The Unpublishables: Interview with Mina V. Esguerra (November 2018)
I spend a lot on the #romanceclass community (Filipino authors of romance in English and readers of the books), helping with expenses for events, actor talent fees, book fair table fees, book giveaways. We’re trying to create an environment where people know that it’s okay to read romance, read romance by Filipino authors, read romance by us in English…it’s a lot of work but it’s a bigger project than just promoting one book.
Several times a year, a romance author and reader community meets in Manila to bond over books and watch live readings. But instead of authors doing the readings, they invite theater actors to do it. Authors and readers become the audience. Sometimes there’s coffee, other times wine, but what’s constant: romance, books and the experience of enjoying the words, with fellow readers.
It all started on Twitter. I think I semi-jokingly suggested that we need romance imprints for indie books, so that readers can find books with a similar reader promise. Author Mina V. Esguerra responded, and within a few months our discussion evolved into a #romanceclass writing workshop that aimed to produce books that could be loosely grouped into an imprint that we decided to call Flair. To do this, Mina challenged the workshop participants to write steamier romance, to use familiar tropes with a Filipino flavour, and to use alternating points of view between the romantic couple.
To Mina V. Esguerra, the connection between her writing and choosing her advocacy came very easily. “A lot of what I write is about women, and for readers, anyway. Choosing to involve them seems natural.”
Bookthingo Podcast: Be everything to someone (December 2016)
Mina V. Esguerra and I talk about sad ending fatigue, the complexity of reading stories set in a familiar culture, and class struggles in romance stories. Can romance fiction make political statements?
This week, Sarah chats with author Mina V. Esguerra, a romance writer in the Philippines. They talk about how self-publishing has changed her career immeasurably, and her experience writing characters who endure sexual shaming to reach their happily ever afters.
I’m on a laptop or netbook most hours of the day as it is, so working and writing me wouldn’t look any different to someone who happens to pass by. I do like to plot stuff in my head before I write it down though, and it usually happens when I’m sitting in moving vehicles.
At the same time I don’t want to go into that review and really discuss things point by point, because by then a person’s read and judged the work and that judgment belongs to them. I don’t want to be so involved and visible that a reviewer will feel awkward knowing that I’m just there hovering.
While she’s read some foreign titles identified as chick lit – she’s read the Bridget Jones books, for example – that’s not where she’s coming from. “I’m basically writing from the Sweet Valley Twins perspective, but I try to make the characters older.” In effect, she has allowed her characters to grow up and face the contemporary world of up-and-coming Filipino women.
I am even more excited about publishing now – as a Filipino author, living in the Philippines, writing about Filipinos — than when I started. I appreciate the support coming from a publisher like Summit, and I can tell that many readers know of me because of my work with them. At the same time, it’s great that digital publishing has made it easier for me to reach a larger market, and that this market has taken an interest in familiar stories set in unfamiliar places.
Before, I was just hiding, just looking at [reviews] without commenting back or replying. After a while, I realized I should say something as it was nice of them to have bought the book, read it and shared it with their friends.
Technology is changing the game, so it is now possible for authors like Esguerra to seriously consider independent publishing as a viable and legitimate way to market their work as an alternative to traditional publishing.
I outline on Evernote, write the draft on either my laptop or iPad and sync it to Dropbox so I can add to it from any device I happen to be using. This has been helpful because I am juggling so many things right now and I write every free chance I get, and sometimes that’s fifteen minutes in a coffee shop or while in line for a taxi.
Mina says that in the US, the authors who are really spending time on self-publishing (both the writing and marketing aspects of it) have been able to quit their jobs and do the work full-time.
“It’s a combination of writing a good book, writing a book in the right genre and actively engaging readers and other writers,” she reveals.
I used to be the kind of writer who waited for inspiration, but I decided a few years ago that I had to have structure, and a schedule, if I wanted to write more than one book in my lifetime.
This has been rewarding in so many ways, but the most fun for me has been getting the data. I find out in real time how many of my books have sold, what happens when I do a giveaway, an interview, or do a talk somewhere. Apparently I like the control part of this and adjust my strategy based on the data I get.
NALitChat on Culture and Diversity (November 14, 2013)
“PNU already invited me to speak once before, and I loved how the Lit students knew their stuff. I’d mention book titles and they’d know them. It just made me feel good that people studying to be Lit teachers were passionate about reading,” she explains. “The second time I was in PNU to speak (invited by Circulus Literati this time) I learned during lunch with the dean how much the tuition fee per semester was. And I thought that I could definitely raise that, set aside some amount per month to help a future teacher with tuition. I asked if Circulus Literati would help, and they made everything happen.”
How about the one you doubted to be a success?
I have a series called Young and Scambitious that I’m proud of, but am also sure not many people will “get.” It’s a case of me writing what I want and not caring what happens after.
A dozen digital books later, Esguerra recounts how some of her e-books have been published as hard copies by local publishers—a publishing route in reverse, so to speak, for we usually think of “real” books first before the digital versions. From the start, Esguerra was driven to write for an audience larger than the Philippines and learned many lessons along the way.
Keep writing, and read a lot. Not just the books similar to the ones you plan to write, but anything. Everything. The things I’m most proud of in my own books are usually inspired by other genres or entirely unrelated work.
Because I write in English, I want my books to be read wherever there are people who speak that language (and read romance). There’s a boom in young adult readership in the Philippines right now and I think it’s entirely possible to be a publishing success by writing into that trend. (For how long though? Pinoy authors, I think, should plan out a writing career that will survive trends.)
For Sola Musica, my story “Georgia Lost and Found” starts off on the road, and flashes back to different times in Georgia and Ken’s lives when they’ve been on the road together.
Mina then asked the group to introduce themselves and share their favorite romance novels and the reason they joined the workshop. This encouraged everyone to be vocal about the kinds of books they love (my favorite kind of discussion!) and also what they wanted to learn through the workshop. She then turned the tide of the conversation to how finishing a romance novel will be her main focus and said, “You learn something just by the experience of finishing it (a book).”
I like mentioning this to remind people, especially if their books are sold online, that their audience is the world, and I’m in a really crowded part of it. People in my country love to read.
So I have to admit something– I probably wouldn’t actually go to an event like Sola Musica. Being that isolated and dependent on “portalets” kind of freaks me out. But I’m going to definitely give the tickets to three single friends on the condition that they not hang out with each other and instead wander around and meet other people. (Story idea!)
“I’ve seen so many writers get stuck with trying to portray romance that’s ‘real’ or ‘authentic,’” said Esguerra. “Touches of reality do make it interesting, but don’t forget that what we want is for our fantasies to come to life, with the help of your words.”
I still treated it as a hobby as my fifth novella was being published. The decision to make a career out of this was really me deciding to continue to write and commit to writing and publishing more.
“I kind of got used to everything being slow in publishing. A book might take a few years or a lifetime to write. And then when I started playing in that playground of Amazon and self-publishers abroad, that’s when I realized it could be faster, it could be more efficient. It could be more reader-centric and market-centric.”
“Relationships that are hard-fought, sometimes against each other (and not just the world), can be stressful. Because if the underlying reason WHY there was conflict was never addressed, then it’ll just keep coming up. For as long as you’re together. Not exactly the happiest of endings.”