I remember back in 2019 when I was drafting my debut novel Tinhead City, KL, and I had this brief thought of how cool it would be to be featured on my local radio station (Business FM).
I knew that the radio station had a ton of shows on literature and the local arts scene, and it was a passing fancy to one day be interviewed for my book.
Pretty ambitious, if you ask me. I hadn’t even passed the 20,000-word mark yet.
But you know what? That dream would come true in 2021, and what it’d teach me isn’t the fact that interviews are so much worse when you’re on the receiving end of it (I used to be the one doing the interviewing), but that nobody really cares that you made the news.
And so I thought that for the final post of 2021, we could look back a bit at the year that was, and prepare for the year that will be.
So come, join me on this little humblebrag, if you will.
Realising my publishing dreams
“Are you terminally ill?”
That’s what my boss asked me the moment I handed in my resignation letter. He knew I was earning so much more than I’d ever had (and probably ever will), and that I was leaving a particularly cushy managerial role—all just to write a sci-fi novel.
We’re all terminally ill, I wanted to say. It’s this disease called life. But all I said instead was, “Uh, no.”
“Then why are you doing this?”
“I don’t know, it just feels like something I have to do.”
I wish I had a better reason to quit than ‘I had a calling’, but that’s all I could come up with. It was either that, or continue down the path of corporate nine-to-five. And you know what? I think I made the right choice.
Because sure, my career path is now unclear at best, and I’ll probably never find a comparable gig ever again, but I became a traditionally-published author, and that alone made it all worth it.
Lesson learned: Always choose to pursue your life’s dreams when given the opportunity. Or, at the very least, pick the option that’ll give you a cool story.
Hey, I’m famous! I think.
One of the benefits of traditional publishing is that I had someone to take care of things like editing, design, and marketing—the last one being the bane of my life.
So I was thankful for my publisher’s PR outreach, which helped me score my first interview with a local newspaper.
But besides the occasional WhatsApp message from long-lost friends, nothing else really changed for me. I was still this Malaysian writer without a real job.
Maybe I had always harboured a certain romance for being featured in the media. Even after interviewing and writing about so many personalities, I had taken for granted how small the footprint of a newspaper feature could be.
Then there was the second feature in Malaysia’s largest newspaper and I thought that would get me some traction. They even sent a photographer!
As it turned out, not many people care about some random dude having published a novel. Not unless you’re selling a million copies.
Lesson learned: Appearances in the media do not automatically mean book sales.
Getting on the radio
Remember my radio dreams? A friend of mine who worked for BFM read the news pieces and actually made the dream happen. Talk about serendipity!
Sure, it was a little different than I had imagined (I had pictured myself in the studio instead of chatting through Zoom), but it was so surreal that my actual dream would come true.
But that, too, passed by in a blink. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am, and yet again, I had to be the one to announce my fifteen minutes of fame.
I was starting to see a pattern. Nobody really cared. I mean, I was stoked. But everybody else had their lives to live.
I’d always known that the publishing industry was far from sexy, so why was I surprised that after all that, I still couldn’t sell enough books to cover my advance?
Still, I was learning a very important decision. One that I’ll highlight in the sentence below.
Lesson learned: Sometimes, it’s the seemingly inconsequential actions that may change our entire lives. I’d garnered so much media exposure solely from my decision to write my first novel.
Being the man
But the kicker of 2021 for me has to be appearing as one of AugustMan‘s Men Of The Year. The reason? Because of my book.
If I were to ask you what you thought happened after that, you’d probably guess ‘nobody cared’, and you’d be right.
However, it was a super learning experience, and we’ve come full circle now that—after being a hairstylist and doing hair on set to writing about the interviewees—I was the one getting my hair done, having my photo taken, and being the one answering the ten questions.
Lesson learned: Life has the ability to surprise you, both for the good and bad.
Which brings us to 2022
I now find myself at a similar crossroads as I did back in 2019. Again, I’m getting that call to pursue fiction once more.
As someone who’s nearing the fourth decade of his life, I assumed I’d have my shit together by now, but no. Here I am, once more, pursuing a dream that may or may not work out.
But I know what happens down the traditional path. I get a nine-to-five, work hard like the good employee I am, and forget about this weird siren’s call.
And while nobody else cares what comes out of this, or where I get featured on next, I’ve realised that I do. And you know what? That’s more than reason enough to venture out into the unknown.
Lesson learned: None. Just thought I’d wish you guys a Happy New Year and may all your dreams for 2022 come true.
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