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Jamie Jo Hoang - Author & World Traveler

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 3)

An Author’s Voice

For the first time in a while, I found myself so enraptured in a book that I stayed up until 4 in the morning trying to finish. The book TRAIL OF BROKEN WINGS surprised me. I found the book, I hate to admit, because I was the runner up for a book award, which Sejal Hadani won. After reading a slew of really terrible indie books, I decided to read one that beat me out in a contest. To be honest I can’t remember which one it was; in any case I’m glad I did.

I am generally not a fan of books that have multiple main characters, I find that the author’s tend to rush the story lines and the book ends up being unsatisfying. Not the case here. TRAIL OF BROKEN WINGS is about a family who suffered from an abusive father and how they, as adults, try to reconcile their lives. The characters are rich, and often do things that make the reader cringe, but root for them nonetheless.

I have struggled for a long time with my own identity. Am I Asian? Am I American? Do I have to pick? The Asian identity is rooted in criticism, distrust, and distance. But I was lucky enough to grow up in America where every kid is told they have potential and every dream is a real possibility. But when it came time to describe the main character in my first book, I chose to make her white. Not because I despise being Vietnamese, but because I didn’t think anyone would read it.

Asians are stereotyped as doctors and lawyers or pharmacists, we are pragmatic and responsible. And as with all stereotypes, there is some truth to it. My parents’ idea of getting creative is building a dog house using scrap wood and has more to do with problem solving (and saving money) than creating art for art’s sake. They are immigrants who had to earn everything they have so of course they are this way.

They did their best to try and instill the same values in me. I graduated high school with a 4.6 GPA and attended a well known and reveres university, UCLA. When they sent me off to college, I took with me their hopes and dreams for a better life.

I wasn’t supposed to be a dreamer, yet here I am living in a world of make believe.

As I read Hadani’s book, I had to wonder to myself, how much of it is real? How much of the pain and suffering that her characters face does she know about first hand? Maybe none, maybe some, and maybe it doesn’t matter. As a reader, it certainly doesn’t matter, but as a fellow author, I want to know.

Part of finding our voice, is infusing who we are into our writing. And what are we if not the experiences we’ve had in life? I have been told that BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY is so vivid that it reads like a memoir, and I’ll admit that there are moments stolen from my actual life, but for the most the part Aubrey’s journey is her own.

But when I read something like TRAIL OF BROKEN WINGS, which has captivated audiences with it’s 4,000+ reviews and thousands of highlighted passages and I have to wonder. Did she connect with readers so well because she made herself vulnerable? And if that’s the case, am I willing to do the same?

My second book, which I’m working on now, takes place in Brooklyn with a Vietnamese protagonist. In part it’s because I believe it’s time I stop hiding from myself, but also because like every little girl watching TV as a kid, I would like to live in a world where I’m represented and reflected in the mainstream media.

And, as a creative person I recognize that it starts with me.

The Book Every American Needs to Read – IT’S WHAT I DO

Photo taken from the It's What I do website. All rights are the owners.

Photo taken from the It’s What I do website. All rights are the owners.

This post was meant to be a book review of sorts. But as I’m listening to the last 30 minutes of this incredible book, IT’S WHAT I DO, this post is slowly turning into a pleading message to every American: Please, please, please, read this book. 

Lindsay Addario, a photo journalist for the New York Times, recounts experiences living at the edge and capturing images in the midst of war. As a spectator reading articles in the newspaper, I don’t think I ever truly considered the risk a photographer takes when capturing bullet-ridden moments with nothing but a lens with which to shoot back.

Addario speaks with candor and enough self-detriment to make her approachable, but the stories she tells are so incredible that I had to wonder if she wasn’t really a cat with nine lives. And I am certainly not saying that every American should hop on a plane and head to a war zone, but perhaps our distance from war makes it hard for us to empathize with those who are suffering all around the world.

Right now, outside my window, I’m watching as a defiant man is being held back by six sheriffs after throwing several punches at a tow truck driver who was sent to repossess his car for non-payment. It’s a poor neighborhood, riddled with stories of sorrow and bad luck, but in this particular case it’s about arrogance. The “owner” of the vehicle “purchased” the car but doesn’t feel the need to pay for said purchase; therefore, the car is being taken away. Sounds pretty simple until the owner starts claiming that his rights have been violated. To avoid a lawsuit, and perhaps to protect himself from further physical assault, the driver has no choice but to call the cops. Hence, the string of police outside my window.

