green family goes to the mountains

Magical relatives berbalas pantun. This is from a story I was bouncing around with a friend a few years ago, inspired by our trip to Ladakh. The photo is of the glorious mountains, taken at Leh airport. It’s not at all a habitat that suits me — I spent the next seven days or so in the most wretched altitude sickness — but I’ve never seen anything like it.

On the outskirts of Kota Bharu, in a rental Perodua

Again, a snippet inspired by a holiday — this time a rather more prosaic one, a road trip in Kelantan with my BFF. We went to lots of wats and failed to eat any roti hamlet, laksam or nasi kerabu. (I know, I know … what were we even doing.) Eventually this inspired a short story called Everything Under One Roof, which Rose Lemberg accepted for her anthology Alphabet of Embers. The word count for Alphabet of Embers was 1,400 words so I had to cut everything non-essential, including the snippet at the link!

The drawing of a hipste Kelate is by my phenomenally talented cousin Alina Choong and is posted with her permission. It’s based on the boss of Kopitiam Kita, which you should definitely visit if you’re ever in KB. Siti Nurhaliza went also k.

Sorcerer to the Crown

Ala, you knew it was coming.

If you’re in the UK, first edition bookshop Goldsboro Books is running a competition for people who pre-order Sorcerer to the Crown! Order Goldsboro’s special limited edition (SPRAYED EDGES!) before 10 September, i.e. the UK release date, and you’ll have a chance to win an invitation to the book launch. Come and talk to meee! You can pre-order the limited edition here.

The Book Smugglers also ran a giveaway for the book. Closed liao, sorry, but you can still read my post on the Inspirations and Influences Behind Sorcerer to the Crown.

I also did a guest post for Pornokitsch on Five Fictional Girls and Women I Will Love Forever. Features Anne of Green Gables, Rukia, Lucy Snowe, Elizabeth Bennet and Eowyn. No surprises, but lots of *___*-ing … you will point out that this doesn’t have anything to do with Sorcerer to the Crown, because it’s part of The Apex Book of World SF 4 promo push, but little do you know! One of those five characters inspired Prunella Gentleman. You should tell me which you think it is!

And JUST TODAY Publishers Weekly gave Sorcerer a starred review:

Cho’s tale knits together a dizzying array of taut story lines populated by complex characters with interesting backstories. Zacharias brings to mind another orphaned young wizard whose combination of grit and melancholy captured readers’ hearts, and ingenious, gutsy Prunella simply shines.

How totally amazing. You couldn’t ask for better.

Social mediaz

As always, if you’re interested in receiving updates on my stuff in real-time, Twitter or Facebook is probably your best bet. My Facebook page is public and I don’t add back automatically, but will if you drop me a message saying hi. I’ve also started using Instagram! Not a lot there at the moment, but what I’m going to do is post pictures there instead of Twitter. I crosspost Instagram posts to Twitter and Facebook, though, so better not follow me on all three — after lemas only.

My publishing journey: Revising the novel (again and again and again)

There is a certain trend within the huge volume of writing about publishing on the Internet, which I think of as being the writing advice equivalent of grimdark. The people who give grimdark writing advice point out how incredibly difficult it is to get a foothold in publishing. They explain at length how small the rewards are, how disheartening the challenges, how huge and cold and indifferent the world is when you are a writer who is just starting out — and even worse, when you are a writer who is getting established. When you are a writer who was successful but whose sales have begun to decline. When you are a writer full stop.

When you read this type of advice you get the impression that in order to be a published author you need to be made entirely of bones and steel. You need to be willing to rip out all your own tender feelings with your own teeth and burn them on a pyre along with every first draft of everything you have ever written. You basically need to be a sort of combo of the meanest Transformer and Godzilla.

I don’t mean to suggest that this type of advice is not true. But as with all single depictions of the world, it only shows one aspect and it’s only true for some people some of the time. (The triumphalist stories of glorious, easy success are also only true for some people some of the time, of course.) If you’ve read my fiction it’s probably pretty obvious that I’m of the “pine woods are as real as pig-sties” school of thought, but I’m also conscious that nobody will believe in the scent of pine unless there’s a smell of pig-sties lurking underneath it. Because the real world has both — but probably more pig-sties.

Anyway, this is a rambly way to say that I’m going to talk about the hard part. I have tried in this series to be encouraging and optimistic, because I feel like the kind of tough love that is all “suck it up! become a killer writing machine! you will never make it if you don’t write every day while swallowing raw egg yolks and juggling live babies, all at the same time!” is often likeliest to discourage people from traditionally marginalised backgrounds, who are more likely not to trust themselves and their abilities. If the approach lights a fire under anyone’s ass it’s probably going to be the asses of privileged entitled people, which, frankly, are warm enough already.

But I guess part of being encouraging is being honest about the hard parts. If you have ever said to me, “I’ve always wanted to write but I’m too busy” and seen my face twitch slightly, I will explain why here.

I mean, I totally know how you feel! You have my genuine sympathy! I know balancing life and obligation and art is hard! But here is how I feel.

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My publishing journey: My query letter for SORCERER TO THE CROWN

One thing I haven’t yet mentioned in my posts about querying agents and signing with one is that my method of identifying agents to query meant I ended up with a list of agents who were almost exclusively American. I don’t really know why this happened. (I mean … apart from the American cultural hegemony … but it’s not like the British are wilting flowers either when it comes to cultural hegemony. I ought to know! Plus I actually live in Britain.) Anyway, it’s a bit odd in retrospect. If you live in Britain you should consider querying British agents because I know a couple and they are great and I wish I’d given them the chance to reject me!

