Stuck between a technological rock and a hard publishing place, and I see light

About fifteen years ago, I was following the changes that technology started to affect on the music industry. Large music organisations feared for their own survival as people started downloading tracks through Napster and the likes. New bands and musicians started feeling democratised by being able to feature their own stuff on MySpace. For the first time, they could produce their own work and reach out to audiences directly. It was a time of free love for music.

Fast forward a decade and a half, and I find myself observing similar changes, but in publishing instead. Traditionalists fear for the quality of writing and books as we move into this world of easy-publishing. Technology is encouraging us to write more, publish more, and reach out directly to our readers. Many of us are doing it. And as with all industries, a small percentage of us are doing really well, while most of us are supporting our writing habits with paid work within and outside of publishing.

Changing habits

I first figured that I wanted to be a writer just over five years ago. And about three years back, I started poking my nose into publishing, learning through working with an indie publisher, with an editorial organisation, various types of authors, partnering with all sorts of creative types from artists, to technologists, to futurists. And what did I learn?

Recently, I found myself having strong opinions that opposed my colleagues who are involved in what is (probably wrongly) termed ‘traditional publishing’ (These are professionals who believe that the true route in publishing, is still through literary agents and large publishing houses.) They fight (rightly) for the importance of quality in writing and editing before anything else, but what I question is how ‘quality’ is rated. It is precisely this search for ‘quality’ that is bothering large publishing houses, that are trying to find new ways to find talent. Not only do they scout through traditional submissions, but they now also poach from the successful pools of self-published authors. So, you’ve sold over 50,000 copies of your book, does that mean you are ‘quality’? Who’s judging?

So, having started to do more work as a literary strategist, I find myself stuck between a technological rock and a hard publishing place. I get told that self-publishing is democratising. It is now time to show free love for writing! At the same time, I’m also told that I should still look down at writers who do not respect the processes needed. If they don’t have their work edited professionally, then it’s bad. If they don’t have a good designer to help with covers, then it’s not up to par. What do I think?

Well, it is true that when things are not done properly, they will be very obviously unprofessional. But, I don’t agree that we, who work in the industry, should be the ones to hold judgement. Yes, we should never cut corners and we should always promote quality in everything we do, but we should also consider our own standpoint on the matter. I might be stuck in this ‘difficult’ place, but I see light. A very bright light, actually. The light is the core element of this technological democratisation that we face, the light is the people, our readers.

if we go back to music, we’ll find that technology also encouraged a lot of amateur (unprofessional) musicians to showcase their work (good and bad) to the world. That was when everyone proudly presented (and still do) their garage studios, their little makeshift havens for music making. I know, as we have one at home too. That doesn’t make it wrong, or bad.

What it means is that we no longer rely as much on large corporations to tell us what is good or bad. The people can decide. With music, we see that the trends have now settled and there are clear habits to how people consume amateur music and professional music. In some rare cases, amazing amateur musicians then get discovered through these platforms, that allow them to choose whether to continue on their own, or through a record company. The large institutions with financial and people power are still important, as they provide pre-existing frameworks (through distribution and power of marketing) to launch acts in a way that indies would find difficult. However, the record companies’ ability to control public tastes are no longer as applicable (let’s face it, they’re still controlling our tastes somewhat, but it’s getting better). They are on longer the curators of quality music, but the representatives of quality music instead.

This is the biggest worry of large publishing houses, the loss of their roles as curators of quality writing. Perhaps publishers need to consider looking at perfecting the services they provide on their pre-existing frameworks (editorial, design, distribution and marketing) and reinvent the ways in which they find new books/talents to help.

As with the light, the people, the readers, that is another minefield to navigate, with new and old social platforms that segregate as well as amalgamate communities. Reading habits are still changing and the way new books and authors are discovered are still varied. How authors seek to gain validation from the people, will be down to creativity, skills, adaptability and a bit of luck. What’s great about working at getting approval from the people, is that we are also the people.

More anon.