I mention this story because on the one hand I’m listening to Addario describe a war zone and the suffering of those born into the crossfire, and then on the other hand is this self-righteous American not only looking for a handout, but demanding it. His lack of appreciation mocks the liberal agenda so many have fought for. There is a need for social programs–there are people in America who truly need it–and then there are those who see an opportunity to not only exploit it, but demand that they deserve it. Whatever happened to being grateful for the things given to you?

I’m not a politician and I have no idea how to fix this, but I wonder if this man would be so self-righteous if he’d read Addario’s story. I wonder if his kid who stands behind him, hands balled into fists and itching for a fight, could learn something about humility if he understood how much he has just in the way of freedom. It makes me angry to see people blatantly taking advantage of the system and yet I am torn because these social programs assisted my refugee parents 35 years ago.

I have half a mind to take this book, grab the kid, sit him down, and force him to read it. Force him to educate himself in order to not follow in the footsteps of his father. He’s a good kid–I can tell by the polite way he always greets me and the ashamed look he has when he knows his parents are “milking the system” and he has no choice but to play along. But I can’t do that. I can do nothing but sit back and watch him join the ranks of others on this block as they all eventually find themselves handcuffed and in the back of a black and white police car.

I am a writer telling stories that I hope will compel and inspire readers, and I am begging everyone out there to please, please, please read this book and then pass it along to a friend.

An Open Invitation to all Indie Authors

I am one of the millions of indie authors out there fighting for shelf space in an already incredibly saturated market. It is controlled by book publishers who have the financial ability to spread their advertisements far and wide and push my book to the back.

I’m not saying I have a Pulitzer on my hands (not that I would ever know since surprise, surprise, I can’t submit my book without the backing of a publisher!), but even getting a book on notable lists like the New York Times, Pop Sugar, and The Guardian is nearly impossible without paying gobs of money to a publicity firm, which in the end may or may not even be able to get you a spot anyway. My book, BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY (shameless plug) has won three major Indie Awards, got a starred Kirkus Review, and multiple book bloggers I approached gave it five stars. Yet, unless you Google the book title specifically, you’ll never find it.

Recently, I’ve started studying book lists. You know, the ones titled: “If you loved BLAH, BLAH book, you’ll love THIS BOOK,” and “15 Must Read Books for the Summer.” And what I found is that the same top 10 National Bestsellers come up on every list.

Of course, National Best Sellers are good books–millions of people have read and loved them–but instead of us all reading the same 10 national best sellers, how about we build a network for readers to discover “the next National Bestseller?”

As an indie author, I want to support indie books. But when searching for indie titles, I find books like The Martian, which is no longer indie. If a reader loves my book, there is no place they can go to find a similar indie book to support. Even Googling “Top 5 Indie Books” yields a less than fruitful search. A schmorgesborg of random titles in random genres comes up. How can we indie authors support each other’s books if we can’t find them?

So, today I’d like to start a new trend. I’m calling all indie authors to use the ever growing hashtag #IndieBooksBeSeen. Start your headlines with: “If you loved this INDIE BOOK you’ll love these BESTSELLER books.” Here’s my list of 8 Books you’ll love if you loved BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY.

 

Indie Book Wheel2

Let’s change the way publishing works and start putting indie books front and center!

 

Unfortunately, I’m not a graphic designer or fancy flash coder (otherwise I would love to provide everyone with a drag and drop easy tool!) but I do have this template as a Photoshop file, and you’re welcome to download it FREE here! Don’t forget to tag me @heyjamie on Twitter so I can retweet it to my 29K followers.

Boom! Indie book front and center. Now here’s the catch: I need other indie authors to do the same. Yes, that’s means you, Mr./Ms. indie author sitting there reading this and wondering how to promote your book. Together, let’s create in a shift in the market.

Reddit changed the way we get the news, with viewers pushing articles they want to see up the ranks. My dream is to see authentic indie books finding their way into the mass market via readers like you and me.

