What the World Needs Now is…

Today, I recieved a text from my GP informing me to make an appointment for my vaccination. Just this morning, a concerned friend living in Portsmouth had texted to ask when I was getting mine. Another friend who lives in Paris texted to say that she and her husband have had theirs. And my elderly neighbours emailed to say that they’ve been vaccinated and can’t wait to be free. 

Frankly, I have been rather non-chalant about the vaccinations, wasn’t in a hurry to get one because my turn will come with it comes. I am not at risk, don’t work in essential services, and am a WFH writer and editor. All safety boxes checked with a thick green tick. So why did I feel elated that I will be getting my first shot on Thurday morning? I am suddenly seeing a glimmer of light at the end of a long tunnel. 

This is my fourth lockdown. I think. The family and I were locked down in Singapore from April 7th to May 4th. While we were still being locked down, the lockdown, named circuit breaker, was further extended until June 1st by the Singapore government. So we had some freedom before the girls and I left for London in July. We met up with some friends, said goodbye to family, and flew out of Changi early July, jubilant that a new chapter of our lives would begin again. This is one of the many perks of being a family constantly expatriating. Or is it? 

Moving countries during a pandemic is harrowing. Stuff you can tell your grandkids about later because pandemics are life changing and hit you when you least expect them. After a claustrophobic 14-hour flight in a not that empty cabin, we arrived to a London that had no checks despite the Home Office asking all passengers to fill in a COVID location form. We breezed through customs. 

The city in July of 2020 was beginning to open up. Singapore, too, had by then come out of their circuit breakers and phasing out of their lockdown one strong step by one strong step at a time.  The air was crisp with hope in London as the UK prepared for the summer. The mood was buoyant like it is now. We were buoyant too because optimism is infectious. But we still wore our masks outside the house and in the shops just because old habits die hard; mask-wearing was still not mandatory in the shops then. I received some accusatory glances and many Londoners generously made room for me on the pavement and supermarket aisles. One lady told me to step away from her and I didn’t think anything of it other than that it was her freedom to demand for social distancing. The supermarket was a rather small one and I am a good citizen, so I stepped aside and let her get on with it. We were allowed to go out for essentials while we quarantined. The girls and I took our 14-day quarantine seriously because it is serious stuff. We were staying at an Airbnb then and I left the apartment every other day to do our grocery shopping at the Marks & Spencers across the street. Once, I got tutted at for moving a man’s trolley out of the way to get a punnet of tomatoes. I had asked him to excuse me but he was hard of hearing so I gestured an excuse me and moved his trolley to make room for other people and myself. It was only tomatoes, no big deal, I know. So, I said thank you from behind my mask to a pair of raised eyebrows. 

Summer is always glorious in a country with more than four wet and damp seasons. Bodies were out in the parks tanning and picnicking, children were running free with the wind in their hair and the sun behind them, and people were generally having a great time despite a pandemic looming over them. I knew that if the English and Brits didn’t start to listen or if the gov didn’t do something quickly, the virus would spread like wild fire. And this freedom would slowly ebb away like the outgoing tide. But what does one listen to when the messages that the gov was sending were mixed and oh so confusing.

Summer raged on and school started in September as per the old normal. Europe was too far away to be affected by a Chinese virus, but the international schools were careful and followed the rules as people were still travelling back to London from everywhere. Then the curve got steeper and by the end of September going into October, Boris Johnson announced the necessity for a circuit breaker. I wonder where they got that idea from. But flight corridors were still allowed and many went on holidays over the Christmas break. Then the numbers went up more and that circuit breaker got extended again after Christmas because a variant from South Africa or was it Brazil had found their way into England. It is only just last week that schools have opened up again. We are in March 2021. It has been a year since the whole world was brought to its knees. 

I am not begging for a vaccine. But I am eager for one because it protects me and my family. Right now, my concerns are only extended to the people I love. And I hope that this is mirrored by the many people who are anti-vaccers, who are suspicious of what medicine can do and have done and continue to do, and those who don’t trust the government. Do it for the people you love. And, if we want borders to open up and for us to travel freely like in the old-normal, then we must do what we need to do in this new-normal. Don’t get me wrong, I am on the side of subversive always. But this time, I am being good. 

