It seems that my publishing journey of Travails of a Trailing Spouse can be divided into two distinct phases: Before the novel was released, and After publication. The two are both important in the making of the bestseller, but very different, and so I thought I’d sit down and parse out how it all went for me.
The Before started once I finished writing the novel, and consisted mostly of, as most authors are all-too-familiar with, a lot of waiting. I had been forewarned that the publishing industry moved at a notoriously slow pace; indeed, my experience affirmed this perception. After crafting a query letter and sending it off to numerous agents, I then had to find ways to bide my time. Two to three months was often listed as the expected response time; often, though, no response was the default—basically, “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.” Against my nature, I had to learn to be patient, to stop myself from checking my email obsessively, to resist the urge to send multiple follow-up messages.
Once I connected with my publisher, I experienced another form of waiting. “Next week” did not mean “the week immediately following this one,” but was more of a general term, like “at some point later in the future.” I gradually got used to the pace of the industry and eventually understood that lulls did not mean that they had lost interest my project; it was all just part of the process.
Then came editing, and soon I myself became a reason for holdups. Words were changed once, twice, three times, and then sometimes back to the original form. I read my book so many times that by the end, I wanted to rip it up and set the shreds on fire. Finally, on a day in mid-December, after nearly five months of editing, all parties signed off on the manuscript. I literally could not wait any longer for the book to be published.
And then it did, and The After began. Suddenly everything was frenzied, hurried, with no time to waste. The book was out, and now the challenge was how to get people to read it. “Books are sold, not bought,” I had heard; I was also told by my marketing manager that the average novel has a 12-week selling season, so the day my book hit the shelves, the clock started ticking.
With not a minute to spare, we starting scheduling appearances and interviews. I sent out hundreds of emails to friends, acquaintances, even strangers, so many that my email provider flagged me as a possible SPAM-mer, locking my account for 24 hours and causing me much panic as I scrambled to find alternate means of communication.
I did over 30 appearances, including bookstore readings, PTA coffee mornings, international club events and drop-in meet-and-greets at malls and restaurants. I gave dozens of newspaper, radio and online interviews, some of which included photo shoots with my family on less than 24 hour-notice; thankfully my children humored me, patiently holding their poses and smiling for the cameras.
In addition to speaking about the book, I gave speeches about career change and finding one’s passion. I conducted writing workshops, designed countless posters and flyers, made guest appearances at book club meetings, and set up tables at expat fairs. I ran giveaways and promotions online, hand-delivering copies of the book to the winners’ doors. I even wrote a guest post for a wildly popular Singaporean food blog about beef noodle soup in Taipei.
Singapore is a small country, and some nights I would tell myself, “I can sell this book door-to-door.” Other nights, past midnight, I would collapse, saying to my husband, “OK, enough, already. Either people are going to read it and love it, or they’re not.”
I then recalled meeting another author at an event held by my publisher a few months back; her book had just been released and she had flown in from overseas, where she was living. I asked her how long she was planning on staying in Singapore to promote her book, and she answered that she was returning home in just a couple of days. When my face showed surprise, she had said something along the lines of, “Well, there are writers and there are marketers, and they usually don’t overlap.”
Now, approximately 16 weeks after publication of my first novel, I see the wisdom in her words. In The Before, I just wanted everything to get moving; in The After, I would have killed for a still moment. The Before was a test of patience, the After, one of persistence. Travails of a Trailing Spouse debuted at the #2 spot and spent another six weeks on the fiction bestseller list, and I’m incredibly proud of its success. And yet, I’m also anxious to get back to my laptop to start writing my next book—and begin another phase of The Before.
Stephanie Suga Chen is the author of Travails of a Trailing Spouse, the bestselling novel from Straits Times Press about expat life in Singapore. A proud Taiwanese-American, Stephanie grew up in Michigan and moved to Singapore in 2012 with her husband, two children and elderly cocker spaniel.