Short-cut Tips From The Experts Who Have Done It

“Writers’ block is when your imaginary friends won’t talk to you.”

- Mary Papas

Throughout the book, you’ve read strategies on what it takes to be successful. Now’s the time to hear from the horse’s mouth, experts in their fields who are out there in the trenches, getting the job done. What are they doing? What makes them successful?

All the interviews were conducted via email and we’ve pasted all their responses as they were sent. The good thing about interviewing people who write for a living – no editing required! This is what it takes to build a career writing, folks!

·      Get Your Book Out by Acclaimed Author Neil Humphreys 

Neil Humphreys

Neil Humphreys is Singapore’s bestselling author. His works on Singapore - Notes from an Even Smaller Island (2001), Scribbles from the Same Island (2003), and Final Notes from a Great Island: A Farewell Tour of Singapore (2006), and the omnibus Complete Notes from Singapore (2007) – are among the most popular titles in the past decade. His fifth book, Be My Baby, (2008) chronicled his journey to parenthood and was his first international bestseller. He intends to publish a new novel - a contemporary detective thriller - and produce his Singapore-based movie screenplay this year.

1.   Did you always know that you were going to write? What were the signs?

I can remember the day. It’s a story I tell young, aspiring writers today. When I was 11, our class was sent on an Outward Bound course for a week and had to keep daily journals of our adventures. When we returned, I was selected to read out my diary entries in school assembly. My writing just didn’t follow a standard narrative, which I found eye-gougingly tedious, even back then. I leaned towards the irreverent, quirky, sometimes surreal, occasionally anarchic – all four if I was really on fire! So I read my journal extract out in class and the assembly responded, a wall of laughter washed over me. Kids, teachers, the principal all laughed in the right places – real laughter, too, not polite giggles from the grown-ups. They laughed. They listened. They laughed.  They listened. Adrenaline surged through me like the most addictive of drugs. I’ve chased that reaction from an audience ever since. It’s an extraordinary feeling. Something that I had created had caused that kind of reaction. And I can’t turn it off. It’s not a job. It’s my life. I was writing for audiences before puberty kicked in. It’s all I know. But you never forget your first time.

2.   Describe how you got your first book deal.

Frankly, I thought the average “local” bookshelf at a Singaporean bookstore was dreadful, either painfully superficial and fluffy or weighty, academic, indulgent and occasionally pretentious. On one end of the shelf, it was the life and times of Singapore hookers. And at the other end, it was the life and times of Lee Kuan Yew or Singaporeans under the Japanese Occupation. Throw in some nostalgic poetry about kampongs and Nyonya cooking and that was about it.

Don’t get me wrong. All of the above has a valid place on the bookshelf. I own copies of all of the above. But where was the middle ground? There was a cultural chasm on the Singapore bookshelf. Where was the Singaporean equivalent of Bill Bryson, Nick Hornby, Tony Parsons or Sue Townsend? Those were the books that my Singaporean mates were reading? What if there was something along those humorous lines, something dipped in social commentary with a splash of pathos? Something that was hopefully smart but still accessible? So, I banged out a synopsis and a few chapters and sent them out to three publishers in Singapore; the contacts were given to me from The Straits Times’ Sumiko Tan, something I’ll always be grateful to her for. All three publishers wanted to publish the manuscript and my Singapore notes series became the bestselling series of books in the next decade, so I must have been right about that gap on the shelf!  

3. Why do you choose to go with a traditional publisher? What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

I approached three traditional publishers because back in 1999, that’s pretty much all there was. I was a cocky little sod back then and my self-belief left me breathtakingly jaundiced in my thinking.

One respectable publisher liked the essence of the book, but wanted to turn it into more of an academic, Simon Tay-esque critique of Singapore in the late 1990s. Well, that’s what Simon Tay is for! The second publisher gave the manuscript to a foppish Hugh Grant-type of expat that still floated about the island in the late nineties and, in his rather patronising fashion, took issue with the book’s earthiness and the swearing. But my eventual publisher just got it. They understood its tone. They recognised that it might – heaven forbid – be a Singaporean book for Singaporeans, rather than another, tedious “Englishman in Asia” diatribe. So they took a gamble. And in a pre-Facebook, Twitter world, my book seemed to be positively rebellious. It reads rather quaint, almost twee now. So I stuck with my publisher. That said, I think self-publishing offers budding authors the kind of possibilities that didn’t exist when I was starting out.    

 4. Any advice for budding authors?

Get your writing out everywhere. Use blogs, social media even YouTube clips to spread and promote your work. Try and build an online following, even if it’s just friends and family. The recognition will add weight with potential publishers. If that doesn’t work, get it self-published. Manuscripts can now be converted to ebooks for pocket change. There’s nothing holding back budding writers now from getting their work onto a bigger platform.

5. Why do you choose to write humour and how does one write humour? Any tips?

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, if you’re going to tell the truth, make them laugh, or they will kill you. There is no sharper tool in the socio-political box than humour. One punchline can hit harder than a 1,000-word essay in the commentary section. The best tip is also the hardest in face-saving Singapore. Laugh at yourself first. That’s your launchpad. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you have no right to laugh at anyone else. If you can’t earn empathy, you can’t earn trust. Finger pointers will always have a limited shelf life. There’s some mileage, particularly online, from making fun of others, ridiculing politicians, town councils, governments etc. It’s an open goal, but can smack of bullying after a while. If you’re not prepared to make fun of yourself in print, take up political commentary instead. Those guys are deadly serious.

