heyjamie

Jamie Jo Hoang - Author & World Traveler

Tag: writing (page 1 of 2)

South Park, James Cameron, and Writing

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last 5 years you’ve probably seen this video South Park made of James Cameron. They’re clearly making fun of the fact that he has to actually “do” the things he makes movies about and that he, in fact, does everything. Cameron has a thirst for adventure like no one else and the end result of that curiosity are his incredible movies.

My dad rarely ever goes to see a movie. Mostly because his grasp of the English language isn’t good enough for him to understand or catch all of the subtext or innuendo’s. But when I took him to see Avatar, he totally got it. Moreover, he really enjoyed the visuals. I think for someone who has known poverty, and lived through a war, he was blown away by the magic on screen. Afterwards, he kept asking me, “How do people get ideas to come up with things like that?” My snarky response was, “I don’t know Dad, if I did do you think I’d still be living here? Nope I’d be a millionaire exploring the seven seas on my yacht.” “What’s a yat?” he asked. I sighed, “A boat. I’d be on my own boat.” “Oh,” he says, “Well hurry up and figure it out.” Thanks Dad.

His question did pique my curiosity though and when I googled James Cameron I found that it wasn’t just that he had a more vivid imagination that I did, it was that he had explored so much more of the world than I had. In my quick google search of “James Cameron” I found the TED Talk he gave below. In his 17-minute talk I learned that he convinced the studios to make Titanic because he wanted to go deep sea diving. The love story and box office millions were an aside. As a diver myself, his exploration of the deep sea hit a nerve with me.

As writers, we create worlds that other’s get to live in, but our creative minds need fuel. A car doesn’t run without gasoline and we can’t write without inspiration. This is the fun part of our jobs! Yet, we’re made to feel like we’re undeserving of the “fun research” because what we do for research is what other people call “entertainment” or “vacation.” But here’s the thing. James Cameron could never have made Titanic the way he did without that deep sea dive. Nor do I think Avatar would have existed without his incessant need to explore the world.

Exploring the things that draw on our senses is what opens our imagination to creating worlds beyond what anyone thought possible. I think there’s a reason writers are usually slightly ahead of our technological time. We not only see things, we want to experience them for ourselves. I personally am fascinated with the passage of time. The lifespan of a seed becoming a flower is immensely interesting to me, and the details people seem to love so much in my writing comes from caring–albeit, a ridiculous amount–about the process.

So, I hereby give all writers–ok, you don’t have to be a writer–permission to: eat at that expensive restaurant, travel to an exotic location, zip-line through the Amazon, climb to the highest peak, dive to the deepest part of the ocean, and just do whatever. Say yes to everything and see where it takes you!

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

 

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 5.45.28 PM

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.

IMG_3507

5 Things You Need to Know Before Self-Publishing

There’s nothing like receiving your first proof, but unless you want it collecting dust on your bookshelf you need to get moving on marketing.

Switching gears from writing to marketing was quite possibly the most excruciating brain shift I’ve had to endure. That being said, I’ve learned a lot! So I thought I’d share my experiences to help anyone who is considering self-publishing. I also plan to revisit this page if I ever do this again for another novel.

Number 1 — Begin PR Planning at Least SIX Months in Advance

Six months seems like a long time to wait after the novel is done but trust me when I say it will fly by before you know it, and there is a lot of prep work. I’ll get into the nitty gritty later in this post, but allocating enough time to send out massive amounts of e-mails and get responses takes a long time. Had I known what I know now I would’ve started this process at the same time I began querying agents.

First things first, and I cannot stress this enough: GET A BOOK COVER. “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” be damned. EVERYONE is going to judge your book by its cover first. And you’ll need the cover to jumpstart everything else.

Then, get your ISBN numbers. You will need two–one for your Paperback and a different one for your e-book.

Also, there are 3 basic e-mails you will need to prepare, as you will be sending out thousands of e-mails.

a) Query Letter — If you haven’t queried before you should. Rejection sucks, but having an agent will help you avoid many of the mistakes I’ve made going it alone.

b) Book Review Query — The concept is very much the same as your Query Letter but you have to include book information. Here is a sample if you need help.

c) Newspaper Book Review Query — This one I found to be the least useful, since I got a 0% response rate, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work for someone else. Here’s a list of Newspaper contact info– if you have any luck with this please comment below. I’d love some tips.

