I was on around Day 27 of NaNoWriMo and doing quite well I thought, writing my third novel, with my word count of c 24,000 when suddenly I was hit with news that I was being offered a book deal by Unbound, an imprint of Penguin Random House. The caveat was that it will be through crowdfunding. I will have to reach the target before the book is published in both digital and paperback.
Three publishing deals this year:
Before I submitted to Unbound, I already submitted to two other digital publishers. The first came back to me in June this year. and the deal was not bad and not good. I had a friend Keith of Strident Publishing look at the contract in detail and fine-toothed combed it. Armed with about 14 questions regarding the contract, I emailed them to the publisher (let’s call them X). But X never replied. Therefore I concluded X just want your MS to put out there in order to make money. All I wanted to know was how much are they selling each copy for, so I can work out my cut. They did not even have the courtesy to reply saying, actually we don’t answer questions. So I moved on.
The second publisher, let’s call them Y, were in Hong Kong. As my book is partly set in Macau, I tried a Hong Kong publisher. They were great at communicating and absolutely full of ideas, they loved the book but for two months they did not prepare a contract. So I was left hanging just waiting and waiting. In I think July or August, they replied with a contract saying I have to foot the bill of 15000 HKD and I worked that out at 3,500 GBP. But that came from nowhere. There was talk of funding at the start but they didn’t say who was funding. Also I would have to fly to HK at my own expense in order to attend my own book launch. Where is the sense in this? When I thought should I pay for this out of my own pocket? I realised I did not want to. If I had 3,500 GBP spare I would rather get my teeth done. That is an investment too.
What about Createspace?
Between the second and third publisher, I started setting up a Kindle and Createspace account. I did not even get to the point of uploading my MS. I just lost interest and I do not want to self-publish. The books looked crude to me. Unless you pay top designers and publishing experts to get it out to a professional level, they did not look right. And to do that we are talking in circles. It would be in the tune of around 3,500 to 4,000 GBP. Which top designer is going to do it for peanuts? I wouldn’t! And I am a designer and have been for the last twenty years! I know what design costs and it costs. Am I a snob?
The third publisher
So I submitted my package to Unbound and heard back after six weeks and now believe it or not I am crowdfunding. A word that was alien to me even last week. It is not who you know but who knows you. i.e. the crowd, the vox populi. It is they who will pay for my blood, sweat and tears, my labour of love, my confection.
When the thing is virtual, digital, electronic, unreal:
Through the years I must have received more than a hundred rejections or several hundred (if you count the electronic ones). Yet I seemed to have somehow ignored, shrugged off, be cheered by, be angered by, rejuvenated by, devastated by, thwarted by, enriched by, encouraged by, empowered by or simply unaffected by them.
Many times I wanted to drag the document into the trashcan icon on my computer. No one stopped me and at any point I could have done this especially when I was drunk, pig-headed, feeling strong or all three, and I am often all three.
Writing is sadomasochistic because…
…nobody cares. Many times I said I should just GIVE UP. Even though Winston Churchill said never ever to do such a thing. Did I mention I am a true artist? I will probably cut off my ear soon. You don’t write because of self-belief. You can’t. No fiction writer truly believes fiction unless they are only five. I don’t believe anything. I have to write because otherwise drops of blood would appear on my desk. That’s why it is sadomasochistic.
Nobody likes it, nobody even reads this sh1t. Yet stuff I wrote did not end up in the trashcan icon. How easily one’s life’s work is dumped by computer. Friends have told me to keep this sh1t no matter what.
When printed out, real, physical:
Now I am terrified. This is the first novel I wrote. I have a second one. They are both unpublished. But I have printed out just the first one. This is because I had to send it off for a competition.
This thing that I wrote for so many years exists. It can even sit on a table or a floor and look at me. I really did spend sh1tload5 of time, years and years, forming words, forming sentences, making it, carving, whittling, planning, thinking, typing, reading, re-writing, cutting, adding, cutting, adding, and breathing it to life. This thing! This monster. It is real. It is 281 pages, can cause paper cuts, and has serious weight. It is 3D, it has thwack factor. (That means you can thwack someone with it and they will end up in A&E). It may even move me. That is what has changed today.