6. What’s your biggest mistake as a writer and how did you bounce back?

I made the above mistake a little bit. When my first book was successful, it went a little to my head. I thought I was a rebel with a laptop. So my second book was twice the swearing, twice the aggression, twice the finger-pointing and half as subtle. I learned that lesson pretty quickly.

7. Do you ever get writer’s block and how do you get over it?

I don’t get writer’s block. I’m a working class kid making a living as a full-time writer and feeding a young daughter. I do not enjoy the luxury of writer’s block. Sometimes I write as a tradesman. Sometimes I strive for a little artistry. Some days the writing is going to flow; other days it will be laborious and the sentences stutter. But I never stop writing. I don’t have a choice. I keep going and edit later!

8. What inspires you and what are some of your favourite books and authors?

Quirky, insightful, funny, poignant, engaging writers; writers who look at the world from a skewed, surreal, daft, even child-like curiosity. Spike Milligan, George Orwell, Sue Townsend, Tony Parsons, Nick Hornby, Philip Larkin, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Jimmy McGovern, David Simon, David Chase, these are my writers.

9. What is your daily writing/work schedule like?

I get up, take my daughter to school and write for the rest of the day. I have to work in silence. Gaskets tend to be blown when I’m interrupted. If the train of thought is derailed, there’s no guarantee I’ll find the same way home again. Hence the silence!

The profession is not particularly romantic, but it’s the only one I know.

10. What do you think are the key factors of your success, and has success changed your life in any way?

A splash of talent and buckets of industry. Yes, success has changed my life. I work even harder now.

11. Have you ever done a book proposal for a publisher. If yes, do you mind sharing it?

I pitch an idea, usually in an email, or sometimes in a meeting and they either say yes or no. Most of the time, they say no! 

·      Blogging From The Heart by Award-winning Blogger Grace Tan 

Grace Tan

Grace owns the award-winning business and lifestyle blog, Her blog won the coveted Best Individual Blog award at the Singapore Blog Awards 2013. She is also the author of the bestselling book, Blogging For A Living, and conducts workshops and coaching sessions on the craft of blogging. She has been widely featured in the media - from TV, radio to print.

 1. When and why did you start a blog?

I started my blog,, in October 2010, when I was still a salesperson with a high salary. I was bored of doing the same thing, day in and day out for close to two years, and wanted to find out the “secrets to success” of those young entrepreneurs, millionaire businessmen, and even pose some questions to celebrities I admired (such as Michelle Chong)! My blog was simply, my “excuse” to interview them. I knew people would not let me interview them unless I had a good reason to.

 2. Unlike most bloggers, you are able to make money from your blog and quit your job! Can you share with us your strategy?

I am truly an “accidental full-time blogger”. I never thought I would make a cent from my blog. And I never knew how a blogger could monetise a blog. I started blogging just because of my passion for meeting and speaking with those people I admired.

Along the way, people wrote to me and asked if I could feature them on my blog too. I was truly shocked as I didn’t even know who they were! Having done some background checks on them, and convinced that their businesses were legal, ethical and moral, I plucked a figure out of thin air and said I’d interview them for S$500. What shocked me was the “ok” that followed. That was how I got started. It was only after I quit my job that I had more time to work on my blog, and reaped the fruits of my labor thereafter.

3. What was the turning point in your blog – what caused it to be so popular?

I guess the “tipping point” was in July 2013 when I won the Best Individual Blog award at the Singapore Blog Awards, and Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) which was the organiser, had the winners’ pictures and interviews featured in many of their publications. I was also featured on TV on September 9th, and even more people got a sneak peek into the life of a blogger. I  published my book, ‘Blogging For A Living’ around that time too.

4. How do you choose what topics to write?

I started out with interviews, mainly. As I didn’t think that anyone would be interested in my life. Now, my blog has a “lifestyle” portion to it, which means I can blog about the latest movie I have watched, my recent getaway, etc. I blog only about what I feel strongly about, whether it be a new cafe with amazing dessert or a restaurant with really terrible service. I am fair that way.

I will continue conducting interviews as they give me valuable insights into the lives of people I look up to.

5. You have become an award-winning blogger in four short years, any advice for wannabe bloggers?

The first and most important piece of advice I have for wannabe bloggers is to never, ever do this for the money. If you want to get rich quick, try Internet Marketing or some multi-level marketing (MLM) business. Blogging is not it. Blogging takes time. The average blog takes about two years before gaining some decent traffic, sponsorship and advertising revenue.

The second piece of advice is to work your ass off, and keep asking of more from yourself. I love taking part in bloggers’ contests, where I get to pit my talents and creativity against other bloggers’, via a blogpost. Coming in second is never an option. I compete only to win.

6. In your experience, is it better to be colloquial or to write in proper English for blogs?

To impress people, keep to proper English. To impress a point upon your readers, you can be colloquial. Different strokes for different folks anyway. Just be yourself. Those who like you for who you are will gravitate towards you. Those who do not like you might still stalk you on your blog from time to time.

7. Why do you think your readers keep returning to your blog?

I like to think it’s because of my brutally honest reviews. If I like something, I will explain why. And if I do not like something, I do not mince my words either.

No advertiser can pay me to get a glowing review out of me. I cannot be bought. I present the facts as I see them and my readers know they can trust what I say. I am as brutally honest in person as I am online.

