Publishing Journey, Sorcerer to the Crown, Writing, Writing Process

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

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Conventions, Publishing Journey, Writing

My publishing journey: Networking, part 2 — thoughts on conventions

I wrote a very earnest post about my feelings about conventions, in the vein of my last Publishing Journey post about social media and community, and then I realised I couldn’t post it, because I haven’t actually worked out my feelings about conventions. So the post had that scattered, evasive quality writing has when you either don’t know how you feel about a subject or don’t want to say it.

So here are a few rather simpler thoughts about conventions, as bulletpoints. They are about science fiction and fantasy conventions because those are what I know, but some of the thoughts probably also apply to literary/publishing events/meetups in general. Buttonhole me at a con some time if you’d like to hear the more complicated version — that comes in paragraphs!

  • SFF writers tend to think conventions matter in terms of meeting editors, agents, other writers and potential readers. But they probably matter less than you might think. You’re not going to reach that many readers at a convention, and nowadays it is perfectly possible to get an agent and sell a book to a publisher without meeting them in person, much less showing your face at a con. In fact, that’s probably how most people do it.
  • That said, conventions can be fun if you are a nerd who likes to be around fellow nerds. They are a nice way to feel part of the community. (SFF is a community, or rather a group of overlapping communities, as well as an industry. These communities are not perfect, but there are benefits to participating in them actively — some of them emotional, some of them professional.)
  • A great upside to conventions is getting to meet people you have only known via the Internet. People are often even better in real life than on the Internet. It’s like how most people aren’t nearly as horrible trolls in real life as they might be in the comments of a Guardian article. In the vast majority of cases, if you meet someone who seems brilliant and nice and funny online, they are generally like that in real life, only even more so.
  • A great downside to conventions is often also that you meet people, in kind of a weird pressurised environment where your personal/social decisions can have professional implications.

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Publishing Journey, Writing

My publishing journey: Networking, part 1 — social media and connection

I’m getting geared up for the posts in this series that are probably what people are actually interested in, i.e. the bit where I signed with a literary agent and eventually got a book deal. But first I have to talk about everything that went before!

— Well, maybe not EVERYTHING. But let’s talk about a couple of important things. One is social media.

“Make sure you have a social media platform” is now hoary advice for published writers and writers working towards publication. I enjoy social media and it’s one of the things I make time for, other than writing and, y’know, actually socialising. It can be a horrible distraction as well, but everyone just needs to work out a way to control that for themselves lah.

But with this and my next post, which will be about conventions and networking, I want to talk about what I think is the real point of going to all the effort of being on Twitter and Facebook and having a blog. The point is not advertising or marketing or boosting yourself and your work constantly. The point is not having millions of followers on Instagram, or making lots of connections, useful as those can be. Those are obviously side-effects you might want to achieve, and there are also the practical aspects of it — you do want some form of online presence which makes your work available, so that people who hear about you can find and read your writing easily if they would like to. But even that is not the point.

The point is connection.

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Publishing Journey, Writing

My publishing journey: Writing with a day job, part 2 — work/work balance

In Part 1 of “Writing with a day job”, I explained why I do it. This post is about the how.

I have a fairly simple rule, which I started when I broke the hold of writer’s block and figured out how to write regularly. I decided I would write a little bit every day — a single sentence would do if I didn’t have time for more — but I would take one day off from writing every week. This was usually Friday, because I’d get to the end of my working week and feel very tired and want to mess around on the Internet or read stuff instead of writing.

I’ve more or less stuck to that basic rule since then. When I have a project that I’d like to get finished by a specific deadline, I’ll work out how many words I need per day in order to finish it and then do that, so there are times I might have a specific daily word count target (usually around 1,000 words/day). Other times I might decide I’m relaxing and just do a bit each day instead of having a specific word count I’m aiming for. Sometimes I’ll decide that editing or proofreading or preparing a story for submission will count as my writing work for the day, but I don’t let myself do that too much as actual writing is the hardest thing for me, so I’m a little worried I’ll just keep coming up for excuses for not doing it.

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Business of Writing, Publishing Journey, 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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Cyberpunk: Malaysia, Personal, SFF, Writing

Aliens vs. cyborgs

The days have been such a blur* since I arrived in Malaysia that I forgot to post about this article I wrote for Poskod.MY sempena Cooler Lumpur:

What being an alien taught me about stories

I am eight years old, a new pupil at SRJK (C) Kwang Hwa.

“This is my new friend from England,” chirps my classmate when she introduces me. I have never been to England in my life, but why should she know the difference between USA and England? Here in Penang both countries seem equally distant and unreal.

My family moved from Malaysia to the US for a couple of years when I was a kid, so by that age I already knew what it was to be an alien.

Basically it’s me wondering aloud “what is the proper subject of the Asian/Malaysian writer?”

Don’t forget I’m running two giveaways for my anthology CYBERPUNK: MALAYSIA. Enter for free, win a book that is both shiny and chrome!

 

* I haven’t really been busy, unless you count “sleeping only three hours a night” and “obsessing over the Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell BBC series” as being busy. I do, but I admit there may be legitimate differences upon the point …

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Publishing Journey, Writing

My publishing journey: How I published a short story collection

Spirits Abroad

I have been meaning to write a post about this ever since I spoke with an author friend about how I got my short story collection Spirits Abroad published and realised how opaque the process is. This is an author who is way more established than me and has published a bazillion short stories, and yet I don’t think it had occurred to them to do what I’d done.

Mind you, this is because they operate in the US/UK market and I was focused on another market altogether. After I broke through the Block, I wrote about 20 short stories, felt I’d got a bit of a handle on how to do them, and decided I wanted to shift my focus. What I really like in stories is character, and short stories don’t give you a whole lot of space to explore your characters. I wanted to write novels: it was the one thing I felt I couldn’t do, and it was the one thing I felt I had to do in order to be a Real Writer.

I know this is a complete lie and directly contradicts #1 of my mission statement. (The thing that really drove in the fact that it is a lie for me, by the way, was reading a Dorothy Parker biography and finding out that she felt the same about novel-writing — that she had to do it, or she wouldn’t count as a writer. But the novel just didn’t seem to be her form. Like so many others, I’ve rejoiced in Parker’s scathing wit and perfect turns of phrase, and she didn’t need a novel to persuade me she was a writer for the ages.)

Unfortunately I have yet to work out how to make my feelings line up 100% with my opinions, and anyway I did want to know how to write novels for the sake of it, leaving aside all status-related insecurities. So I decided I’d try to get rid of my short stories at one go, as a collection, so I wouldn’t be worrying about editing them, submitting them, etc. while focusing on the longer-form stuff. At least I would be getting rejections at much longer intervals!

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Publishing Journey, Writing

My publishing journey: Breaking through writer’s block

Or, how I started writing and publishing short stories.

I’m always a little puzzled to know how to answer when people ask me how I got into writing, because there are a few different answers.

1) I started when I was 6 years old, with a 101 Dalmatians-style story featuring a plucky little girl rescuing rabbits kidnapped for their fur.

2) I started when I was 16, writing fanfic and posting chapters on a Yahoo Group.

3) I started when I was 25, writing short stories and selling them to SFF zines.

But before I was 25 I did not write consistently. I never knew when or if inspiration would strike, and I could never really trust myself to finish a story. I worried about this less as an 8-year-old writing Enid Blyton pastiches; I worried about it more as a teenager promising fanfic to my friends. Because of course I wanted to be published, and I didn’t see how that would happen if I didn’t know how to write regularly.

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