I’ve Finished, Now What?

Many readers of this blog have asked when my novel will be published. A few even assumed, after my last post, that it had already been published!

Ahh, if only…

Two years ago, I attended one of the conferences organised by a unit of Bloomsbury Publishing (of Harry Potter fame). The conference was temptingly called ‘How to Get Published – the Insider Guide to the Media’.

Several hundred of us hopeful writers made our way into a hall at the Wellcome Collection in central London. It was a typical conference hall, with seats on an incline that pointed towards a stage at the front. From their vaunted podium, the first thing senior executives of Bloomsbury did was to greet us. Then they proceeded to say that at any point in time,  a million manuscripts were floating around in search of a publisher. Thanks for the welcome, I thought. The message was so razor-sharp, it could have sliced stone-hard bread: British publishing didn’t need us; it already had enough backlog.

During breaks, I heard other people’s stories. A few delegates, having lived through multiple rejections, had been attending the same conference for many years. Some had been told by agents that there was ‘no market’ for their work. While listening to such war stories, I could see the attractions of self-publishing, though none of my fellow writers showed much enthusiasm. They wanted the prestige of traditional publishing. Others didn’t feel they had the business background to self-publish.

While at the conference, I bought a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook without knowing whether or how I would use it. This tome not only lists agents and publishers in major Western countries, it also gives detailed suggestions for how pitch letters and synopses should be written. Covered with such plaudits as ‘The one-and-only indispensable guide to the world of writing’, this from William Boyd, who could resist? It seemed a snip at £18.99. (Older editions are even cheaper on Amazon). For a fleeting moment, the conference on How to Get Published made me wonder whether I even wanted to be published, but this lasted all of a nano-second before natural ambitiousness took over. I could see my Chinese and Nyonya ancestors standing over me, wagging fingers, tsk-tsking. I left armed with a resolve to complete writing my novel. I decided to worry about publication at a later date.

That crucial moment has now arrived. I have to decide how best to get my novel published and into the hands of the readers whom I believe will be there. This may seem presumptious for a first-time novelist, but on the other hand, I’m supposed to know my audience – and I do. My target readership is Isabel Allende‘s, the Chilean-American writer who has sold 57 million books world-wide. That’s a nice number,  not at all bad for a target audience, I’d say. I think my novel would appeal to her readers because I write in the same story-telling style, and also because my work is a multicultural historical epic family drama, as are many of hers.

But I’m looking to attract new readers too, especially those with Asian roots. While writing my book, I consciously set out to portray Asians as we see ourselves, and to weave as much of South East Asia – be it place, ancestral stories or folklore – into the story as possible.

Knowing this is all very well, but what the hell should I do now? Previously, I would have had little choice but to go down the route of traditional publishing. That would mean fighting for the attention of an agent, because with the million manuscripts floating around, agents too are inundated. Even if I succeeded in finding an agent, there would still be no guarantee of publication – the agent would have to place the manuscript with a publisher willing to take on the book and the risk of a new writer.

But we are now in the digital age, and I have the option of publishing and selling the novel myself. Yet, when I think about what this would entail – all of the copy-editing, proof-reading, lay-out, design, printing (since not everyone in my target audience would have an e-book reader) and most of all, the marketing which a traditional publisher would undertake for its authors – I shudder. It would take me light years away from the creative process. I baulk, despite having a business background which equips me well enough to grapple with rankings on Amazon, persuade reviewers to read my book, even trudge from store to store to sweet-talk them into stocking copies. Because I do have business experience, I realise that this would be a very long-term project for a new writer. Not impossible, just extremely tough for my genre. Though it is a perfectly legitimate route, and one which would give me complete control over my work, as well as (in principle) the lion’s share of any royalties.

Whenever I think about publishing, it becomes abundantly clear that writing was actually the easy part!

For the moment, I have decided to pursue traditional publishing. This is mainly because my first novel is intended as the start of a trilogy and – call me mad – I’ve already started the second. Only a small part, mind, and there’s still a lot more research to do. But a start has been made! This second novel will continue the epic family saga beyond 1941, when the Second World War reaches Malaya.

One way or another, I intend to get published. Meanwhile, if you’re in London over the next two months, I’ll be reading extracts from my novel at two events:

16 February 2013 at the Islington Chinese Association, as part of a Cultural Day to celebrate Chinese New Year

8 March 2013 at a lunch to be hosted by the Hong Kong Society Women’s Group, where together with Kerry Young, author of the acclaimed novel Pao, I will read and explore perspectives on the Chinese spirit for International Women’s Day

Do come if you can!

9 Comments

Filed under Novel, Writing

9 responses to “I’ve Finished, Now What?

  1. Feelan Siak

    Very interesting reading.  You have come this far and you may realize your dream sooner than expected. Re your up coming Reading assignments, I noted that the Speaker in Summer for the HKS women’s Group is Xue Xinran, author of “The Good Women of China”  I read that in 2005 and also wrote Review on it, for our district newsletter.   Bye for now and my wishes for a successful 2013.       

  2. I am sure you will make it, even if it involved transforming publishing industry – I believe in you! And we can always find the way to do things differently :0)

  3. bee lee

    Hello Selina,

    My heartfelt congragulations, knowing you have a way with words, it will be a great sucess.

    Love to get a copy when is out in Malaysia.

    Bee Lee

    • Thanks Bee Lee, I shall certainly work at it. Nyonya food kept me going while I was writing!

      • bee lee tan

        Yes, Must feed the body and soul which is the best way to give nourishment to the mightly old brains, Best Asian Cuisine. Would cook for you in the future. Coming back to retire in Penang in 2014, hope by then you will have your books in Penang by then. If you wish, can get your books in the shops where they are selling my 2 cook books in Penang.

  4. Grace

    You go girl! There are a few published writers in the family, but no female published novelists that I know of – may you be the first of many to come. As Woolf knew very well, we’re all now part of a long lineage that will result in a “Shakespeare’s sister” – articulate, intelligent, loud and proud 😉

  5. Melissa

    Hi Selina, I was googling articles for my English class and found your blog when I typed “Twilight of The Nyonyas” (it’s one of my most favourite novels – I read it six times!) I’m really looking forward to reading your novel.. has it entered the Malaysian market yet?

    • Hi Melissa,

      Twilight of the Nyonyas was written by my grand-uncle so I’m glad you like it. I am looking for a Western agent for my book right now so it will take a while. You will be posted on progress if you subscribe to this blog! Thank you for your interest.

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