“The Unpublishables is a platform for all kinds of rice eaters everywhere to get together and make shit happen through our words, music, and artwork.”
Writing may be the only pursuit that M. Paramita Lin hasn’t accidentally stumbled into. In between hanging out with triad members and living in a succession of haunted flats in Hong Kong, she’s also been a paid companion to the third wife of a tycoon, toured the world with musicians, and apprenticed as a goldsmith in Italy. Lin’s stories are mostly set in Asian cities, and they are often funny, occasionally strange, sometimes scary, but always true. She is represented by the hardworking Kelvin Kong at K2 Literary.
Doretta Lau is the author of the short story collection How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun? (Nightwood Editions, 2014). The book was shortlisted for the City of Vancouver Book Award, longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and was named by The Atlantic as one of the best books of 2014. In 2013, she was a finalist for the Writers’ Trust of Canada / McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize. She has written on arts and culture for Artforum International, South China Morning Post, The Wall Street Journal Asia, ArtReview, and LEAP. She completed an MFA in Writing at Columbia University. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Day One, Event, Grain Magazine, Prairie Fire, PRISM International, Ricepaper, Room Magazine, sub-TERRAIN, and Zen Monster. She splits her time between Vancouver and Hong Kong, where she is at work on a comedic novel about a dysfunctional workplace called We Are Underlings. She is the cofounder of a humour and culture website, The Unpublishables.
Doretta Lau’s photo is taken by Ming Kai Leung.
Read the Episode Transcript
[00:00:02.710] – Rachel Thompson
[background music playing] Love, luminous writing and love lit mags? I know you do, that’s why you’re here, right? So I know you will love the Lit Mag Love Anthology. It’s beautiful and filled with over one hundred and fifty pages of poems and stories and each poem or story in the anthology first found a home in a literary magazine. The Lit Mag Love Anthology republishes their works alongside the tale of how each author successfully submitted and published their work in lit mags.
I’m so thrilled to show the results of the dedicated writing and submitting practices of these writers from the Lit Mag Love course community. This is work of both their creative hearts and luminous minds. So if you’d love to get a free copy of the Lit Mag Love Anthology, you can get yours at Lit Mag Love dot com slash anthology. Now on with more Lit Mag Love. [background music ends]
What do editors want? It’s a question that many creative writers have asked themselves or more likely muttered dejectedly after a frustrating rejection.
I’m Rachel Thompson, author and literary magazine editor and your podcast host.
[background music playing] The Lit Mag Love Podcast grew out of my course by the same name, and I continue to seek out answers to this question of what editors want by going right to the source. I bring you interviews and insights about how to improve and publish your writing. For this episode of Lit Mag Love, I speak with the creators of The Unpublishables and Paramita Lin, also known as Maloy and Doretta Lau, [background music fades] and The Unpublishables is a joyfully rebellious publication who doesn’t really condense themselves down to a soundbite or description.
In fact, if you go to their ABOUT page, you’d find some text speaking directly to their readers and the writers, their contributors. It says we know you feel lonely sometimes. We feel it too. So many sites out there, but there’s still something missing, right? Where are the stories and music and artwork by fellow Asians who like the same stuff you do? And we know you like all kinds of stuff. Where is the funny or angry but always smart commentary from people who know what it’s like to be you, who are woke but not so woke that we can’t laugh at ourselves too.
They go on to describe The Unpublishable as a platform for all kinds of rice eaters everywhere. To get together and make shit happen through our words, music and artwork. Now writing may be the only pursuit that M. Paramita Lin hasn’t accidentally stumbled into in between hanging out with triad members and living in a succession of haunted flats in Hong Kong. She’s also been a paid companion to the third wife of a tycoon, toured the world with musicians and apprenticed as a goldsmith in Italy.
We talk about all of this in our upcoming interview. Lin’s stories are mostly set in Asian cities, and they’re often funny, occasionally strange, sometimes scary, but always true. And her co-founder of The Unpublishables is Doretta Lau. She’s the author of the short story collection. How Does A Single Blade of Grass Thank The Sun? That collection was shortlisted by the City of Vancouver Book Award, long listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and was named by The Atlantic as one of the best books of 2014.
In 2013, she was a finalist for The Journey Prize and she also completed an MFA in writing at Columbia University. Her fiction and poetry have appeared all over the place. I’ll link to some pieces in the show notes and one of her stories was the favorite of a famous comedian. [background music playing]
We’re going to talk more about that in this episode. [background music fades]
Welcome to the Lit Mag Love Podcast Paramita Lin and Doretta Lau.
[00:04:05.840] – Doretta Lau
[00:04:07.070] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
[00:04:08.270] – Rachel Thompson
So wonderful to have you join us today. What I love in particular about The Unpublishables is this joyful rebellion that really shines through there. There’s this energy. I think that’s true, of both your independent work and your work with The Unpublishables. So what’s been the most fun that you’ve had since teaming up on this venture together?