I know what you’re thinking. Hey Jamie, WTF? You say you want to promote Indie Authors, but here you are showing us more bestsellers! You’re right. I hate that I had to do this, but like I said, it’s impossible to find indie books that are actually similar to mine. If you’re an indie author and you wrote a women’s fiction book that you think my readers would love, send it my way. If I agree that it matches I’ll gladly bump one these books off my pinwheel.

We’re part of an exciting shift in publishing. Consumers now have a say in what books become popular and guess what Indie writers, you’re a consumer. The books you buy and review determine what the next National Bestsellers are, so how about the next time you go to a bookstore you browse the Indie or Local Author section and add one of those to your TBR pile?

The eventual goal is to, as a community, build a network of indie books that are recognizable to our target audiences. We need the help of bloggers too! Imagine ourselves, the readers, typing in a book we love on Amazon and seeing our titles pop up alongside it. Let’s even the playing field and help each other gain visibility for our indie titles.

A Visit to Pablo Naruda’s House in Santiago, Chile

 

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La Chascona–Pablo Narudas house in Santiago, Chile. Fun fact: There are two identical doors at this house, one for him and one for his mistress.

 

A few months ago I went to a beautiful wedding in Uruguay (a story that still needs to be written). From Los Angeles I had a daunting 24-hour flight, which included two layovers before reaching my final destination. The first stop was a quick drop down in Lima, Peru where 70% of the passengers disembarked and new people took their place. Pretty uneventful. Next stop, Santiago. I had an 8-hour layover so I decided to go exploring. There was a bit of a rush in knowing I only had a few hours, was in foreign country where I could barely speak the language, and was risking missing my connecting flight–in other words, everything was awesome! Damn that Lego movie for having such a catchy tune.

Just after clearing customs I hesitated momentarily, then proceeded through the baggage claim area in search of a taxi company. After finding one, I tried to explain what I wanted (mostly with hand gestures and pointing): I needed a driver for 2 hours to take me to San Christobal Hill and Pablo Naruda’s House and then back to the airport. I showed the desk attendant google map printouts of the two places and drew stick figures of me and a taxi driver visiting each one then coming back to the airport. When she still didn’t understand, I cursed my 8th grade Spanish teacher. The poor desk attendant looked at me with a blank stare and just as I was about to call it quits and head back into the the airport, another girl approached saying she spoke ‘minimal’ English. “Well, we’re in luck because I speak minimal Spanish,” I said, and she laughed. I explained my situation again and this time was rewarded with an “Ah…” before she smiled and spoke in rapid Spanish to the attendant. A number was scribbled on a piece of paper: $12,000.

“TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS?” I exclaimed.

“Pesos,” she corrected me. Quickly, she calculated the conversion to US dollars and wrote $80 US on the paper. Okay! $80 I could manage. In fact, $80 for 3 hours in a cab seemed like a steal. (Side note: It’s not. My older sister, an obviously more seasoned traveler than I, would later tell me I was severely ripped off–no matter, I was on a high and having the time of my freaking life!)

When I met my driver, he never gave me his name, but for the sake of this story let’s call him Robert. Robert glanced at the 4 receipts I handed him and a look of confusion of crossed his face. Not again, I start to think. But he turned to me and said, “So you want to go to San Cristobal Hill, Pablo Naruda’s House, and then come back to the airport?”

“Yes!” I smiled. “You speak English?”

“So, so,” he said. “You speak Spanish?”

“Muy poquito. Very little,” I laughed.

It was about 7:45 a.m. local time and I was ready for the grand tour of Santiago, so imagine my surprise when we arrived at San Cristobal Hill only to find that they didn’t open until 8:30 a.m. Well crap. Robert told me it’s not a problem, we’ll just see Naruda’s house first. This sounded like a good plan until we arrived at the house, properly named La Chascona, and saw the sign that said, Open at 10:00 a.m. I was about 40 minutes into the trip and my wild solo excursion in a foreign country was turning out to be an epic fail.

“What do you want to do?” Robert asked me. I just paid $80 for his services so I hardly wanted him to just drive me back to the airport. I didn’t say anything for a while and racked my brain for a solution. A few minutes passed and I got the feeling he was becoming super annoyed with me but then he said, “I can take you to see the House of the President? And then probably San Cristobal will be open after.”