Apart from being laughed at in the print shop and having to carry out a conversation involving an elevator pitch to ‘so what’s it about? what’s it about?’ I had my three-word reply because I have rehearsed this so many times during my hundred or so rejections. Followed by: Sheep-faced, I even managed to read out the first page to a room full of printer guys. My first audience and interview. This is the audience feedback: ‘Hey you wrote a book. Man! She wrote a book guys! Hey guys! Everybody. She wrote a book. She. Wrote. A. Book’.
Imagine my excitement to discover that my original illustrations are still around – on BBC, YouTube! In my sentimental journeys into the past, enjoy the discovery of analog becoming digital, from TV to internet streaming. In those days, the drawings were prepared and then they were printed and couriered to BBC in White City in a hard envelope. There was no such thing as PDF! There was email but it was rare. You couldn’t email a thing to anyone because no one would even know they got an email. It was 18 years ago and I was young. However, I am still uber-, molto-, uber- technical. Although technology has changed so much, the precise nature of graphics hasn’t.
CAUTION: has graphic content that may be disturbing to some. This explains why I did not watch it in the first place when it was aired.
My sweet little monkey, just look at your face. I often thought of you all these years. I did not know you are still around, and will be forever.
Finally the day had come. The planning took about four weeks, six if you include thinking time, and I always include thinking time because without it, the rest won’t follow anyway.
Possibly the best photo ever taken of me at a book launch, thanks Ben
Please can I not have to do a selfie again.
Ladies who launch! L-R Nina, me, Siew Fong, Josephine, Mary
Josephine and Mary
Piano parts, Piano Man and Piano Girl – Me and Ben and piano parts sculpture
Geoff, Gerry and Siew Fong
Me and Tina
Me and Siew Fong
Nick and Nina
View towards back of gallery
View towards front of gallery
Gerry, me and Siew Fong
The four Js – Geoff, John, Jo and Josephine
The three Js – Geoff, John and Jo
Credit goes to:
Ben Chan for the photographs and the videos. Penny for emceeing. Not only do we share the same Chinese sign and the same birthday, we have shared twenty years of friendship. Geoff (Notes Story Board) for dealing with the 5H1T that day and of preceding days, providing minicab service, helping with things too technical for my vintage brain such as setting up blog and putting my book on Amazon UK:
and looking after my friends and my stuff on the night. Lastly thanks to Sunita for your kindness and your friendship from beginning to end. I could not have done it without you guys. You have made my New Year very special and full of FIRE!
HUNGRY – PART II – How I did it
What is a book launch?
I scribbled down what I thought this should be since I have never done one myself – a reading, drinks, snacks, interview and most importantly, attendees. Without attendees you might as well just read at home in pajamas. Readers, writers, heed – nowadays you have to do everything yourself. Publishers like to know you can work from dawn to dusk until your eyes pop out and know how to save them money by being a know-it-all and do-it-all so that you can make them even more money. I see them as employers. Why should they invest in you if you don’t invest in them? Because you write?
Arrival of the Southfields contingent at around 7 pm bearing cold drinks and I don’t mean teh ais.
Siew Fong and Sunita having a chat before others arrive
is probably the most important thing. I considered doing the launch at home but it is not feasible with being surrounded by toys, clutter, washing up, receipts, remotes, drying tea towels, and of course, children. Also home was not central and therefore not very professional. However, if I had fewer than 6 attendees I may have had to do it at home so the aim had always been to acquire more than 6 attendees.
MC penny and I at the start
I looked up about twenty to thirty pubs in central London with FREE hire of a function room:
possible venues free or nearly free for 25-40 pax
After I found these I shortlisted them to six with NO MINIMUM SPEND. That means I don’t have to buy fifty pounds worth of alcohol in order to sell five pounds worth of books. No. No. No. That is what people who waste money do. I don’t and can’t waste money. Why? Because I am a writer. Because I’m Asian.
So how did you find this delightful venue?
By chance at Sunita’s and Rufus’ Christmas party on 18 December 2015, I mentioned the list of these six pubs to Sunita and has she heard of them. They both said, that’s ridiculous, why don’t you have it at the gallery. By this they mean their gallery, Knight Webb Gallery in Brixton London. I was ecstatic. Thereafter, a blog was born, invitations sent out and a guest list made.
