About Me

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Mabuhay! I'm an Asian American writer (Back Kicks And Broken Promises, Abbott Press, 2012), martial artist and teacher who was born in The Philippines, raised in Hong Kong and ended up in New Jersey.

21 April, 2012

No Pulitzer Ficton Winner Good For Indie Books

The Pulitzer people announced their 2012 winners this week and, for the first time in thirty-five years, they didn’t award a winner for fiction. As someone who, three or four years ago, made it a goal to read each year’s winner I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t one. I’ve come to rely on the Pulitzer people to make one choice for me each year. Like many readers and lovers of books, who don’t have bottomless pockets filled with cash to spend on books, I’m careful when I choose what books to buy and read and The Pulitzer is arguably one of the most respected, albeit subjective, gauges of literature in this country. (Yes, I know I can enjoy reading books for free by getting a library card but, based on my reading habits, it’s probably cheaper to buy the books I read.)

Of the three finalists - Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!, David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King and Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams - Russell’s debut novel is the one I’m most familiar with. I have read Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, however, and I almost picked up a copy of Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men a while back.

The fact, though, that a winner wasn’t chosen because neither finalist garnered enough votes to push it passed the other two is another clear indicator - in addition to book sales, for instance - that what makes for a good book is subjective to the reader. There are some who put down genre fiction but, clearly, with the popularity that YA vampire/monster stories like The Twilight series have garnered and the growth of YA dystopia (The Hunger Games and Legend) there is a place for all kinds of books. This reinforcement that ‘good’ books are subjective is a good sign for indie authors.

With the economy what it is and with many traditional publishing houses not gambling on new writers, many writers, right off the bat or after getting rejected by agents, have turned to various forms of independent publishing (e-book formatting, print-on-demand, small runs at a small printer, etc). Yes, there are many indie books that are pretty bad. (Yes, my last sentence does sound subjective but I think there are some universal truths on writing; things like consistency of voice and POV, the ability to have a story thread throughout the novel, unique dialogue, etc.) Based on the positive responses my book received from agents and other writers before I published, I like to think it isn’t one of the baddies. I do know, however, that some people will love Back Kicks And Broken Promises while others will loathe it and others will find it ‘comme ci, comme ca,’ if not hate it altogether. There are also some traditionally published books that are not well received. Just read any review supplement in any Sunday edition of a national newspaper and you’ll read critics saying a variety of different things on some of the same books. Take a look at Entertainment Weekly magazine’s Books section. The magazine’s reviewers give the books actual letter grades. I’ve agreed with some, disagreed with others and I’ll admit that I’ve been influenced by the grade a book got when deciding whether and/or when to buy it.

The reason that no Pulitzer winner for fiction is good for indies is simply because it reinforces what I’ve tried to point out - that readers will find different books likable, lovable, loathe-worthy. Readers’ tastes are subjective and their responses to a particular book could be different from one day to the next. I read Tinkers, the 2010 Pulitzer fiction winner by Paul Harding about how a father and son, through tragedy, come to terms with the world and each other. It’s well written, a quick read and quite touching but I still felt frustrated when I was done with it. So, the fact that traditionally published books, by some well known and respected authors, that were aided by an agent’s efforts and resulted in some kind of monetary advance did not win, gives us - indie authors - hope. Perhaps an indie book will never appear on the list of accepted entries or finalists for a Pulitzer but, if the Pulitzer people can’t find a book to praise from the traditionally published, it (and the readers who follow the organization), may have to look elsewhere. And, the only alternative to traditionally published, whether e-book or print book, is indie published.

There are many book awards for indie authors. There are the Indie Reader Discovery Awards and Writer’s DigestSelf-Published Book Awards. These are good opportunities for indie books to get recognized and praised. They’re great marketing tools and give the authors a sense of validation if their books do well. Ideally, though, at least from my opinion, is for all books to be regarded together. Fiction is fiction regardless of who wrote it and who published it. If it does, for you, what you think and feel good fiction should do then it’s good fiction.

We read for lots of different reasons. For readers of fiction, I’m sure one of those reasons is old-fashioned enjoyment. Just make sure you’re actually enjoying what you read.

11 April, 2012

Reading is not cool

In my non-writing life, I am, among other things, a Health teacher. This week, our fourth and final marking period of the school year began. I teach seventh and sixth grade Health and, in the first class of each marking period, I review (for the seventh grade) and introduce (for the sixth grade) the Wellness Triangle. In a nutshell, the triangle represents each one of us and the goal to achieve good health - aka 'wellness' - is to attain an equilateral triangle by balancing your physical health, your mental/emotional health and your social health.

In the lesson, I talk about how you can nurture each area independently but, really, it's better and more fun to develop and maintain all three at the same time. I explain how, through things like dance or being part of a sports team, you can do that. I also talk about how doing something like reading books can do that. When I get to the books part of the discussion, I usually begin it by asking the following question: "How many of you like to read?"

In past classes, the students either raise their hands or they don't. Seeing students shoot their hands up, speaking as a reader and writer myself, is very pleasing and encouraging. In a recent New York Times Book Review podcast, it was reported that more kids are reading print books and e-books. This rise has to do, in part, to the lowering cost of Nooks and Kindles that allow tweens and teens to carry and read more books at one time. In my own school, I see students reading all the time. In the weeks leading up to the release of The Hunger Games movie, the eighth grade lunch period I proctor had clusters of students eating together who were also reading The Hunger Games (some were on to Catching Fire or Mockingjay). Other clusters had students, the YA dystopian sitting on the table, discussing the book and/or planning when they were going to see the movie. When Breaking Dawn, the movie, was about to come out, the same thing was happening with the Twilight books.  Again, as a reader, writer and advocate for the power of books, this is very pleasing.