Create a Press Release — I used PRweb (a paid service) because I had no idea how to even begin writing one.  You don’t need to send out a Press Release right away, but having the PDF file ready will you save you lots of time and a headache later. This is getting a little ahead of ourselves, but when you’re ready to release it (and please do check with someone who knows PR) here is a list of sites compiled by Mashable, where you can do so for free.

Number 2 — Get all of your Social Media Lined Up and Ready to Go

Setup/Update your: Personal Website, Facebook Author Page, Twitter, Goodreads Author Account, Amazon Author Account, Google+, etc.

Make sure you have a full page dedicated to your book: What’s it about? Where can I buy it? What are others saying about it?

Start building a Twitter following. There are useful apps out there for this. Hootsuite is great for planning out tweets in advance and Justunfollow helps you find people to follow via keywords (ie. #author, #books, #amwriting, etc.) This will ensure that you’re building a reader network and not just a bunch of random Twitter followers who just want a followback. Also, you’re building a network, so for the love of God, just follow people back. Unless you’re Stephen King and get 100,000 followers the day you sign up for Twitter, you need to look at social media as a reciprocal networking medium. I can’t vouch for other networking communities, but writers genuinely want to help each other out and you’d be surprised at how many people will retweet your book tweets.

Facebook: This will feel like you’re pimping yourself out a little bit, but GET OVER IT. Invite ALL of your friends and family to “Like” your author page. You’re going to need all of the support your can get and it begins with them.

At first, it’ll feel kind of lame to have these pages up with no news to post, but be patient we’re getting to that next.

Number 3 — Submit Your Book for “Reputable” Industry Book Reviews

Yes. You have to pay for some of these. And No, this does not guarantee you a good review. They’re pricey (~$250-$500 each) but a good review from just one of them is HUGE. This is where strangers begin taking a chance on your “Indie” book.

These are the 5 I’d hit up first:

BookList — Booklist is part of the American Library Association so getting reviewed here is a big deal. It’s free to request having your material reviewed. However, you MUST to submit to Booklist no later than you submit to any other pre-publication media AND they do not review an e-book unless it’s available in libraries already (one of those industry Catch-22’s).

Kirkus Reviews — If your browser is as keen to your searches as mine is, you will see ads for Kirkus Reviews EVERYWHERE. This made me wary of course, but make no mistake they are the Creme de la creme of indie book reviewers. Kirkus has been around since 1933 and for indie authors, getting a good review by them is like getting a good review from the New York Times (I have yet to figure out how to get The NY Times to review a book). It costs $425, but your review is automatically considered for their “Indie Book of the Month” promotion, which means A LOT of free exposure to book buyers via their website and bi-monthly magazine.

BookLife  — BookLife is the Indie arm of Publishers Weekly. They’re still in Beta as of now, but they are accepting Indie books for review and it’s FREE. However, if you want to advertise your review with them it does cost $149.

Readers Favorite — It takes 3 months to get the free one and they review over 50% of their submissions. But if you’re in a hurry you can pay $59 for a rushed review and get it within 2 weeks.

Foreward Reviews (If you do this 3 months prior to your publication date, it is possible to get a review for free.) If they choose to review your book, you will get a spotlight in the Magazine as well.

Clarion Reviews — Clarion is a division of Foreword (and the more recognizable industry name). If you miss the Foreward deadline (as I did) you can pay $499 for Clarion to review your book. Both reviews are conducted by the same group of people.

Number 4 — Submit Your Book to Bloggers for Book Reviews

This is what grassroots campaigning all about. Book bloggers have your target audience hooked into their reviews so it’s the best way to promote your book and it’s FREE. It does take a long time to e-mail everyone, but if you’ve done the first 3 steps you will a pro by the time you get to this part. Book bloggers get a lot of e-mails so they need at least 2 months to schedule in your book.

Depending on your genre, you’ll need to do research on the blogs that best fit your book, but for anyone writing women’s fiction here are the sites I used:

Book Blogger List

The Indie View

Additionally, Digital Pubbing wrote an amazingly comprehensive article on how to find reviewers and readers, among other things.

Update: Once you get 25 or so positive blog reviews, watch the pages and request book reviews from other bloggers who comment. You’re response rate will be higher and it’s direct targeting.

Number 5 — Figure out Printing/Pricing

I made the mistake of doing this part first. But could you really blame me? I really wanted to see it in print! It does take a lot of time and research to find the printing press that is best for your needs. I went with IngramSpark and you can read why here. But there are definite drawbacks–the major one being the $25 fee to upload new versions of your book. If you’re tight on money, make sure you have everything proofed several times before uploading. This is not a problem if you go with CreateSpace. The other perk to CreateSpace is being able to set up pre-orders. That being said, with IngramSpark the book fits in easily with any book you’ll find in a bookstore and you better believe book buyers take that into account when considering your book!