8. Do you ever get writer’s block and how do you get over it?

Writer’s block comes about when you are not blogging about something you are passionate about. For example, if you are a journalist and you just have to submit that piece by tomorrow morning, but the topic does not even inspire you.

If you blog, say, about the Running Man series which you are crazy about, how do you get writer’s block? Those who suffer from “verbal diarrhoea” about Running Man often also have really lengthy blogposts about the series. What writer’s block is there?

If I ever feel stuck when crafting a blogpost or taking part in a bloggers’ contest, I will either just leave it aside and go do something else, such as cleaning my hamster’s cage. Or I will look up my earlier blogposts for inspiration, or turn to the Internet.

9. What inspires you and what are some of your favourite bloggers or websites?

I’m inspired by people who are successful at what they do. I am inspired by creative people and ideas. I love anything that is colourful, quirky, imaginative and fun.

I love how Wendy Cheng, a.k.a Xiaxue, has demonstrated to us that if you persevere in doing what you like to do, you will be able to reach the peak of success. I have more vloggers I follow than bloggers anyway. I like the Blogilates channel, JennaMarbles and Michelle Phan. These ladies are incredibly talented.

10. Any funny/memorable anecdote to share about your life as a blogger?

There are so many! But what I like to share with people was how I got “known” as that blogger who interviews people. So there was once when a PR company sent me an event invite that tickled me because it was stated in bold that it was an “INTERVIEW OPPORTUNITY”. I was totally uninterested in the product being launched at the event, but turned up anyway because of that email. And I did get to interview a popular male celebrity, whom I shall not name so as not to reveal the product that was featured.

My parents were initially puzzled at my strange career choice. My father, who is retired, gets really tickled by how he has to answer the door all the time as couriers would come by with products sent by PR firms and companies for me to review.

Also, I like surprising people. So when I was featured in The Sunday Times on Easter Sunday this year, I came home to find my mother reading the papers, totally not believing what her eyes were seeing. I just had to cheekily ask her: “Why? You spotted someone familiar in the papers?”

11. Last year, you published your own book and now run blogging workshops, where do you see yourself in the next five years?

I get asked this question so often that I included it in the ‘About’ section of my blog. It is an important question that I have no answer to. Being brutally honest, I have to say that I am no fortune teller and cannot possibly tell you what I’ll be doing in five years’ time. Perhaps I might be changing my baby’s diapers then.

Right now, I’d love to get a second book published though I have neither decided on a topic or timeframe. I believe that all things happen at the right time. It is like an idea which comes to you on the wind, and if you do not have the good sense to catch it and make it work, it will just get blown to the next person. And before you know it, he or she would have published that book, or written that movie script, or penned that poem, that you thought about first.

·      How To Be A Media Darling by Social Media Strategist, Jacky Tan

jacky tan.jpg

 Jacky Tan is a professional writer, brand strategist and speaker. He is also the author ofSocial M – How Your Start-Up Can Take on the Big Boys Today”. Rated by Twitterholic as one of the top 40 influential Twitterers in Singapore, Jacky currently owns one of the top marketing blogs in Singapore

1. How long have you been doing social media marketing?

I started in 2009 on a small scale with Twitter. During that time, Twitter was very new in Singapore so I managed to get a first mover advantage and leverage on Twitter. With my experience, I started doing more social media marketing and branding for companies, two years later in 2011.

2. Why is social media so crucial for authors?

For authors like me who do not have a huge budget for marketing, making use of social media to build my profile and my book is very important. Social media allows me to get targeted readers without spending a lot of money on advertising. It is much more cost effective than traditional media such as print, TV or radio. Social media also cuts across all geographical boundaries and allows me to showcase my book to a worldwide audience. It allows me to create my little “cult” of followers who like what I have written online. For example, a Facebook page for an author is like an opt-in marketing page. Prospects will like your page first and then slowly become your fans; after that, I can update them on a regular basis so as to build my brand credibility.

The last thing, and perhaps the most crucial of all, is that social media is a very strong word-of-mouth marketing tool. It is better than getting on the front page of a mainstream newspaper which only lasts for one or two days. On social media, if people like your brand, they will share it virally to their peers in a matter of seconds and your influence will continue to spread as long as your content can be found online.

3. You’ve recently launched your book, Social ‘M’, can you share what you did to promote it? 

Since most people visit social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or LinkedIn, I knew I had to create a strong presence there. One of the things that I did was to create a Facebook page for my blog. From there, I made a "Buy My Book" tab and placed it prominently on my Facebook page. For my Facebook Page content, I focused on subtle marketing. That means I educate people about simple marketing tips, showing them creative advertising and also interesting social media facts.

I also used Facebook advertising to target people living in Singapore that are interested in marketing and business entrepreneurship. This way, my Facebook followers are highly targeted prospects that will most likely buy my book. It is important that you don’t post promotions to sell your books on Facebook. It will never work. We have to create interesting content that our prospects will love to read and share. To date, my Facebook campaign that started in Oct 18 last year, has already garnered a following of 3651 likes. By consistently building good interesting content on Facebook, my little “cult” of followers will increase as well.

I also used blogging and articles contribution to business related websites to increase my brand profile as a writer and a business strategist. I have a marketing blog that has regular views on a daily basis. By contributing to online content whether in the form of blog posts or other online media, authors like me can have the chance to become thought leaders in the online world.