Okay, all said and done, human beings are the only beings that can help humanity. And remember, God helps those who help themselves. This is one rule in Christianity that I abide by by every stretch of my imagination. Give me that shot! 

*The author has since received her first shot.

A Day In the Life of a Writer

Well, it’s been a full day’s work again today. Like for most people with regular jobs. Writing is a lonely day job, but it nonetheless takes up a whole day, if you’re a professional writer like me. Writing is my regular job. 

What Does A Typical Day Look Like for Me?

6 am – I am up.

6:30 am – I read and answer my emails with a cup of coffee. 

7:30 am – I start work. My current WIP is a YA novel that I’m in the middle of writing. I decided to change the POV this morning. So, I had to rewrite over 10,000 words of the current MS, changing from 3rd to 1st. 

10:00 am – I jump on a zoom call with my business partner, Debasmita Dasgupta. We discuss a new project—writing a graphic novel together. 

11:00 am – comfort break. I make my second cup of coffee. Have a light snack.

11:15 am – I work on a current project: researching and writing blog posts for an in-house e-zine.

13:15 – lunch break. Today, I reheated some hot and sour soup from the day before. Sometimes, I get an Uber Eats or Deliveroo. 

13:45 – I do some research on another project about therapeutic jurisprudence in family law. This is a ghost-writing project for a legal practice outside the UK.

15:45 – I check into moodle at the Roehampton University and listen to my lectures on the MA Children’s Literature. This week we are learning about Historical Fiction in Children’s Literature. This is my favourite genre. 

17:30 – comfort break

17:45 – reply to emails that have come in during the time I haven’t been checking emails. Make a note of who to reply to ASAP and who to KIV for tomorrow.

18:45 – stop work to cook dinner. Tonight we are having pasta ragù from Nonna Tonda, a pasta and sauce delivery company. My life is made easier because all I do is boil the fresh pasta and reheat the sauce. 

20:00 – if I have the energy, I write for another 1 to 1.5 hours. This is always my own work.

22:00 – reading time – YAY!! I am reading YA novel: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan. I am pulled into her fantasy world. 

23:00 or earlier if I start to nod – sleep. 

As my day is filled with words and sentences, I go to sleep dreaming of the different stories and books that occupy my psyche. It’s a great feeling, I’ll be honest. As I am working on world building and characterisation right now, I wake to a character voice in my head. I let that character speak to me in the liminal space between slumber and wakefulness. This morning, it was the Lee household cook, one of the characters in my YA. Her voice is distinct, I feel her presence, I take refuge in her wisdom but I am suspicious of her. She speaks to me in the “I” and nudges me to change my viewpoint of her story from the 3rd. 

Because I work on several projects concurrently, I have to really prioritise where I want to dedicate my writing energy. I keep a notebook of with a to-do list of all my projects and tick them off as I go through the items daily. Today, I worked mostly on the blogging and YA WIP. 

As it’s all in a day’s work, I always reward myself with a glass of something luscious like a good Prosecco on Fridays. Maybe one day, I can have champagne instead. But hey-ho, it’s one day in the life of a professional writer. 

TGIF!!

Twitter Pitch Parties anyone? What happens when you have the jitters and the twitches?

I just took part in my second Twitter Pitch yesterday, folks. Seriously this time. It was #DVpit. This is for agents and editors looking for diverse manuscripts or stories written by people who identify #POC [#BAME in the UK]. It is serious business. So, I took it seriously this second time round. It’s not to say that I wasn’t serious when I took part the first time round. I was dead serious then. I just didn’t understand the rules the first time round. I seriously have a problem when there are too many rules. And I have a problem when they say [TL:DR]:

“How many times can I pitch?