PS. Since I wrote the above, I attended Disrupting the Book Publishing Industry event and would like to add a comment that was made by a fellow audience. He said that we (readers) need to look at mass published works as ‘information’ and beautifully published works as ‘art’, the latter being products that we would pay more money for. This is worth thinking about and keeping in mind, especially as we change our consumption habits going forward.

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My sleeping beauty story

I’m not a romantic… my husband will vouch to that, but please note that this, is going to be a romantic post. It is Valentine’s day this weekend, after all.

I wanted to tell you about the story behind the dedication in my book, Sun: Queens of EarthHere’s a snapshot of the dedication, and in case you still can’t read it, it says: “For Kenneth, who didn’t try to wake sleeping beauty, instead he joined her in dreaming”.

Dedication in Sun

As Sun was my first book published, I had a real headache trying to figure out if I wanted to put in a dedication, and if so, who it should be for, and what should it say. I originally settled for no dedication, then realised that I was being silly, and that I really needed to dedicate the book to my husband, Kenneth, since he has put up with my creative madness for so so many years (twenty years so far, to be precise).

Once that was settled, I came up with all sorts of dedications; funny, weird, inside-joke ones, lovey-dovey ones, loads! But, it was just a couple of days before the book went into production that I came up with the dedication that you see above, that made it through.

I met Kenneth when I was sixteen. He was seventeen. We went ‘steady’ (as you did when you’re teenagers in the 90s) and dated all through the last six months of his high-school that year. At the end of that year, he gave me his year-book to sign (I still had another year to go), and in it, I wrote a little story.

I told the story of sleeping beauty (me – I love sleeping), waiting for her prince charming to come and break the spell that was placed on her. Three princes arrived, and fought to kiss her. The first had extremely bad breath. His kiss was so vile that he woke her immediately. Jarred awake, she slapped him before falling straight back to sleep.

The second prince was Patrick Teoh. Back story: Patrick Teoh is an ex-Malaysian newscaster who was prolific in the 90s and advertised for Clorets, the breath mint.

Prince Patrick Teoh rocked up to sleeping beauty, confident that his breath was minty-fresh (thanks to Clorets). He placed his lips over sleeping beauty’s, but before they even touched, she snapped awake and slapped him in the face. Before he could even ask why, she shouted, “I hate breath mints!” before falling straight back to sleep. (And yes, I hate breath mints.)

The third prince (Kenneth, of course), somewhat shocked at the reactions the other two got from sleeping beauty, moved cautiously, but surely towards her. He placed a hand gently behind her head and leaned in to kiss her. To everyone’s surprise, he drooped forward as soon as their lips touched, where they lay side-by-side, fast asleep in dreaming, for the rest of their lives, happily ever after.

That was probably my first written piece of fiction that was read by someone other than my friends. Kenneth’s mum read it, lots of his friends did too, and I remember being anxious, but proud of my little story.

So, you can imagine how pleased I was to be able to give sleeping beauty another appearance, now, in my first published novel, to rightly represent the gratitude and love that I have for my husband, partner, best-friend.

Thanks Kenneth. Happy Valentine’s. x

Dreaming, happily ever after

Two of us, dreaming, happily ever after

Do you like this website?

The problem with websites, is that it’s difficult to tell if it’s effective and welcoming enough without a focus group! So, I’m putting this out as a call to arms, my lovely readers! Let me know what you think of the website so far. I would love to hear your thoughts (and your stories!), so do comment or get in touch!

x

PS: Start browsing from my home page!

