Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Getting Known through the Media and Anyway that You Can!

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 website http://www.borneoexpatwriter.com – 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's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Story Behind the Story: A Teaching and Learning Aid

Two students from UKM (Malaysia) contacted me on Facebook about my short story “Teh-O in K.L.” from Lovers and Strangers Revisited, which they are studying in their TESL program. They were doing a report on it and wanted to know the significance of the title. After I directed them to my blog, "Teh-o in KL: The Story Behind the Story" (also accessible from my website) one of the students replied, “Thank you so much. A lot of correction has to be made based on reading your blog. Guessed we just touched the issue only at the surface (culture adaptation by foreigner), without realizing how do they feel.”

At UM where they teach three stories and at USM where they teach the entire collection, they actually use The Story Behind the Story as both a teaching and a learning aid for the students. What a great idea, I thought!

When I completed the blog series for all seventeen set-in-Malaysia stories in Lovers and Strangers Revisited, I knew it would be useful for writers wanting to learn how to write a short story, the tricks (and the hard work) behind the literary magic. Rarely does a writer rewrite a published short story, yet, here I was revisiting those stories from the original Heinemann Asia publication of Lovers and Strangers (1993), rethinking them, even overhauling them for Lovers and Strangers Revisited (Silverfish 2005) and the expanded MPH version (2008), winner of the 2009 Popular-The Star Reader’s Choice Awards for fiction.

I also wanted to separate the fact from the fiction. In the preface to LSR, I wrote, “There’s a lot of truth in all fiction and a lot of fiction in all truth, so what may seem real may, in fact, be made up, and what may seem made up could very well be based on fact.” But, oh, the line between fact and fiction does blur a lot, so I thought this blog series would help to untangle it all, and show how a fact can be a great jumping off place for fiction.

But the Story Behind the Story blog series is much more than that, a behind the scenes look at a writer working at his craft. In the blog, I noted what prompted the idea, be it a character, a setting, a theme, a snippet of dialogue, and what significant editing and story changes that I made that led to their publication locally and overseas (fourteen have been published in US,UK, Australia). Altogether they’ve been published 77 times, taught in SPM literature and in universities and private colleges throughout Malaysia.

While making direct comparisons between the first published versions of my stories with those in the MPH collection for the blogs, I was blown away by how much the stories had in fact evolved. At a glance, it may look like the same story, but the differences are both subtle and stark. It’s not just the details, the preciseness of language; there have been changes of titles, of characters, of beginnings and endings, of point of view, and even shifting from past tense to present tense. Some of the stories even doubled in length; they had whole new endings, or new back-story weaved into it to make the story complete.

By comparing the MPH stories with the story’s blog would be invaluable to writers just learning their craft or wishing to break out, but also interesting to literature students and readers to see how much the stories have changed. You mean that critical scene at the jetty in “On Fridays” wasn’t even in the original, published story!

For teachers and students, a lot of insight can be gleaned from the blog series which can lead to discussions about character’s motivation, or the underlying theme, and all that’s going on just beneath the surface of the story—the real story behind the story.

Of course the one who learned the most through this process of putting this blog series together was me. I grew as a writer. More importantly, I could see the proof of how far I’ve come, which encourages me to push harder, and for that I have to thank those students who have contacted me, and their teachers and lecturers for their interest in the stories from Lovers and Strangers Revisited.

* * *

As a footnote, since posting this, a student from Kuala Lumpur contacted me about my short story "Neighbours" that she is studying for SPM literature. I sent her the "Neighbours: Story Behind the Story" link which she greatly appreciated and now she is sharing that with her teacher and fellow classmates. I also mentioned the article “Neighbours, a Suicide, and Making Choices” from Tropical Affairs. The teacher, she said, was already sharing this with the students,and making the book available for them to read.

