How to blog a book

Publishers have been compiling blog posts into books for some time now. However, veteran journalist Nina Amir says that “blogging a book” is a different thing altogether.

“Blogging a book means composing your manuscript on the Internet using blog technology. Basically, you write, publish and promote your book one post at a time on the Internet,” says the California-based Amir via e-mail.

Do read my article, Blog a Book, which is about the concept and on Amir’s book How to Blog a Book.

So, just how do you go about this? Nina gives a few tips:
1. Choose a topic. By this I mean a topic you feel passionate about. You are blogging a book, but you will need to blog about the topic long after you have completed the manuscript. You can’t just stop blogging after the book is published. So choose your topic carefully.

2. Hone your subject. After you choose your topic, compare the idea for your book and your topic to the other books already published on your topic and to the blogs being written on your topic. Make sure the book you plan to blog will be unique in the blogosphere and in the online and brick and mortar bookstores.

3. Map out your book’s content. Actually do what is called a mind map and come up with all the content for your book. You can also simply outline your book. When you are done, you should have a complete table of contents and be able to write a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. This becomes your writing guide.

4. Break your content into post-sized pieces. For nonfiction books, you will write posts of 250-500 words. While most books have 5-10 subheads, yours will have 10-20. Each of these represents a blog post. If you are writing fiction, you need to figure out if you can find a way to break up the action in your chapters logically. (This may or may not work with preplanning.) Memoirs could be written with vignettes later pulled together in the second draft. Prior to writing, though, you will want to plan this small content chunks out as much as possible.

5. Create a business plan for your book. The book proposal aspiring authors turn into an agent or publisher is, for all practical purposes, a business plan. While you don’t need a proposal to begin blogging a book, you do need to look at your book idea through the lens of a proposal. (And if you plan on trying to land a traditional publishing deal, you’ll eventually need a book proposal.) So, I suggest you look at your idea through the eyes of an agent or publisher and go through what I call the proposal process and accumulate all the information necessary for a proposal. This will help you see the big picture of your blogged book idea. When you are done, you’ll know if the idea is a marketable one—one that has a chance of success in the market or in your niche online as a blog and offline as a printed book or even as an ebook. You’ll also know if you are cut out to be an author—to be a good business partner for a publisher or to do what it takes to successfully self-publish a book.

During the proposal process you ask questions like:

Does what I have to say add value?
Is there a market for this book?
Who are my readers?
What is my competition?
Is my topic or approach to the topic unique?
How will I position myself in the market?
How will I promote my blogged book to attract readers?
What content will I include in my blogged book?
How will I organize the book (and, thereby, my blog)?

6. Set up a blog. This is pretty obvious…

7. Learn how to promote your blog. Your business plan must have a promotion plan built into it. This includes promotion online through social media and offline through speaking, media appearances, writing for publications, etc.

Also: Interview with Nina Amir

This post was originally published on May 29, 2012

The 10,000 hour rule for writers

Have you heard of the 10,000 hour rule? It is said that in order for one to become skilled at something, one has to put in 10,000 hours of work to hone said skill.

Sci-fi writer Brad Torgersen could be an adherent of this rule. No, scratch that. I don’t think he believes in the 10,000 hour rule; I have a feeling he won’t stop at 10,000 hours. He’ll probably keep on chugging past the 100,000 hour mark.

In his blog post, On Not Quitting, he writes that writers must keep on plugging despite getting all kinds of discouragement along the way. He’s had many reasons to quit writing before his novelette, “Ray of Light,” was nominated for the SFWA Nebula award. (It’s one of Science Fiction and Fantasy literature’s top awards.) But he didn’t.

Don’t be the writer who knows deep down in his or her soul that you burn for the stories inside of you, they excite and inflame your spirit like nothing else, but you’re too lazy to put in a 120% effort to overcome your amateur tendencies, fallacies, foibles, and short-sightedness. So you settle into being a sniper against other writers. Or, almost as bad, you become a bitter-ender. Someone who haunts writing forums or conventions and complains endlessly about how the game is rigged, success is about who you know, not how good you are, or that only random, pure luck determines the winners — everyone else gets to be a loser.

That’s horse shit.

The truth: winners across all competitive arenas of popular culture have this one thing in common — they never quit.

He wrote that he produced “a lot of stinker manuscripts” before managing to sell one of his stories. But practise makes perfect, as they say.

Boy, did I also produce “stinker manuscripts”. I was looking through my file of old, typewritten stories – some of which were 15 years old – and I could only cringe. But were they wasted work? No. The years I spent producing these stinkers were my apprenticeship of sorts.

When I started out as a journalist, my writing certainly needed the expert and firm hand of an editor. It was not tight, and sadly, was riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. (Being exposed to American and British spelling and grammar, we Malaysians are a confused lot.) Over the years, I did my homework: I read a lot – even books on grammar – and, of course, I produced lots of articles. Over time, I wrote articles that didn’t make me or my editors cringe.

There’s just no other way around it. (Unless you’re a genius and could write like Shakespeare from birth. If that’s the case, we hate you.)

