Category Archives: Business of Writing

My publishing journey: Writing with a day job, part 1 — why I don’t write full-time

Like many writers, I have a day job. I’ve been asked a few times whether I’d like to write full-time or (put it another way) why I haven’t given up the job now I’ve got a book deal. The answer varies a fair bit depending on my mood and the time of day, but the three main reasons why I don’t write full-time are:

1) I’m quite risk-averse. (I’m a lawyer by day. This is very common amongst bookish Malaysians whose parents want them to be able to cari makan.) Sadly, having one book deal is no guarantee that I would ever get another.

2) I quite like having a day job. Mine is interesting, well-paid and well-regarded, jokes about killing all the lawyers aside. I am good at it and like my colleagues.

3) I’m not sure I’d actually like writing full-time.

That last might need some explanation, given how maniacally invested “passionate” I am about writing. (I’m not an obsessed loser! I’m a passionate millennial!)

To be happy in your career you need three things.

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An Alphabet of Embers and some other things

An Alphabet of Embers

Editor Rose Lemberg has published the Table of Contents for An Alphabet of Embers! An Alphabet of Embers is an anthology of lyrical/surreal speculative flash fiction, poetry and unclassifiables. I’m delighted to be in the ToC with the first short I have completed in a while, Everything Under One Roof. And I’m absolutely thrilled that the multi-talented writer and artist M Sereno, who did the cover for the Spirits Abroad ebook, will be illustrating the anthology.

Sightings in the wild

I’m super pleased about Sofia Samatar’s shout-out for Spirits Abroad in the Strange Horizons 2014 in Review post. Also nice to see Sorcerer to the Crown pop up on a couple of “anticipated in 2015″ lists. Sort of makes it feel more real!

Links about publishing

I read a few interesting posts about publishing recently, which I gather here in case it is of interest to people other than myself:

Sherwood Smith talks about why she and co-author Rachel Manija Brown decided to self-publish the sequel to their traditionally-published YA novel Stranger. Stranger was just published in November. The sequel Hostage is out now.

Kameron Hurley posted about the ups and downs of her writing career in 2014, giving some honest publishing numbers.

Jim Hines also posted about how much he earned from his books in 2014, with some helpful context from previous years.

I read Emily Gould’s essay about earning a US$200,000 advance and then running out of money with some skepticism, not assisted by the clickbaity title and subtitle, but it provides a couple of useful data-points.

And a fascinating and bizarre look at author Helen DeWitt, who wrote a book called The Last Samurai (not the Tom Cruise one), and then things got weird. You really need to read the whole thing to get the full effect!

A quick and dirty guide to selling SFF short stories

I am doing a sort of information sharing meme at my Dreamwidth journal, and am cross-posting a revised version of one of my comments in the event that it might be useful. It is a quick and dirty guide to selling SFF short stories!

(We will consider and dismiss a spasm of Imposter Syndrome here about how it is rich for me to be telling other people how to sell SFF short stories when it’s not like I’ve ever been published in x, y or z pro markets.)

These are basic practical tips for people who are not sure where to start. It assumes that you are already writing or planning to write short stories that are speculative in nature. No actual writing advice is given.

The main plank of my approach is this: what you want to do is mechanise your submission process, so that you continue submitting lots without its disturbing your peace of mind, preserving the mental space you need to write.

(1) Make a list of markets. I like Duotrope, which is a search engine that lets you search by word count, genre, etc. It’s paid now, but there’s a free trial. Ralan is the other main resource. ETA: via Kara Lee, The Grinder is a Duotrope alternative that is free and looks like it does some of #5 for you.

Depending on your area of interest, you may also want to look at Asia Writes (which is also on Twitter) and this helpful list of explicitly diversity-friendly SFF markets. You can also look at the websites/bibliographies of authors who write stories like yours, and google the markets they have published in.

But you’ll want to compile your own list, to match what you’re most likely to be sending out. My list of markets recorded:

  • Genre
  • Word count
  • Pay rate
  • What editors said about what they wanted or didn’t want to see, and/or any other specific information e.g. peculiar formatting requirements

When submitting, you want to go for markets that pay you (pro, semi-pro and token, in that order) and, ideally, the ones that make stories available for free online. The latter is because exposure is the most important thing for a new writer. You can’t link to stories in anthologies.