That’s great, so now those students will get the whole story of “Neighbours”, the short story itself, the truth of my involvement in that suicide (finding him, sending him to the hospital, and having to tell his wife what just happened since none of my neighbors wanted to get involved), the decisions that I made as a writer to write that particular story (the choices I made since there were different stories that I could have written about this experience), and now all that went into the actual writing and revisiting the story, including changing the original title from “Aftermath” (after it had been published four times) to “Neighbours”.

***Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Merdeka Miracle, a look a year later...

Recently I was at a conference when a woman stopped by to pick up an autographed copy of Tropical Affairs. She introduced herself by telling me how much she had enjoyed reading the short story "The Merkeka Miracle" that I wrote with Lydia Teh and Tunku Halim for the August 2009 issue of Going Places. With Merdeka coming up on the 31 August, I though I would repost "The Merkeka Miracle" for those who had missed it and as a timely reminder for all of us not to take our lives for granted.

Someday, I would like to revisit this story with the other two writers, perhaps expand upon it and make it a fuller story, something we were unable to do with tight word limit (and the even tighter time restraint!) that we had to work with. Originally we were given about three weeks and 1200 words, but I pleaded for at least 600 more! Based on what was cut out in the early drafts, we could've easily doubled that. Perhaps the story can even be taught in schools...


*Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited 

**Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Are You Writing or Are You Creating Assets?

Are you merely writing, or are you creating assets? To be honest, I never really thought about it, which may explain why financially it has been a struggle writing full time these past five months. I did what I’ve always done, I wrote, and rewrote, and occasionally I blogged. I also sent out my work to various editors, publishers and agents. The usual stuff.

Then while trying to turn myself into a savvy investor—it all starts with self-education—I picked up Robert Kyosaki’s Guide to Investing and while discussing assets, he said, “…there are many ways you can create assets inside an asset column without buying them. Inventors do it by inventing something of great value. Artists paint paintings that are priceless. Authors write books that pay them royalties for years…”

Assets. Never looked at it this way. I'm not just writing, I'm creating assets that I can sell! Creating something from nothing, just like the ancient alchemists were trying to do by searching for that magic formula of turning lead into gold. Today writers have the power to turn nothing but their ideas into not only assets, but a living, a fortune, or even a commercial empire. Just ask J.K. Rowling. It all began with an idea, about boy named Harry, and then following through with that idea, that creative vision, book after book, movie after movie, merchandizing deal after merchandizing deal. Amazing!

As a writer, you can turn your ideas into blogs, into articles, into short stories, into books (hard cover and ebooks), into plays and screenplays. These are all assets. Blogs can be turned into a series of articles or compiled into a book – it’s been done by plenty of other people. Articles and short stories can be sold and published; their rights can be sold again and again to non-competing markets, or they can be adapted or expanded into other articles or longer pieces, even books. Books can sell for years, and they, like plays and screenplays, can also be turned into movies, TV series, and musicals. It all begins with an idea.

As a writer, it’s nice to know that you don’t need money to create assets. You do need money to live on, to support yourself, but what you truly need is the time to write. Talent helps, too. But time, as I’ve discovered in the past five months, is not enough. You need the discipline to get to your computer and stay there (and not let yourself become sidetracked by everything that the Internet represents—the world at your disposal with a click of your mouse and your time taken away from you forever).

You also need the wisdom to write effectively, the focus to stay with a project to see it through to completion, and the perseverance (and the self-confidence) to sell what you write, and not be discouraged by the inevitable rejections. Play the salesman, and keep knocking on those doors!

Of course, not all assets created by you are equal, and time is mutually exclusive -- you can't do everything at the same time! So don’t spend all of your writing time on blogs if what you really want to write are novels and screenplays. Find the balance in your writing life, and choose the assets that you wish to create carefully, so at the end of the day, end of the week, end of the month, end of the year, end of your writing days, you can look back on all the assets that you created and feel a sense of accomplishment. Hopefully you’ll have plenty of money to invest for your family, too.