New page new adventure

Like a cat with an open can of tuna (it probably stole)

I move into the new year with big plans like most of us. Problem is, plans come with changes, and plans and changes come with a whole load of questions. Nothing is for free, you know.
A big question that I’ve been asking myself recently is, ‘What does success look like, to me?’ The answer is vague, but I gathered that I would like to be able to continue doing what I’m doing (writing and working in publishing), reach out to more readers, and get paid a little bit more. So, armed with my skills, hands-on experience, and a brilliant, supportive network, I dive into the deep-end of 2015 safe in the knowledge that I’m swimming alongside the best.
To kick things off, I’ll be working with an amazing author (and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors – ALLi), Orna Ross, to develop and market her non-fiction venture called Go Creative! We’ve started working on it a little now, and I’m really excited about what the future holds for Go Creative! as I think it’s a great platform to encourage creative development in all. Keep your eyes peeled!
I’m also working with fellow freelancer Lisa Goll (owner of London Writers’ Cafe) to develop a more concise offering of author services, to any writer (of any level). We decided to go forth with this project as we both agree that the ever-changing environment of publishing today really means that knowledge should be shared. With our collective skills and experience, we have lots to offer, and we are in strong networking positions to continue learning and growing, keeping on top of developments.
Book reviewing has also taken my interest recently, as it’s a service that’s very sought-after, but is losing sight of quality and purpose, as with many things today. Authors struggle to get decent, non-bias reviews, and seek instead for ratings and one-liners from friends and family, where possible. There are only a select number good review sites, and due to the demand, even those that were approachable before have had to develop criteria that pushes a lot of writers away. I’m collaborating with Becky Trenow, my English Literature colleague and English teaching expert to research further into book reviewing, in hopes of developing a platform that would help more books.
Lastly, but most importantly, I’ll still be writing, and hopefully a bit more in 2015. Depending on developments with my publisher, I’ll be aiming to release two books this year, alongside a few more short stories. My existing short stories are all being polished up by my wonderful editor, Richard Sheehan as we speak. My comic writing sees a new development with collaboration with a new artist from Minesweeper Collective, as my lovely comic book partner, Kathryn spends some time with her newborn this year.
So, with all the projects lined-up, success, to me, is going to look like a cat with an open can of tuna. Pure de-light! I will lap up each moment as it comes, and fully appreciate what it means to be free and creative.
PS: If you’re interested in any of the above projects, or have any comments, thoughts, or advice, feel free to get in contact at yen(at)yenooi.com.
Odin & Freya eating

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Month

Excuse me, First of December. A word, if I may, please. You know you’ve come too soon, right? Yet you’re just on time. How do you do it?
At the eleventh hour of the eleventh month, I sat down, fingers poised over my keyboard, brains searching for news on what’s gone on in the month that has flown by like my friend, Terry the Pterodactyl, I realised that it was a month jam-packed with goody-goodness.
Starting with NaNoWriMo that was for me, more successful than the years before, but still unaccomplished. It taught me that I’m not a disciplined writer, but one who intertwines work with writing, with life. I say this positively as I know what it takes for me to finish writing a book, and I also know that I’m driven to keep writing. At this year’s NaNoWriMo, I celebrate the fact that my first book, that I had started writing at NaNoWriMo two years ago, is published, and is doing well out there in the big bad world. If it doesn’t sound too weird, I would love to say a quick ‘well done’ to Sun. And ‘thank you’ too, for making me a happy author.
Goodreads giveaway
November also saw my Goodreads Giveaway campaign for Sun. I had expected a couple of hundred requests for the entire campaign, and was blown away by the final 1,313 requests! I packaged up the signed copies of Sun and had them sent off to Melitta and Pat in Canada, and Debra in America. I’m so excited that they will be reading Sun, and hopefully some of the 600 people who have added it to their ‘to-read’ list will be doing just that too.
Having thought about my books, I turned to an older project of mine – Earth.0. Do you remember it? A transmedia science fiction project, I pulled out Earth.0’s old files and creations that were collaborations with other writers and artists for a bursary application to The Writing Platform. The bursary interested me as it provides a chance for a writer to partner up with a technologist to create new writing projects that doesn’t conform to traditional mediums. It made me think about my research in the areas of ‘experiencing text’ and got me excited about continuing with that work.
Finally, November also saw ‘Parliament Week’ – a week of Outreach by the Parliament, and notably (for us science fiction-ers anyway), the #SciFiParl event, where we got to hear and discuss what parliament in a hundred years would be like. Though visions were mixed, some bleak, others bleaker(!), there was an underlying theme of democratic reach of knowledge and access to vote, connecting every person in the country. This made me think that the powers of the future will not be with the politicians, or those with money, but those who control the data flow.
Something for you to ponder upon as you head to the shops to buy the next gadget for Christmas…while I switch off the laptop and head to my kitchen for coffee and biscuits. This talk of elevenses is making me hungry.
Coffee and breakfast rolls by @kenephatfingers

Coffee and breakfast rolls by @kenephatfingers

Nanno Nano?