Each USER is allowed UP TO 6 #DVpit pitches per project, which cannot be tweeted more than once per hour regardless. You don’t need to use all 6 opportunities. If you have 4 good pitches, that’s fine. If you only want to send out 1 pitch—also fine. We recognize that this is confusing, so here are some examples:

ex1. You have 1 project to pitch. Options: you could pitch once every other hour over the whole 12-hr period; OR pitch once per hour over 3 hours in the morning, and once each hour for 3 hours in the afternoon. There will be 6 of the 12 hours during which you cannot pitch in #DVpit at all.

ex2. You have 2 #DVpit projects, up to 6 pitches for each. You could alternate pitches for them each hour; OR pitch 1 project over 6 hours in the morning, and the other over 6 hours in the afternoon. In either case, you pitch ONCE per hour, using up to the maximum 6 per project over the 12hr event.

ex3. Let’s say you have 3 #DVpit projects. You can only pitch once per hour, so you have to divvy up those 12 opportunities to your projects. Options: you could do 6 for project A + 3 each for projects B & C; OR 4 each; OR 2 for project A, 4 for project B, and 6 for project C.

Just remember that your twitter account cannot pitch into the #DVpit feed more than once per hour. Which project you choose each hour is up to you, as long as no single project exceeds 6. This is to keep the feed less cluttered and more fair.”

I read all the rules and I read this particular one a few times. And I realised that I’d failed elementary school maths and can’t do the sums. So, how many times can I twitch, I mean pitch twitch? Or was it tweet pitch? How many times again? Please bear with me on this. Maths whizzes know it’s easy. But if you’ve lived with numerophobia all your life, it’s hard when you read a rule with such intense and focused numerical sense that don’t make sense to you.

Anyhooo, I asked a bunch of very helpful friends in my writing community who had participated in twitter pitch conferences before and they told me “6 x per MS and at 1 hour intervals only”. That explained it. 

So I sent my pitches into the twitching tweeting universe. 

I had two. That is two manuscripts. So I spaced them out between the hours of 8 am – 8 pm EST, which is Eastern Standard Time. That just means 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening New York time. 

But first, what is a twitter pitch conference? 

  • It all started with #PitMad. This was the original twitter pitch event or conference for unpublished manuscripts and writers who are unagented or agented. 
  • The event happens every quarterly according to a schedule based on EDT (Eastern Daylight Time)/ Spring-Summer or EST (Eastern Standard Time)/ Autumn-Winter.
  • Hashtags are used to denote different categories: #DVpit for Diversity Pitch #PBPitch for Picture Book Pitch #CB for Children’s Books, etc., etc. There is now a #BVM hashtag for Black Writers and Illustrators. [YAY] 

If you’re a children’s book writer like me, you’d want to look out for #PBPitch which is open to all picture book writers 3 times a year: February, June, and October. The next one is on October 29th, Thursday from 8 am to 8 pm EST. 

Here are the rules.

If you’re a person of colour or someone from a marginalised or under-represented community, you’d want to look out for #DVpit. I took part in #DVpit because I identify #BAME or #POC. DVPit is open to ALL diverse creators or writers, working on ALL genres writing for children, YA or adult. Do look out for the dates as there are two days for different genres and age groups, and for writers and illustrators. 

Here are the rules.

I made a couple of boo-boos, like retweeting someone’s tweet with a comment because someone had done that for me and I wanted to pay back in kind. Apparently, participants are not allowed to retweet. You can comment inside their tweet but not retweet with a comment. That was where I misunderstood. Only editors can retweet. These are editors who like your pitch but will only work with agented authors, so I was told. 

You definitely cannot like or heart ❤ a tweet cos that is the reserve of agents or editors. You’re meant to reply sans hashtags if you want to show support; see above about not retweeting.

Well, I’m learning along the way, as they say. 

I don’t know about you but Twitter gives me the jitters, to be honest. There are some real serious trolls out there waiting to get ya. But thankfully, people just laughed my boos-boos off. And, frankly, nobody has the energy to tell you off, cos at the end of it, you’re meant to know what to…read the rules, and don’t be so zealous like me in wanting to boost other people’s tweets. 

What came out of all this, you ask. The good news is that I got a genuine like or <3. Why genuine? It was a like from an editor, who then asked to read my manuscript. How did I know that? I went to find out who ❤ my twitch and that’s that. And I scrolled down her tweets where she said that “if I like your pitch, it means I’m interested to read your manscript. Please DM me.” 

I wouldn’t go private messaging the editor/ agent if they had not tweeted for the author to do that. I’d just go check out their website for submission guidelines and type in DVpit in the subject line. Nobody likes being stalked, editors and agents no less.

