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Reflections on publishing A Hakka Woman

Happy birthday to me


November 2022, the day before my birthday. It was meant to be a video call meeting with my publishers to discuss the next steps for my grandmother’s story. Two months had passed since the manuscript’s structural edit and the book was due to be out Spring 2023. But as the email updates from the publishers became less frequent, the lack of news regarding my copyedit and radio silence on their social media, I knew this wasn’t going to be good news.


I don’t recall exactly what was said but it went something like this:


-       We have some very difficult news to share with you. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the Arts Council grant this time and we don’t have our financial backer which means we will have to go into liquidation.


-       Nod.


-       It’s been a really tough decision, but we aren’t able to continue.


-       Nod.


-       But the good news is with Marks having been so well received and reviewed, I’m sure that another indie press will pick it up.


-       Nod.


-       As for book two, I’m sorry but we will not be able to publish this. This is as far as we can go.


-       Nod.


-       But you’ve had a structural edit so you’ve got a really strong manuscript to go with and again, I’m sure someone will pick this up. I am really confident you’ll find a home for both your books. Nod.


-       I don’t know why I nodded so much. I don’t know why at some point I even smiled. Positive body language to soothe the flying knee into my gut perhaps?



Happy birthday to me…well this really sucks.


My birthday was spent compiling lists, frantically searching for every single publisher in the English-speaking world that would accept submissions. Mad woman lost – a term I had dubbed myself from my first book rung in my head as I felt like a stranded creative desperately paddling up tide.


And it was up tide.


Four years ago, every indie publisher I found was open to unsolicited manuscripts yet in November 2022 most of them no longer exist, have stopped publishing or require authors to be agented.


The list of publishers wasn’t long, but I sent my manuscript out anyway and, in the meantime, decided to find an agent.


Scrolling through at least thirty different agencies and their profiles was more disheartening than looking for a new publisher.


Given this book is about my grandmother, I was adamant the person representing this book should not only fall in love with Paupau but also share some similarities in heritage or at least list some ESEA or Black authors as their favourites.


I’m not naïve enough to think that being in the UK I should expect to see the diversity I hope in the publishing world, but I did expect to see some. But expectation is never reality. I knew that but it was still shocking to see how out of around a hundred agents, only ten were of ESEA or BIPOC heritage. Ten.


I was eleven years old again, reading books and watching films desperate to find a female role model or ally only to discover none of them looked remotely like me, my family or my friends.


The scratchy-jumper-wait


And then came the wait for publisher and agent responses. It reminded me of fishing – holding onto to the fishing line, waiting in the scorching sun with a growling tummy for something to bite.


As the world’s most impatient person, the six-month wait was like having to wear an irritating scratchy jumper that I couldn’t take off just to be met with disappointment. To my surprise, the only responses I received were from publishers. Not a single agent bothered to reply to me. Thanks!


The responses (read rejections) were interesting:


  • Lovely writing style, wonderful relationship between grandmother and granddaughter but this book isn’t marketable


  • We don’t feel this is the right kind of book for the UK market

  • This is a story that is so specific to a certain readers’ group, we won’t be able to publish your book at this time

  • We love your writing style but this isn’t the right book for us.


No one likes a rejection, and I am probably the worst person when it comes to taking on constructive criticism as I would beat myself up about the smallest mistake but this hit me differently.


It felt like they weren’t rejecting the book because of my writing, but because they didn’t believe in the story – they didn’t believe in Paupau.


Beauty of friends

With Paupau nearing 92, I didn’t want to wait anymore. I have a limited amount of time to get this done and in true Di-style, I decided to say fuck it, I’ll do it myself.


I didn’t want to just publish it on Amazon or Ingram Sparks which would have been quicker and significantly cheaper. My grandmother’s story is the most important book I would publish, and I wanted it to be the best version it can be.


Seeing how much editors, book cover designers and the actual printing of a book costs, it is no wonder why so many indie publishers dissolved. You need a minimum of £3000.


Why don’t you crowdfund? Suggested a very talented creative and fellow Hong Konger. That’s what’s great about friends. They give you amazing ideas to consider when you are so self-involved in your own self-pity.


I toyed with this suggestion for a couple of months, held back by a voice that sounded just like my grandmother’s – but it was my own. Who on earth would want to pay for you to publish a book, ha?


In our culture and for people of my generation and older, there is no such thing as crowdfunding as it is regarded almost like begging. It’s embarrassing even shameful to have to ask others for financial help.


But this is for Paupau. Swallow your ego and just get on with it.


So I did and to be completely honest, I was expecting no more than £200 - £300 which I would have been extremely happy with. But the donations kept coming in and in less than one month I raised over £2500 which wasn’t quite enough but could cover the major things needed.


Let’s do this

Being mildly dyslexic and having to read the manuscript over fifteen times was a huge challenge. Even with hired editors, I know there are typos, and the book is not perfect and for that I apologise in advance!


It was amazing to be able to decide every aspect of my book from cover design, size, layout, font, publication date and more but being the sole person responsible for every aspect of my book was daunting. The constant questioning of self throughout the process from re-reading the same page of the umpteenth time to choosing the correct colour palette number – there were moments when I thought I was going a little nuts.


But knowing there are so many people out there who believe in Paupau’s story and the importance of sharing it, and getting motivational messages from friends and fans was a big help.


And on 7 March, A Hakka Woman officially came out into this world. It was my grandmother’s birthday as well as World Book Day – I didn’t even know, a nice coincidence.


Thank you


I want to thank everyone who crowdfunded, who supported me on this journey and to those keen readers who already got a copy!


Self-publishing isn’t easy but I would do it all again.


Thank you.


Book three next?

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