4. Why did you choose a traditional publisher instead of going indie (self-publishing)?

I wanted to have something tangible and see how the professional publishers work. To me, having a printed book is more credible. As I did not have a budget to self-publish a printed book, I sought the professional and traditional publisher to publish and market my book. The publisher was able to take me by the hand every step of the way, from reviewing my manuscript to getting my book to the bookstores. This is quite crucial for newbie authors who may be unfamiliar with the publishing terrain.

5. Do you know of any successful online book campaigns? What did they do?

I have heard success stories about struggling authors who started out with poor book sales at the stores then they gave away their content on Amazon Kindle for less than US$9.95, resulting in a very good income in a matter of weeks. One example is Joe Konrath who made about USD$100,000 in three weeks on Amazon Kindle. I am not as fortunate as Joe Konrath, my first Amazon Kindle book didn’t go so well. But the key is to keep on trying until it is right.

Whether you are with a traditional publisher or self-publishing, an author’s marketing efforts does not stop after his book is published and distributed in the bookstores. You need to continue to build your brand profile in the industry so that more people will get to know you and buy your books.

6. With so many social media outlets – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc, it can be overwhelming for a newbie. In your opinion, which delivers the best results? 

Each social media outlet has its unique group of users, but we do not have use all them. You should select the channels according to who your targeted readers are. For example:

·      For young-adult fiction books, you can consider using Twitter and Instagram. This is where most teenagers are hanging out.

·      If you are targeting readers who are in the corporate or business world, then LinkedIn or Facebook is good. 

·      If you write about fashion and beauty, Pinterest, YouTube and Instagram are great avenues to share your content.

It is important to test the market. Sometimes what works for one author, may not work for the other. Moreover, some social media outlets can work in one country but may not work in another country. So always test it out. If the strategy does not work, move on to another. If the strategy works, continue to focus on your efforts and make it better! 

7. How can we promote our book without looking like we’re “selling” which will put people off after a while?

You are right. Selling on social media will put people off. Instead, give value to your prospective readers with interesting content and build their trust from there. The more content you share to educate the readers, the more they will perceive you as the expert and authority of your topic.

8. Besides traditional media, are there any online media we should target and how do we go about doing that? 

Before you do that, make sure your books are available online so that people worldwide can buy your books. Then, you can tap on Goodreads, a book recommendation website for people to review, give a rating and recommend books to their friends. This is similar to TripAdvisor which is about hotel reviews.

For children fiction authors, you can build a website around the characters of your storybook, thus making your characters come alive in the online world. Imagination is boundless; by building a content rich website about your story characters, it can help generate buzz for your book and you! Encourage book fans to build fanpages or even websites for your characters. The Harry Potter fans are a big example.

For non-fiction books, it is still all about building your brand credibility and profile so that people will get to know about you and your book. Another method for non-fiction authors is to find a niche consumer market on social media such as Facebook and then share expert opinions and put relevant and interesting visuals to interest readers. Leverage on the traffic of other business media or related media websites and direct the traffic to your book or author profile page.

9. What about presentation? Should we dress up our press release or just send a PDF copy via email?

It is pretty difficult to just send a summary of our books to the press nowadays. People in the media are always looking for newsworthy content. So, in order for traditional media outlets to write about you, you must contribute to their content. I have been a frequent contributor to Singapore Business Review because I feel that this is where my potential clients as well as readers of my books will be. This is because the majority of the people reading Singapore Business Review are my targeted consumer audience such as business executives, CEOs, PMEs and bosses. Two of my short articles were featured for the Editor’s pick at Singapore Business Review and received very good responses, views as well as sent new readers to my blog.

Instead of dressing up our press releases, I say we dress up our articles. Here are some tips:

·      Firstly, we have to leave a positive impression with the audience. The not-so-good writers will usually write articles in a condescending manner. By doing so, the reader will find it hard to connect with the author. Good writers leave a positive impression while at the same time maintaining an authoritarian tone on the topic they write about.

·      Secondly, it is about consistency. Not many people will usually read our blog in the initial stage, the important thing is to keep on writing. When I finished my 30th article, I was able to see an increase in my readership and some magazines also started to pick up my articles. When I finished my 50th article, I was invited by SMU to be a panelist speaker for one of their meetings. When I finished my 100th article, the number of companies that asked me to help them on their branding strategies increased twofold. So, just keep on writing and sharing your content!

·      Thirdly, make more friends and let them know what you are doing. You never know who will refer you to somebody that will be a huge influence in your book career path someday.


Creativity - Pornography For A Writer

“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

- Stephen King

Esteemed writing expert, Natalie Goldberg says, “Our senses by themselves are dumb. They take in experiences, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies. I call this ‘composting’.”

Don’t sit down and think, “Today I am going to write a bestselling book.” That thought alone will freeze you up. Don’t have expectations, just think, “Today I am going to write whatever is on my mind”…and just go at it. Let go of all your hang-ups when you write. Try a simple beginning with simple words to express what you have inside. It won’t begin smoothly and you have to allow yourself to be awkward in the beginning. Just let it flow.

Let me share with you a few tricks I have done in the past to nudge myself along:

1. I schedule a nice meal at the end of the day as a reward. I’m a foodie and this motivates me to sit at my desk and work hard so that I can fully enjoy my sumptuous dinner, knowing that I truly deserved it.