As far as pricing, if you’re like me and all you want is to have it out there for people to buy, you’ll want to set the price as low as possible. However, there are several things to consider still.

a) Just because your e-book is $.99 cents it doesn’t mean people will buy it. Sometimes pricing it that low makes people think it’s of poor quality. Look up books in your similar genre and price-match to stay competitive. OR just price it at $2.99. It’s a respectable price for an e-book and even popular New York Times Best Sellers go for that low. I mean it’s the price of a cup of coffee.

b) Paperbacks are a little more nuanced. There are hard costs to Print On Demand, but then you also need to consider that retail book buyers will want a wholesale discount and to avoid paying them to buy your book, you’ll need to raise the price. A 50% markup is where I’d start because wholesale buyers typically want a 35%-55% discount. Besides, you presumably spent a long time writing this thing– don’t sell yourself short. I’d say for a first book $8.99-$12.99 is a good range.

Once you’ve completed all of these steps an agent you queried way back in step 1 will probably call you and you’ll think you did it all for nothing. But you would be wrong! What will likely happen is the next e-mail they send you will be a link back to my site with the subject line: Let’s Get This Baby Out There! And the both of you will be simultaneously relieved. You, because Ta Da! You’re done! And she (or he), because they were mentally geared up for the long haul and you took the express train to meet them halfway. They will be so impressed with you for being at the top of your game.*

*Note: If you could kindly remind them that I am still looking for an agent that would be great! Thanks! =)

After You Finish the Book–Get A Book Cover

A simple Google search for Best Book Cover.

A simple Google search for Best Book Cover. My favorite is A Clockwork Orange.

A couple of weeks ago, after sending out over a hundred queries and getting a few very kind rejections I decided to begin the journey into self-publishing. I had heard a lot of good things about it and what it really boiled down to was pushing aside my pride and taking the plunge.

To be honest, I thought it would be a piece of cake. I’d throw the book up on Amazon, send a blast out to all of my friends telling them it’s available and then wait with nail-biting fear as the reviews came in. As you can imagine, things were not that easy.

I started out looking at different self-publishing platforms, which led me to looking at Print-on-Demand. There are a ton of factors that go into what your print-on-demand books will look like and as far as I can tell there are only two major players in the game right now: Createspace and Lightning Source (Ingram Spark for indie authors).

So after a couple of weeks of research and getting test copies and samples sent to me (not to mention signing up for every service there is out there just to compare them all) I decided to go with Ingram Spark. Great. I had someone to print my books now I need to get it up on Amazon.

NOPE. Now I need a book cover. Since I’m self-publishing the caliber for cover art isn’t really that high. My friend Shawn pointed me to 99 Designs where I could pay $250 for 35 graphic designers to compete for my cover. But I looked at the designs and honestly they all looked really generic. For the price it makes sense, but I’m not into stock image books and though I love rom-coms and romance books, mine wasn’t one of them.

Where I ultimately ended up was Deviant Art, a site full of artists from beginner to professional, and there I found Leonid Afremov. After a couple e-mails back and forth he agreed to custom make a painting for my book cover for just $200. This is a great deal, except that I now had to graphically design my cover myself. This took a couple days and few different tries mainly because I haven’t used Photoshop in years and coming back to it was not like riding a bicycle.

Something I wish someone had told me at the beginning was to GET A BOOK COVER. It takes about a month to find, procure, and have sent to you. But you will need it for every step you take forward in promoting your book. In hindsight it seems like a no brainer, but when you’re in the thick of it and reading the million and a half articles on the web about self-publishing, it’s easy to push it aside. Since I made the mistake of waiting til a week ago to finalize my artwork I’ve still got a couple of weeks of anticipation before I even know what my cover is going to look like. In the meantime all I can do is prep the next steps. In my coming posts I’ll get into all the other marketing and PR stuff that I’ve been fumbling around with, but getting the book cover made early, was a crucial step that caused a lot of setbacks so I thought I’d write a post about it now and hopefully save others some time.

There is so much to do that at times it feels incredibly overwhelming but as the puzzle pieces come together I’m finally starting to feel like an author!

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*

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.

Finding the Story

Banh Tet

Bánh tét (The South Vietnamese traditional Lunar New Year Dish)

“Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.”
― Robert McKee

Every year for the Lunar New Year (i.e. Chinese New Year) my grandmother makes bánh Tét. A New Year’s tradition, this dish is known to have originated in South Vietnam. Wrapped in banana leaves and tightly bound by plastic string are sweet rice, cooked mung bean, and pork belly. This was, and still is, my favorite dish to date.

