Thursday, March 28, 2013

How I published my first book for expats

Véronique Martin-Place is a writer who specializes in expatriation. She is the author of Finding Your Feet In Chicago – The essential guide for expat families, published by Summertime Publishing (2012). It is available in Paperback and Kindle Edition on Amazon. Her website is Writer Forever. She is also on Twitter (writer_forever) and Facebook.

In this guest post, she explains what the writing process was like for her first book and how she collaborated with her publisher.

Finding the idea
An expat guide to Chicago
One year after settling in Chicago I was hired as a ghostwriter to write a guide about Chicago for expats. The guidelines were extremely specific and they didn’t allow much space for creativity. At the same time, I was experiencing culture shock—and I was not the only one. Several families had moved abroad at the same time as we had and we were all searching for information and advice. Simultaneously, I had also started my own blog, Expat Forever, where I shared my experiences about expat life as a mom and active spouse. I received a lot of questions from future expat parents about Chicago, where to settle, which school to choose, culture shock, among other things. I knew that the guide I was writing as a ghostwriter didn’t answer these very specific questions either. I searched for a local guidebook for expat families and I found out there was none. So I decided to fill this gap by writing Finding Your Feet In Chicago – The essential guide for expat families.

Approaching my publisher
Summertime Publishing was the first publisher I contacted. I knew that this publisher specialized in “books by and for people who live or have lived overseas”. Moreover I had ‘met’ Jo Parfitt, the founder of this publishing company, through her online course Definite Articles. I had also read several of her books, including A Career in Your Suitcase. So in December 2010, I sent her a book proposal. Jo answered me in a timely manner. We then exchanged a lot of e-mails. Jo’s main question was: is there a market for your book? I did my homework and she was convinced by my answers. I received a publishing contract in April 2011.

Writing and editing the book
After agreeing on a detailed table of contents, I started to write the book. It took me longer than expected but she was rather flexible on the deadline. Writing in English was a challenge for me, since this is not my mother tongue. So I hired a professional proofreader and editor to check my work. One year after signing my contract, I sent my first draft to Jo. And then the process of editing the whole book again and again began. At the same time, I worked on the book cover with a designer recommended by my publisher. It took four additional months to finally hold the book in my hands.

Would I do it again?
I think so and for two main reasons:
-       Jo Parfitt is a well-known expat writer and now publisher. She is well connected to a large expat network. So as one of her authors, you benefit from her database of contacts (fellow authors, print and web magazines) and the Expatbookshop website. It is very helpful when the time comes to promote your book, even if this remains the author’s job. And believe me, promoting a book is more difficult and demanding than writing it. You benefit from professional editors and designers she has been working with for a long time. So you don’t waste time looking for the right person to work with on specific issues such as editing, book cover, and internal book design.

Despite my rewarding experience with Summertime Publishing, next time I might give self-publishing a shot. Especially since a new writing and publishing adventure is in the works.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Little Known Ways to Be a Better Writer Abroad

Writer Abroad recently had a yearly review. Since it was the first one she’s ever had after working abroad as a copywriter in Switzerland for almost seven years, it forced her to consider her job and everything she thought it would be seven years ago and wasn’t.

When you take a job abroad, even if it’s the same job description and title as you had in your home country, you will need skills you didn't consider. Because while your job description might be English copywriting and your title might be English Copywriter, you will probably also be expected to be an editor, translator, proofreader, and God of Grammar.

For example, people in your office abroad will expect you to be a grammar whiz. You speak English. You write English. You must be able to define every part of speech that ever hit a sentence. You must be a slave to spelling. You must have an internal thesaurus that instantly spits out alternative phrases for “high-quality products.” You must be able to recognize that someone is saying “salon” when they are pronouncing it “saloon.”

People want you to edit, but you’re not an editor. They want you to translate but you’re not a translator. They want you to read briefings and client emails in a language you weren't hired to work in. They want you to explain the difference between speciality and specialty on the spot. They want you to write in British English when you’re an American or vice versa. They want humor but they don’t get yours. They want something with a twinkle in the eye, but their example is anything but sparkly.