2. I wake up in the morning, go for a class of invigorating yoga and return recharged and ready to hammer at my keyboard. In fact, writing is similar to meditation. The more you are in touch with your mind - your main writing tool, the better you will be in your writing. Writing gives you confidence and trains you to wake up.

3. I tell everyone that I am busy writing this week so that no one calls or distracts me from the task at hand. Yup, major hibernation mode activated!

4. I read all the books I can find about the topic I’m supposed to write about. Usually, I’ll get inspired and then be on the roll.

5. I use my social media to practice my writing. Whether it is posting on Instagram or Facebook, I try to write something witty to caption my photos, update my status or post comments. I also read and follow people who write well. Two Instagrammers I like are foodie Joycelyn Shu (@joycelynshu) whose lush food descriptions and photos always send me to the kitchen looking for snacks as well as radio DJ Rosalyn Lee (@heyrozz) who put thought into each post and marry self-deprecating wit with poignant messages.

Basically, if you want to be a good writer, you need to do three things: Read a lot, listen well and deeply, and write a lot. And don’t think too much. If you read good books, good books will come out of you when you write. Maybe it won’t be that easy, but usually, if you want something, go to the source. That’s why I have rounded up experts in their field, to share their writing tips. Start taking notes now…

 The Fiction Writer: Begin Inside

Low Kay Hwa.JPG

Low Kay Hwa has written twelve novels and is currently pursuing his English & Literature degree on a part-time basis. His books have been listed in various bookstores bestsellers lists and also in The Sunday Times list. His title I is the runner-up for POPULAR Readers' Choice Awards 2013.

1. How did you get into writing?

I have always known that I wanted to be a writer since I was a boy; and when I turned thirteen, I told myself that I was “old” enough to be a “real” writer. I sent a manuscript to all the publishers in Singapore and was rejected by all of them. Although I was demoralised, I continued to write, and I blamed myself for writing stories that were not good enough. As mIRC was popular then, I made a few friends on the Internet and sent them the stories I had written. One of my Internet friends was very interested; so much so that she insisted on reading a chapter a day. That was when I acquired my first “serious” reader, and set a period to write on a daily basis.

2. Did you always know that you were going to write? What were the signs?

I have always been fascinated with creating stories since I was young. When I was seven, I wrote short stories for my brother to read, but I did not know whether he read them even when he said so. One of the days, he praised me for using the word “dash” instead of “run”, and in retrospect that was the first compliment I received that motivated me.

As I started school, my teachers would often pin my compositions on the notice board. A few times, my teachers even read my compositions to the class. While I appeared indifferent, I was proud of what I had achieved.

By fourteen, I had about five to six Internet friends who looked forward to my new chapter every week. During one of my secondary three projects, I wrote a 40,000-word novel and submitted it in a floppy disk. My form teacher was so impressed that she told me she would submit my story to a publisher friend of hers (but I did not hear from her again as she was posted out).

3. Describe how you felt when you had your first book out.

I was speechless. Literally. I merely stared at the title and my name - after all, I had written countless stories and this was the first time it was professionally printed.

4. Why do you choose to go set up a Goody Books, your publishing company?

When I was seventeen, I tried sending another manuscript to the publishers in Singapore. I was approached by a vanity publisher and he said that I had to pay in order to get published. As I could not afford the fees but was still determined to see my story in print, I agreed on an installment plan.
After I had paid half of the total amount, I received the books and they were ready for sale. I was told that I could sell 1,000 copies in a year; to my surprise, when I got back the first sales report six months later, I sold less than ten books.

During the six months when I was waiting for the sales report (it doesn’t take that long now), I had written another story. Seeing that print was not going to work, I uploaded every single chapter of my new story online, and went to online forums to get people to read it.
Surprisingly, people read the entire story and apparently still requested to buy the book (when there was no print version yet then). Seeing the demand spiking up, I got a few friends to help me with the cover design and improve the website, and printed twenty copies at $10.00 per copy and sell them at $10.90 per copy. I would go to MRT stations to meet up with my customers. Essentially, it was a loss since I had to travel, but it did not matter because it is a writer’s dream is to be read and appreciated.

When the first twenty books were sold within a few days (due to the backlog of interest), I printed another twenty copies, then another twenty copies until one day, I decided to print at a larger quantity on a lower price (offset printing). However, without the funds to do so, I decided to look for printers and ask them whether I could pay later. I had no company and was only seventeen then. To my surprise, a printer agreed to print for me and I had to pay only after thirty days upon receipt of the books (which, of course, now I know is merely the basic business term of Net 30). I agreed, and during that thirty days, I was meeting more than four customers a day.

When I broke even, I realised that print book did work; and so, I started Goody Books. Every new book is now profitable. Currently, my books are distributed widely in bookstores and are no longer sold direct.

5. Any advice for budding authors?

Never give up; there will always be many setbacks. The major obstacle is usually the lack of real readers (friends and family members don’t count!); that demoralises a writer greatly. To overcome that, just set a period to write every day. It is going to be a marathon, but like any marathon, pain is temporary and pride is forever. It is the intangible achievement that is sweet.

6. Why do you choose to write fiction?

An actor acts. A painter paints. I like creating stories, so I write fiction. 

7. How does one write fiction? Any advice?

While I do not know how others write, mine is a long process: I have to plan the plot, do primary research to ensure that my plot works, develop the characters, fuse the characters into the plot, write the story, revise, do secondary research and revise a lot more times.
If there were universal advice for any aspiring fiction writer, it would be this: Be obsessed with the characters. My characters are so alive to me that I know exactly how they will react to almost anything.