“Okay!” I shouted enthusiastically. There was a little guy in the back of my mind telling me he was about to charge me up the wazoo for this little detour, but I didn’t care. When else was I going to get the chance to explore Santiago? We hopped in the car and almost instantly Robert went from taxi driver to tour guide. He pointed out the national library, a famous cathedral, a huge indoor market–popular as a place to get a bite to eat after a heavy night of drinking. He told me if I ever came back I must be sure to check out a stall inside that sells the best crab in the world. Come to think of it, I was kind of hungry…but Robert had already gone above and beyond his duties so having him to pull over would’ve been asking to be abandoned in a foreign city. We pulled up to the President’s Palace, and he pointed out the guards surrounding the building and told me they were the most respected division of law enforcement. I told him they are were quite handsome and he laughed.

When I finally arrived at San Cristobal Hill he took me to the top, parked the car, and said he would a nap while I looked around. By this point, we had a pretty good rapport going so I was pretty sure he’s wasn’t going to leave me there; nevertheless, I looked for his car every time it was within view just to be safe. I hadn’t done a lot of research before coming to Santiago; to be honest, I wasn’t sure I had the guts to actually leave the airport until I did it. So all I knew was that San Cristobal Hill had the best view of the city and man, did it ever. Hundreds of thousands of buildings and roads all sprawled out in front of me. Behind me a staircase led further up the mountain and toward a large statue of Mary, complete with a mini chapel at the base of her feet. The main character in my novel, BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY, visits Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, something I had yet to do, so as I stood beneath Mary I tried to imagine being in my character’s shoes. I could write an entire blog just about that experience so I’ll refrain from getting into it, but what I will say is this: as a first-time author it was affirming to know that my character’s experiences weren’t wrong.

Robert was in the driver seat playing a game on his phone when I returned to the car. At the sight of me, he shut off his phone with a smile and we headed back down the mountain to Pablo Naruda’s house. After paying a fee, I was handed a listening device that looked like a long skinny telephone before being ushered into a courtyard. There were about 14 stops on this tour of Naruda’s house, but I only had a few minutes before I risked missing my connecting flight so I decided halfway through the first description to skip to the next one. Big mistake. At the end of each section the narrator kindly tells you where to walk next. This left me wandering around the courtyard with a security guard eyeing me suspiciously. I turned down a wrong corridor and get scolded in Spanish, which ironically sounds a lot like a scolding in Vietnamese, but he pointed me in the direction I was supposed to go. I moved through the downstairs portion quickly, past the dining room, small bedroom, his mistresses’ quarters, and then finally I reached the place I came to see. Pablo Naruda’s study.

It wasn’t very large. In fact, it seemed quite small given Naruda’s notoriety and fame. There were wooden bookshelves lining the back wall, a desk, reading chairs, and lots of artifacts that reminded me of Native American relics. Maybe they were? If I’d had more time I probably could’ve listened to find out. His desk was clean with nothing more than a few pieces of paper, his glasses and a pen. It was also tiny, not much bigger than the desk I used at home. The room was brightly lit with tons of windows. I wanted really badly to sit down in one of the chairs and imagine being him; to look out over his garden and think about the words that would flow together into poetry.

For a writer, the 8-hour layover in Santiago was enlightening. I walked in the shoes of one of my own characters and sat in the house of one of the greatest writers in history. AND I did it all with time to spare, so after going back through security, I took a seat at the bar, ordered a Pisco Sour and toasted myself for a layover well spent.

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WIR — DAVID SEDARIS

Brilliant! Funny! All the Praises belong to David Sedaris.

Brilliant! Funny! All the Praises belong to David Sedaris.

What I’m Reading: “When You Are Engulfed in Flames” by David Sedaris.

This man needs no introduction obviously, so why it took me so long to find his work is beyond me. Given to me by my friend Gina, as a must read book, I picked it up and instantly fell in love.

Because Sedaris writes short stories, there is no commitment! Yet, here’s the thing: I always wanted to come back for more. I’d read a story, laugh out loud, finish it and then want more. His books are to readers what cigarettes are to smokers, which is ironic because he spends about forty pages talking the pains of kicking his smoking habit.