なんの?What of NaNoWriMo?

In recent years, November sees two important events, which I’m surprised have not encouraged male writers to try and do both simultaneously. NaMoNoWriMo could work, I’m telling you. You heard it here first!

So, why is the world going mad for writing in November? Because the amazing creators of NaNoWriMo made it so. Also, we’re all inherently creative creatures. We’re lucky that literacy is seen by most governments to be a compulsory education, and because of that, we’re able to use our language skills for instructing, learning, entertaining, and above all else, communicating. It doesn’t matter what we do with what we write, or read, it all leads to communication.

So far, I’ve written more about NaNoWriMo than I have for NaNoWriMo. I need to get my typing skates on, but not before I want to let you know why I’m doing it again, despite never having finished before. I see NaNoWriMo as a brilliant platform for raising awareness about the importance of literacy. Any platforms that support writing and reading directly supports literacy.

For writers like me, NaNoWriMo is a great platform to kick off ideas, and to feel part of a community, knowing that there are loads of us writing. My debut novel, Sun: Queens of Earth was published earlier this year, but it had started its life at NaNoWriMo two years ago.

Try and imagine a world without language, without the ability to communicate, and you’ll find it to be a dark place where basic animal instincts prevail. Let’s celebrate one of the most important and unique human traits this month. Let’s celebrate our ability to communicate, and support individuals and organisations who are actively ensuring that this ability is nurtured for future generations and never taken for granted.

Write, Read, Donate

 

Links:

NaNoWriMo profile

Fundraising profile

Spectacle Publishing Media Group team profile

Hope in equality

Let’s talk about #inequality.

Inequality surrounds us all the time. We learn to judge as soon as we draw breath on this world, and with judgement, we strive to be better, be different, be an individual. And with all that, we submit to inequality in our lives.

So why do we fight for equality when inequality comes as naturally to us as breathing?

With inequality comes positive as well as negative outcomes. Racism, gender divide, social and financial issues, you name it, it comes with inequality. Positives? Well, it drives us to learn, to work harder, to improve, to question, to change. When we were given the ability to think, we were cursed with inequality.

We have to be realistic about the world we live in. If you gave two people identical life choices, they will inevitably grow up to be different people, because ‘identical life choices’ isn’t a real thing. Our DNA, ancestral cultures, social paths, education system, even the air we breath, makes us different from the next person. With these natural divides, how can we ask for equality?

In a recent article in The Guardian by Russell Brand, he says that “We humans have an inherent sense of fairness. Deep down, we don’t like inequality.” There is some truth in this, as much as there is truth in that we do not know how to live without inequality.

In the current day and age, we have been taught to want things to be black and white. It’s either equal or unequal. It’s either right or wrong. And this, is the basis of the problem. Life isn’t binary. Life is many shades of grey, and we need to learn to embrace this, and work with it.

What I propose is for us to understand our inequalities, but not to point out the faults. Rather, learn to work around the faults to promote equality. Compromise.

If we promote equality by making issues like discrimination taboo, then we are only making things worse. You, me, and everyone around us inevitably make judgemental comments on everyone around us. Whether it’s petty (she’s pretty, he’s tubby) or inadvertently serious (he’s black, she’s gay), it’s in all our heads. To completely censor us would just bury the issue and not correct it.

Perhaps we could learn to address these comments. When we say ‘she’s Chinese’, what are the undercurrent meanings tagged to the statement? Is it just a fact, or does it come with the lingering ideas of ‘she’s an immigrant, she doesn’t belong, she must be hardworking, her family must own a restaurant, etc.’ Every time we make a comment, I propose that we consider what we mean within the comment, and we try and correct that.