So you want to be a writer? A professional writer? Take Brad’s advice: Don’t ever quit. Keep on producing crap until the crap turns to gold. It will in time.

Image courtesy of abcdz2000.

This post was originally published on March 14, 2012

The last eunuch of China – a book review

The Life of Sun Yaoting
By Jia Yinghua, translated by Sun Haichen
Publisher: China Intercontinental Press, 314 pages
ISBN: 978-7508514079

IN Chinese costumed dramas, the eunuch is often a hated figure; he flatters the top officials with his often falsetto voice but slyly plots their downfalls behind their backs.

But Sun Yaoting, a former eunuch in the court of Pu Yi, China’s last emperor, has a different story to tell in this engrossing biography. Although he mentions infamous eunuchs who manipulated their way into power, he also speaks of the less glamorous side: Eunuchs’ livelihoods, and their very lives, often depended on the whims and fancies of their often capricious upperclass masters. Eunuchs had to literally trade their genitals for the possibility a better life, enduring a painful and often deadly do-it-at-home castration procedure. Not only did they have to deal with the physical problems of castration for the rest of their lives, these men also had to bear the scorn of a society that regarded them as less than human. Even their families, who often benefited from their elevated status, held them in scorn.

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Pursue your dreams: How Danny Choo and James Sturm pursued theirs

Market Day by James SturmHere’s the unglamorous side of journalism and fiction writing: You need to meet deadlines. All the time. Or else. Sure I pursue my dreams through my work, but it’s a lot of hard work most of the time.

I once wrote an article (Passion for Japanese Culture) about Danny Choo a “full-time otaku” who pursued his dreams until he is living it.

Danny was very systematic in pursuing his dream, taking up Japanese classes and even working in a sushi restaurant to immerse himself in his passion – Japanese pop culture. Everyone should read his article about Pursuing Your Passion, by the way. It’ll teach you a few things about how to pursue your dreams.

Don’t be afraid of failure. Also, practice!

I also interviewed James Sturm, an American graphic novelist I interviewed in 2011. (Read my article: Getting to know cartoonist James Sturm.)

He established a college for cartoonists called Center for Cartoon Studies. He has a no-holds-barred approach to his art and did not think much about failing etc. He told me, “Better to fail than to take a bad job somewhere and suffer.”

His advice: If you want to be a cartoonist – draw!

What these two folks have taught me is that if you want to do something, let’s say write, just do it. And do it with discipline and determination. Being artistic is not a fuzzy feeling you get. Being an artist means hard work, dedication and being able to learn from your mistakes.

So if you want to pursue your dreams, start working on your art, project or business and work hard at perfecting it. Set aside time each day to hone your skills. Read books and blogs related to your passion. Learn and connect with fellow passion pursuers.

Good luck!

This post was originally published on Dec 13, 2010. This is a revised version.

Star Trek Enterprise: Last Full Measure review

Still going through a “nostalgic for all things Star Trek Enterprise” phase, so have been reading one Enterprise novel after another.

Story: Set in the third season of the series, we see the crew grappling with a near-impossible mission: Find and stop the perpetrators of a devastating attack on Earth which killed 7 million people.

We see Archer putting aside his idealistic view of the universe and using less-than-ethical ways to achieve his mission. We also see how the MACOs, the elite military unit which joined the ship in the third season, first interacted with the crew. It wasn’t easy for both sides.

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Don’t listen to that inner critic!

You suck! So says the inner critic. – credit: Ambro

Everyone has it. That little voice inside them that tells them that they’re no good. That they better not even try at all because their efforts will be fruitless. When I interviewed Margaret Stohl a few months ago, she told me how she once went on a writing tour with many “wise writers”. She asked them, “At what point did you stop saying that you’re a bad writer?”

They responded: “We’ll tell you when that happens.”

“Everyone I know feels the hater. No one is immune,” she said to me.

Yes, I can tell you right away that despite having written professionally since I was 18 or 19 (I started stringing for The Star and was a freelance copywriter while I was in college), that “hater” is still whispering things to me. It’s always telling me to stop trying. To just give up and forget about this “writing thing”.

Yes, everybody has an inner critic. The difference is whether you give it power to paralyse you.

For many years I gave my inner hater too much power. I listened to it. I agreed with it. It took a personal crisis to shake me out of my stupor. And I found myself asking myself, “Why the hell am I listening to it, really?”

I told the inner critic, “Thanks for your input. But I am going ahead anyway.”

And I begin to find my wings again. I dared to dream once more.

So, just tell your inner critic to shut it. You’re going to benefit from it, trust me.

Photo credit: Ambro

This post was originally published in Jan 22, 2012. Due to floods of comment spam I’m republishing some of my old posts rather than delete a comment at a time. Old is gold as they say!

Weekend Inspiration

I was drawn to singer Audrey Assad because she sang “prayer songs”. She dared sing about how life can be hard, and that it can break you … but yet God is there. It’s rare to find a Christian artiste willing to confess that she doesn’t have all the answers through song.