The way he tells stories is unlike anything I’ve ever read. They’re personal, feel candid, and are always really funny. There is so much to admire in his work, but the thing I really walked away with was that it was him. Every facet and nuance of the book was Sedaris himself and whether the way he writes is really the way the thinks, doesn’t matter because either way he makes for a very compelling character.

As a writer one of the things I noticed was that he often times starts his stories by just diving in. His prose isn’t flowery or overly complicated, he sticks to the story and stays focused. He doesn’t spend four paragraphs talking about what Paris looks like or what Japan looks like. It’s all folded into the story itself. If I know what the trains in Tokyo are squeaky clean, it’s because he’s telling me a story about a woman taking her sons shoes off, and laying down a cloth before he’s allowed to stand on the seat and look out the window.

Admittedly, I’m quite jealous of his life. To quit smoking he spent $20,000 on a 3 month trip to Japan. He’s lived in multiple countries and has been all around the world giving talks. Just thinking about his lifestyle makes my mouth salivate. And yet, I get the feeling from his writing that he’d be just as happy writing without the money. So I guess herein lies the lesson.

Pay attention to the world around you because it’s full of fruitful ideas and images that will be useful when writing your novel whether it be fiction or non-fiction. Do things, take classes, stay active as a member of society even if it gives you anxiety, because those experiences are what make up a lot of the humor in Sedaris’ work. “It’s funny because it’s true,” as my friend Mikey would always say.

I’ve never heard Sedaris speak, yet somehow there are vocal intonations in the way he writes and now I know what it means to find your voice as an author. It doesn’t mean you have to fill the book with large vocabulary, or make every sentence move to the beat of a tune, it means being authentic as a writer and of course staying in character as you immerse yourself into the people you create within your stories.

 

Book Recommendation — The Bluest Eye

The Bluest Eye (Vintage International)

 

Over a decade ago I remember hearing about Toni Morrison’s book THE BLUEST EYE. I only have faint memories of seeing her on Oprah and thinking this was a book I needed to read. But for whatever reason I never got around to it–until now.

There are probably a million reviews from literary critics praising the book so I’m not going to get into why: “Toni Morrison is not just an important contemporary novelist but a major figure in our national literature.” — The New York Review of Books. I don’t have to sociological background to discuss why this book is such an important piece of history, but I do want to explore the things reading it made me feel as an Asian American.

One of the most powerful lines, and probably what compelled me to buy the book, was from the foreword. Morrison writes: The assertion of racial beauty was not a reaction to the self-mocking, humorous critique of cultural/racial foibles common in all groups, but against the damaging internalization of assumptions of immutable inferiority originating in an outside gaze. What a powerful statement.

The opening is brilliant. A young narrator, Claudia, whose name we do not learn for several pages, is talking about her friend Pecola Breedlove and how they all came to lose their innocence.

An intricately woven story, the narrator takes us on a journey through the history of Pecola’s family so that we understand how she came to be. Choosing to specifically highlight the most vulnerable and delicate member of society, a young black female, Morrison takes us on a journey of “how.” How it is that Pecola Breedlove came to end up where she did.

What I like about the story is that although she is critiquing our society at large she also is quick to point out the cultural flaws within the African American community. The way that I relate to this as a non-African-American is by acknowledging that within my own cultural community we share similar flaws of blaming the victim and drawing absurd conclusions for the sake of dramatic retellings of gossip, when what we should be doing is lending a helping hand as Claudia and her sister Freida attempt to do.

It dawns on me now as I’m analyzing all that can be taken away from Morrison’s beautiful work of fiction that I didn’t so much forget to read it as maybe I was afraid to. For I, too, longed for many years for the bluest eye. I have 22/20 vision but for years I wore a blue-green blend of contacts (which boasted the title of being “the most natural” looking kind) unaware of social consequences of my actions. I had no idea that by altering the color of my eyes I was telling everyone around me that I wanted to be someone other than myself. As much as it pains me to write this I feel encouraged by Morrison: I wanted to be white.

In Morrison’s forward she writes: Implicit in her desire [for the bluest eye] was radical self-loathing. And twenty years later, I was still wondering about how one learns that. Who told her? Who made her feel that it was better to be a freak than what she was? 

