Self-Published = Not Easy.

When I started writing The Basics Of Flight, I actually wanted to send the story to local publishers, because let’s face it: it’s by a local (Singaporean) writer, right? Wrong. When I started sending queries, I got told – bluntly – that my story was not publishable. Just like that. I felt taken aback by the curt tone of the editor (well, I assumed it was an editor, not just a paid monkey to read email submissions).

When I combined The Basics Of Flight with Phoenix With A Purpose and tried the local traditional publishing route again, the same happened. Local publishers are just not interested in science fiction, simply because science fiction is so low-key it is not commercially viable or profitable. The local book market is replete with self-help books, memoirs, recipe books, children’s books and ghost/horror stories. No science fiction or speculative fiction. The only local science fiction novel I know is The Star Sapphire by Han May, but even then, it was not a popular book and was not well-received by the mainstream reading crowd.

I am sure that there are science fiction readers out there in Singapore and I am also sure that there are science fiction writers. We are seriously facing a problem: science fiction writers are not recognized.

So I decided to self-publish and to tell the truth, it felt like I was thrown into the deep end and asked to dog-paddle. I was suddenly the writer, the publisher, the type-setter, the designer, the marketer, the speaker and the printer all rolled into one. I ended up doing all the leg work and I sometime wonder if it was all worth it. It is not an easy route to take and you have to be really shrewd, to know your audience well. I turned to Lulu and Createspace to publish my book. I spoke to people. I advertised on my Livejournal blog.

There are days when I want to give up and throw up my hands in despair. Why is self-publishing so difficult? Why does it feel so solitary, lonely? Yet the lessons I have learned from this experience are invaluable: resilience, a thick skin, a never-say-die attitude and – yes! – creativity. I learned that I could come up with covers by myself and I ended up falling in love with photography again. I learned that self-publishing is publishing: you take on the role of the publisher. I did research. I read. It was a steep learning curve.

I have to repeat this: self-publishing is not easy. More so if you are an emerging author or a new writer fresh on the scene. I ask myself this question all the time: Will people take me seriously?

So, if you want to self-publish, remember to

1. P – Publish: Work on your publishing skills. That means being more particular when it comes to writing and editing. Get someone to proofread for you. Get someone to critique your work.
2. L – Love: Love your own work and let it go to editor or proofreader. Your attention to detail (your love and passion) will come through and people see that straightaway.
3. A – Audience: Know who your audience is. If you are writing for a genre market, be aware of the demographics.
4. N – Network: Writing might be a solitary activity. But it has a social aspect. These days, social media is the new buzzword. Network, get to know people, talk to them.

Most of all, if you are set on the self-publishing route (journey, as I always tell myself), PLAN. What is your long term plan before you launch your book. What is your targeted print run? Who do you want to distribute your book for you?

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Connections.

I posted The Basics Of Flight on Authonomy last week. It is an experiment on my part and also to get some feedback/critique. I have encountered positive feedback so far… but today I had the best one whereby the reader wrote to me saying that she enjoyed the book and connected with one of the characters (Alethia Forrester). Alethia is visually-impaired and navigates through her world by perceiving colors. The reader connected, because she has a visually-impaired child.

What power a book has and how it can connect people.

I am also reminded to write what is real to me as a person. A writer is a writer because he or she is able to empathize with their characters. A writer is a writer because he or she is an observer of Life.

Why I write YA: Looking Into The Teenager’s Psyche

Recent events in Singapore and overseas have prompted me to come up with this entry. All these events involve teenagers, mostly in the age group of 16 to 18. What these teenagers have done point to issues within their psyches and reinforce the motivation behind my writing.

In Singapore, a tragic event has happened, involving the deaths of two teenage boys. One of them claimed that he would come back as a demon slayer to prevent World World III. He managed to convince a few friends to join. One backed out, the others frightened. In the end, two boys died. Verdict = suicide. And in Germany, a teenager attacked his school with firebombs. He was shot by the police and is now hospitalized, pending further investigation.

What is going on behind the teenager’s minds? No doubt, these events involved teenage boys. They were certainly acting out something from their psyches. But I want to point out the fact that teenagers are definitely facing huge issues within themselves. The suicides and the rampage hint at deeper psychological issues and motivations, that even parents are unable to grasp the reasons as to why such things happen to their children.