Today’s theme is about being authentic. When you create art. And when you’re having a bad day. Have a blessed weekend :)

Creating authentic art

[ A Fractured and Beautiful Faith ] I can go on and on about how the mass media Christian creative world – music, writing, even art – is dominated by the need to portray a perfect, idealised version of our world which doesn’t exist. Audrey Assad fought against that, daring to sing about real life, yet also reminding us that God is also there for us.

[ What you write about doesn’t matter ] by Jeff Goins. Sometimes we worry too much about what people think about us. Authentic writing is writing with your voice, your worldview.

A better life

[ The Day I Gave Up ] An honest, moving post by Bo Stern … ever had days where you tell God that you’re not brave enough? Good enough? You’re a mess?


October goals: Finish that novel!

I’m making a bold declaration for October, aren’t I?

Where did September go? I’m absolutely gobsmacked. I’m pretty pleased for what I have achieved for the month:

  • Spent more time with my folks! Yay! And each time I did it, that little nagging voice at the back of my head said: “But you’ve got to [a productivity goals]. I acknowledged it and went ahead, and each time I had a great time. I’m amazed, however, at the tinge of guilt I felt for not doing something to work towards my productivity goals!
  • I created a mailing list for my blog! You can subscribe by filling out your details on the right hand corner of the page.
  • Eat high-quality breakfasts. That, for me, would be Paleo-ish meals like the yummy beef soup at one of my favourite Thai restaurants or a slab of grilled salmon. Yesterday, I decided to indulge myself by eating a scone, a bit of bread and half a cake. I felt so horrible throughout the day and had the worst case of brain fog ever! I could barely concentrate at work. One moment of pleasure is not worth a whole day of wellness, everyone!
  • Gentle exercises. With the thick haze blanketing most of South East Asia, I couldn’t really enjoy my daily walks around the neighbourhood. But I did it anyway. I can’t wait to hop back into the pool in October! Haze permitting, of course.
  • Took time to pamper myself. That meant a stay at Viva Hotel KL so that I could go for repeated rounds of the Popular Book Sale. With Books at RM5 (US1.15) each, I was in book heaven. There’s nothing I enjoy more than book shopping, and with prices so low, I didn’t feel guilty. Too guilty, anyway!

I have no idea whether my spiritual goals was a win or not, but I half-heartedly joined an online bible study group. I managed to read half of Acts before, er, getting sidetracked. But I’m now incorporating “silence” in my morning routine where I take time to pray for the people in my lives.

A little disappointed, however, that I didn’t achieve my 5000 words-a-week goal for my novel, but my blog writing has increased ten fold! I’m not sure if that’s a good thing (Robin Hobb famously said that writers should stop blogging when there’s work to do), but I enjoyed myself so much!

But perhaps I’m being too hard on myself. It’s hard to concentrate on finishing a major project like a novel while being slammed by a cold and then bronchitis, and then trying to regain your health at the same time.

Oh yeah, I’m much better now, but I notice that if I go off my wellness plan my health takes a hit again.

So, in October I will be more focused on:

  • Writing 5000 words per week of my novel.
  • Upping my exercise from gentle to mildly challenging: The pool, here I come!
  • Finish my to-be-read pile. I’ve bought nearly 30 books from the sale. And I have just as much needed to be read from my library. I’m aiming to finish at least our books from my stockpile in October.
  • Spend time with friends and family as always.
  • Read a chapter of the bible a day.
  • Start my mornings in Silence, focusing on a verse and then praying for people in my life.
  • Continue having awesome breakfasts.
  • Finish interview questions for my blogging pals, and for other interviewees.
  • Finish at least three unfinished projects.

Am linking to:

Clear-The-List-4-Button-You can link up to Food, Booze & BaggageEsther from Local Adventurer, Lindsay from Lindsay Does Languages, and Shannon from Eurolinguiste to join!

Are Malaysian writers promoting a culture of mediocrity?

Fixi books

One of my favourite writers has a rather controversial philosophy about being a writer:

You are a writer. So start acting like one. – Jeff Goins

His approach has rankled some people because they believe it takes more to be a writer than just believing that you’re one and just writing.

Yesterday, an article in The Star caused a stir in a Malaysian Facebook writing community. The writer made some heavy claims about the local writing scene, among them:

  • “…there seems to be a tendency for Malaysian writers to be more attracted to the “writer’s life” than to actually writing. They want the “fame” and the “glamour” without the effort.”
  • “They are quick to consider themselves having “arrived” with the publication of a couple of short stories, or a volume of poetry. Getting published is the prize.”
  • “This culture of celebrating mediocrity, of self-congratulation is tasteless and embarrassing.”

I had a knee-jerk reaction on my first read of the article, maybe because I know the organiser and the people involved in the event. However, I think Daphne does have many valid points, especially about the way the festival is structured.

Still, I would like to point out that her concerns about writers chasing glory and fame – these are ‘problems’ that exist outside Malaysia too. Yes, even established literary scenes in Britain and the United States!

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