Publishing Journey, The True Queen, Writing Process

My publishing journey: How to write second book?

I am really nervous, sitting down to write this — almost more nervous than I am about the fact that The True Queen is out today. (You can buy it! Please do!) But I promised myself I’d do this once the long nightmare was over, because it’s helped me when other writers have talked about the hard parts.

Second book syndrome

I had second book syndrome in spades. Two things contributed to this. The revision process for my first novel Sorcerer to the Crown had been extensive and emotionally challenging. Now, I have absolutely no doubt it improved the book, and it also developed writing muscles I hadn’t even known existed. But by the time I was done with the book — or by the time it was done with me, which is more how it felt — I had spent so long considering external feedback, working in a way that I found quite counter-intuitive, that it was very hard to find my way back to the inner voice that tells you what you want in your writing, what you are trying to achieve.

The second thing was the attention. Sorcerer wasn’t a huge bestseller or anything like that, but it did receive a measure of buzz and it led to far more people reading my work than ever before. This was great and what I’d been working towards, of course, but it was also stressful. Suddenly I had to contend with the pressure of reader expectations. I really, really wanted to get the second book right. I was terrified of putting a foot wrong, and that’s death to creativity.

What happened

I started writing the second book in January 2015, right after turning in final edits on Sorcerer. I’d originally written Sorcerer as a standalone and we sold it as the first in a loose trilogy — the next two books were to be standalones set in the same world but focusing on different main characters.

I slogged through the first draft, trying to avoid googling “how to write second book???” more than once a day. I never really got to grips with my new protagonist, but I kept working, hoping this would remedy itself in the next draft. (It often takes me a whole draft to work out what a book should be about.) I completed a 120,000-word “this is not for showing ANYONE ever” zero draft in June 2015, then started revising.

As I revised, though, I started to worry. I still didn’t know my protagonist and that didn’t seem right — I had felt very sure of Sorcerer‘s Zacharias and Prunella from the start. I spoke with my editor, who suggested among other things that readers would want to see Zacharias and Prunella again.

All right, I thought. This draft and protagonist clearly aren’t working. Maybe the answer is to go back to the characters I — and my readers — already know and love.

So I decided to put my 120,000-word MS in the bin. It was painful, but I hoped I’d got all the wrong words out of the way, so I could write a good book now. I outlined a completely new version, with a new plot. This time it was a more traditional sequel, focusing on Zacharias and Prunella’s further adventures.

Between October 2015 and March 2016 I produced a new draft. I turned it in, keenly conscious that it was more holes than cheese, but hoping I’d be able to work it up into something decent with my editor’s help.

A couple of weeks later, my editor was let go.

I was passed on to my (great!) current editor, but before my former editor left the company, she very kindly sent me her notes on my MS. They required a significant rewrite of the book, but I’d known that was coming and it was a relief to have specific feedback after spending so long flailing in the dark with my draft. Sure, I was in for a lot of hard work and the publication date would need to be pushed back, but at least I had a place to start from and an idea of what to fix. Apprehensive but determined, I dived into the revision.

In total the rewrite took six months; I turned the revised MS in in August 2016. The draft clocked in at just short of 124,000 words. I told myself that it was all right that the draft felt terrible. It probably wasn’t as bad as I thought, and they could help me make it better, right?

In September 2016, my agent rang and told me that the revised MS I’d turned in was not publishable.

What it felt like

I felt like my head had been kicked in. I felt like I was failing over and over again, with no end in sight. I felt like a total loser.

At some point during the almost 4 years when I was working on this book (these books? they were not really the same book), I asked an author who’d published a trilogy what it had been like writing her second book. She said, “Have you watched The Night Manager?”

I had not. She said, “There’s a scene where someone gets beaten up, a torture scene, and it’s really brutal, really gritty. This person gets absolutely battered, and it just goes on and on and on. That’s what it felt like.”

We’ve got to go through it

After some discussion my publisher agreed to grant me yet another extension to allow me to start again from scratch.

