What Now? Am I Done?

Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤

First up, shameless self-plug: the latest editions of Tea in Pajamas and its sequel Tea in Pajamas: Beyond Belzerac, are out at all major bookstores including Kinokuniya, Popular and Times, as well as online, via publisher Marshall Cavendish, or e-tailers LocalBooks.sg and Amazon. Both are also available for borrowing across all NLB libraries. More general info and the latest reviews can be found at the books tab of this site.

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I’m sorry I’ve taken a longer-than-expected break from updating this site.  Believe this, life does not magically transform the minute one becomes a published author of a book sequel. The sun still comes up and goes down, work days need to be clocked, deadlines continue to loom, bills have to be paid, relationships require nurturing, Donald Trump is still the biggest bully on Twitter… and from the time it takes for a book to be approved for press until it his a physical bookshelf, the world may well have moved on.

I’ll be honest: the weight of expectations that came with getting a new book out has dulled much of the joy and relief I thought it would bring. I’m also learning strange new lessons, such as the uncanny similarities between pregnancy and publishing. You think just because you’ve been through it once that you’ve got this entire thing down pat—easy peasy, no problemo. Yes?

Well, no.

In my first pregnancy, I contended with irritatingly persistent eczema until the (natural) birth of my son, while in my next, eczema and asthma came as a pair until my daughter arrived via the unplanned intervention of a C-section. What I’m saying is: whether it’s pregnancy or publishing, the end result of a new “product” may be the same, but that’s really where the similarity ends. A new book, like a new child, is a completely new journey that comes with its own set of ups and downs. And as any parent can tell you, the real work begins after your bun’s out of the oven. Come to think of it, it’s never going to stop feeling like the first time, since no matter how many books you previously published, your nth book will always be the first time you publish your nth book.

That said, based solely on my own experiences, here’s what I can tell you about how it feels to publish a second book for the first time.

The past is past. Media that featured you, schools that supported you, friends who came and bought your book the first round—they’re done, and they don’t owe you their continued support. Be grateful for these past opportunities, but brace yourself for the hard work ahead. Some of your existing contacts may give you the time of the day, but for most the novelty has worn off. Accept this.

Success markers are fluid. Some authors measure success according to the number of units sold, others by press coverage and public appearances, and there are those who feel validated by a vast following on social media. After my debut in self-publishing, I wanted to transition into traditional publishing, so that became my success marker. It was a big deal to be able to have my books readily available in the major stores and borrowable from libraries across the island. But now that those milestones have been checked off the list, does it mean I’ve succeeded? See next point.

The playing field is different. Ever heard someone ask if you’d rather be a big fish in a small pond or a small fry in a vast ocean? When you’re self-publishing, you’re competing only with…well, yourself. Back in the day, I took for granted the ease with which family and friends, and friends of their friends, could purchase copies directly from me. These days, however, I encourage anyone considering purchasing my book at a store to first approach the information counter or look up the shelf number online. Fact is, not many authors enjoy prime real estate in the bookstores—most of us are fortunate to even occupy a tiny niche at eye level. [On the other hand, if you savor a good treasure hunt, then attempting to locate my books can indeed be a fun activity.]

It was and is worth it. I grew tremendously as a writer in the process of writing my sequel. This is a fact. I put ten times the heart and dedication into the second book than I did my first, and I know it may still be early days but, whatever the outcome, I value my growth in this never-ending journey of becoming a better writer. My effort won’t be diminished even if fewer people are excited about it all. At the end of the day, I’m still prouder to say I did it than if I didn’t.

Get used to uncertainty and vulnerability. Whether it’s an autobiography or work of fiction, being an author means you’re essentially offering a part of yourself to the world. That’s never going to feel comfortable or safe, knowing you will be judged or wondering if anyone would even care to judge you in the first place. If, like me, you’re sensitive and thin-skinned, and have proclivities for inventing negative narratives in your head, you may want to reconsider becoming a published writer—it can really mess you up. On the other hand, if, like me, you love writing to that point that only the loss of mental or physical faculties could keep you from it, then do it anyway. You’ll simply have to condition yourself to always feeling a little scared and queasy.

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“So are you done?” a few people have asked me, just stopping short of clarifying if they mean writing another instalment to make Tea in Pajamas a trilogy, or if—as with Singapore’s infamous “Stop at Two” family-planning campaign—I’m calling it a day as a writer.

On the latter, I can honestly say it’s a definite “no” (sorry, haters). I suppose sooner rather than later I’m going to jump right back into it—whether it’s a third-parter or a brand new piece. With these things, you never know till you know.

Until then, you’ll be hearing from me. I hope to make some exciting announcements about upcoming events once confirmed.

Peace and ❤ ,

Rachel

 

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Is Writing Viable, and Other Questions: Answered

A: “You’ll never make it as a writer, mark my words. You will never succeed.”

B: “You should be more involved in your son’s studies instead of doing this. You only care about your own success. You’re selfish.”

C: “You sit home all day writing stories? How many copies must you sell for this to become a viable career?”

D: “The theme is too continental, the spelling is too American, the premise is too international.”

Since I made the announcement about my book deal(s), I’ve received overwhelming support that’s really touched and humbled me. Most people who’ve been around since the start of my publishing journey are aware that I worked very hard on these projects, especially the sequel. But many who reached out were also curious if “being a writer” would be as smooth-sailing as I made it appear. “You make it look effortless,” one said.