[00:04:28.070] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
I’m not going to guess Doretta’s this answer, but she might know mine. And that’s our own sort of adventures in meeting people and also experimenting with different kinds of cultural rituals.
[00:04:41.510] – Doretta Lau
Oh, for sure. That’s been a lot of fun. I think for me, the thing that’s been a lot of fun is doing the interviews and the informal chats that you and I have been doing around cultural moments that we enjoy.
[00:04:55.730] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
Yeah. Since we started doing The Unpublishables Doretta and I have had the chance to share things that we normally might not even speak about simply because there’s a context for it now.
[00:05:10.460] – Doretta Lau
Yeah, we’re in control of the way we want to tell the story. And so the story’s anchored in the things that we know, the things that we know to be true and the things that we think our audiences might be looking for and aren’t seeing in media outlets that have three levels of editors and a publisher and an entire kind of ad sales department. For us, we’re really just trying to take a moment to really talk about the things that we’re interested in the culture and to make the kinds of things that we want to read.
[00:05:44.870] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
Yeah, and I think we also tend to feature a lot of funnier stuff and stuff that we don’t see actually being promoted in what we would call regular magazines that don’t have the same direction that we do.
[00:06:00.020] – Rachel Thompson
There’s a lot of kind of excited fangirling if I can say that [laughing] for some stuff too. Which I think is really cool.
[00:06:06.230] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
Doretta and I actually met through fangirling over Japanese Taiwanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro.
[00:06:14.460] – Doretta Lau
Maloy used to have this blog and one of my friends one day sent me an email that said, you have to check out this blog. And so she sent it to me. I read it and I thought the post was funny and ended up reading the entire blog like it was a novel.
[00:06:28.220] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
And not just that, but like we tend to I’d say ninety-nine percent of the time, agree on who’s cute, and what’s funny. And the one percent is usually sort of more in terms of degree as opposed to a yes or no situation.
[00:06:45.650] – Doretta Lau
Yeah, we might have disagreements over personality, but …
[00:06:51.320] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
Yes, that’s right. [laughter]Doretta and I are attracted to certain should we call it alignments? That may not be necessarily good for us, but what’s funny is that we can spot this in the other, but perhaps not for ourselves.
[00:07:05.660] – Doretta Lau
It’s kind of like a character development.
[00:07:09.560] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
[00:07:10.310] – Doretta Lau
[00:07:11.360] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
Yes, but speaking of fangirling, one of the things that I think is missing from a lot of cultural criticism is enthusiasm. A lot of times when we look at Western media, for example, we see a lot of people sort of altruist like directors that win awards on the international stage. I do like directors like Johnnie To comes to mind director Bong. But while they’re treated with awe, I feel like it’s missing that sort of we’re back home, back in Asia, we may not necessarily elevate these people to sort of this sainthood or sort of a very high auteur status, whereas in Asia we tend to poke fun at status in a certain way.
That’s something that we really try to bring into The Unpublishables, where no matter how elevated somebody is, we’re able to sort of love them or enjoy them with humor.
[00:08:14.720] – Rachel Thompson
That kind of segues into my next question, because you wrote that when you launched The Unpublishables, that there are lots of things missing, like where is that funny or angry or always smart commentary from people who know what it’s like to be you. You’re speaking to your audience who are woke, but not so woke that we can’t laugh at ourselves, too. It’s been a couple of years now, years full of conversations about inclusion and more Asian visibility in mass culture.
So how has this commentary opened up in ways that are big and small? And maybe what wasin what ways have they stayed the same?
[00:08:47.780] – Doretta Lau
I think it’s interesting to look at who’s leading the conversation in that realm. And for a long time it did feel like Asian and Asian Americans weren’t leading the conversation, and I mean, just when we were starting The Unpublishables was one of the writers who was coming to the forefront that I was really liking is E. Alex Jung who writes for Vulture. He and a lot of young journalists are doing a lot of really interesting work, just talking about pop culture in this way where it means something for our lives.
There isn’t this distinction between highbrow and lowbrow. We’re kind of really doing that, too, so that we can publish interviews with writers such as Souvankham Thammavongsa, who many people know is a poet who is writing fiction now. That’s kind of more in the traditional kind of literary magazine, serious approach to this idea of literature. But at the same time, Maloy and I will have chats where we just post our thoughts about the trailer for the film, Always Be My Maybe, so we can talk about rom coms, we can talk about poetry, we can talk about kind of spiritual beliefs.