My grandmother is 73 years old, 4’9” tall, and when she smiles a line of blackened teeth appear—the result of over 6 decades of chewing tobacco. Grandma is a badass.

In 1979, after the fallout of the Vietnam War, my grandma made a decision that would change the course of my existence. My grandfather, a casualty of the war, left her alone with five children and a choice: stay and endure the consequences of being on the losing side of war, or flee and hope for a better life. She fled. In the dead of night she escaped Vietnam with only the clothes on her back, a few valuables, and her last three unwed children.

In 1995, at the age of 10, I visited Vietnam for the first time. Over 15 years had passed since my mom last set foot on homeland soil and tensions were high. The searing looks of the guards at customs, the quiet way we had to sneak about commuter trains, and the hushed tone of conversation whenever we passed a Viet Cong officer made for a visit that was less than comfortable.

I remember details from that trip as if they were motifs in my everyday life. The smell of skewers on a grill, the broken pairs of plastic sandals outside every door, the general lack of furniture, dirt roads, large cement barriers between homes, hand washed clothes, dirty drinking water, mosquito nets, and the smell of Tiger Balm.

In the years since my first trip to Vietnam I have traveled back twice more and recently I began to piece the two halves of myself together. I am American, but I am also Vietnamese. Three days before the 2010 Lunar New Year (February 14, 2010) I traveled home to make bánh tét with my grandmother. Together we shopped, prepared the ingredients, and cooked.

Because of her I understand the power of story. Rich in tradition, folklore, and culture, our daylong conversation became fuel, in the form of inspiration, which now drives the narrative in my writing. If Robert McKee is correct and stories are in fact, “the currency of human contact,” than I have been blessed with more riches than perhaps I deserve.

Time has a funny way of shifting perspective with each new generation, but as a writer and avid reader I am certain that the future cannot be written without a clear understanding of the past. Parents and grandparents are not always forthcoming about the truths that they have suffered, but talk to them long enough and eventually the good stuff will flow.

Stories that resonate with readers are the ones that resonate with you. They are the narratives that move you to take action, sway you to believe, and inspire you to write. And finding them, well that’s only a matter of listening.

Rise to the Top, then Humble Yourself

Mutual Respect

Mutual Respect

Situated on a street notorious for prostitution, crime, and drugs, is my parents’ small motel. The area is known to many as the “meth capital of the world”. Cops hardly want to enter. And most of society is simply glad it’s contained to six square miles. As you can imagine, working in an area like this has many challenges beginning with security and ending with a hardened outer appearance. To look weak in the neighborhood is to invite trouble.

When my parents first took over the business 10 years ago, I thought they were crazy. Running a motel was a 24-hour job and it was a notoriously rough neighborhood, but they were entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity and wanted to capitalize on it. I think my dad also saw it as a challenge, which he’ll deny enjoying but deep down he knows he likes.

The first two years were spent fixing it up. Everything from the asphalt to the roof needed mending and my parents set to work right away. They hired day laborers but also worked alongside them doing much of the heavy lifting. The third and fourth years were clean up. I remember coming home from college one summer and sitting outside with my parents as a cop rolled through on his regular patrol. He stopped to say hi to my parents and then turned to my older sister and me and said, “You should be really proud of your parents. Two years ago, we would not have driven through here.”

His words were anything but soothing. If even the cops are weary of entering what does that say about the neighborhood?

By year eight, my parents had settled in. They have learned to sleep with one eye open, neighborhood faces had become familiar, and when ABC News aired a live broadcast of a prostitution raid in 2012, our motel was one of the few left unscathed. How then, I wondered, did they do it?

If you ask them they will tell you it is luck. But I would say it is because of a mutual respect. When I work there on occasional weekends and during the summers, I notice my normal, friendly personality shift rather quickly into a hardened, unsympathetic business demeanor. Nine out of ten people who walk in the door have a sob story and maybe one of the nine isn’t lying about their situation. I can’t tell the difference so I treat everyone the same across the board. My parents, though, they still try to give everyone a chance and they feel guilty when they misjudge.

Every year, during the holidays, my parents set up benches in the parking lot and they cook a full meal with all the fixings for anyone in the neighborhood who’s hungry. To be completely honest, I thought this was a tactic to build goodwill among people who could easily wreak havoc on a motel LA-riot-style. But that wasn’t it at all. They are hyper aware of the fact that their income comes from the so-called “undesirable” residents of the area. “We can never think that we are better than them,” my dad says.