(Of course, there are lots of nice things about publishing in anthologies — interesting themes; contributor copies; being in books in actual bookshops; and that glow of excitement when you see the Table of Contents and realise that your story is in the same book as a story by an admired author. *_*)

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Dear Author reviewed Jade Yeo!

The-Perilous-Life-of-Jade-Yeo-by-Zen-Cho--187x300I’ve already done some bouncing about this on Twitter, but look at that! Dear Author reviewed The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, and liked it! :D I am profoundly chuffed, and am making this post primarily so I can reblog the cover with RECOMMENDS on it and coo over it forever.

I emailed them ages ago when the ebook was first out, but since I didn’t hear back from them I figured they weren’t interested and forgot about it. So I was astonished to see a pingback from Dear Author in my emails when I was going home from work on Friday.

I dithered a little over whether I should read the review, out of a vague feeling that maybe it would be more polite not to? Maybe I would read it and it would hurt my feelings? (I realised this was unlikely given the link said it was an A minus review, but what can I say.) But of course I succumbed to temptation and read it!

A couple of points:

(1) In case it interests people to know how much difference something like this makes — I noticed after the review was posted that I’d made a couple of new sales on Smashwords, was pleased, and went on with my day. It’s just occurred to me to check Amazon, and there have been around 50 sales. To give context, there were all of 2 sales last month.

Keep in mind that this is a story that is free to read on my website, and the review says so. What this says to me is that you can trust readers to pay for books if they feel they’re gonna get some kind of value and the pricing is reasonable. I believe that readers on the whole want to do right by authors, and all authors/publishers need to do is make that possible — ensure the conditions that enable readers to do what comes natural.

(On a tangent, when I wrote that I felt horribly tempted to tweak the above sentence to make it clear that of course I do not count as an author. Impostor syndrome, my old friend!)

(2) The only thing I would take issue with in that review is the “infidelity” tag. I kind of get it, because I can see that as a reader you might decide that non-monogamy in a romance is not your bag, and you want to avoid that. That is fine, of course. But polyamory is not infidelity. Jade’s Romantic Interest #1 is not unfaithful to his wife in making advances to Jade, because his wife is down with it — he is acting in accordance with their understanding. It is possible to be unfaithful in a polyamorous relationship, but Hardie isn’t.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that! This all reminds me that recently I decided I wanted to write a sequel to Jade, and hopefully I will do that, and self-publish that too. (I want to do a series about Jade’s daughter and grand-daughter and maybe great-granddaughter even, if the dates work.) But this is all for the future. For now, I must focus on my book!

Jade Yeo free again

Just a brief note that my historical romance novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo is now available again on my website, and can be read for free online at the following link: The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo. I private-locked the posts on my website and took the ebook off Smashwords while Jade was enrolled in the KDP Select programme (I enrolled it so I could make it free on Amazon, as I explained in this post).

I have no complaint with KDP Select in respect of sales (one person borrowed the ebook! That was exciting). But it was always my intention that the story should be free to read online as well as available for purchase as an ebook, and the KDP Select terms don’t allow for that. Also I am opposed to monopolies and like myself to be able to buy EPUBs of ebooks I want to read, so here we are again.

Self-publishing sales figures: half a year of Jade Yeo

I haven’t been keeping too close an eye on the sales figures for The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo ebook, but fairly recently I ventured into the jungle of Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing earnings reports and was intrigued by what I discovered.

As you probably noticed if you were reading my blog then, I self-published Jade as an ebook at the end of May this year and also published the novella for free as a web serial on this very blog, posting a new section a day for 20 days. Even though all the content was free on my blog, I set a price on the ebook of US$0.99 — I figured the different, more portable ebook form was worth something even if its innards were on display for all to see in blog posts.

What I thought would happen

What I figured would happen was that people would buy the ebook within the first week of publication — mostly my friends, and perhaps some people who didn’t know me personally but had read and liked my short stories. Sales might continue as long as I was posting new sections and tweeting about them, since that might draw more attention, and then sales would tail off and eventually peter out.