We can have those moments where we’re finding comic artists and we’re trying to promote their work, too. So it’s really this kind of approach to looking at culture that’s more expansive than the kinds of things that we were seeing before or where if someone who was of Asian descent was coming to the forefront, it would be a lot more serious work, a lot more maybe focus on trauma. I’m feeling like we’re seeing a lot of work that’s lighter now, but that doesn’t discount things that different communities have gone through.
It’s just that we’re allowed to be human in this way that maybe we weren’t seeing before.
[00:10:43.360] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
I also think that a lot of the more interesting or maybe authentic conversations are taking place on social media as opposed to in, let’s say, mainstream media like Twitter, obviously. Personally, for me, I like spying on the Chinese sort of chat platforms because it’s just the sheer volume of people who are commenting, sharing jokes, things going viral. It’s just amazing because this is sort of the thing where Chimamanda has mentioned this before, the danger of a single story.
But when you go and peek into these groups, you see the diversity of backgrounds, opinions, of language. For example, Doretta and I are both, even though we are both Chinese, our backgrounds are so completely different. We’re not even from the same linguistic group. People tend to flatten identities. And I think what we try to do is to bring out these small things that we can share in. I’d like to actually bring up Hasan Minhaj.
One of the things that made his show so popular is that if you’re Indian, there’s something there that specifically for you, not even that, but specifically a certain type of Indian experience that is meaningful to a group like that. And as a larger group of Asians, we do find it funny as well. And we understand that there’s an image of that we’re not necessarily getting. But it’s OK.
We are sharing in this, as well.
[00:12:17.770] – Rachel Thompson
And there’s more complexity. I love what you said Doretta of about being allowed to be human in this way, being able to tell these difficult stories and that paves way for more humour too.
[00:12:28.030] – Doretta Lau
Oh, for sure. I’m always joking that writers like Wayson Choy and Sky Lee, they wrote these family stories, these epics, these really historical based, historically based works so that I can kind of make fart jokes in writing. It’s just like they did that hard work to open up and expand the idea of how we can tell a story about an Asian Canadian experience.
[00:12:57.130] – Rachel Thompson
Maloy, I want to talk about your storied careers. Hanging out with Triad members and living in a succession of haunted flats in Hong Kong, that you’ve also been a paid companion to a third wife of a tycoon, toured the world with musicians and apprenticed as a goldsmith in Italy. Can you tell us what’s your favourite gig been so far and then turning into writing too. So what brought you to writing?
[00:13:23.200] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
I would say that everybody expects by being a companion to a wannabe socialite actually would have been my most favourite gig. But it actually was very difficult because I used to get very carsick in her car. It was very, very big. It was a very big jaguar. She had a driver and he drove very well. But there was just something about the smell of the car and the size of it that used to make me feel so sick and I couldn’t go with her on journeys.
She was very disappointed in me, I think. But I did like her. I would say, though, out of everything that I’ve done that people consider a little bit offbeat, it’s goldsmithing, that I really enjoy the most, I find extremely challenging. I’ve also accumulated quite a lot of injuries in the process. It’s quite funny when people look at my scars and they’re like, what exactly do you do? The difference between those things that I’ve done and writing is that writing is something that I’ve actually actively pursued. All of my other gigs or jobs or things that I’ve done.
These were things that I sometimes literally stumbled into like I would fall and get into a situation or things that just happened to be there. My attitude tends to be, it can’t hurt to try and can’t hurt to try has led to a lot of questionable situations. For example, I used to smuggle dairy from UK to Italy and not realizing that there was a mad cow disease thing going on at the time and people would pay me to buy certain dairy products for them when I was a goldsmith.
So these were things that I just ended up doing without choosing really. But with writing, I started writing at a very early age. I used to write Transformer’s fanfiction and then it just sort of grew from there. My parents encouraged me a lot. I was a very loved and spoiled child and my parents thought I was a genius. I think my dad probably still has that notebook full of Transformers fan fiction stories. But yes, that’s the only thing that I’ve ever actually pursued.
[00:15:43.930] – Rachel Thompson
You say that you thought what harm could come from leaping into these opportunities, sounds like the Goldsmith thing came with a lot in fact.
[00:15:55.030] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
Yes. I hate to emphasize or exaggerate how much pain is involved in goldsmithing, but physically, it takes a lot out of you. Your back hurts. I also apprenticed in engraving and you always end up poking your finger or your hand or your wrist with your engraver which is extremely sharp and you always lose a lot of blood. I remember one time I burned my hand. So I didn’t realize that a Bunsen burner was on because the sunlight was so bright and the flame is blue right?
So I actually put my hand over the flame to grab the burner. So I didn’t want to make a big scene because I was one of the youngest people there. I didn’t want to act like I’d done something stupid, which I had. I just very coolly showed my hand to one of the older masters who at that time probably was probably in his seventies. He looked at my hand, didn’t say a word, went to the cupboard, took out a giant bottle of grappa and poured me a shot. And that was it. Goldsmithing is that. I just endure pain.