I mention this because US and UK queries have a slightly different format. You should pay attention to the specific agent/agency’s submission guidelines anyway, as they will all differ a little bit, but generally speaking, in the US agents just want to see a query letter plus synopsis, and they will decide whether they want to read a sample of the actual book based on that. In the UK you’re usually asked to send in an excerpt of the book with your query, so the agent gets a look at your fiction upfront.

My query to my agent was US-style, so I just sent the following email to her address on the agency website.

(Aw yeah I’m going to get to do a DVD COMMENTARY! I love doing DVD commentaries of my own things.)

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My publishing journey: Signing with a literary agent

As I said in my last post in this series, once I had a complete novel manuscript I had rewritten once, line-edited and proofread, I started querying agents with it.

I’d once read a blog post by a published novelist who said that they’d queried around 40 agents before signing with one, and the process had taken 18 months. Totally arbitrarily, I decided I would only think about rehauling my manuscript and/or giving it all up and running away to the circus after I’d queried 40 agents and/or 18 months had passed without my receiving an offer of representation.

This might seem an odd way to do things, but I find with writing that you really just want to figure out a way to trick your brain into not worrying about the publishing side of things, so that it can get on with the work. (The work is the writing. The writing is the most important thing. I know I keep saying this, but it’s true!) The idea was to buy myself 18 months of peace of mind. As you’ll see, though, I never got a chance to find out if it would have worked!

I’ll talk about my query in detail in another post, but it was pretty standard US-style: I explained what the story was about, talked briefly about myself and ended by offering to send a partial or full manuscript if they were interested. Funnily enough, the chief thing that helped me draft my query letter (and actually just figure out what the book should be about) was Linda Colley’s Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 — but I’ll explain that in that other post!

I sent off my queries to 10 agents, eight of whom I’d basically just found on the Internet, and two of whom I’d been introduced to by author friends. Then I sat back, feeling contented with a good nine months’ work, and started thinking about the next project. It was going to be a space opera novella set in a world inspired by the maritime kingdoms of classical Southeast Asia (working title: Space Villette). I figured I’d have time to make a good start on a novella before I started hearing back from agents — heck, I’d probably be able to draft the entire thing by the time I had to think about Sorcerer to the Crown again, either because I had an offer of rep, or because I’d been rejected by 40 agents and had to rethink my approach.

So, er, I was wrong about that. Continue reading

My publishing journey: Querying agents

In the last episode, I wrote two books and chucked them because they sucked, and then I produced a very rough first draft of a Regency romance/fantasy crossover. This, unfortunately, sucked as well. But I could see within it the bones of something that could maybe not suck, so I thought I’d see what I could do to draw that out.

I put the draft novel aside for a month to rest in its juices, and in that month I researched. When writing the first draft I’d based my conception of the world on all the Regency and Regency-set books I’d read: Austen, Heyer, O’Brian. Now I read actual history books: books on Britain and its inhabitants in that interesting time, but also books about the transatlantic slave trade, Chinese emperors and Mughal India. I also read fiction and nonfiction from the actual period (thank you, Gutenberg!) — one of the best parts of writing historical fiction, IMO.

My head brimming with Regency-appropriate slang, I then re-outlined the book and wrote a second draft, cannibalising a fair amount of the first. By mid-2013 I had a complete redrafted manuscript that was as good as I could make it by myself. I wrote a query and synopsis, made a list of agents, and queried the first eight or so on the list.

(There is an additional step I could’ve taken between completing the second draft and querying agents. I should really, if I’d been properly conscientious, have asked a couple of my smart, generous writing friends to beta-read my manuscript, and done another revision pass based on their comments. I didn’t lor. I was too impatient! Anyway, you cannot escape the work that has to be done, as you’ll see later.)

On how I chose agents to query: I looked in the acknowledgments pages of books by authors I liked, who had careers I would like to have, and whose books were similar in some way to mine. I picked out their agents’ names and googled them to see if they were taking new clients, and if they were I added them to my list. Also, kind of randomly, I looked at QueryTracker’s Top 10 Most Queried Agents list and picked a couple to query, on the assumption that all those other queriers must have done their research and known what they were doing.

There are a couple of things I should mention for context, that happened around this time.

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My publishing journey: How I wrote three novels and binned two of them

After I figured out how to write regularly and how to sell short fiction, I decided I wanted to write novels. There was only one minor hitch to the plan. I didn’t actually know how to do it.

It seemed like it should be a straightforward exercise. After all, I’d read enough of the damn things. (It might give you some idea of my childhood when I say I don’t remember any of my classmates from Standard 4, but I remember the books I read. I also don’t remember anything I learnt in Kemahiran Hidup in secondary school, but I remember the book my Form 1 KH teacher confiscated because I was reading it under my desk while she was trying to tell us how often we were supposed to change our bedsheets. It was Dickens’s Hard Times and I was only halfway through. >:( Now I write novels set in 19th century Britain and I never change my bedsheets, so take that, cikgu!)

But I couldn’t work it out. It took me three years to complete a 25,000-word fanfic I’d started when I was 16: length was not my strong point when it came to writing. But your average novel is a little longer than 25,000 words and I knew that was what I wanted to do, so I resolved to write a drawer novel. (A drawer novel is a book you write and then put in the drawer, rather than selling it or letting anyone else read it.) It would be a bit depressing investing all that work and time in something that would never be seen by anyone else, but I knew I would never start if I had the pressure of thinking, am I going to sell it, how do I make it good enough to sell, who do I submit this to, etc. I just needed to know I could write something of the approximate length of a novel.

So that’s what I did.  Continue reading