Food and drinks:
It was thoroughly enjoyable shopping for the oven snacks at Wing Yip in Croydon and jostle with the New Year shoppers (it was two days before Year of the Fire Monkey started). Before that I also popped into Tesco in Sutton drinks aisle and chose the prettiest looking labels for sparkling wine and sparkling water. I always favoured sparkling over flat white. But let’s be honest, I am not fussy. The label just has to be pretty.
Steampunk 1950s oven heating up the sesame prawn toast
But what happened to the jumbo catering pack of prawn wontons?
I actually bought 96 frozen prawn wontons to take with me. Sadly they did not make it to the gallery. Upon unpacking at home just before going to the venue, they were all rock hard and stuck together. I got very stressed because I could not separate them. Food really stresses me. These supposed shui gow became shrapnel at my lightest touch. I fried 8 just to test if they separated after being fried, and they did not. Therein I stuck the sacrificial 8 in the oven to check if after baking, they separated and they did not. We are talking about it being 3:10pm already. By 4pm I have to do my hair and makeup. There was no time to go back and get another jumbo catering size of anything. M&S Food Hall only had 4 spring rolls and I hate spring rolls. Was nearly in tears. Did you not know that being a writer one also has to have basic culinary skills which I clearly lacked? I rushed to the nearest Tesco Express to buy a bag of Thai Sweet Chilli crisps as that will have to do. Reader. I would appreciate if someone can tell me why the frozen wontons are stuck together and how to unstick them. Tina, Fiona, Siew Fong, Wing Yip, anybody?
Chatting to my guests
is the trickiest part of partying. I was sure I did not want any strangers or press because this is my first time. I may screw up. I only invited friends, family and friends of friends. This is using all my contacts in my email, my phone, FB, because not everyone is on FB and not everyone’s email is in my address book. As I have no PR or PA experience, the complications were the seven categories of RSVPs and the stocktake to match up with the categories, which are as follows: 1/ not sure, 2/ actually came, 3/ want the book but can’t come 4/ said yes initially 5/ said definitely definitely coming on actual day 5/ not coming 6/ not coming and did not say if want the book and 7/ came but did not buy. For these I now have a legend of symbols and colour coordination in order to not get mixed up and lose count of the book-to-people ratio.
Now life is simple because I can re-use the legend for any kind of party organisation.
A checklist is essential for the day of the launch in case of chaos. Anybody with mild OCD will know what I am talking about. Over many days I prepared a list of to do and to bring, which would help me get ready blow-by-blow, the list changed all the time, especially with the food going wrong.
Only to be ticked off just before you leave otherwise what is the point
Things to do night before:
Print out story, select bits to read
Rehearse and use stopwatch
Write inspiration and themes
Clear camera memory card
Charge battery and spare battery
Things to bring with me at 6pm by public transport:
Frozen sesame toast to heat up
Bag of crisps
4 copies of book for display
1 sacrificial copy (the one that I have scribbled in and will be reading from)
Golden lucky fountain pen for signing
DIY wire book stand
Small bottle of Thai sweet chilli sauce and one bottle of Kampong Koh garlic chilli sauce (wherever there are Malaysians, you have got to bring chilli sauce and I am not joking)
Spare shoes (wear flat first, change heels later)
hairspray and hairbrush (in case I get blown to bits before I get to Brixton)
Camera, battery and spare battery
Things to come with the Southfields contingent at 7 pm, by car:
The rest of the books
The drinks cooler and drinks (take out from fridge)
No launch is complete without a proper display. Without retail experience or someone from Waterstones to come and tell me what to do, I felt my instinct take over. I needed a stand so I made one that afternoon itself out of a wire coat hanger so my poor jacket has to lie down on the chair now. If a book is standing up, it can be seen through the shop window by passersby on Atlantic Road.
Do you like my DIY wire stand?
If anyone wants me to help do event management and plan your book launch, for a very REASONABLE rate, I have all the resources now. I can set up all the technical stuff. Can even do piano playing. Just, please, no catering.