Getting Published: Five Tips
By: PP Wong
First published on Yahoo
5 WRITING TIPS FOR ASIAN WRITERS
BE BRAVE IN YOUR WRITING AND FOLLOW YOUR GUT INSTINCT
When I wrote The Life of a Banana, I did not want to hold back on the hard-to-stomach reality of the terrible racism in society. I’ve always found that my best writing comes from a place of compulsion. I like to write stories and tackle issues that keep me up at night. But when you write, you can’t please everyone. There will be people who will love your writing and others who will hate it. Sometimes, you have to be fearless in your writing. Don’t hold back! Stellar writing often comes from being raw and honest.
WRITE THE STORY YOU WANT TO WRITE, NOT THE STORY YOU THINK YOU SHOULD WRITE
I know Asian writers who create stories that reinforce negative stereotypes about Asian people. Apparently, that is what sells in the West. You read books about Asians doing mystical witchcraft and funny rituals and you think, “No Chinese person I know acts that way!”
I once attended a publishing workshop in Singapore where the teacher said that unless Asians write books that suit the tastes of white readers, they wouldn’t get published. The teacher went on to say that new writers have to bear this in mind if they want their book to “make it” globally.
As an author, you have to be very sure about why you are writing your novel. Is it because you have a compelling story to tell or is it to please the masses? Is your novel something you are proud of or is it a watered down version of the novel you have on your heart? At the end of the day, you have to live with the book you have created.
DON'T FOCUS ON CREATING A BIG EPIC NOVEL, FOCUS ON GOOD WRITING
I was talking to a publisher in Singapore and he said, “Asian writers are always trying so hard to write the big, epic novel that will find global fame. I would love to see a novel that’s set in an HDB block of flats.” I think this is so true! Asian writers may sometimes overthink things when writing a novel. They ask questions such as, “Will this book sell globally?”, “Is my story the sort of story that sells in America or the UK?”, “Should I write the dialogue in a way that westerners understand?” There is so much noise and overthinking that they lose the heart of what their story is about.
A good story is a good story.
It doesn’t matter where it is set or what country their accent is from. I’ve read books where normal Singaporeans sound as though they are posh, white, upper-class men who studied at private schools in the UK. In other words, the characters lack authenticity. I have also read books about places or cultures that I have absolutely no knowledge of, yet the writing pulls me in and stays with me for years.
My novel The Life of a Banana is about a British Singaporean family living in London and for many reviewers, the culture is alien to them. However, the vast majority of positive reviews I receive from newspapers and bloggers are from non-Chinese people. In the midst of British slang and Singlish, my novel has still somehow touched all kinds of people from many different cultures.
HAVE THE BIG PICTURE IN MIND
When I write, I always have a beginning, middle and end in mind. I create bullet points about what is going to happen in each chapter. This keeps me grounded as I’m unravelling the story. The characters may develop or I may manipulate plot twists as I’m going along, but I find it really helpful to know where the story is going.
For Banana Writers, the literary editor often receives submissions of stories that start well, but are lacklustre in the middle or end abruptly. More often than not, it is because people don’t know where they are going with the story. There are countless people who start novels or short stories and never finish them. I am sure there are writers who have a very different approach to writing but I find having a plan really helps.
DON'T GIVE UP
The publishing industry moves at a glacial pace, so you really need to be patient. It took around two years to complete my novel and get published. Apparently, that is quick! After I wrote The Life of a Banana, I faced a lot of rejection. First were the rejections from literary agents and then the publishers.
If I had given up after the 10th rejection, I would not have a novel. The book industry is highly subjective in the sense that one editor may love a book while another may hate it. It’s very much about finding the right “home” for your novel and having the stamina and resilience to take the rejections.BW