My dad’s English isn’t that great, but I believe what he means is: work hard, build something, and humble yourself as it grows, because you are only as important as those that you profit off of. I can only imagine how much better we would function as a society if our relationships with those above or below us on the social spectrum were founded on the grounds of mutual respect.

Playing Like Picasso

One of Picasso's first cubist Paintings - Les Demoiselles

One of Picasso’s first cubist Paintings – Les Demoiselles

Guest post by: Ryan Andrew

For the longest time, I used to startle awake in the middle of the night. I’d look around and not know where I was… I wouldn’t recognize the shapes of my apartment walls or furniture in the dark, and it would take me a moment to get my bearings. As I’d lay there looking up at the ceiling, suddenly my problems would flood around me like my bed had been floating in the ocean and was just now submerging and dipping under the surface. Things always seemed worse at night: if I was having problems at work, financially, or with a relationship, it was always magnified ten times at these late hours. 

When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was In the Night Kitchen. If I remember correctly, it was about a boy who floats out of his bed in the middle of the night, drifts out the window, and high over the city. He eventually drifts into a bakery and falls into a womb-like vat of dough, somehow losing all of his clothes in the process. I’m not sure why it suddenly popped into my mind while lying there in the dark at the age of 32, but I found myself thinking about it.

I imagined myself floating out the window and rising up, high over the city. The streets would be empty around my building, and as I climbed higher and higher, the street lamps would turn into a grid of pinpoints. The moon was full, and its blue light illuminated much of the city, but beyond that… darkness. I could see east and north from Los Angeles, and it was nothing but desert, empty, barren and dark.

This was the best my imagination could muster? This was me “playing” as an adult? When I was a child, I loved the idea of floating around like the boy in In the Night Kitchen, drifting into a bakery, meeting three jovial bakers… It seemed like an adventure. Now I shot up into the sky like a rocket, looked out over hundreds of miles… and saw nothing.

Picasso was quoted as saying that he spent the better part of his career learning to paint like a child again. I have spent the better part of my life learning how to play again. Society subtly removes play from our lives in incremental stages: we have recess up to a certain point (usually middle school), and then we just sit around during lunch and talk. Many of us play sports, usually through high school or college, and then once we get jobs and life gets in the way, we’re relegated to sitting on couches or in bars and watching others play sports on TV. We are shadows of our former selves.

Last summer, I took a business trip to Indianapolis for the premiere of a film I had edited. My boss, the director, invited me over for a yearly basketball game he played with his friends. It was the beginning of July– about as hot as it gets– and about 30 seconds into the game I felt like I was going to pass out. I was so winded and dehydrated, and I could see fingers of electricity crawling in at the corners of my eyes with the impending threat that I was going to black out. I was thankful when my turn was up, and I collapsed in the chair on the sidelines, soaked in sweat. My boss turned to me and said, “You know what’s funny? Every time you go up for a layup, you’re grinning ear to ear.” I doubted the validity of that statement… I was so exhausted, I felt like I could possibly have been smiling… But then I realized what it was: it was a fossilized remnant of my childhood, like a mosquito caught in an amber rock or a giant ribcage bone from a wooly mammoth. But it wasn’t some prehistoric creature– it was my ability to get lost in the moment, to have fun, and play.

In a flash, it was gone. The weekend passed by in the blink of an eye, faster than you can snap your fingers (those summer weekends always do)… and I’m back in Los Angeles. I’m jerked awake in the middle of the night again, and it takes me a moment, but I catch my breath and remember where I am. It’s cold outside– early fall– and I can feel the chilly air drifting in through the open window.

I lie back in bed and stare back up at the ceiling. I reminisce about that summer and I am touched by a moment of sadness. Life is passing by too damn fast. I used to have entire summers full of those moments, but they are now few and far between.

But then, something gently grabs ahold of me. I feel my self lift out of bed, but instead of flying out the window and high up into the sky where I see nothing but desert and darkness, I drift over to my computer. I take off all my clothes until I am completely naked, just like the character of In the Night Kitchen. Instead of falling into a vat of dough, I open a blank document and fall into my imagination. I let go.

I have never written a blog entry just for the sake of writing it. The words aren’t premeditated, there is no outline, and I have no idea what it’s for, or why I’m doing it, but I do it. Because it’s fun.

That’s how I played tonight.

Older posts

© 2017 heyjamie

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