So I sent my manuscript to this editor after I’d DM-ed her to ask how I can submit, and she has confirmed receipt of it. So, you see, this was how serious I was about taking part in #DVpit, and because I was serious, the Universe sent out positive vibes, unlike the first time when I took part. So, don’t make the mistake I did the first time round—join in for the fun of it. I’m not saying you mustn’t have fun. Because FUN + PASSION = ENJOYMENT.

#DVpit is now over and I can’t wait to take part in the next one cos the fun of it all is in composing the tweets in 280 characters. It’s an exercise in precision and concision

Here was what I’d tweeted and pitched for one story. 

When a little girl longs for her grandma’s dumplings, but her grandma can no longer cook, she discovers that faith and love are enduring. This 389-word #PB explores the relationship between an unnamed protagonist and their grandma.  #DVPit #OWN [this one got me a like but I’ve decided not to pursue this like for personal reasons.]

Like a Tai Chi dance, an unnamed protagonist must grapple with her grandma’s fading breath. DANCING DUMPLINGS FOR MY ONE AND ONLY, a 389-word story that charts the relationship between a child and their grandma rises and falls with each breath. #DVpit #poc #own

You’ve got it! 

Good luck! 

credit: PB Pitch Website

How to Write During a Crisis

In my last post, I spoke about how for some people this COVID time has opened up opportunities for living and working differently. Today, I’m going to talk about how to do just that. 

Since some of us now have a bit more time on our hands, this is a great opportunity to write. (But if you’re a carer of young children and aging parents, please do not be hard on yourselves; do what’s best for you and find other opportunities to stay creative.) Recently, I spent one and half hours with Heidi Stalla free-writing using modern images as prompts. Free-writing is a great way to get your writing juices flowing. I do this all the time always using art works as prompts. Here’s one story inspired by an artwork at the National Gallery Singapore. Do note that this story is the cleaned-up version.

Right. When you’re free-writing, put your woes and insecurities aside. Let your words flow from your consciousness to your fingertips as you write away. I recommend writing because in the act/art of orthography, your brain releases joy hormones as you put thoughts to words. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, and those practical things that an editor takes care of. Just write. 

The other thing you can try is automatic writing. This type of writing takes one on a spiritual journey. You don’t have to be religious or believe in psychics or things of that nature. You just have to channel that psychic in you. Automatic writing is an ancient art form. Casting any inhibitions aside, just write automatically. 

The other thing you can do is blog. In one of my Instagram stories, I shared a note on how to use your blog to help readers connect to you. [see image] Much like what I’m doing here. Blogs are fun to write. You don’t need to use luscious poetic language when blogging. But nothing’s stopping you from doing that if you wish. And, you can blog about anything. So, if you follow my blog posts, it may seem a little bit all over the place. But there is order in the chaos. You’ll see that I blog mostly about art, books, and writing. So, blogging is essentially about whatever that interests you and something you want to have a conversation about with your readers. 

Then, there are newsletters. Newsletters require less creative writing and more informational writing. It’s business-like language if you will. But, again, nothing’s stopping you from using luscious poetic language to engage your readers newsletter-wise either, It’s your newsletter and you’re a writer. Here’s a great one that I love reading cos the way it’s written is just yummy. I signed up using the sign up box on the right hand column and each time David blogs about something—ping, it goes to my inbox. That way, I’m up to date on his latest recipes. I love the apéritif hour, so Swampwater was just the right mouthwatering juice for me. Here’s another that I love. This one keeps me up to date on the children’s books I love. As you’ll see, this link takes you directly to the sign up box. 

Speaking of newsletters: Over at Picture Book Matters, Debasmita Dasgupta and I have created our own newsletter to keep our readers and followers informed. If you’d like this newsletter to be sent directly to your inbox, you know what to do—just click here. If you think that this newsletter can benefit your friends, please send it on. 

Right. Write away, folks. Pen those thoughts and ideas now and inform your readers what you’re up to. This newsletter tells you what some people are doing during this COVID time. 

On Authors, Agents, and Editors

courtesy of the lit hub

This post comes to you amidst a global pandemic. Many of us are working from home at the moment, staying safe indoors and away from crowded places. The book industry is working hard as always to bring respite and joy to the many safe at home in this trying time.

