Today I welcome Alison Wong, author of the novel Take a Chance. Alison has very kindly agreed to answer some questions about her writing experience and give some advice to all the other writers out there.
Tell me about the book. What inspired you to write it?
Take A Chance is my first novel, a contemporary romance – chick lit, where Hannah explores re-kindled love for an estranged sister and an ex-fiancé while balancing Chinese family values. Hannah is a 2nd generation British ethnic Chinese and she flutters about with her conscience in deciding if she should give love a chance. When writing about Hannah and Julian, it drew me to my own experiences growing up as an ethnic Chinese in England. I was often told to study hard and go to university and forget about the boys. I believe my parents knew daughters had to work harder because we had our gender discriminating us, and we had our ethnicity too. Cultural assimilation into an adopted country does not mean that parents forget their culture or values. Instead they instill them into their children and for some parents, their aspirations too. For Hannah to find love again, she has to face both her British and Chinese values, especially her family values. In Take A Chance, fate and a little sisterly and heavenly nudging is helping her.
What has the response been like?
Take A Chance was officially released June 2012, so the response from potential buyers-readers is awaiting. I had an initial soft release in May 2012 and the manuscript was updated for the June release. The beauty of having a subsidy self-publisher for my book is that it doesn’t affect the ISBN. I can have my book revised without purchasing a new ISBN, though at a cost. To celebrate the June release I listed my book for a 5 copy free Giveaway on Goodreads.com and the response was good. There are readers interested in Take A Chance – the trick is getting them to buy . My self-publisher set my paperback and hardback retail prices and at least I can negotiate the eBook price. The pricing is an issue I’m working on. If you indie-publish or e-publish with Amazon’s KDP and Smashwords you have full control of the price. It’s so tempting to go into indie-publishing in the future. Aside from the Goodreads Giveaway, I believe it’s important to get reviews as readers place value on them. I’ve so far had three positive reviews of Take a Chance on Goodreads.com. On the other hand, friends and family have been great. If you’re an aspiring writer and debut author, you really need all the support you can get.
There is a strong cross-cultural theme to the novel. How hard is it to balance competing cultural values and what impact has this had on your writing?
I like this question. It is the very reason I wrote Take A Chance because its theme is about balancing different cultures: East meets West within a love story. Chinese people are reserved. It is probably because of post-Confucianism in traditional Chinese culture. ‘Elders are to be respected’; ‘authority figures are to be respected’. Both these edicts result in non-violent, obedient and passive respect. Whereas, in the West, individuals are encouraged to be assertive, independent and pro-active yet there is a strong sense of justice. If you have opposite cultures in your upbringing, how do you balance them? Moreover, what if your parents are from the East and you are from East-West? However, I’m proud to be both. It’s not easy though. I’ve been there, growing up as a British ethnic Chinese who can’t read or write Chinese or speak fluent Chinese, and I try to answer some of these questions in my book.
For me, Take A Chance is a romantic and witty, novel way to deal with cultural values from the viewpoint of a modern, British ethnic Chinese woman, Hannah. She tries to balance Chinese and British cultures and her family values while re-kindling her love for sister Rosalyn and her ex-fiancé, Julian. Julian is a worldly man, and it is his openness and acceptance of other cultures that attracts him to Hannah and her to him because he understands her upbringing and family values. He is basically the ideal man – well-educated and reasonably well-off despite being non-Chinese; yet, like Hannah, he is British too. He and Hannah have more in common than Hannah realises. Moreover, Hannah isn’t submissive: she is independent, head strong and a bit of a rebellion, although ironically she is loyal to her parents and is humble and modest too. This is her cultural identity of balancing East and West. In the end, she has to compromise with her family values in order to be true to her identity. She is neither Chinese nor British: she is British but ethnic Chinese. My message to readers is that love always wins. I wish there was more peace and love in the world.
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How long had you been writing before you began to take it seriously?
I guess I knew I always wanted to write since I started my first journal at the age of seven. I still keep a hand-written journal now and I have a blog. I’m learning to prioritise my time for writing the sequel to Take A Chance. However, I have a higher priority, which is to enjoy life to the fullest.
I sometimes wonder if writing is in my family because my son wrote a journal when he was five. Of course, he wrote only when he was reprimanded. Children can be so honest. My son’s favourite post-reprimand journal entry was: ‘I hate Mummy.’