8. Do you ever get writer’s block and how do you get over it?

Yes, of course. Usually, I stop writing and take a rest, but I tell myself that I will go back to writing within ten minutes. If not, I will skip that scene. If a certain amount of time is allocated to writing, I will ensure that I do nothing except writing or resting.

9. What inspires you and what are some of your favourite books and authors?

As I aim to be better every day, the thing that inspires me is my mirror; for I can see, every passing day, that today has been better than yesterday for all the effort I have made. Seizing the day is one of my main values in life.

I like Jodi Picoult and Nicolas Sparks. However, my favourite books are The Time Traveler's Wife, My Sister's Keeper and Veronika Decides to Die. Amazingly simple premises with deep, complicated plots; and of course, great characters.

10. What is a day in the life of a fiction author like?

Usually solitary; depending on what stage of writing I am at, I am always just in front of the computer. The sounds I hear are merely loud music to bring me closer to the story.

During research stage, however, I get to interact with many people. For example, during the secondary research stage for For That Day, I was going to National University Hospital almost every day for one month to speak to the people there.

11. Why did you choose to e-publish and do you have any tips?

It is not exactly a “choice”; to me, it is simply something that occurs in the industry, and I have to adapt to market changes. My research shows that the market share for e-books in genre fiction is way higher than the overall e-book industry. Therefore, like any business adapting to market change, my books are now available in both print and e-version.

My tip is that it does not matter what platform your content is, be it in print or in digital format: every single author or publisher is selling content, and not selling sheets of paper with ink. If your content is not good enough, it does not matter what or where the platform is.

12. You even scored a bestseller on Kobo Books, an e-retailer of books, can you share with us how you did that?

Well, it just occurred. It is just like getting into the bestsellers list in national newspaper and bookstores; you merely hope you get in, and once you get in, you take a picture, tell your friends who do not care about it and life goes on.

13. Have you ever done a book proposal for a publisher. If yes, do you mind sharing it?

Yes, when I was thirteen and seventeen - and that meant it was more than ten years ago! Now, everything should be different. Back then, it was the traditional way of sending via snail mail with a self-addressed stamped envelope.

The Non-Fiction Writer: Tell Stories


Gerrie Lim is the author of seven books which reflect his ongoing interests in various aspects of modern sociology and popular culture, though he remains best known for his books on the sex industry, best exemplified by Invisible Trade, In Lust We Trust, and Singapore Rebel: Searching for Annabel Chong. He also writes for magazines about wine and spirits as well as architecture and design, and was previously based in Los Angeles but now lives in Hong Kong.

1. How did you get into writing?

I’ve been asked this question a million times and I always say it’s a long story. The short version is this: I started out as a newspaper reporter for a lark, just to see if I could do it, and realized I liked the idea of writing for a living and learned I was actually good at it.

2. Did you always know that you were going to write? What were the signs?

No, I did not, it just sort of happened after I finished my undergrad studies and was wondering what to do next, which turned out to be grad school in 1984 at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where I did a Master’s in Print Journalism. We all had to serve internships with magazines and I saw that I had a knack for feature writing. The only signs were that I started receiving more and more work, which I took as meaning I was on the right path, but I have to add that I was fortunate in that I had very good editors who served as mentors to me.

3. Describe how you got your first book deal.

My first book was somewhat unusual – it was a collection of my magazine work called Inside the Outsider and it was essentially my pop culture writing anthology with an emphasis on my interviews with rock stars, culled from my years as a rock critic in Los Angeles. BigO magazine was starting a book imprint and they wanted this to be the first book they would publish under the BigO Books label, and that’s how it basically happened.  I didn’t have to write a proposal or anything, it was like a done deal, which did not prepare me for the future years and how much harder it was going to be to secure a publishing contract!

4. Why do you choose to go with a traditional publisher? What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

Self-publishing is for losers who can’t get a “real” deal with an actual publishing house. I never recommend that route to people who ask about this. I realise some do this because it’s the only way they can get published but, even if they really are good writers and merely victims of unfortunate circumstance, the public perception will be that nobody else wants them so they had to do it on their own.  

5. Why do you choose to write non-fiction, in particular, stories about the sex industry?

Quite honestly, because I have tried writing fiction and I am just unable to do it well. I just don’t have the skills sets for it. The late Warren Zevon, one of my musical heroes, said to me once when I asked him about whether he would ever write a novel: “No. Graham Greene writes novels. I don’t.” And he also told me: “The thing is, you can’t just be enthusiastic. You have to actually be good.” That pretty much summarises it for me, too.

The sex industry has always intrigued me, from my impressionable teenage years -- starting from the mere fact that even softcore pornography isn’t legally allowed in Singapore, which later enabled me to gloat when I started writing for Playboy magazine in 1987 and later Penthouse in 1999 – but, more acutely, I have the ability to address issues pertaining to the sex industry that most people can’t, especially men who usually hide behind a façade of machismo. I have also been told I am able to somehow gain the trust of people, so they’ll tell me things they don’t usually reveal to other people. That is still the strongest gift I have as an interviewer – empathy and compassion are crucial tools to have, especially with people who are intuitively distrustful of strangers -- and it all works like a charm when you’re dealing with sex workers, porn directors, escort agency madams, and the like. I could tell you stories you wouldn’t believe.