My excitement, however, took a blow the other day. In my opening Health class, when I asked my stundents how many of them like to read, at first only one student, raised her hand. Well, she raised it only as far as her eyes and she did so coyly; hesitantly, apologetically even, like she was owning up to having done something wrong. It wasn't until two of her classmates' hands went up that hers stretched fully towards the ceiling.

Naturally, I'm very happy when I see kids read and I'm happy to meet them. With the abundance of good YA books out there - and there are more coming, like Marie Lu's Legend 2 - I honestly felt that the era of kids who read being viewed as 'nerds' or 'not cool' and having to find safe haven among other nerds just like them had long passed. My student's honest and brave answer to my question, however, told me that it hasn't. If she had just be hesitant, I would've felt that maybe she thought she was the only reader in class and didn't want to stand out and/or appear like she was saying she's better than the others. However, when the look in her eyes and her body language apologised for being a reader, it made me feel that children - and I'm sure some adults - still make fun of those who read and that being able to read, understand and appreciate a good book isn't as admired as being able to score a goal, belt out a song, dance, dunk a basketball or run a record setting race.

What you're about to read is probably lost on your eyes because I'm likely preaching to the choir. Nonetheless, it has to be said, read and written.

Reading IS cool.

Reading develops language and creativity. It helps us experience emotions and teaches us how to deal with some of those feelings. It brings people together and gives birth to new friendships when the readers find a common bond like with the group reading and sharing of The Hunger Games as the movie was about to be released.

So, don't be shy. Don't be afraid. Be proud to be a reader and announce it to the world. And, pay it forward by sharing something you've read. Abbott Press, the publisher of my debut novel Back Kicks And Broken Promises, put up a post on Twitter today. It said something like, "If you can read, thank a teacher. If you read a book again, thank a writer." That may be true and, as a writer, if anyone reads my book - and future books - more than once I'll be very grateful. However, the last word in that tweet can also be "reader."

Read on and be proud.

05 April, 2012

Stage 2 - First Feature Article

No, thankfully, this post isn't about cancer or any other illness that has stages. Instead, it's about the step of promotion my novel is currently experiencing and a little bit of wisdom for soon-to-be fellow indie authors.

Since my novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, came out in February, I've been plugging away at trying to get it positive exposure to boost sales. Naturally, just from pure novelty, sales online at sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble spiked early. I recall on the first weekend Back Kicks was out, the numbers from Barnes jumped something like 200,000 places in rank. That sounds like a lot but I really couldn't tell you what that means in terms of units sold. I can tell you that it was very exciting to see my book climb up in rank to the mid 300,000s, where it still sits.

A couple of weeks after the print editions came out, full ebook coverage hit. What that means is, not only is the ebook available from the publisher's online bookstore, it is now available in full Nook, Kindle and Kobo format. This didn't see a spike in sales but I think it did help stabilise my book's sales ranking. I know that one customer, a very good friend of mine who has been wonderfully supportive of my writing endeavours, did wait for the full Kindle version to be released before buying a copy. That was fine with me. My point is, for you soon-to-be indie published authors, is that people will wait for the digital version to come out before (instead of) buying a print copy of your book.

Once my book was released, on February 7, 2012, I blogged, I blogged, tweeted, set up a Facebook fan page, acquired a Goodreads author page, joined several online author websites and communities. I even had one of my Taekwondo students hand out bookmarks with the book's cover, synopsis and ordering information printed on it as I was competing at the 2012 New Jersey State Taekwondo Championships. (Incidentally, I won again so I'm a two-time back-to-back state champion.)

In the last month or so, things have slowed down. I'll admit that I haven't been able to press away at promoting my book because of other commitments. I'm a fulltime teacher, Taekwondo instructor, track and field coach and, oh yeah, a father and husband. Be prepared soon-to-bes that it's a major commitment you're getting into. I'm not complaining. I, actually, am enjoying the whole process but it is a haul.

I've also sent copies of my book to some target audience outlets - Hyphen Magazine, The Asia Pacific Forum, Taekwondo Times Magazine, Black Belt Magazine, to name a few - to be possibly reviewed and/or get mentioned in a brief press release-type column.

Of late is the most recent promotion. Below is the link to the online version but in tomorrow's (Friday, 6 April, 2012) print edition of The Filipino Reporter, an article about me and my novel is coming out. As a Filipino-American writer, whose book is about a Fil-Am who's dealing with identity issues, I'm hoping that the piece will garner further interest. It might lead to increased sales but it also might lead to other outlets, like Asia Pacific Forum or The Asian American Writer's Workshop, to do something with it.

Like many of us who do anything, I'm on a budget and a very slim one at that. I'd love to go on a media blitz with radio spots and print ads but, realistically, I don't have the resources for that. Another word of wisdom for my fellow soon-to-be indies, it doesn't end once the book is published. There's a lot yet to be done to get your book out there and reaching your target audience. I've a lot yet to do and I'm learning on the go. I'm loving the learning process but, honestly, I wish I'd done more homework and put away for capital before I fully jumped in.

Either way, though, I'm a published author who's gotten some really good praise for what I've written. My book has been mentioned in the same sentence, positively, with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I don't know (think, let's be honest) if my book can hold a candle to those fantastic novels but the fact that it was juxtaposed with them is simply a compliment.

So, indies, keep plugging away. You do have an audience out there. Just make sure you check and double check and keep a share eye on your work.

Happy writing.


Here's the link to the full article from The Filipino Reporter.