[00:17:06.310] – Rachel Thompson
What all these jobs gave you, are lots of great stories that you can write about, too.
[00:17:11.800] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
Yeah. I did I did some creative writing courses in university and my professor did tell me that you have to grab hold of life before you can have something to write. And I’ve always I’ve always listened to that advice.
[00:17:30.370] – Rachel Thompson
Now Doretta you used to report on music. I read your reviews in The Georgia Straight. I’m wondering how has music informed your writing? Do you want to talk a bit about how music is informing your writing currently, too?
[00:17:45.550] – Doretta Lau
So I essentially launched into having a career as a journalist because of music. It was completely accidental. I was going to school in England for a year and one day I was supposed to be staying in London and then it fell through. So I had to take the train to Lancaster from London. And I bought a magazine called Dazed and Confused because the band Pavement was on the cover.
And so I was reading it and one of my friends at the time was talking about doing internships. And I never heard of an internship before. And I thought, well, what if I write a letter to Dazed and Confused and see if I can intern with them? And so they said yes. And I went. And the very first thing they let me do after I did all of the grunt work as an intern, I did things like take things to the dry cleaners and just like roll glue off magazines to make them look more presentable.
After I did all of that dues paying, they let me interview a band called Mellow, this French band. And from there I thought, this is actually really fun. You get to go talk to someone. About the work they do, and so I kind of fell into being a journalist through music and a love of music, and really just like when I was working on my short story collection, sat down, thought about the kinds of songs that the characters were listening to.
And I would play that music while I was writing. And right now, some of the stuff that I’m pretty into, well, I’m really into that Lil Nas X song, Old Time Road. It’s a hit with all the little kids. And there’s a band in the movie Always Be My Baby called Hello Peril. A Play on the yellow peril. And they have a really fun song called I Punch Keanu Reeves. So I’ve been listening to that. It’s great.
[00:19:42.510] – Rachel Thompson
I’m going to check that out. So you post a lot about branding onThe Unpublishables Maloy. And Doretta you once told me a story and talking before we started recording this, it was actually Maloy who had told you from her marketing background to make every opportunity into a story and something that you used well, when your short story was tweeted about by a famous comedian, you can tell us a bit about that. But I’m wondering, how important overall do you think branding is to writers and what are things that we can be doing better to brand ourselves as writers?
[00:20:14.970] – Doretta Lau
So, Rachel, the story that you’re talking about has to do with the story that I wrote called Every One of My Answers Was a Disappointment, which was published in the Short Story Advent Calendar. And so Patton Oswalt, the comedian, usually tweets about the stories. And when he got to mine, he wrote that it was one of his favorite stories of the year. And so I was really excited and I ended up retweeting that. And then Maloy told me, you really should sit down and write a blog post about how the story came to be and link it to all of this, because it’s an opportunity to kind of tell more about the story and also to encourage other people who are writing that, sometimes you get rejections, but the story will land somewhere and people who you don’t expect will read it and love it and bring more attention to it.
So it’s really important not to think that a story, because it’s been rejected, is not good enough, but really just like trying to find a place to place it, to find the editor that’s going to love that work and to trust that the work is valuable and worthy and to continue to talk about it once it’s out there in the world.
[00:21:31.590] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
In conjunction to that, I think Doretta did a really great job. The story had long legs. It could have had a life of just one week, but instead, it expanded all the way to… I think one month, was it Doretta?
[00:21:46.690] – Doretta Lau
Something like that. I mean, I still have moments where people find that story and talk about it. So it’s kind of been this lasting moment.
[00:21:57.510] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
I think in support of that as well Doretta has already done a lot of work on her own personal branding, which she started on when her first book was published. And maybe she should talk about that a little bit.
[00:22:12.870] – Doretta Lau
When it came to branding and marketing, when the first book was coming out, I really didn’t know anything about it at all.
Like a lot of writers, you spend so much time working on a craft and you don’t really think about the fact that the book has to sell or that you have to be a part of that process of selling. It feels really strange, but Maloy sat me down and explained to me that marketing is really just about telling a story, and it’s about this opportunity to control your own narrative and put out the message that you want to put out and to connect with audiences and to build a fan base.
When she put it that way, it didn’t feel like a weird kind of selling out idea, but it was really about making those connections and really reaching out and really respecting the readers, giving them that extra content that they would want if they do love the work. So she sat me down and just point by point explained, when you have an event, you’re supposed to create a feeling and you want people to want to take that feeling home with them.
When they have that feeling, they will buy your book. I had never thought about a reading that way. I had really only thought about, oh, well I go and I read my work and I try to sound enthusiastic about it, but I never thought, how should I create a feeling? How do I create that connection with audience? So from there, she just really got me to think about my personal brand, the things I wanted to say and to really just focus kind of publishing activities around that in support of the book.