Like Morrison, I too have no idea where this ideology stems from except to say that perhaps it was ingrained in my worldview in subtle ways like barbie dolls, baby dolls, and and in the way others looked at me. THE BLUEST EYE has important cultural and historical information, which makes it a must read for everyone. Through Morrison’s story of Peccola I learned things I never would’ve known because I would’ve felt uncomfortable asking. Yet, I feel this information is important if we as a society plan to successfully move toward true acceptance of one another.


101 Queries and a Marketing Plan

Getting a book published is 50% writing and 50% self-promotion.

Getting a book published is 50% writing and 50% self-promotion.

When I hit a 101 sent queries I stopped. The past two months have been an emotional roller coaster with high highs, low lows, and whole a lot of talking myself off a ledge. Over the course of weeks, a request of the full comes in, followed by a rejection, and the e-mails tag-team each other like this for a while. Talk about never letting a celebration last too long. To my surprise, I’m told this is a great ratio. So taking some advice from a writer friend of mine, Gina, I celebrate the small victories. At the very least it’s an interesting concept. I reward myself with a delicious iced coffee with coffee cubes, that’s right, coffee cubes–brilliant.

The high lasts about 15 minutes, before a new reality sets in: none of it matters if at the end of the day I still don’t have an agent.

I stare hard at my 101st query letter and the fifth page of my Google search for upmarket women’s fiction agents, and decide I need something else to focus on. If an agent is a no-go, what’s the game plan? Another way of phrasing this is: If an agent is a no-go, how do I keep from spiraling into a comatose state of complete and utter depression? But that’s obviously overly dramatic. Right? Right.

Positive thoughts, I tell myself, as I research marketing strategies and discover a ton of useful and helpful information from the Canada Business Network of Info Entrepreneurs.

For starters, I learn that I need to “know my audience.” Who am I targeting? That seems easy enough: Women. I write women’s fiction so I’m looking for women readers. More specifically I’m looking for readers interested in “upmarket women’s fiction,” which is fiction that straddles the line between commercial and literary.

The next part is harder. How do I get my book in front of them? I do a Google search for book publicists and, instead of finding an actual publicist, I find an article about how I could be my own publicist–even better. This is great because banks don’t give out loans for marketing unpublished books (at least I don’t think they do), so the more work I can do on my own the better chance my book is going to have of surviving in a clearly saturated market.

Kelly Ferguson wrote a great article titled, “Being My Own Book Publicist,” which I think every emerging writer should read. There is a ton of helpful information like: what to do before the book release, using your friends, brainstorming your market, and social networking. Note: this was her particular story and though I can’t say this with any kind of authority, I am certain that every book has it’s own journey therefore this article is a not complete guide by any means.

After I read a ton of exhausting articles about the million and one things I need to do, my brain goes into shock and I stare blankly at a Wega coffee machine at Romancing the Bean for 10 minutes. I let my mind wander into the world of being a barista. Ahh…coffee, how I do love thee. Writing is a pain the in the ass, maybe I’d be happier making coffee. Gourmet, whole earth, fair trade, organic delicious coffee. I think I’m on to something here. A cute little Cafe Jamie apron, biscotti’s, tea cakes…

“Get to work Hoang!!” my alarm shouts. Yes, I set random alarms throughout the day to remind myself not to procrastinate. And back into the world of publishing I go.

To keep things from getting overwhelming I pick the five things I think need to happen now:

1. My book needs a website. I buy the domain: Blue Sun, Yellow sky. The creation of the website will have to happen later.

2. Research — Start researching book clubs, Goodreads groups, book reviewers, and blogs with an audience fit for my novel.

3. Social Media — Prep blog posts, make use of Twitter, consider an author FB page, etc.

4. Layout a Marketing Plan–It isn’t enough to just research great marketing tactics. I need to put an actionable plan in place with a yearlong calendar of goals and ideas.

5. Query and forget — This is still a vital component to the publishing process. I’ve only been querying for two months, there are many more agents out there and I shouldn’t give up prematurely.

And, now that I have a plan, I need to quit procrastinating by writing this blog entry.

Signing out! *she salutes*

Thick Skin and Patience

When the time is right your egg will hatch.

When the time is right your egg will hatch.