When I was young (growing up in Malaysia), I was told that my Indian classmates have head lice, and that if I played with them, I would get it too. That statement is probably commonly heard by Malaysian children of different cultures, but growing up, it places the nuance of ‘dirty’ against ‘Indian’. It’s just the way we catalogue our thoughts. Of course, I have since learnt that this is worse than wrong, and that children, regardless of race and culture are all susceptible to head lice, if they don’t maintain good hygiene. So, why not teach kids about hygiene rather than to stay away from certain classmates? The way we educate the new generation is one key way to start working on the issues of inequality.

However, even in this example, consider that it would mean moving away from racial discrimination into hygiene and cleanliness divide. Many might think that this is more acceptable, where kids will grow up with the ideas that dirty is bad and clean is good. But, think about the implications towards helping the homeless people who might not have that much access to facilities, as an example. If we see dirt as bad, would we go out of our way to help those who are seen to be not as clean? Would the dirty get dirtier with the clean, cleaner, as how the poor and rich are?

I do not know the answers to any of this, and I invite you to consider how convoluted these ideas can become before we tell others how to be ‘equal’. We aren’t good or evil, we aren’t right or wrong. We’re everything in between, but if we put effort into it, and learn to look at our own actions more openly, then perhaps there is hope for us to be a little more equal than before.

Learn to manage your own comments, thoughts and actions, and never judge someone else’s, whether it’s from your family, friends or from strangers. Then, perhaps there would be hope in equality.

Inequality

I’ve been Conned and I love it!

Last weekend saw my initiation into the world of LonCon3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) held in ExCel, London. It was an amazing experience where ten thousand science fiction fans came together in our various guises as writers, artists, readers, booksellers, cos-players, and many more. Our one similar passion being SFF.

I had no idea what to expect and was quite nervous, thinking of the crazy comic cons in America, but I was pleasantly surprised at how warm and welcoming the WorldCon community was.

THREE-IN-LINE

LonCon3 queue on the first day

I arrived on the first day, Thursday, to find a long snaking queue, looping on the first floor where there was the Level 1 boss waiting at the end. After defeating the boss (you just needed to nod politely), we were allowed downstairs to Level 2, where a chat and a toffee later, we reached the minions who guarded the rectangle portal keys that you had to fight them for. Thankfully, if you waved an identity card and said your name, they became bewitched with the impossible combination of the sight and sound of the powerful words that were bestowed upon us during our first breaths. In their trance, they would confirm our bookings, and proceed to present us with the portal key, inscribed by the WorldCon elves, hung on a chain that was weaved with the bluest threads of seas and skies, in a likely land called China.

So, I got my pass, my LonCon3 guides, and I felt lost. There was ExCel, brimming with activity and people, and there was me, with my bad sense of direction and a list of things I wanted to do, but I didn’t know where!

LonCon3 Library shelf - spot SUN!

LonCon3 Big Green Stall

I managed to find Big Green Bookshop‘s stall at the Dealers’ Zone and dropped off my books for sale there, then I went off to get myself orientated. I sat in for a couple of panels and met up with some friends, before heading home to prepare for my two panels the next day.

I got to meet Karrie Fransman at her session on ‘Experimenting With Comics’ and was completely bowled over by her work. It was an inspirational session that got me to dig out my iPad and stylus on the way home to start scribbling and drawing again.

SUN’S DAY OUT

On Friday, I had my assistant (aka husband) with me and we arrived a little earlier to check mosey around. That was when SUN had fun with some of the props.

Sun Who?Sun, Queens of Thrones?

 

 

Can you spot SUN?

 

 

 

 

We sat in for a panel, then went to the auditorium to catch some of the orchestra rehearsal. They sounded and looked great! However, a fellow audience at the rehearsal stole the show, as he was a telepresence robot, having a stroll around the auditorium. I guess it was just apt, it being a Science Fiction convention and all!

