I was asked recently about which publishing route I took and why. So here’s a potted history of how I became an independently published writer – or ‘indie author’, as we’re increasingly known.
I’m an indie author, published entirely now on Amazon. I gave up my job to concentrate on writing a few years back. It was what I’ve always wanted to do, and besides publishing quite a bit of poetry, I knew I wanted to write novels. I submitted my first book, the young teen novel The City of Light, to agents and publishers. An agent reader’s report said it was a potential Harry Potter (can you imagine how I felt!?). A friend of a friend in the Children’s Rights department of Random House loved it and championed it through editorial teams – only for it to fail at the sales team, who in the post-Harry Potter world had moved on from contemporary fantasy to gritty realism.
To be honest, I gave up for a couple of years until my sister-in-law suggested I go indie. I’ve never looked back. I’m no more of a control freak than the next person, but sending off to agents and publishers was about as dispiriting as it gets. There were lots of long waits and half-promises. Being in control of what and when I write and how and when I publish is great. The downside of course is lower sales – we’d all love distribution in bookshops throughout the world. But of all my colleagues who write and have been traditionally published, none have ended up with rosy sales figures. And most have had a pretty miserable time with their publisher’s demands and processes.
As far as tips are concerned, I did put a lot of time into publishing on multiple platforms – but always for a measly return. When I went exclusive on Amazon and signed up for Kindle Unlimited my sales rocketed. Sad, but true.
Let me know if you’ve had experience of the publishing world. And if you’re a reader, does whether a book is published independently or through traditional publishers affect your choice?
I first connected with Hoang Chi Truong, the author of Tigerfish, on social media. We quickly built up a rapport. I read Tigerfish and thought it was a beautifully told, often harrowing, memoir of Chi’s escape with her family from the Vietnam war to America. You can read my full review here. Chi interviewed me in the summer on her website and now I’m very pleased to return the favour. In this interview Chi tells me about her life as a refugee and how she came to write and independently publish Tigerfish. She speaks about her mission to promote her timely message of compassion for refugees.
Hi Chi, first can you tell us about why you decided to write your memoir Tigerfish?
Hello Steve, thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my author journey as a Vietnamese refugee in America on your blog. I’ll retrace my steps to publishing Tigerfish for your readers and perhaps afterwards they might consider sharing their own stories of struggle so others won’t feel they’re alone.
I wrote Tigerfish for my children in 1992, with the sole purpose of preserving our family history. I never intended it for public consumption. However, the Syrian refugee crisis in 2011 changed my mind. I published Tigerfish in 2017 as I felt I had a moral obligation to speak up for the Syrians from the perspective of a former refugee.
I felt that, as I’d received my US legal status as a teenager to achieve my American Dream, I now had to use my voice to raise awareness of what it means to be a refugee. I wanted to appeal to readers to have compassion for the plight of refugees, like others did for my family. With this new mission, I dusted off my manuscript and decided to self-publish TigerFish.
Recently, I received a request for an electronic file of TigerFish on behalf of a student with a print-disability at Santiago Canyon Community College, California. My book is going to be converted to an accessible, unencrypted format for his History class! I reread this request several times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Two years ago I would never have imagined this as a remote possibility for a first-time, independent author like myself.
Can you tell us what it was like to be a refugee?
I was born in Vietnam to a high ranking military officer and lived a protected and privileged life, but all that disappeared when we fled from political persecution. As refugees, we were conflicted between our overwhelming gratitude to be in America and our struggle with our suppressed and delayed grief, anxieties, and survivor’s guilt. We didn’t have the luxury of grieving for the siblings, relatives, friends, country, and culture we left behind. Instead, we forged on stoically to learn the language, excel in school, and better ourselves economically. Our family suffered discrimination, racism, and assaults but we persisted, convincing ourselves it was the cost of freedom.
Thank you for sharing that Chi, it’s very insightful and moving. Can you tell us about how you became an Indie Author?
I had a steep learning curve going from Chief of Emergency Response Mapping to being an independently published author. I was now a team of one, assembling editors, cover designers, formatters, beta and advanced readers, proofreaders, and a launch team. I relied on online resources as I designed a website and created a social media platform to share my story with my modest following. In the end, my debt is to the online indie author community and my social media followers who made my publishing dream come true. I can’t pay it forward enough to all the generous friends and writers for their support.
After publication how did you let the world know about Tigerfish and its key messages?
I used a number of ways to connect with readers and promoters including:
Press Release: Before I launched Tigerfish I crafted emails, ready to send them to local radio stations, TV stations, newspapers, schools, libraries and bookstores. I persisted with the Sacramento Bee until Stephen Magagnini featured my story Vietnam’ documentary opens old wounds, offers new lessons for Sacramento author when my book became timely and relevant to the U.S. Administration’s Travel Bans in 2017 and the Vietnam War Series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novak. My recommendation when contacting the press is to emphasize how relevant your book is and why it’s important to feature your story.
Social Media: I made online friends through social media, learning by trial and error. These friends became my most ardent and enduring supporters and promoters. I didn’t consider myself an extrovert and had to put on a brave face on various platforms. I always stayed accurate and authentic with my audience.
Blogging: Before I published Tigerfish, I blogged about Minimalism to share my journey from my first day sitting down to work on my book to its launch date and thereafter. I chose Minimalism as a subject to create an online following because at the time I couldn’t focus on my author’s job working from home until I’d minimized my household tasks. I shared my tips with readers. This process gave me the inner calm to dedicate 12 hours a day to reach my goal of publishing by May 2017.
Community Engagement: The initial emails and phone calls brought immediate support from libraries, schools, and indie bookstores. Word of mouth brought more speaking engagements with colleges, rotary clubs, churches, book clubs, and nursing homes. Over the past 20 months, I’ve presented to an audience of one just as respectfully and enthusiastically as to 122 people. I’ve welcomed requests to write to me with follow-up questions.
Most of all, I’ve been grateful that readers have valued my message of empathy and compassion to refugees. I hope I’ve helped to humanize instead of demonize millions of helpless and vulnerable people fleeing violence, hunger, and persecution.
That’s very inspiring, Chi. What are you working on now?
I’m currently living in Northern California with my husband, and we’re empty nesters of two grown children. While I continue to speak at libraries and book clubs I’m working on my next book, a continuation of TigerFish with a hopeful publication date of Summer 2020.
Thank you so much for your time, Chi, and for sharing your amazing story. Lastly, where can readers find out more about you and your book?