Querying is a beast of a project. It doesn’t seem like such a big deal to have to write a cover letter and submit to agents, but let me tell you, it’s agonizing. First, I spent way too much time crafting the “perfect” query letter, which to be honest I’m not 100% thrilled with but it seems to be doing the job. Second, I had to research the agents. And third, I had to wait.

I’ve been querying for about a month now and the only real advice I have is to be patient and prepared for rejection. In my first round I hit up the top 50 agencies based on this list: Best Literary Agencies.

It’s not enough to just query the agency, I had to research each agent and decide which agent best suited for my material (Yes, this takes time). Once I checked off all of the appropriate agents on that list, I googled “upmarket women’s fiction agents” and added more agents to my query list. This is probably one of the most mundane but necessary processes of finding an agent. 

The first week I got 2 requests and 2 rejections. Not bad. A 50% response ratio was pretty good I was told. But isn’t that umm…an F?! I guess rejections are graded on a curve and the 50% mark shifts everything. The second week was the same 2 requests and 2 rejections. Okay, I thought, I can handle this. But then they stopped. As it turns out, being in the slush pile means most agents won’t even get to my measly query for at least a month. So…I was once again challenged to wait.

A lot of writer’s I spoke to broke their lists of agents up into three tiers: 1. Really want 2. Would be happy with 3. If no one else takes me it’s a start. Then they pick two or three from each category and query in batches. I didn’t do this. In this day-and-age of quick self-publishing I really didn’t want to spend years looking for an agent so I decided this: Query everyone once and in six months, if I get no love, I’ll put on my big girl pants and self-publish.

I work in entertainment and come from a family where the need for praise is seen as a weakness, so I thought the rejection process would be a piece of cake to get through, but boy was I wrong. It’s hard not to read too much into a rejection and instantly think that I may have chosen the wrong career path. 

“It’s all just par for the course,” I tell myself, but there is a devil on my shoulder who loves to taunt. And we creatives know just how little ammunition it takes to make the devil dance, so for the sake of my sanity I took a break. I met some friends at Bass Lake in Northern California and shut off all electronics. For two days I forced myself not to look at my phone every five minutes for an e-mail. And by the time I left I remembered that I began this creative journey knowing full well the difficulties that came with trying to get published and I wasn’t giving up until I saw my book in print.

So, while I wait for  the 5 agents who have requested to read my novel to get back to me, I will continue to send my queries out into the ether and patiently await responses; both the good and the bad.

Women’s Fiction and Author Platforms

I love this comic! Pulled it from Author-Platform.com.

I love this comic! Pulled it from Author-Platform.com.

My novel began with a simple idea: a painter going blind, and spiraled into an adult coming of age story about a 27 year-old forced rethink the identity she spent her whole life cultivating. I embarked on this journey intending to write chick-lit and ended up in upmarket women’s fiction. I think it’s important to note that I had no idea this was the direction my book would take when I wrote it, and authors working on their first few drafts ought not to care. Fundamentally, what matters most is story is character.

In the process of querying, however, I have been asked time and again to define my books genre. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I had to do a fair amount of research before concluding that it was in fact, upmarket. Having done a lot of the grunt work already, I thought I’d share a few definitions for those who are also writing women’s fiction.

Definitions [click the links for more details and references]:

Women’s Fiction: is an umbrella term for women centered books that focus on women’s life experience that are marketed to female readers, and includes many mainstream novels.

Book Club Women’s Fiction: can be any genre, include romance that is not the center of the story, “happily ever after” is prevalent but not required, and must have a central story arc.

Upmarket Women’s Fiction:  fiction that blends the line between commercial and literary.

Chick-litliterature that appeals especially to women, usually having a romantic or sentimental theme.

Commercial Women’s Fiction: fiction that focuses on events and emotions more so than the prose. Commercial fiction uses high-concept hooks and compelling plots to give it a wide, mainstream appeal.

For broader fiction categories check out AgentQuery.

There are quite a few authors who hate being defined by any one category because they rightfully don’t want to be pigeon-holed or type-cast into being a one-note author, and I’ll admit, the idea of ditching labels is appealing, but for the purposes of querying it’s helpful.

One of the many reasons it’s helpful in terms of getting an agent (says the agentless writer), is that a well-defined book means you can begin building your author “platform.”