There was something freeing in having been broken down so completely. This time I tried something I hadn’t done before, that I hadn’t quite dared to do. I stepped outside Regency England. I started from home — from Janda Baik, a fictional island in the Straits of Melaka, the stretch of water along which my family has lived and died since our forebears left China for Malaya. And I started with a protagonist with no memories and no magic, embarking on a perilous journey.

In the course of 2017 I wrote the book that would eventually become The True Queen. In 2018 I edited it and now, in 2019, it has been published and the thing is done.

The True Queen felt better than the previous versions from the outset, but that didn’t mean the process of writing it was not painful, full of stops and starts, clouded by doubt and uncertainty. At least once I had a screaming meltdown and had to be talked out of emailing my agent to say I couldn’t do it, I had to pull out of the contract.

But somehow I made it to the end. My feeling for the book now is like my feeling for its ordinary, long-suffering, well-meaning protagonist — Muna, who must leave her home and almost everything she cares for to set off on an adventure with an uncertain end.

I tried my hardest with the book; its aims are worthwhile aims. Whether the book achieves those aims is for readers to decide now. I hope they find in it what I always try to put in my stories — entertainment, reassurance and heart.

The True Queen is out today from Penguin Random House in the US. It’s due out on 21 March in the UK and Commonwealth, published by Pan Macmillan.

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Books, Giveaways, Sorcerer to the Crown

Win a signed ARC of SORCERER TO THE CROWN

The time has come to give away free books!

You’ve already seen what the SORCERER TO THE CROWN galley from Ace looks like …

SorcererGalley

The back also features a familiar (in more than one sense) dragon!

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All you’ve got to do to have a chance to win is log in via Rafflecopter. You have to answer a question because that’s the way Rafflecopter works. You do not have to sign up to my mailing list in order to participate, but if you do subscribe (or confirm that you are already a subscriber), that raises your chances in the prize draw. Further details below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway details

  • Open worldwide.
  • Giveaway closes at the end of the day on Sunday, 7 June 2015 (00:00 British Summer Time).
  • 2 winners will receive an Ace Books advance reading copy (ARC) of my debut novel SORCERER TO THE CROWN signed by me. The ARCs are uncorrected proofs and are not for sale.
  • Entrants must log in via Rafflecopter and answer the question. This is the only mandatory task. You can gain extra entries in the draw by subscribing to my mailing list, or confirming your email address if you are already a subscriber.
  • The winners will be chosen at random with Rafflecopter’s help.
  • I will inform the winners by email within 7 days of the closing date, and may also announce the winners’ names on social media. Winners must respond within 14 days of notification to claim their prize. I will dispatch the prize within 14 days of receiving confirmation of your address.

Good luck! The book is out in September from Ace in the US and Pan Macmillan in the UK and Commonwealth, and you can find out all about it here.

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Malaysia, Malaysian writing, Other People's Stories, SFF

Malaysian SFF writers and projects: a directory

I’ve been conscious for a while that I’m no longer able to keep up the list of Malaysian SFF writers in English that I put up awhile ago — because I’m busy, but also because there are more of us than ever! I think it is helpful to have a directory for interested readers and people who want to connect with other local writers, but it needs to be updated regularly if it’s to be of use.

So I have now set up a Google doc which people can update themselves to add their own details and projects:

Malaysian Science Fiction and Fantasy: A Directory

There are two worksheets — one for authors and one for projects. Guidelines for contributions are at the top of each worksheet. People should feel free to add writers or projects they’re aware of as well as the things they’ve done. Also, this directory differs from the original post, as people working in languages other than English should feel welcome to add their stuff to it. I only limited the original post to English because that’s the main language I read in.

The original post will stay up, but once the directory has been populated a bit more I will change the link in my sidebar so that it goes to the Google doc rather than the blog post, and the post will no longer be updated. I will be monitoring the directory and editing from time to time for formatting, etc., as well as deleting anything that seems inappropriate. Please comment on this post or email me if you have any questions or suggestions.

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Business of Writing, SFF, Writing

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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