The list goes on and on.

So how can you become a better writer abroad? Here, after seven years in the trenches of various Swiss ad agencies, are Writer Abroad’s six conclusions:

–Learn as much of the local language as you can. At least try to understand its spoken and written form. It may not be a job requirement, but it’s a survival requirement.  

–Take a grammar and/or editing class so when your ESL colleague tells you she wants you to use present perfect, you’re not left Googling your own grammar.

–Recognize puns and plays on words and don’t use them in an international setting unless you enjoy that glazed over look from your peers.

–Try to learn basic differences between British and American English, or at least recognize typical spelling differences and usage differences (such as how to write a date correctly in each).

–Learn what people find funny in your host culture so when they say use humor you know what they mean.

–Accept that English in an international setting–especially English that needs to be translated into other languages–will not always be as creative as you want it to be.

Anyone else have thoughts on how to be a better writer abroad?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

5 Ways a Foreign Language Affects Your Writing

Guest post by Israel-based writer Gila Green

Does living in one language affect how you write in another? According to Gila Green, there are five main ways that it does:

  1. Diction. Slang and other everyday words sneak into our vocabularies. If you don’t live and write in the same language, it takes an extra effort to root out unintended foreign words from your work.
  2. Names. Many writers spend time enhancing their work with thoughtful character names. But when you live in one language and write in another, naming characters can be frustrating. Names from your adopted country often seem awkward in your mother tongue or worse, become words that take the reader out of the story. Yet mother tongue names may appear mundane.
  3. Setting. If you choose to write about your adopted country, it may appear too exotic or you may worry you lack the background to make the country come alive. How long do you have to live somewhere to feel you have the authority to write about it, especially if the country operates in a language that is not your own? And if you choose to write about your birthplace, what if your notions are outdated? Are you destined to depict your birthplace only in the past?
  4. Humor. Because humor is cultural, anything you satirize or depict as humorous can throw you off balance. Is a funny everyday experience in one language going to be understood in the language you use for your writing?
  5. Layers. There are layers and depth to your work that can only come from the experience of complete otherness. True, not everyone will grasp your meaning, but the sense of being the ‘other’ allows you to see both your native culture and adopted culture with a broad lens; a powerful tool for any writer. 
If you speak a foreign language where you live, how does it affect your writing?

Canadian Gila Green's debut novel KING OF THE CLASS will be released in April 2013 by Vancouver literary press Now or Never PublishingHer first short story collection WHITE ZION was nominated for the Doris Bakwin Literary Award. She teaches regular virtual fiction classes from IsraelPlease visit Gila:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

9 Things Not to Do as a Writer

As some of you know, Writer Abroad runs a writing workshop in Zurich. Every year, writers submit work for critique by our authors in residence, and every year, Writer Abroad is once again amazed by the number of writers who do not follow the submission instructions—even those who register for advanced workshops.

Forget great writing—yes, you must have that too—but as a writer, it’s easy to stand out from the crowd just by following submission instructions.

Over the last four years, here are some of the main problems Writer Abroad has observed while collecting submissions:

1. Writers don’t meet deadlines and think they should have an exception.

2. Writers submit up to 10 (!) more pages than is allowed.

3. Writers use single spacing instead of the requested double spacing.

4. Writers mess with margin sizes to cram as much text as possible on a page.

5. Writers don’t put their names on their files.

6. Writers don’t send documents in correct formats (when a .doc is requested, don’t send a .docx or a .pdf).

7. Writers use strange fonts (you should have a good reason to use anything other than Times New Roman).

8. Writers annoy gatekeepers by going around them.

9. Writers send several emails with different submissions, each time saying, “I changed my mind, use this one instead.”

Moral of the story? If you’re submitting something, make sure to check the guidelines. Then double-check them. Then triple-check them. Make sure what you’re sending is what you want to send even though this sounds obvious. Do all of this before you click send. It’s only professional. Editors, judges, and workshop coordinators everywhere will have a good impression of you from the start. Isn’t that what all writers want?

If you're an editor, writing judge, or other submission collector, what mistakes do you see writers making?


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