Really? I thought. I have to confess that hearing such remarks made me reflect on my writing journey, even way back before Tea in Pajamas, when I was just a young girl who was hungry to write anything and to get a byline in any publication.

I don’t think many people know that I wanted to be a journalist when younger. Unfortunately I didn’t do well enough in my A-Levels to get into a certain course at a certain local university (the only communications degree available at the time). And so I got my B.A. degree in Sociology and European Studies (which I don’t regret one iota) and took a “we shall see” approach when it came to writing as a full-time job.

A was a magazine editor who’d taken a look at some press releases I’d written and thought I had a flair for writing. I was 23, fresh out of uni, and working at a PR company until I could find an opening in the media industry. When she offered me a freelance gig to write an F&B listing in her magazine, I was ecstatic. All I needed was a pseudonym and an Internet search engine, right? That’s what I thought anyway. Unfortunately, Google back then wasn’t what it is today, and I had not thought to fact-check contact information with an alternative directory. When the article was printed, readers had apparently called in to the magazine to complain about a few wrong phone numbers, which made A as editor look bad (and me like a complete noob). I received her call in the middle of a work day and sat through a venom-laced tirade about my unprofessionalism, her regret at trusting me in the first place, my idiocy, and how I was never ever going to make it as a writer—not on her watch anyway.

Even though I proved her wrong by going on to write for several magazines after that encounter, I took special care never to apply for any opening at the company she worked for. That deep sense of shame stuck with me throughout my brief stint in magazine journalism, and always made me feel as if I were an imposter pretending I could write.

As it turned out, my zest for a journalism career burned out pretty quickly when I realized I didn’t enjoy churning out copy about things I didn’t particularly care for, nor interviewing personalities I wouldn’t even read about, let alone talk to. The disconnect I felt from the only passion I’d ever known made me both confused and depressed. That’s when I made the choice to step back from writing. Perhaps that’s why I went into editing after that (it’s still what I do today).

Writing Tea in Pajamas was my coping mechanism when trying to come out of some disordered behaviors around eating, exercise and body image. It was the first time I was writing something I wasn’t commissioned to, and to be able to do so on my own terms, with no deadlines or no expectations, was liberating to say the least. Through this creative outlet, I found my groove again.

But not everybody gets why it’s so important to me.

Such as B.

B is a family member who never could and still cannot understand why I write if it’s not a 9-to-5 job that pays the bills. To her, any time away from work should be purposefully devoted to ensuring my children excel at school. Because I don’t have it in my DNA to be a Tiger Mum (believe me, I’ve tried), my parenting skills are regularly called into question. The fact that I would take things further by nurturing my own passion is entirely inconceivable—selfish, even. Growing up, all I ever wanted was for B to be proud of me. But as a 38-year-old grown woman, I’m finally ready to let go of my need for her validation to feel like I’m “enough.” I suppose at some point I woke up to the truth that if I don’t believe that I’m enough, then I’ll never be.

And we have C, who represents how some people react when they first hear I’m an author. I get that the whole idea of writing can seem shrouded in mystery, but come on. Firstly, I don’t “sit home all day” churning out content like someone would have a marathon Netflix session—I write whenever I can. More importantly, stories aren’t conjured from thin air: a lot of thought and prep goes into anything I put out—even on this site. Next, I have no idea how many sales I have to make in order for “this” to become viable because the truth is, I’m writing because I want to, and not because I need to. If I ever gave up my day job to write full-time, maybe I’d start seeing writing as a career and consider if it’s viable, but something tells me I’m not going to enjoy it if it becomes a job. You know what I mean?

I understand where D (who stands for a few publishing insiders) is coming from. I can recognize immediately what is unsaid because I’d thought about it even before the words were uttered. I’m a Chinese Singaporean author: what business do I have writing a story about Caucasian or mixed race characters in a European-esque setting, doing very strange things that are far removed from my own country and culture? Plus this US spelling of “pajamas”? Nobody will get it.

These are all valid points, and I get it 100%. But the whole spirit of Tea in Pajamas is about breaking the mold—drinking coffee out of a teacup and wearing PJs in the middle of the afternoon, and going against the grain. Who cares if it doesn’t play by the rules? As for my race and ethnicity, I never believed it prevented me from telling a good story, though if that’s a problem for readers, I can only hope they are a minority. My point is, if I ever wanted to write a novel about Singapore and Singaporeans, I would. What I wouldn’t do is try to change a story into something it’s not.

But notwithstanding remarks in the likes of A, B, C and D, I acknowledge that I’ve been very blessed in this writing journey. I remember each and everyone (friends, booksellers, schools) who opened doors of opportunity for me when they could’ve just as easily shut them in my face. And I’m so grateful for my small but supportive community of friends and readers who are my cheerleaders in this mostly-lonely endeavor that is writing.

In the sea of noise, things are far from smooth-sailing. Most times, I struggle just to stay adrift and not lose sight of my end goal which, for a long time, I’d believed was publication. Lately, however, I think that’s changed.

I just wanna keep on writing.

Photo: Pinterest

I got a book deal!

Hello, I have some exciting news…

I’m pleased to share that I’ve signed a book deal with Marshall Cavendish to publish Tea in Pajamas and its sequel, Beyond Belzerac!

Both titles will be hitting all major bookstores very soon—the first book in September and the sequel around November of this year. Yep, that’s right, in time for Christmas!

In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at both covers. (Book 2’s cover is still a work-in-progress, and not a final draft.)

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