I’ve recently been asked my thoughts on getting repped by an agent. While explaining what an agent does, I had to go into the whole shebang of what the publishing business is about. As a fairly newbie children’s book author, I’ll admit that I’m still learning about the business. But what I’ve learnt, I’m very happy to share. You’ll see that at this moment, many in the writing community are sharing and helping gratis those who are emerging or aspiring writers. As I’m not super good at being on videos, especially when it’s unscripted, here are my thoughts written out. 

The Agent

An agent is someone who works for the author. Let’s assume the author is you. It’s not that you employ the agent, it’s more like you’re the agent’s client. An agent is the middleperson between you and the publishing house or publisher. To get repped, which is ‘represented’ in publishing parlance, an author needs to submit their manuscript (one at a time) with a query letter introducing yourself and the book. This is also called a query. But before you query, do check on specific agent websites what they’re looking for and how they want to be queried. Let’s just say that agents seem to hold a lot of power in the publishing industry, especially in America and the United Kingdom, and many will auto reject your manuscript if your query letter isn’t the way it’s suppose to be. There are a lot of resources on the net for those interested and you’ll likely find that one person may contradict another. You just need to know that there is sort of a formula when it comes to query letters cos even though they want you to be creative when pitching or when writing your pitch (gotta have hook and all), they don’t want you to be too creative, changing the order of the query letter format. Agents also want you to be be business-minded about your query, but not to bore them with overly business-like language. Finding a balance is key. Remember, agents read a lot of query letters a day cos being repped is one step closer to publishing if you work in America, so you’ll have to captivate the agent with your creative but formulaic query letter. Here’s one blog post that I like on how to write a query letter that shines

Once an agent likes your query (after you’ve jumped through many hoops to get their attention), they offer to rep you where you’ll then sign a contract, and that’s when you become the agent’s client. Hang on! Don’t get too excited for the mo’. Being repped is still a couple of steps from being published. But let’s go back to the agent. Once an agent takes you on as a client, and before they submit your work to the publishing houses on your behalf, they may ask you to make some editorial changes, polish up your manuscript, so that your final work looks great. Once your work goes to sub, which is submissions in publishing lingo, the agent negotiates the publishing contract with the publishing house on your behalf, always working out the best terms for you. Hang on another minute. It’s not cos the agent is so altruistic. The higher the price she gets for your manuscript on your behalf, the more money they’ll eventually get; it’s a win-win situation. The agent’s commission is 15% of any money that the author makes from the sale of their book, for as long as the book is in print. But there’s more. For foreign subsidiary rights, the agent may hire or generally work with sub-agents in the foreign countries they’re wanting to sell rights to. So there are agents in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, India, Italy, France, so on and so forth, who will be assisting your agent to sell your foreign rights to their countries’ publishing houses; if everything goes well, you may see your book/s in Korean, Arabic, Chinese, French, so on and so forth. So what happens when a foreign sale is done?  The agent takes an additional 5% from the author’s earnings of the foreign sale. So you’ll see why it’s not always an altruistic gesture on the agent’s part to negotiate the best deal for you; like I said, it’s a win-win. But an agent is also worth their weight in gold. Agents also help the author track advances and royalty payments. They help authors promote their books. So, if you see on Twitter Jenny Morgan, agent at Golden Ticket Literary tweet “so happy for @susanwong for her debut picture book EATING DUMPLINGS IN AFGHANISTAN”, it’s a promo on behalf of the client or author. As an author, you should have your own Twitter handle too but it’s not the most important handle to have, really. The best handle is to have a handle on writing the best book there is. 

The Publisher

These are, as the name suggests, people who publish books. They are sometimes known as houses because they are publishing houses and not just one person, although there have been publishing houses that start with one person and maybe their wife, like Bloomsbury Press, for example. There are about 5 known houses that most authors would like to be authors for. They are Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster—not in any order of importance. But these houses have many imprints. Here’s what wikipedia says about imprints.

An imprint of a publisher is a trade name under which it publishes a work. A single publishing company may have multiple imprints, often using the different names as brands to market works to various demographic consumer segments.