6. How does one choose a topic to write and go about doing it? Any tips?

They say you should write from what you know, which I think is true, but I also tell people to heed the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald who said: “You don’t write because you want to say something. You write because you have something to say.” Meaning, many people want to say things but most are unable to articulate their thoughts in writing and also don’t really have anything substantial to say. When someone comes to me with a writing topic or story idea, the first question to always ask is: “Who cares?”

7. What is your worst mistake as a writer and how did you get over it?

I can’t tell you that one because I am saving it for my next book. ;-)

8. Do you ever get writer’s block and how do you get over it?

Yes, of course, but not often. When it happens, the worst thing you can do is keep obsessing about it. Just put the work aside and go do something else and come back to it later. A clear mind is conducive to good work.

9. What inspires you and what are some of your favourite books and authors?

As Ann Herold, who was one of the editors at the Los Angeles Times and one of my journalism professors, once told me: “I am entertained by good writing.” That remains the case. I think what inspires me is when someone has a unique point of view and can express it well and isn’t afraid to be contrarian and funny or ironic in the process.

The list of authors is long and varied but I did my Master’s thesis at USC on Joan Didion’s essay writing, and her book The White Album was what first made me want to be a writer. I even gave her a copy of the dissertation later, in person, but I have no clue whether she ever read it or not.

10. What is a day in the life of a non-fiction author like?

It depends on the day. And on how much magazine writing I have to do, the stuff to pay the bills, which is also good for self-discipline since I actually like having to write to deadline. I work from home and enjoy it immensely, mainly because I find it easy to stay focused when most people would see themselves being distracted. I don’t ingest anything when I am writing, despite all the legends about Hemingway drinking when he wrote, because that itself is a distraction. My approach is austere and Zen, and I drink and get drunk later. I'll have music going in the background if I'm just line-editing or proof-reading. My best work hours are from mid-afternoon till late into the night - there's a "sweet spot" I hit between 10 pm and 2 am, and I have no idea why.

The Poet: Dig Deep


Cyril Wong is the author of twelve volumes of poetry, one volume of short-stories, and a novel. His last book was a collection of love poems about coming to terms with the end of a relationship, After You (Math Paper Press 2013).

1. Did you always know that you were going to write? What were the signs? 

Only during my National Service did I realise that I had the urge to write; I was writing short pieces in a notebook about my family and regarding personal relationships in general. It was the first sign that I had begun to compose poetry.

2. Describe how you got your first book deal.

Through submission to various publishers, many of whom rejected my manuscript, I was able to find acceptance with just one publisher to begin with.

3. Why do you choose to go with a traditional publisher? What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

Self-publishing: It's just too much work and I was, and still am, a rather lazy person in publicising or pushing out my own work. As such, self-publishing had never occurred to me.

4. What are the key factors of to your success and has the success of your books changed your life in any way?

Success is relative: success to me has meant being read by the right audience, so "commercial success" or success linked to a mass appeal has never appealed to me. Only when I found that I was appealing to other poets and readers of poetry did I realise I had achieved success of some sort. In any case, any kind of success never affected my life in a profound way; the only change I found was that I was invited to literary and arts festivals across the world to read and perform my poetry, which could be exhausting but also provided interesting learning experiences, especially when I got to meet other like-minded poets.

5. What is the best piece of writing advice you received from someone or read somewhere?

Avoid fitting in with the establishment (I created this advice all on my own; various other friends have said the same thing in numerous ways to me, confirming my own private belief that the norm is often oppressive and hegemonic and detrimental to one's meaningful construction of self-identity.)

 6. Why do you choose to write erotica?

I don't really write erotica as a norm. Some of my poems are erotic, but that's really about it.

7. How does one write erotica? Any tips?

Be truthful. That's just it.

8. Do you ever get writer’s block and how do you get over it?

I just don't let myself get frustrated because of it. There is always something else to do if one is unable to write.

9. What inspires you and what are some of your favourite books and authors?

Music inspires me. Anger inspires me. Poets like Lewis Warsh and Dennis Cooper inspire me. Any philosophical text by Jiddu Krishnamurti inspires me.

 10. What is a typical work/writing day for you?

I don't have one. When a poem or story comes to me on any particular day, I just wait till night time when I will bang it out on my laptop for an hour or more before I go to bed.

11. Have you ever done a book proposal for a publisher. If yes, do you mind sharing it?

No, I have never done so. I don't even know what that entails. Usually publishers are the ones who suggest ideas to me (e.g., Transit Lounge in Australia once suggested that I put together an anthology of adult fairy-tales for them - and I simply wrote the book for this publisher.)

Back when I was researching for my first book, Boss Of Me, I followed Timothy Ferriss’ advice of interviewing experts to create my book. At least if no one knew who I was, they would read my book because of the prolific people inside! Even then, I still had the seemingly Herculean task of hunting down and interviewing 20 top (and busy) movers and shakers in Singapore. Luckily, thanks to Google and some diligent sleuthing, I was able to contact my choice interviewees. To be honest, not everyone that I approached said yes, however the ones that did were generous enough to refer some of their own luminary friends to me. All in all, it was a soul-affirming experience – I got to meet many of my idols, boosted the networth of my network by a gazillion times and the icing on top of the cake – my book written by Pearlin ‘Nobody’ Siow, became a bestseller!