I have taught teenagers from ages 15 to 18, both at secondary school (junior high) and junior college (senior high) levels. The teenage years are fraught with excitement (puberty!) and angst (again, puberty!). Teenagers are confronted with their maturing bodies and sexualities, perturbed at the fact that they are being treated like children and eager to prove a point to the adults. They are often conflicted, because of these issues. Coupled with changing values and exacerbated by the influence of the Internet, teenagers are sometimes forced to find their own ways, often in the dark and without proper guidance. Society is changing rapidly, with family structures undergoing radical formatting and the media often encouraging certain values. The teenage mind is bombarded by divergent stimuli – the glitzy world of celebrities advocating free love, sex and drugs, the unrealistic world of online gaming and crumbling values and morality.

Teenagers want guidance. They look for it and often they look at the nearest role models to teach them. Celebrities are not ideal role models. Online gaming just divorce the teenager from the real world. Absent parents make the teenagers look for guidance elsewhere. This period of their lives will lay the foundations for their future paths and they want to make informed choices. They want role models to teach them how to make choices. They want independence, but they desire someone to help them ease into adulthood.

When I wrote Winged, I explored such issues. The two main protagonists are young women at the cusp of adulthood. Both of them yearn for freedom and independence. The trick is how they manage to navigate through the often confusing world of adulthood, cope with their own internal struggles and make choices for their individual paths in life. In the two stories, they encounter adults who teach and guide them. For Katherine Riley, the steampunk pilot girl, her teachers are the flight academy instructors and even Queen Victoria. Oddly enough, her nemesis is an old mean-spirited teacher who torments her and leaves psychological scars in her psyche. For Min Feng, the phoenix princess, teachers come in the form of an abbess and a Navajo businesswoman, one to help control her raging phoenix-fire within and the other to show the ropes of business.

Perhaps, one would say that I am idealistic and that teenagers face far more complex issues than the need for right guidance and mentorship. Sexuality, friendships, relationships with other people – also form a part of their conflict(s). Here I would argue that the YA novel is not only purely for entertainment, but also a discourse on how the teenager deals with daily problems and struggles with their own developing psyches. A strong adult would help guide the teenager, be it the parent or otherwise. I want to see YA stories where the adults truly listen to teenagers, instead of turning them away.

Tweet, tweet!

For folks in Singapore, I have created #spec_sing to talk about sf/f.

If we have created enough critical mass, we can form our spec_fic writers’ group. 🙂

Silence and the writer.

I posted this on my Dreamwidth blog. Re-posting this, as I feel that it is relevant to the writing blog.

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I like writing for fun. It allows me to write and simply enjoy seeing my words. Yet, writing cannot take place in a vacuum. The writer is writing, not only for herself, but an audience. I started writing for real (ie, publication – non and paying markets) when I was in my early twenties and found that yes, I do like it when readers respond to what I have written. Feedback tells the writer something, that she is doing something right (or wrong – negative feedback/critique helps the writer see the loopholes and mistakes… and write better in the future).

However, writing is also one of the most solitary paths I have ever known. Do I know who is actually reading my stories or are they only paying lip service? Do I know my stories are good or bad? Am I writing to a silent wall instead?

Honestly, it is frustrating and at times, emotionally exhausting, because I feel as if my words are going nowhere. Perhaps, my readers are the silent majority who read and don’t really comment on the stories. They are there, but silent. Oh hey, are you guys enjoying my stories or do you hate them to bits?

Then I have to ask myself these questions? Am I looking for raving hordes of adoring fans? Or am I content with a small group of people who care about my work? I mean, it would be great to have adoring fans, but a small group of people who care and are my cheerleaders sounds much better. And yes, even writers need their cheerleaders, people who say “Keep it up!” and “Keep on writing!”.

Indeed, whatever happened to writing for fun? Right now, I feel as if I am competing with other folks in a writers’ rat race, attempting to get more readers, more fans, more sponsorships. It’s starting to rankle, because I don’t intend my writing to become competitive. Unfortunately, with so many authors and writers out there these days, it’s hard not to compete. But ultimately I want writing to be fun once more. To build worlds, to see my characters grow up, to hone my skills. To simply enjoy writing as it is. Not a competition, not a race to garner more readers. But a source of pleasure.

In the past, I wrote for fun. It was akin to watching a beautiful sunrise or moonrise. My soul was enriched, nourished. My characters breathed. I breathed. I need to go back to my roots once more.

Welcome to A Wolf’s Tale

This is the writing blog of Joyce Chng, a writer living in the hot and humid island state of Singapore.