Wikipedia

Imprints basically allow publishers to create a brand image or identity around different types of books. So for example, Hachette Group may have an imprint that publishes cook books. Here’s someone I know with a cook book published by an imprint. My friend, Jean Hwang Carrant had her debut cook book, Cookie Love, with recipes on various cookies, published by Hardie Grant Publishing, which has an imprint–Hardie Grant Books–that publishes cook books and non-fiction books, with Hardie Grant Egmont, the imprint that publishes children’s books. Penguin Random House Group will have an imprint that publishes classics or books written by women. You get the idea. Take a look at this image, which I’d borrowed here, that lists all the imprints of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. [Please note that this could’ve changed since publishing houses are constantly merging and consolidating.]

So, my picture book, Sahara’s Special Senses, was published under Little Knight, the imprint of Armour Publishing that publishes only children’s books. As an author, all you need to know is that publishing is a business and a publishing house is like a big fashion house/ departmental store on several levels, and an imprint is like a department in the departmental store where you can find all sorts of socks in one department and all sorts of shoes in another. In other words, an imprint in a publishing house deals with one aspect of the whole business; children’s books is one aspect, with books in general being the whole business. For more on imprints, read here cos it’s just too complicated for me to explain it without complicating you either.

The Editor

Editors work for the publishing house. The Editor’s job is to read all the manuscripts that they receive either directly from the authors, or from agents on behalf of authors. So, an editor reads lots and lots of manuscripts. It’s alright if it’s a picture book, imagine a 60,000 + word novel x 10. Hence, editors need to like reading. Well, all this reading leads to perhaps one or two stories that the editor likes and wants to publish. They then make an offer of a contract. If you’re agented, then it’s the agent who negotiates your contract and gets the best deal for you, as explained above. If you’re unagented, you’re responsible for your own back and pocket.  As soon as the author signs the contract, the editor will work with the author to revise the work, even if the author has already revised the work with their agent. You get it, it’s just to make your writing better! If you’re a picture book author like me, the publisher will find an illustrator for you. Then, they will work with the house’s art director on managing and overseeing the artwork. As a picture book author, you’ll not be part of this process, unfortunately. You’ll just have to trust in the process and wait to see how the illustrator has magically transformed your words into pictures. More than this, the editor is responsible for introducing your book to the sales and marketing team at the house. They’re also responsible for the book jacket. Editors are often seen at book conferences or conventions, where they may talk to foreign publishers about the list of titles the house is publishing, including your book; they’ll also speak to librarians about your book and find as many networks of sales as possible, in order words, they will promote your book. Since the editor works for the house, you don’t have to pay the editor for doing all this.

However, if you decide to find a freelance editor before you query agents or the publishing editor, then you’ll have to fork out some money in order for an expert (who has worked in publishing before, or who has experience of editing for publishing) eye to go over your manuscript. You can look at this as an investment, since agents and editors do regularly reject poorly edited manuscripts. 

The Author

The author is the person who writes. In this equation, the author is the most important person because no author, no agent, no editor, no publisher, no book. Horror! The truth in the equation lies in the general treatment of authors. The word of mouth says that the author is the most important person in the publishing business, yet, the action often indicates the contrary. So mouthing something does not always result in action that is indicative of respect for the author. Now, as an author, I should be fearful of saying this cos all agents, editors, and publishers will protest vehemently and vociferously. I don’t blame them. It’s their business to defend themselves after all, and of course to publish books, so they can’t be seen disrespecting the people who keep them at their jobs anyway, can they? It’s good to know that the author:agent:editor equation is a relationship that is built over time and trust. Agents and publishers know how important authors are, of course. But, they work with many other authors other than you, so you’ll just have to be patient, keep your channels of communication open, and trust that something good will come out of your relationship with your agent and publisher. The business requires that you do.

Authoring is a tough business. It’s not a business you want to be in if you’re aiming to make a million bucks per annum. That’ll be banking or lawyering. Maybe, the best job is heiring. Alternatively, you can try impersonating J.K. Rowling. But this is still a dream and delusion for many. The reality is that humans have been scribing stories for the longest time and since the advent of the alphabet system, humans have been reading for a long time too. So, the business of the author is to write books that entertain, engage, educate, and enlighten the public. For this, you’ll need talent. That’s another story for another post. Failing that, you’ll need lessons. That’s when writing coaches become people you want to know. Nature or nurture aside, an author really should, hopefully, be able to do all this–write books that entertain, engage, educate, and enlighten the public–for a living. 

