It’s been almost two years since Tea in Pajamas was first published, and what a ride it’s been! Today’s post will the first in a series entitled #WhatNow?, in which I document personal insights from my post-publication and sequel-writing journey.
A basic premise: I thought I’d learned plenty from the road toward publication, but in all seriousness, it’s the post-publication journey that’s kicking my ass. Throw into the mix the grand endeavor to write a sequel one can only hope will live up to the first, if not outdo it, and things get even trickier.
To even begin to describe what I mean, here are three major lessons I’ve learned since the time ‘Tea in Pajamas’ saw the light of day.
1. It’s a whole new world post-publication
Wait, what? Isn’t print publication the be-all and end-all of an author’s publishing trajectory? To some degree, yes. I mean, you gotta have an actual product to talk about in the first place. But that’s also when the real work begins: the part where you have to get out there and hustle remind people that: 1) you exist; and 2) you’re still writing.
It’s all well and good to create Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads and Pinterest accounts—not to mention an official website—but devoting time and resources to keeping them updated with fresh content is a whole other animal.
Post-publication, social media activity is the only thing that enables an author to stay connected to his or her readers, and remain somewhat relevant within the writing circle. What are you working on lately? New story inspirations? Whose books are you reading? How’s life in general? What other publishing tips can you share? Met any interesting new authors or attended any writing conferences? These are the questions most people want to know long after your book’s been printed and sold, and I admit I’ve been slow in realizing this.
These days I’ve learned it’s hardly enough to write an old-fashioned blog entry and share the link on Facebook (even if that’s my preferred SOP). People are increasingly drawn to videos and visuals, as evidenced by the surge in the number of self-proclaimed BookTubers and Bookstagrammers in recent years. The Twitterverse is also where you’ll find a vibrant community of aspiring and published writers, publishers, literary agents, reviewers, book associations, and avid readers. Case in point: agents are increasingly holding “Twitter pitching contests” in the hopes of signing the next bestselling author.
Basically, if you hope to go down the ‘traditionally published’ route, it’s still in your best interests to attend a writing conference (or two), take a writing course (or two), or query several dozen literary agents who are unlikely to respond. Lather, rinse, repeat. Even if this doesn’t eventually land you a lucrative publishing deal, the journey somehow makes for engaging content. As Miley Cyrus once sang, “It’s the climb.”
This brings me to the next point.
2. Being introverted works against you
Believe it or not, being introverted has an ‘entrepreneurial’ side to it, which has served me well in the pre-production stages of self-publishing (writing, editing, proofreading; or anything that doesn’t require face-to-face interaction). However, for everything else post-production (marketing, promotions, events), being introverted has made me my worst enemy.
Yet it’s also reached a point where it seems I’m preaching to the choir. The majority of my supporters are friends, and friends of friends, though these same guys have already seen and heard pretty much all they need to know. I do manage to win over some new ‘fans’ during my school tours, but by and large, my organic reach is nothing worth mentioning—even embarrassing. I admit I’ve been passive when it comes to making the rounds within the local writing circuit, taking part in book-related events, entering writing competitions, or thinking up ways to become more ‘visible.’
But how do I explain that I actually like my cloak of invisibility? In fact, that’s the reason I write, not act or sing. I am terrified to be seen.
Truth be told, if I wasn’t invited to speak at the Singapore Writers Festival, that’s exactly the sort of event I’d try to avoid for fear of crowds and being intimidated by ‘industry types.’ The same can be said for other kinds of ‘networking’ events for authors. In my defense, though, I once happened upon a ‘speed pitch’ session with a prospective UK publisher, but my nerves reduced me to a bumbling mess. All around me were confident, self-possessed writers in the heat of pitching their manuscripts, and while I struggled to explain what my book was about, it dawned on me just how competitive this business is, and how extroverted people—to the extent of being pushy—are the ones to get their foot in the door. How far was/am I willing to go?
3. Sequels are hard to write
When ‘Tea in Pajamas’ was published, I was all Yaaaaaassss!!!!
That was because I assumed I could put my feet up a little, and use this downtime to refine my craft. You know, work on my sequel at my own pace while maintaining a nominal presence on social media. It seemed like a reasonable route to take, since I spend the rest of my time straddling two part-time jobs and raising two young kids. This will explain why I’ve fallen off the blogging and social media bandwagons, and have done minimal events especially in the last half of this year.
This isn’t to say I was sitting around doing nothing when I wrote the first book. Back then I had a full-time job, my son was a preschooler, and I was pregnant with my daughter. However, I had a very defined plotline in my head, and a firm resolve to tell my story. The writing itself flowed easily, and I had minimal to zero cases of writers’ block. My characters had a clear voice and they led me down routes that felt right and authentic.
In contrast, sequel writing (for me) has not been a walk in the park. More than a few people would agree I’m imaginative, but I’m not the sort of writer who can spin pure fiction that isn’t inspired by or rooted in my personal experiences. ‘Tea in Pajamas’ mirrored my journey of recovery from an eating disorder, and likewise, this sequel is born out of my present state of striving to ‘stay in the zone.’
[Spoiler alert] In the next book, the characters think they’re home—it certainly looks like home—but things are more than than meets the eye. Are they truly done with their secret ritual of tea in pajamas or are they tempted to look back? Additionally, forces larger than themselves are at work, and the children must discern what course of action to take, for one wrong step could lead them down a very dark path. [End of spoilers]
At the end of the day, would I appreciate more readers and followers? Sure. But do I have the time and energy to extensively promote myself? I don’t know if I could pull it off, but I’ll make a more concerted effort to stay connected.
However, should you notice that I’ve gone radio silent for a period, it would be safe to assume I’m in the throes of sequel writing.
Or in training to emerge less of an introvert.