As a parent and teacher, I didn’t mind the words. He spelt them correctly at least and he needed to vent his anger – better it was on paper than on me.
I have to say though, that teaching wasn’t my vocation despite a successful career. I went into teaching because I needed a job and teaching is in my blood. I come from a line of teachers. I never had the confidence to write though, not even when my Form 4 secondary school English teacher encouraged me to write a memoir one day. I can never forget him because he was the best teacher I ever had, and he had a claim to fame: he taught the English actor, John Hurt. Moreover, my youngest sister upstaged me: she was the natural born writer of the family, next to me of course.
I began to seriously consider writing when I left English teaching and had time on my hand to pursue my passion for writing. What spurred me on though was my youngest sister who died of cancer a few years before I left teaching. I wanted to write a fun love story for her because she never had the chance to fall in love; so, Take A Chance is in memory of her.
Why did you decide to self publish? How has your experience been?
Six years ago I actually considered submitting my manuscript to a US/UK literary agent or publisher dealing with multicultural romances. There was, at the time, a lot of buzz about self-publishing and Lulu.com was free. Other subsidy self-publishers had emerged too as an alternative to traditional publishing. I considered Trafford.com, then a well-established self-publisher but realised how expensive the packages were, and Lulu.com was US based, which made me wary of the royalties and tax issues and marketing on my own as I live in Hong Kong. It was all overwhelming. As it turned out, life’s ups and downs interrupted my plans and my manuscript gathered dust. When a recent near-death experience jarred my life, I was reminded of the dreams my sister never achieved. Life is short; so, I decided to make my dream of being published come true.
I am still learning from the experience. Trafford Singapore has done an excellent service transferring my manuscript to a printed book and an eBook. They have fulfilled their Orchard package terms which includes an ISBN, global distribution on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. However, I have been on a learning curve regarding my self-publisher, self-publishing, marketing and social media.
What advice would you give to any aspiring authors out there?
Success doesn’t come overnight. Catherine Ryan Howard (indie-published author) has an insightful blog Catherine Caffeinated on self-publishing.
There are a lot of self-publishing experts and marketing experts out there and you will be inundated with advice and offers – some free, some not. Self-publishing and marketing books are big business, I’ve come to realise. I chose self-publishing with a subsidy publisher, and post publishing, I wish I researched more information. It’s best to stick with self-publishing rather than buy any marketing packages; far better to spend money on editing and proofreading before you self-publish. And of course, there is the option of Smashwords and Amazon KDP for writers now.
If you are on a string budget, I would advise writers to keep your options open, research them and think about your expectations. For example, I don’t expect to be a bestseller and I’m happy simply show-casing my book.
Should you go the traditional route and query an agent? Some publishers don’t even want to hear from you without an agent. They will not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Even if you queried, you would probably face rejections, nevermind rejections of solicited manuscripts. Fear is the biggest obstacle. So, what can you do? Head for free publishing on Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) or Smashwords.com? In my opinion (please do not take this as expert advice since I am no expert) if you are a non-fiction writer and a marketing expert or computer-social media guru, you will be able to cope with marketing and promoting your book once it’s self-published. If you are a novelist, take a hard look at yourself and study your writing and personal style. Is self-publishing the route for you or is the traditional route better if you can overcome fear of rejection, and cope with self-marketing? I don’t want to put aspiring writers off, however. I believe that there is a story in everyone. Traditional publishers and savvy readers are always on the lookout for new talent and new writers, even if a writer is self/indie-published.Times are changing. So, from a writer to another writer: Write. Don’t give up! Courage. Dreams do come true if you make them happen. As Henry David Thoreau said to me when I was writing my book:
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.”
Alison Wong is a Hong Kong born with both Chinese and British roots – the best of both worlds. She was born in Hong Kong but grew up in England. Alison re-rooted in Hong Kong after graduating from Lancaster University, England. Later she gained a post-graduate degree from Hong Kong. After several years of teaching the English language, she left teaching. She now divides her time between being a domestic goddess to her husband and son, and writing. A simple, healthy, happy life is her motto and priority. You can read more about her and her book at http://alisonwauthor.wordpress.com/, and Take a Chance is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook.
Footnote: Since doing this interview, Alison has parted company with Trafford Singapore. Her advice to writers, however, remains the same. She has now closed her blog and is concentrating on writing her next book, and I wish her all the best.