So we looked at my social media at the time. I didn’t even have a smartphone, so I bought one, so I could do Instagram, and it was really creating this idea of, the things in the book that are interesting. Again, going back to music, looking at music, looking at characters in pop culture who are Asian and just crafting connections between my book and those things and just always thinking about what the next project is going to be.
Then really just like planting seeds of that next project.
[00:24:28.670] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
I would have to say that Doretta really opened my eyes to the problem of the lack of branding that writers have. Because my experience with branding is from the music industry. And so I was with one of the big five back when there were five big record labels. And you go in and there’s expectations that musicians will put in the work to brand to market to promote their albums. So it was a big shock to me when Doretta told me that writers who I see in terms of the need for promotion on the same level as musicians and perhaps even more necessary for writers to do it because there isn’t an entire ecosystem built to promote a book the way there are for music.
I was very shocked that writers didn’t know about branding, that they didn’t get the support that musicians would from a big label. And I think writers tend to have the wrong perception of branding as something that is fake or one of the things I always see is when writers have a book come out, they suddenly begin tweeting, Please buy my book. My book is coming out so and so. That’s not that’s not promotions. That’s not marketing. That’s begging.
Branding is all about showing people what they can expect from you. It’s a narrative as Doretta pointed out. It’s not last minute sheepish asking people to please preorder your book or review on Amazon. I find that whenever I see that, I just really cringe. I just can’t. [laughs] I think if I had ever done that back when I was working in the music industry, I would have been fired and not just fired, but probably yelled at for at least half an afternoon.
But it’s just really important for writers to understand that branding doesn’t mean that you have to put yourself out there, that you have to be an extrovert or anything like that. A lot of writers who are introverts were amazing at branding, either deliberately or just sort of intuitively. J.D. Salinger, fantastic brand. All I have to do is say his name. And people suddenly think about this very sensitive, reclusive, sort of New Yorker, very educated and artistic, kind of a writer. Hemingway, a very masculine and sort of this terse kind of writer. Virginia Woolf.
Again, all of these great writers had their own brand. It’s really strange for me to see modern writers or contemporary writers who shy away from a brand because, it’s not locking yourself into a specific space or saying that, but a brand is a story that grows with you. It’s a narrative that encompasses a part of you that you want to share. So you always have control over it.
I don’t know if Doretta wants to talk about her own experience with other writers and their struggles with branding.
[00:27:46.250] – Doretta Lau
Well, the first thing is that Maloy, one of the most important things that you taught me about branding is you’re thinking about the value that you’re bringing to the reader and you’re not thinking about yourself. That’s one of the key things that a lot of people forget when it comes to branding. I’ve been finding that one of the struggles that I’ve been having when I speak with some writers is they think that their press or their publisher is going to do all of this marketing work.
I can assure you from the perspective of someone who has worked at a publishing house, I worked at Scholastic, and as a person who’s worked as a journalist and as a writer myself, I have seen that it is not possible for the one marketing person who might have 10 titles in one season to do that full-service work that a writer expects for their book. It’s not a knock on the person whose job it is to do some of the marketing work because they’re one person.
It’s unfair for a writer to expect to pass on this work to this one person. So my struggle really has been trying to get other writers to understand that we need to be a part of this process, that we need to respect the time of the marketing people that we’re working with and to bring our best ideas and our kind of best selves to the full process of going into a season for a book. From what I understand from you Maloy, that this work really begins from the moment that you sign your book deal, which is two years out for the most part, for the kind of life of a book from the point that it sells to the point that it actually is published.
So I think the thing is people need to understand that in order for a book to get attention. There are some people who are really lucky who seem to participate in next to no promotional kinds of things. But it’s very rare for a writer to win a whole bunch of awards and not do any sort of marketing work.
[00:29:59.190] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
In terms of what can writers do to start with in terms of branding? And a lot of writers from I can see feel very uncomfortable with social media. They don’t like to tweet. They don’t like to be on Facebook. That’s fine. I don’t really use Twitter or Facebook that much either. But what you need to do is to get your content out there. Doretta and I have been really admiring Ali Wong’s work recently, so just sort of her marketing strategy has been fantastic.
Ali is a really good example of how you start with a grassroots foundation. So we’re both very big believers in the idea of one thousand true fans and that all you need to start to support your career is one thousand fans who will be with you come hell or high water no matter what you do. They will take your content. They will buy whatever you put out. And everybody else is sort of a bonus.
So somebody like Ali Wong who started off in stand up doing clubs and you don’t make money doing that and then writing for Fresh Off the Boat, these are things that build a foundation. Number one, you don’t just get to build your fan base, but you also get to meet people within your community. So Ali met other comedians, other writers, and we’re not saying that you meet people with the express purpose of using them, but you will find your level if that’s an appropriate term.