So what new assets, other than a few blogs, have you created lately? I’m asking myself that very question as I post this blog. What have I gained, what have I lost? More importantly, how can I turn this and other blogs into a bigger, better asset? Last night I overhauled my previous blog "Validation from Readers", reslanted it, and submitted it as an article to a paying market. If you ask yourself the right questions, answers will start to follow. Then all you need is the discipline to follow through...Good luck!

As an update, the short stories that I wrote over twenty years ago and published as Lovers and Strangers (Heinemann Asia 1993) and Lovers and Strangers Revisited (MPH 2005) have been published 80 times in 12 countries, and now the collection is being translated into French.
                            -Robert Raymer, Borneo Expat Writer

***Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Validation from Readers

As a writer—especially on those days when the writing is not going so well—we seek validation that what we do has a positive impact on others. We may think we do, but do we really? How do we know unless someone tells us? Even when we get our work published, we wonder, is anyone reading this? Has it made a difference in their day, and hopefully their life by at least entertaining them or nudging them in the right direction?

Today I got an unexpected validation from someone I don’t know half a world away from where I live here in Borneo, when a reader wrote in the letters section of the September issue of The Writer about my article in their May issue

"Thanks to Robert Raymer for his informative article 'Get started with prewriting techniques' [May]. It’s a keeper. I intend to use this technique to brainstorm for my next project. I’ve been reading The Writer since I was in fifth grade, and I always find something useful in it." Margaret Carroll, via e-mail

There it is validation! How nice! The article, by the way, was adapted from the teaching units that I created for a creative writing course that I set up at USM in Malaysia and also taught at UNIMAS.

* * *

Then a Google search turned up the following, where I’m quoted in a Suite101.com blog post by Catia Trookin, “How to Overcome and Cure Writer's Block” ), where she wrote:

"In a May 2010 article in The Writer magazine entitled Get Started with Pre-Writing Techniques Robert Raymer suggests that 'When you have no suitable ideas for a topic, the fastest way to get one is to free write.' Raymer suggests free writing any thought that appears for a minute non-stop. Once an idea is generated 'clustering' can be used to expand upon the idea."

* * *

There, not one, but two validations from the same article in one day!

Now and then I'll come across a blog where one of my books is being commented on, or recommended to others; last month, in the blog "...Still crazy after all these years!" both were:

"My sister-in-law is a kiwi, a New Zealander…and she was here [Sarawak] on a visit the other day and she picked up a book at the Popular Book Store at the Delta Mall here–Robert Raymer‘s Tropical Affairs. She was enthralled by all the Malaysian culture depicted in that book and when I told her that I had his other book, Lovers and Strangers Revisited, she was really keen on getting her hands on it and reading it too. Well, I lent it to her and she thoroughly enjoyed it as well."

Then Philip added this comment: "I have Lovers and Strangers [Revisited]. It’s a great book. I love the story about the taxicab encounter ['On Fridays']. Just wish more local authors would jump in and share their fantasies with the rest of us too..."

And the blogger replied: "Ah! You like the book too. I like 'Neighbors' – very typically Malaysian. My daughter loves the book too.”

* * *

Wow, that really made my day!

Then as a bonus, Adeline, a newly-added friend just contacted me via Facebook:

"Although I have not met you before, I'm already so in love with your book, Lovers and Strangers Revisited. For your info, I would not call myself an avid reader, especially when it comes to literature. But after being recommended by a friend, I started reading your stories and I just couldn't put the book down before I finished all your stories!

“I really love the way you write them and I could actually relate to the stories quite well. By the way, I'm from Kuching too. Hope to attend one of your creative writing workshops in near future. All the best and I'm looking forward to getting a copy of your Tropical Affairs!"

* * *

This is exactly what every writer needs, some validation that they're on the right track! Awards are nice, but when a stranger praises your article in a letter to an editor, or references your work and quotes you, or recommends your book on their blogs, or tells you that they couldn’t put your book down on Facebook, now that's really cool!

So the next time you have one of those days when you’re in doubt about your writing, try Google, and even if you only find one solitary reference about your writing, you’re on the right track, so get back to writing!

*Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited 

**Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.