Postscript: Here are Erica Jong’s (one of my fave authors!) Twenty One Rules For Writers:

1. Have faith – not cynicism.

2. Dare to dream.

3. Take your mind off publication.

4. Write for joy.

5. Get the reader to turn the page.

6. Forget politics (let your real politics shine through).

7. Forget intellect.

8. Forget ego.

9. Be a beginner.

10. Accept change.

11. Don’t think your mind needs altering.

12. Don’t expect approval for telling the truth.

13. Use everything.

14. Remember that writing is dangerous if it’s any good.

15. Let sex (the body, the physical world) in!

16. Forget critics.

17. Tell your truth, not the world’s.

18. Remember to be earthbound.

19. Remember to be wild!

20. Write for the child (in yourself and others).

21. There are no rules.

Do they resonate with you?

The Horizon – What You Need To Know Before You Embark On This Journey


“Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.”

- Sholem Asch


A book is always more than just a book.  Writing a book could direct the course of your career for the rest of your life. It could lead to infinitely important connections, multiple revenue streams, spin off products, breakthrough ideas, and international relations. It would definitely send more business your way. It could pay for a trip to Maldives or just pay the rent. It could change one person’s life for the better. Or it could start a revolution.

I know what it’s like to get to the finish line. I’ve done it many times – on my own and with my clients. I’ve worked with and inspired top entrepreneurs with big vision as we slam dunk deadlines to birth the books of their dreams. When you hold your printed book in your hands, or when you see it glowing in full colour on screen for the first time, it’s an incredible feeling. The smoothness of the cover, the page numbers, the accent font. Your name. On. The. Cover. It’s enchanting, mesmerising, like a unicorn. And then it seeps in. This is your work. Your life’s work. Your big idea. Your bread ‘n butter. Ten to thirty thousands words coherently strung together to somehow, some way have an effect on someone, somewhere. You did it! Pop the champagne :)

To thrive in this business, you need passion, bucket-loads of it! Otherwise, you will never get over the inertia, fear, gruelling writing, mind-numbing editing and rejections. Here’s the good news: publishers are constantly trolling for dreams and good ideas, for the next great book. Their jobs depend on it. They need you as much as you need them. So try this mindset on for size (repeat it out loud every time you pull up to your keyboard): “Publishers are praying for me to show up. My work is the answer to their prayers.” Do it…and see the difference!

Whether you’re writing a memoir you only want your children to read, outlining a breakthrough formula, or crafting a self-help book on living or working smarter, I believe you’ve got wisdom to share. The world needs what you’ve got to give.

It is a crazy, amazing time to be involved in the world of publishing. The Chinese saying, “May you live in interesting times,” is so apt for this industry. Anybody who tells you that they know where publishing is going can only be half right - some parts of the business are moving at light speed, some players are stuck in the Stone Ages. One thing is certain: everyone in the industry is hustling to keep up with the change. Few people have yet to get in front of it.

This book is not about the future of publishing. I am not here to make predictions about whether print books will be around in five years (okay, I say absolutely!), or how the publishing industry will shift. I am here to help you make a great book now and get it out tothe world. Whether your book will live on an e-reader, a shelf in the bookstore or library, you need to hatch a plan. No matter your packaging and delivery mechanism, books will always need to run on the rails of a development strategy. Form. Function. Value. Beauty.

In this blog, I’m going to flow back and forth between print books and digital books, traditional deals and web-based publishing. I’ll talk about bolstering your online presence as much as I’ll talk about crafting a book proposal that wins. And here’s why: because getting a deal and creating a revenue-generating product, depends as much on being visible to your audience as it does on the merit of your idea or your talent. Who will know about your amazing book if you can’t even be found on Google? The function and the form are inseparable. We are living in a holographic atmosphere in terms of idea production and broadcasting. Raising your platform is all part of the Plan.

Here’s the deal: I am going to walk you through every single element that makes up an entire book proposal. From the hook page to how you describe your audience. Heck, I’ll even share with you examples from my own personal clients that led to published books! I am aiming to give you more than you need, while not being exhaustive (which is exhausting to read). Armed with real-deal examples + essential insight from experts + a range of examples that will fit your situation and/or allow you to see more direct paths to your success, you’ll be good to go. For one book. Or a series.

There will be a lot of experience packed into this blog. Seven years to be precise – this is my entire publishing existence packed into a concise (and hopefully) webpage-turner. Expertise and blood, sweat and tears. Memoir and non-fiction. New talent and legends. Details and empires. My blog posts will be designed to get you thinking strategically and systemically, micro and macro, about what you’re creating and putting out into the world.


Ever since I was a tween, I have always wanted to write a book but shelved the idea to the back of my head because I was not an expert in anything. Why would anyone want to read anything written by me – a nobody? That was the nagging thought in my head constantly. One evening in 2008, I was reading The 4-Hour Workweek (if you haven’t read this book, I suggest you run out and get a copy pronto!) and the section where Timothy Ferriss’ wrote about how anyone can be a top expert in four weeks jumped out at me, precisely this sentence on page 160, “offer to interview a known expert and write the article…”. I felt a kick in my butt and literally flew off my sofa and started Googling entrepreneurs I could interview for my book. In less than an hour, I had 20 potential names and a simple book proposal, which I quickly sent out to two publishers, before I changed my mind. Within the week, I had my first publishing deal and that was how Boss Of Me was born. Thank you, Tim!