But you will find the people who will support you and who you can support as well. It’s a matter of forming a community. And you don’t need social media, social media just to make this community easier to manage. But you don’t need it necessarily. One of the other things that Ali did is that once she got to the level where she was able to film her show for Netflix Baby Cobra, she was able to parlay a brand that was so obvious.
When you think Ali you think her glasses. I always call Ali’s brand as your favourite cousin or your favourite sister, because most people do have that friend who’s like Ali, she brings up stuff that some people would be too repressed or modest or afraid to speak about. She just sort of brings it out in a very thoughtful way. She’s like, your favourite cousin or your favourite sister.
And that’s such a strong brand.
[00:32:39.810] – Rachel Thompson
I love what you say about how because I think it’s true that a lot of writers are introverts and PR seems kind of like a dirty word to them and thinking about how to build an audience. All of a sudden they get a book deal and it’s like, oh, yeah, you’re thrown to the wolves. You have to market your own book. There just isn’t the resources like Doretta is saying. One of the things when I work with students or I work on the business side of writing too, it’s like even before you finish the book, start thinking about how to just join a conversation about the topics in your book and not think probably most important, what you’re saying is like not making it about yourself. It can really be about the people that are interested in the subject that you’re writing about.
[00:33:24.630] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
Absolutely. I think community is really important. I can’t imagine how people can do things without a community. Coming from music, before we launched an album, we would already seed the ground. A lot of these stars that people see now, they don’t see that there were at least three years, three, four or five years of really difficult grunt work. We would put bands, to sing, to perform in shopping malls in grocery stores, in parks, in schools, anybody who would have them, they would go and they would learn because they would often perform, they were nobodies and they would often perform for people who did not want them there. We had the boy band who had bottles thrown at them because for some reason, the only booking they could get was at the metal concert. So they opened for a metal act and they were this really cute little boy band, and people were just what the hell.
These guys are crying when they were performing, but they finished their set, and I’m not going to name names, but one of them is really famous now, things like that people don’t see. But, I don’t know how many people from that crowd of I think there were but six thousand people in the crowd, but I’m sure at least ten must have gone and bought their album just from the sheer fact that they finished the set.
While having bottles and garbage thrown at them.
[00:34:53.750] – Rachel Thompson
What would be the equivalent for writers to kind of throw themselves in that arena? What are some of the things? I want to ask you this, because I feel like you’ve dropped us into a master class on marketing here. What are some of the things that we could do with their concert with bottles being thrown at them to kind of put themselves out there?
[00:35:11.390] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
Teach a class, teach a writing class to kids.
I think a lot of writers, if they’re introverted, which I totally understand because I may be an introvert, I’m not really sure. But teaching kids to write especially or, seniors, anybody, once you’re giving to the community, it’s very frightening because, again, it’s going into a space where you’re not comfortable and where you may not necessarily be welcome. I told the story as well before where I used to teach.
And so I taught for a non-profit. They sent us to different schools. And we would have this little sort of a program that we would have to complete at the school. And I got sent to one of the worst schools in Hong Kong. The school was in a really bad neighbourhood so bad that there was no Seven-Eleven. In Hong Kong there’s no Seven-Eleven there it’s a really bad sign. When I walked into school, the principal told me, you have to be out of here by five o’clock.
You have to take that bus, because after five o’clock, I can’t guarantee what’s going to happen to you. So I was like, OK. So that school was an all-boys school known for gang activity. The school had somehow thought it was a good idea to gather the worst truants, the worst delinquents, put them together in the room and make them learn and perform a Christmas carol for Christmas. And not just that ,would make them, force them to come in during Christmas break.
So when I walked in the door, I was like, OK, guys, we’re going to do a Christmas Carol. And one of the students threw a table at me, and he walked out. [laughing] There were 20 kids, in that class. I think maybe I reached one kid. But, that’s one kid.
And he has friends. He has family, and I think writers, you don’t have to go to the worst school in your district. But, I think reaching out to teach a class to get kids, to learn to write, to appreciate. You don’t have to even teach them to write. You can teach them, even a book club or something. But anything that has to do with something that you’re interested in and some writers, have really interesting hobbies.
I think there’s a writer who is a birdwatcher. I can’t remember what the actual term is, sorry. That would be great if they could lead the group, and then it’s really just getting yourself out there in a way that is comfortable for you. You don’t have a predatory record label behind you, whipping you to a metal concert. It’s just a matter of, build that community.
It doesn’t have to be one community. We all have diverse interests. Explore them and find people there.