So, how does an author get paid? Authors are usually paid through an advance or through royalty. The former is a lump sum that you’re given when the contract is signed. This can either be the whole sum altogether or paid in tranches—50% on signing of contract and 50% on submission, for example. The advance is paid against future royalties. This just means that your book has to sell well over the amount you’d received as an advance before the subsequent royalties start to kick in. You can look at the advance as the projected earnings of your book—the publisher pays you in advance of what they think your book will make them within, say, 5 years. That leaves the royalty. The royalty, is a percentage of the author’s earning on each book. The standard is usually 10% based on either the net or cover price of the book. Whilst it’s great to get an advance, which is usually the norm, it’s also good to bear in mind that you may not see any royalties until your book has sold way above the advance. I’ve heard of authors telling me that they haven’t been paid royalties for their books for the past 2 or 3 years. So, for example, since The Boy Who Talks in Bits and Bobs has been published, which was in March 2018, I haven’t been paid yet. And, I won’t be paid until next year. That means, by the time I’m paid, I’ve had waited at least 3 years since the book’s publication to be paid. Now, it’s also good to know that this is Singapore. The market works differently here. [Here’s an old article on how the Southeast Asian book markets work.] It’s also not as mature a market like those in the U.S. and U.K. For this, to get published in Singapore, you’ll not need an agent. However, you’ll still have to produce books of good quality. It may sound as if it’s easy to be published in Singapore, since there are not as many hoops to jump through like there are in America or Britain, but take note, it’s not.

The Market

A market is where you sell and buy goods. The book market is where you sell and buy books. The American and British book markets are the biggest markets for English books. Other English book markets are India, Canada (North America), Australia, and New Zealand. These countries are predominantly the markets for books written in English, with India also publishing books in various Indian languages. Singapore and Malaysia are secondary English-language book markets, both also publishing non-English books in languages like Malay, Chinese, and Tamil. They are relatively smaller English-language book markets compared to their western cousins, and behave a tad differently to their wealthier western relatives too. This has caused me as an author much grieve and annoyance, I’ll admit, though I’m grateful for this market for giving me the space to be published sans being repped. The market in Singapore does not require an author to be agented. An author can submit directly to the publisher. In addition, although a query letter is required, there isn’t this fuss around the query letter as there is in the United States. America just has their way of doing something and it’s their way or the highway. This is the reason why you’ll see so many resources available, and many for free, on how to write that query letter.

America makes a big deal of being agented. It’s how their market behaves. Agents are the gatekeepers to the books that American children and children in the rest of the world read and will read. Agents, as explained above, provide a bigger service to the publishing indusity than simply repping an author. Agents make sure that by the time the editor at the house gets a hold of your manuscript, it’s so shiny that they can see their faces reflected from it. But don’t despair if you’re not able to find an agent. There are other ways to get published if this is your purpose as a writer.

Publishing is a huge business with many people sharing the pie, in my view, often with the author taking the smallest slice. And, to be published by the 5 houses mentioned earlier, an agent is someone who can make you or break you. Of course, there are independent houses, like Armour who’d publish you too. These are also known as indie publishers. These exist in America too if being published in America is something you dream of; indie publishers also exist in the U.K., and for that matter, in other parts of the world that do not publish predominantly in English. It’s good to dream big but remember that there may be someone out there willing to pop your bubble, and they could see it as their jobs to. I’m not saying that agents are meanies, no! They’re in it for the business too, and they do know what the business is about. Unfortunately, in this commercialised and very subjective world of book publishing, an author simply cannot write what they want. But if you should choose to write what you want, an agent isn’t your answer. Your answer is self-publishing. But, that also means that you’re in charge of distributing your own books. This should bring me neatly to the distributor. But I’ve run out steam. I shall leave you on a cliff-hanger. What does a distributor do?

If you’d like a face-to-face chat about publishing your book, I’m available on Skype.