What actually happened

Contrary to my expectations, my sales haven’t yet died a natural death, and they haven’t been decreasing steadily as I expected. Sales went down after the first two months of publication — but then they went up again, to my great surprise. Apart from the first couple of months (when I sold about 60 copies), I’ve been selling about 20 copies per month, with the ratio being about 15 on Amazon and <5 on Smashwords per month.

I’ve now sold 140 copies in total — 47 via Smashwords (through which ebooks are available on Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc.), the remaining via Amazon. Now 140 is obviously rather a small number, but given that Booker shortlisted author Tan Twan Eng’s Garden of Evening Mists shifted a grand total of 174 copies before the Booker effect kicked in, I’m rather pleased about it!

The marketing

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On writing for publication, and just plain writing

I’m trying to get back on the writing-for-publication bandwagon (not to mention the just-plain-writing bandwagon). Since mid-2010 I’ve tried to write something every day — even if it’s just a sentence; even if it’s just a terrible sentence — because I knew productivity was the main thing for me. I do measure my writing achievements in word count, and I try to focus on that. The other sorts of rewards or recognitions of progress — sales, feedback, award nominations — are too much out of my control, and to be honest they are too random. All you can do is keep plodding on.

The daily writing habit has fallen by the wayside this year, twice — once when I had three months off my job and was travelling and having a generally lovely time, and more recently as I got closer to my wedding(s). I did have my wedding blog writing gig to keep me honest, but I don’t really count non-fiction writing since it’s less difficult for me than fiction.

Vengeance for falling off the bandwagon has been swift. It’s been kind of a hard year for me in terms of writing confidence. One always has wobbles, but I’ve only sold one thing this year (not counting Jade Yeo, since that’s self-published) and only completed two stories. Admittedly one of these stories was a novel, but it was a really bad novel!

I’m now working on an outline for a new novel and am going to go through my submissions log and edit and submit, self-publish or kill the various stories that have been hanging around waiting for something to be done with them. I’ve also been planning to query publishers in Asia — preferably Malaysia or Singapore — about whether they’d be interested in putting out a collection of my short stories, so I ought to go through my contracts and put together a query. (I know short story collections don’t sell all that well and lots of publishers won’t take them from anyone as obscure as me, but I think the scene is a little different locally since we don’t at the moment have as many novelists as short story writers. At any rate, one can but try!)

I’m trying to remind myself of something I’ve talked about before and do basically believe in, which is the importance of failure. I’m not going to write good stories all the time because most people don’t — and even if they do, I’m not one of those people. I’m not going to be able to sell all of my stories because most people don’t — and again, even if they do, see previous statement. People who succeed are people who fail more than other people. (There’s a lot of “people”s in that sentence, aren’t there? Bit cheeky me trying to pass myself off as a writer.)

That’s a thought about writing for publication — and also about external success generally. The other thought I had recently is more about writing in itself. I’ve been thinking about how, in writing stories, you need to focus on the concrete, the particular. Stories shouldn’t be about the abstract because then they become manifestos, cartoons. I do strongly believe in stories having meaning, but not in their having particular messages, because if you wanted to be preached at you would read a self-help book or a sermon. Also shaping a story around one message limits it — any good story should be able to have lots of different meanings in it, so that you can draw out a different moral (or state of confusion, depending on what the story is like!) every time.

I don’t mean to decry cartoons; sometimes that’s what you want. But you should be aware that they are nothing more than that. One of the things I look for in my reading material is truth — and truth can come in many forms and be told in many ways, but the truth adheres most strongly (and most interestingly) to the concrete and the specific, to the details as you live them.

In my head all this links to writing about different cultures — the pitfalls thereof, and why I’m both more forgiving and unforgiving about people writing the Other than others. But perhaps that’s for another post!

Rather dull all this navel-gazing, but I am a believer in writers writing about their struggles — provided they don’t moan too much, which maybe I am! It’s a thin line: you don’t want to whinge and be a bore, but I know I’ve been comforted by reading frank accounts of self-doubt etc. in writers I admire. Anyway, let’s keep trying our best!