This is a new term I’ve picked up recently, and let me tell you, it’s all the rage. It’s also one of the seemingly most exhausting tasks that new authors must conquer. Jane Friedman does a great job of defining it as:

  • Visibility. Who knows you? Who is aware of your work? Where does your work regularly appear? How many people see it? How does it spread? Where does it spread? What communities are you a part of? Who do you influence? Where do you make waves?
  • Authority. What’s your credibility? What are your credentials? (This is particularly important for nonfiction writers; it is less important for fiction writers, though it can play a role. Just take a look at any graduate of the Iowa MFA program.)
  • Proven reach. It’s not enough to SAY you have visibility. You have to show where you make an impact and give proof of engagement. This could be quantitative evidence (e.g., size of your e-mail newsletter list, website traffic, blog comments) or qualitative evidence (high-profile reviews, testimonials from A-listers in your genre).
  • Target audience. You should be visible to the most receptive or appropriate audience for the work you’re trying to sell. For instance: If you have visibility, authority, and proven reach to orthodontists, that probably won’t be helpful if your marketing vampire fiction (unless perhaps you’re writing about a vampire orthodontist who repairs crooked vampire fangs?).

The bad news is that it must be done. The good news is that while you’re querying, you have time, and none of this needs to happen overnight.

For information on how to build your platform, check out these sites:

Page Two Blog

101 Quick Platform Actions You Can Do Today

I wrote a book. Now what?

Found this while searching the internet for "Book Manuscript" images and couldn't help imagining my own words immortalized in a museum this way.

Unfortunately, this is not my book. It’s Charlotte Bronte’s unpublished manuscript which sold at auction recently for £690,850!

Three years ago when I left for Houston on an epic journey to become a “real writer” I never imagined that I’d actually become one. At the very least, I feel like one. I spent the first three months pumping out the “shitty first draft” and another two years and nine months turning that sucker into a real book. So now, here I am with a finished novel at 80,000 words and no idea what do with it.

There are a million articles online that advocate for self-publishing. Classes are taught on how to do it, self-published millionaire authors write about it, and everyone, it seems, has an opinion about it. Publishers hate and indie authors love it, but here’s the kicker: It’s all still very new.

Yes– I would love to jump on the Kindle bandwagon and make upwards of a million dollars as a self-published author, but what does this mean for the industry itself? Is it really better? I’m not sure.

Publishers on the other hand, want us to believe that the Kindle is the devil. That Amazon is driving the prices of books down and that the monopoly they have on the market isn’t good for anyone.

The data and statistics are sketchy at best so what’s a new author supposed to do? Research.

Just as every book has it’s own journey into creation, so too, does it have it’s own journey into publication, so this blog is by no means the right way to do anything. It’s simply how I’m going about it. (Check back in a few years to see if it worked)

So, first up…Querying.

Trust me when I say I would have loved to skip this part. Writing the Query Letter and Synopsis were torturous. If things were still handwritten I’d be sitting in a room waist deep in crumpled up papers. Lucky for me, they all just went into an electronic trash bin on my Mac computer’s desktop. Alas, I did it because I felt like not doing it would have been like trying to cut corners. These are the references I used as guidelines:

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-10-dos-and-donts-of-writing-a-query-letter

How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents

Then after spending a month writing and rewriting my query letter, with numerous comments and critiques from other writers, I started to make my list. Using a simple Excel spreadsheet I created my list which looked like this [All of this info can be found using a simple Google search, so do your research!]:

BSYS Query List

BSYS Query List

Once I had my list, I began e-mailing five to seven agents a day. When I received a rejection I marked it and so on and so forth. Because most agents ask to be notified if you have been picked up by an agent, this is a good way to keep track of who you solicited.

Then…I wait. Ten minutes, nothing. Eleven minutes, a light tapping of my impatient foot begins. Twelve minutes, I realize I need to leave my house before I self-destruct.

Next day: My first rejection. To be honest it wasn’t all that bad. It’s a bit like friendly hazing before they let you join a sorority. Everyone has to suffer through it. The way I see it, the more rejections I collect, the closer I get to finding an agent. So tomorrow I’ll research five more and repeat until successful.

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