Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Indie Spotlight: Monica Li

Indie Spotlight is our monthly column on self-publishing. Here, Raelee Chapman talks to Singaporean indie author Monica Li about her first novel The Dragon Phoenix Bracelet.

The Dragon Phoenix Bracelet is an historical novel that follows a family through the turbulent political history of twentieth century China. Tell us about what inspired you to write this novel. Who would you say the target audience is, and who are your literary influences?
I grew up listening to my grandparents’ stories about China. I have to admit that more than once I rolled my eyes thinking to myself: not that story…again. Since they passed away, I find that telling stories about China helps connect me to them. The title of my novel is inspired by my grandmother’s gold bracelet. I started the book with one question in mind: what does it take for someone to give up a family heirloom? I developed a storyline from there. Although the novel is purely fictional, I’ve included some real life events. During the Cultural Revolution, my petite grandaunt climbed up a mountain in the middle of the night with a statue of Guan Gong (Chinese patron God of War) on her back and buried it in the ancestral grave to escape the notice of the Red Guards who were on a mission to destroy religious artifacts. Choy’s wife Ah Lan reenacts this scene in the novel.  The Dragon Phoenix Bracelet appeals to readers who are interested in stories set in Asia, particularly in China. I hope that after reading the book, people will be inspired to start a conversation with their parents and grandparents about where they came from and preserve these precious memories. Since my grandparents and father were immigrants, I’m particularly interested in novels by overseas Asian authors who write about their ethnic background and East-meets-West experiences. Some of my favorite Asian authors are Amy Tan, Vikram Seth, Lisa See, Ha Jin, Catherine Lim and Jung Chang.

You self-published The Dragon Phoenix Bracelet in 2014, through Book Guild Publishing (UK). What led you to choose them?  Do you feel a sense of impatience sometimes propels people towards self-publishing? I believe you found out the bittersweet news that your novel garnered the interest of a prominent agent only after your book publication was set to go ahead with Book Guild, do you have any regrets?
Once I finished writing the novel, my next goal was getting global distribution through a large international publisher. Since publishers only accept submissions through agents, I needed representation. I put together a list of my favourite authors and went online to find out who their agents were. I then visited the literary agency’s website for contact information and submission guidelines. Using Agent Query and Writers Digest, I did some background research on these agents. Over a period of six months I sent my query letter to a targeted list of literary agents and followed up systematically. It was disheartening to receive rejection letters after all the hard work I put in. It was only after I decided to go ahead with Book Guild that a prominent agent expressed interest in the novel. The agent took a long time to get back to me because the query was buried under the wrong pile. I would definitely target this agent again when I have a second book.   

How much assistance does Book Guild provide first time authors and would you consider using them again? Would you recommend them?
Book Guild provides a full publishing package that includes editorial support, production, artwork design, and publicity and marketing support. They have a good team of highly qualified professionals who have been a pleasure to work with. Book Guild also has a rep in Asia who helped to get my book into the Singapore branch of the Japanese bookshop chain, Kinokuniya.  I contacted other local bookstores, such as Books Actually, on my own. 

How did you launch and promote your book?   What if any support have you received from local literary organisations?
The Arts House and The Book Council were both very supportive when I contacted them about my book launch. I was featured by The Arts House for New Word Order, a monthly showcase of new Singaporean writers on 14 October 2014. The Book Council organised my book launch at the Central Library on 23 November 2014. In both cases, the organiser provided the venue, publicity, registration support, signage and staff support. I focused my efforts on securing a guest speaker and an emcee, and on marketing to friends and family.

I am grateful for the support of literary groups such as The Singapore Writers Group, The Singapore Writers Meetup Group, and American Women’s Association Writers’ Group for promoting my book events to their members.

What are the most challenging aspects of being an authorpreneur and what advice do you have for other aspiring indie-novelists in terms of reaching out to their audience?  
The work never stops. Once you get published, you have to work on selling the book. Just like any products on the market, the success of a book is built on 4Ps – product, price, place (distribution), and promotion. No one will buy the book if they don’t know about it. However no one likes hard sell. I use social media to build awareness and connect with readers and the writing community. I try to tailor the information I share to the audience for the different platform. On my blog , I have information on where to buy the book, press releases, and book reviews. On my Facebook account, I invite friends to attend book events, and to like and share post-event photos. I share interesting articles about writing on my Google+ site, and I also post on the writer’s discussion community. Goodreads is a social network specifically for readers with over 4million members. I conducted a giveaway here on Goodreads that attracted more than 1000 members to sign up, and more than 500 of those added my book to their want to read list. I have an author page on Amazon  so I can repost my blog on the site to engage potential buyers. It is a lot of work to keep content fresh but it is worthwhile when I get positive feedback from my readers. It keeps me going when people tell me that they have learnt so much about Chinese culture and they are inspired to collect their own family history after reading my book.

What you are working on at the moment?
I’m working on a second novel. I think readers will find it quite different from The Dragon Phoenix Bracelet.

Buying The Dragon Phoenix Bracelet

The Dragon Phoenix Bracelet is available in both print and eBook formats.

The eBook is available across the following devices: iPad and other Apple products/Kindle/Nook/Kobo and with retailers: Apple's ibookstore, Amazon’s Kindle store, Barnes and Noble, Kobo (includes WH Smith) and Overdrive, an American digital distributor.

Print formats, both paperback and hardcover, are available through Amazon UK and US. Three UK wholesalers, Bertrams, Gardners and Easons have taken it.  They supply to independents and libraries directly, so it is available in UK bookstores, such as Foyles, and The Notting Hill Bookshop. Print formats are also available through Swindon Books and Paddyfield in Hong Kong, and Kinokuniya and Books Actually in Singapore.