Georgette, Robert, and Sharnaz
“I’d like to invite you to be my guest on my TV talk show” read the SMS from Regina Ho from RTM Kuching, the producer of Kuppa Kopi, the only talk show from Sarawak on National TV. She asked me to bring along my books Lovers and Strangers Revisited and Tropical Affairs: Episodes of an Expat’s Life in Malaysia to the shooting (aired on 31 May).
When writing a book or even thinking of one, you need to get known by as many people as possible. One obvious way is through the media, where you can reach a wider audience, as I did as a recent guest on TV1. In the past year, I’ve been fortunate to have been on TV twice, the radio once, and featured and reviewed in several magazines and newspapers. Some of these interviews came looking for me, others found me by accident.
A good place to start your career-launching, getting-to-be-known platform is to have your own blog and/or website, so people, including the press, can find you. That’s how I met Georgette Tan of the Borneo Post three years ago when she stumbled upon my website. No doubt thinking, hey, who’s this American writer in my back yard? She contacted me, arranged for an interview, and reviewed my book.
Steenie in Ireland, from International Living, was actively looking for expats in my part of the world, when she came across on online piece from Expatriate Lifestyle naming me in their January 2010 issue as one of the “50 Expats You Should Know”. This is a good example of how one interview/profile can lead to another. She found my website, contacted me, and within a week, she’s at my door in Sarawak, and her first question was, “What in the hell is an American doing in Borneo?”
If the media do come a-calling, always treat them with respect. Never act high and mighty, like you’re doing them a favor by “allowing yourself to be interviewed”. To be honest, the media don’t need you; they need a story and there are plenty of good stories out there (and better writers, too). So be grateful for the opportunity.
For Steenie and her publication, I was newsworthy. The fact that I had authored two books and won an award was a big plus. She could also check out previous interviews and book reviews to see if I’m worth her time and effort. That’s another big reason why it’s important to have a website, so people can find out more about you and what you have to offer since you’re competing with a lot of other potentially news¬worthy people.
By the way, what makes a writer newsworthy? Besides what’s written in your books (and any sensational tabloid rumors about you), a good question to ask yourself is, how are you helping others? Me, I give advice to writers based on my personal experience, which I do in such publications as Quill and The Writer (May 2010), and during my workshops and seminars. I give plenty of advice on my website and in my writing blog. Plus I take writers (and readers) behind the scenes of my short stories in my blog series, The Story Behind the Story, a great learning tool used in several universities to complement my short stories.
The more you give or help others, the more the media will be interested in you and that’s good news for you, your writing, and your books! So, again, what do you have to offer others? The more you have to offer, the more newsworthy you are.
Instead of being totally dependent on the media, which at times can be quite fickle, you can also promote yourself and your books via the ever expanding social media. This was the very reason I joined Facebook (after being advised – arm-twisted – by several writing friends). For my face, I use the cover of my book, Tropical Affairs, nominated for the 2010 The Popular-The Star Reader’s Choice Award for non-fiction. I’m also apart of LinkedIn, have experimented with Twitter, been on You Tube, and have joined in on dozens of threads on other peoples’ blogs. Each time I connect with someone on Facebook or post a comment on someone else’s blog, or write a new blog post, I introduce myself to others (and others introduce them¬selves to me). Of course, this is virtual networking.
Another way to get your work known (and published) is through physical networking, whereby you meet people in the real world, like at a conference, seminar or workshop. Before you go, have your business cards ready! In addition to the normal details, I add the titles of my books, my website and my writing blog. This may not be of interest to the person I’m meeting, but very interesting to someone they may know.
Other than your business card, two things need to happen when you network. One is you have to listen. Then you need to act upon what you hear. For example, three years ago, I was giving a creative writing workshop at a conference in Penang, and while standing in the food line, Lee Su Kim, author of the very successful Malaysian Flavours, introduced herself and had nothing but praise for Eric Forbes at MPH and urged me to contact him.
The following day, back in Kuching, I took action. I googled Eric Forbes, read his blog, and emailed him about republishing Lovers and Strangers Revisited and Tropical Affairs. Naturally, I directed him to my website and my media section – it really does come in handy. The fact that LSR went on to win 2009 The Popular-The Star Reader’s Choice Award for fiction brought in plenty of media attention and may have been a factor for getting me on Kuppa Kopi!
As for being a guest on the show, I had a great time and met several other writers, including Margaret Lim (Payah) and my friend Georgette, who had recommended me to Regina. Ah, the advantages of having a website and networking. I also got to meet the lovely and very talented Sharnaz Saberi who wanted a photograph with me (and an autographed copy of my book). Of course I blogged about it, put it on Facebook, wrote an article about it, and will soon put it on YouTube and on my website.
I also make a point to state in the interviews or profiles that my blog on writing, my interviews, and book reviews can be accessed from my blog – to attract future interviews, because you just never know who will be reading it, do you? In fact, I'm expecting a call from an interviewer any minute now and I'm going over my answers.
So, what are you doing to get yourself (and your book) better known by the public? Robbing a bank may help get you into the papers, but I wouldn’t recommend it . . . unless your book is about robbing banks!
-Robert Raymer, Borneo Expat Writer
* Update: And now I can be found on Wikipedia!
**Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited
Here are links to some of my author-to-author interviews of first novelists:
Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize.
Golda Mowe author of Iban Dream and Iban Journey.
Preeta Samarasan author of Evening is the Whole Day.
Chuah Guat Eng, author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change.
Five part Maugham and Me series
Beheaded on Road to Nationhood: Sarawak Reclaimed—Part I