WorldCon Philharmonic Orchestra rehearsal

My first panel participation was that evening, on a talk called ‘Cities: Where, Who, Why?’ LonCon3: Cities: Where, Who, Why?

It was a very interesting discussion about literary cities and their places in our stories. How cities are characters themselves.

Fellow panellists (L-R): Michael Underwood (moderator), Zen Cho, Ian McDonald, Francis Knight, me, Candas Jane Dorsey.

I was a little annoyed for not being able to spend time mingling after the panel as I had to run to my next panel discussion, but I was on a high, coming from a brilliant talk and going to another. Thank goodness the rooms were close together.

My second panel discussion was on ‘Comic Book Networking: It’s Not Just The Interwebs’

LonCon3: Comic Book Networking panel

Many writers, artists, and readers find comic book networks a closed community that seems impenetrable. On this panel, we talked about how all of us had different experiences in getting into comics, and that it isn’t scary, or difficult. In fact, it’s an extremely friendly community!

Fellow panellists (L-R): David Baillie, Lynda Rucker, Maura McHugh (moderator), Meg Frank, me

As it was the end of the day, we grabbed a quick beer to chill before heading back home to recharge over a burger and a large milkshake.

WHERE FANS RULE

Saturday saw me heading to LonCon3 without my trustee assistant. Well, I gave him the day off since I didn’t have any panels to do and was going to spend the day being a fan! I attended ‘Revealing the Real World Through Comics’, where I learnt about how the medium allows for some very difficult but meaningful stories in true life to be told, and to be accepted. Then, there was ‘We Need To Talk About TED’, which interested me since I wrote my MA dissertation just two years ago about TED Talks. There is clearly still a real issue about the commodification of knowledge.

Yen and MikeI met up with Mike Carey, who is a true inspiration in my journey in becoming an author. When I grow up, I would love to be even just a little bit like him. If you’ve seen my book, you would’ve noticed his quote on the cover/blurb.

I met many other authors that day, sat in for readings, shared the Green Room with George RR Martin, and laughed and played with the gods of SFF. It was a memorable day for me, the fan, in this precious world of science fiction!

SUN DAY

Nervous as a giggly school girl, with my assistant in tow, we headed to ExCel ready for my first ever signing session! Before that though, I managed to catch half an hour of the panel on ‘Writing and Pitching Comics’.

My first ever signing session was an unforgettable one for me, as I was humbled by the amount of support I got from friends and family, and WorldConners. The hour and a half went by quickly, with chats, photos, and laughter, and more than a few books sold.

Sign Signing Sign Wei&Nek Sign - family 2014-08-17 20.28.28

Chatting and signing Sign Ching Sign gang

We managed to grab some lunch with friends before my next and final panel for LonCon3, which was on ‘SF/F Across Borders’.

LonCon3: SFF Across Borders

This was a lovely panel to end my LonCon3 experience, as amongst all of us in the room, it was clear why SFF is such a binding genre. Our differences brings us together, and the SFF platform we choose allows us to talk about these differences. Everyone of us on the panel had lived in at least three countries, and are at home now in places that we weren’t originally from. A clear message that stories do resonate across boundaries, cultures, and languages.

Fellow panelists (L-R): me, Glenda Larke, Stephanie Saulter (moderator), Suzanne van Rooyen, Jesús Cañadas.

The conversations flowed even after the panel, and through dinner for some of us, where the Chinese restaurant became shelter for hungry Con-ners. We gobbled down our rice and noodle, missed the Hugo Awards, but caught the best thing to end our experience at LonCon3 with, a reading of a ghost story by Mike Carey.

By the time we got home, the sun was hiding and the Hugo Awards were announced. A long, satisfying day and weekend at LonCon3, leaving us wanting more, and looking forward to next year’s WorldCon.

MUN-DAY

I stayed home on the last day of LonCon3, buried under piles of emails and manuscripts to edit, but I was brimming with energy to write, to create, to tell stories. Thank you LonCon3 for an amazing experience. Let’s hope that LonCon4 won’t take that long to come.

In the meantime…hello Sasquan!