[00:37:58.370] – Rachel Thompson
To kind of bring it back around full circle to that’s a big part of what publishing in lit mags too, is finding your community, finding people who are going to read you in those different places and then having them follow you to your book publication. I want to also circle back to the actual story, like the tweet from Patton Oswald about Doretta’s brilliant story, Every One of My Answers Was a Disappointment. And then how Doretta you turned that into a story. Because he was talking about the brilliant ending of the piece. And I think you’ve mentioned that that ending was what a lot of publishers had critiqued before and had asked, suggested that you change and you stuck to your guns, kept sending the work out. Can you talk a bit about the lesson and the encouragement maybe writers can take from that story?
[00:38:48.080] – Doretta Lau
I had sent the story off to my agent, loved the story, said it was the best-unpublished piece of fiction she had read in a long time. We got really excited. She sent it to The New Yorker, Paris Review, Tin House. All the comments came back with the story’s great. And then that last section does not work. And I was really lucky.
Michael Hingston from Short Story Advent Calendar. Hingston Olsen reached out and said, Do you have a story? I’m working on the calendar this year. And so I sent it to him and he just was like, OK, we’re going with this. And when it was published, I had so many people write to me and just say, wow, that ending it, it’s it’s incredible. And so it’s really different readers are going to have a different response to your work and it doesn’t mean the work is bad.
And so for any writer who’s thinking, when they’re piling up the rejections, if you sit down and really think, did I do the hard work on this story, did I take this to the farthest point of where I can go to make it emotionally satisfying, to really look deep into it and say, did I do that craftwork? And if the answer is yes, I’ve done all the work, it’s really about not giving up.
It’s really about kind of thinking about which magazine might be into it to kind of reach out to editors that you may have developed relationships with over time to say, would you be interested in reading this? Is this something that you think that you can publish and to just not give up, really. I mean, the story of not giving up really just goes back to my short story collection. It took ten years to write and a lot of the stories were rejected.
And the title story of my collection was rejected and maybe I think five times before it got accepted at Event. And from there it was Silas White with NIghtwood Editions, saw it and he asked me if I was working on a book and it also was shortlisted for the Journey Prize. So that was a story that five editors did not like. And I never changed a single word. I just thought, well, it’s time to send it to the next place.
It’s time to reach out to the next person. So it’s really about just after all the time you’ve put into being a writer and to being part of a community, the community is there for you. And it’s really about just doing the work and then reaching out and trying to find the right audience for the work.
[00:41:28.060] – Rachel Thompson
Can you tell us a bit about the kind of writing that you love to publish with The Unpublishables and about the voice and also the various genres that you’re publishing?
[00:41:37.580] – Doretta Lau
Well, we really just want people to write the thing that they love to write or make the art that they love to make without this idea that they’re serving a gatekeeper type of audience. So it’s the work that they’re making. If they’re kind of reflecting their very true selves. It’s kind of like the difference between the personality Drake brings to his Hip-Hop life and the personality that Drake brings to courtside for a basketball game. We’re looking for courtside, Drake. We’re looking for things that are full of passion that might be a little bit messy, that the person is really showing whatever truth of art that they’re kind of seeking to make.
And so we do fiction, we do interviews, we publish art. We’re really just trying to do kind of anything that can fit into kind of that webspace. So we do a lot of photography as well. And it’s really an opportunity for people to build an audience for whatever project that they’re kind of wanting to put out into the world next. So it’s kind of small steps to create attention for a bigger project.
[00:42:58.880] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
Just to add on to that, as Doretta said we’re really interested in people who are looking to build a platform. So people who are interested in producing content that will eventually that may not be free right now or is building their sort of brand as a writer, but with a greater purpose. We do like the messy writers, but we also really hope to get more of the writers who are very ambitious writers who have this book or maybe a TV deal or a film that they have in the way future, but they’re really ready to build towards that.
[00:43:41.210] – Rachel Thompson
Before I let you go, and thank you so much for your generosity today and the lesson in marketing and branding stands out. It’s great and so helpful. But I’m wondering, do you have any advice that you give writers who submit and don’t make it into The Unpublishables? And maybe you can talk a bit about some of the common mistakes or problems you see with submissions?
[00:44:02.960] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
For me, I tend to seek people out, so I don’t really look at all the submissions. I don’t know about Doretta. However, in terms of the few that I have rejected, because I’d rather work with someone rather than outright reject them. The few that I have rejected, goes back to the whole idea of authenticity. I felt like these people were trying to write to impress. So they were writing things they may not have known much about, but they wanted to because it was a trending topic at the time or it was something that they admired perhaps in another writer that they wanted to do themselves.
And I think that’s a really good thing. I think everybody starts that way. But that’s not really what we’re about. We’re really looking for authenticity of voice and experience. I would rather somebody wrote about their experience with one of the strange, unique lifestyles that you can see in Asia. And by that, I don’t just mean people doing strange things, the people doing mundane things that people don’t really realize. Like one of the things that Doretta and I often laugh about is how many people I know who own carts and they use it to drive around their houses, and that’s a story there.
But you get people like that who would rather not talk about because they don’t think it’s an experience worth talking about. [laughing]
[00:45:29.350] – Rachel Thompson
[laughing] That’s golf carts. You know, so many people who own golf courses? That’s amazing!
[00:45:38.520] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
Yes, golf carts. That’s pretty funny. I wish people would write about these things rather than write about this thing that they think is more literary or deserves to be written about.
[00:45:49.240] – Doretta Lau
Yeah, it really comes down to people kind of going to their lives and they’re kind of emotional truths. I think if people stick to that, we’re really interested in that work. And I’m not talking about memoir. I’m talking about the things that you can see in everyday life that, you know, to be true, putting on the page. It’s like that for me is really interesting. A lot of times it’s just like if something doesn’t fit for The Unpublishables, it doesn’t mean that it’s not publishable elsewhere.
It’s just that we have a very specific idea of what we think works for our readers and for the things that we think that the audience that we’ve been developing over the past few years are kind of interested in looking at. And so it’s really about just like sitting back and thinking, does this work really speak to kind of the humanity of kind of the Asian experience? And to really just think about how those small things in everyday life that we’re talking about, just like the way, you know, the street smells, the way people might do, just like those kind of things at like the grocery store.
There’s just like little small things that kind of accumulate that tell you about a culture. And we’re kind of interested in work that does that. It doesn’t have to be flashy. It’s really about getting to the core of what kind of drives the communities around us. So really, it’s just like if there’s a rejection, it’s not about the work. It’s really about like does it fit with the vision that we have for a space to feature work?
[00:47:43.870] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
I do have one piece of advice for writers in general that doesn’t have anything to do with our site that I think is a very important force that we believe in personally and on the site as well. And that is to show gratitude. I think a lot of writers may be too scared or intimidated to just write thank you. Or maybe they just forget. But one of the things that I do encourage is that people have a regularly updated list of people that they should thank.
I will end this with another music industry antecdote. There’s a musician, just to give a quick clue, Canadian who out of all the years that me and my boss ever worked in the music industry is one of five people who have ever thanked us. After a tour and after working on their album, and he is also the only one who ever regularly sent Christmas cards, and you can bet that we worked our asses off for him if he needed something, everybody jumped.
You know, we love this guy. If there was anything for him, we would make it a priority, even if he wasn’t supposed to be a priority. Everything we could do for him to sell his album, it was like our own personal project, whereas we had other artists who are bigger, who were perhaps more prioritized, but because they never said thank you or they never showed any appreciation for the work that we did, we did what we had to do.
But, for this guy, and to this day, we all talk about him. All of us have left the industry more or less because it’s collapsed. But we still love this guy. I think writers should remember showing gratitude and saying thank you to people goes a long way.
[00:49:43.340] – Rachel Thompson
So much. This podcast comes out of a course that I teach called Lit Mag Love. And I have a whole lesson on gratitude because I really believe in it.
[00:49:52.280] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
Yeah, totally. I think people can guess who this guy is. I can’t say anything. [laughs]
[00:49:55.730] – Rachel Thompson
A very grateful kind Canadian. And it’s good for you to see how things are going well and not focus on things that are going poorly.
[00:50:05.300] – M. Paramita Lin (Maloy)
[00:50:06.170] – Rachel Thompson
As we know in writing, there’s a lot of rejection. We’re talking about that here, too.
Well, thank you both so much for your time and thank you for sharing so much wisdom about the marketing side of the writing, which is something we don’t get to delve into a lot here.
So I think that’s really helpful. And also, just like your passion and energy and wonderful stuff that you bring to The Unpublishables. Thank you.
[00:50:28.880] – Doretta Lau
Thank you so much, Rachel.
[00:50:31.130] – Rachel Thompson
There’s so much good stuff to glean from this conversation with M. Paramita Lin and Doretta Lau.
And the first is and really one of the big reasons that I invited Dorretta to the podcast is she’s so encouraging for writers and she loves sharing the message of don’t give up to writers of how much time it really takes to develop your writing and to see the response that you want and build the community, an audience that you want for your writing. And she mentioned that she had a piece that had the same feedback from really major publications. They asked her to change the ending several times, but in fact, when it eventually found its home, that very piece was celebrated for this ending.
So don’t give up is the message to pick there. And when it comes to the kind of writing they’re looking for in The Unpublishables. I love how Doretta says we’re looking for courtside Drake. So, reflect your passion and your enthusiasm for things.
And Maloy Paramita Lin says they’re looking for very ambitious writers. So consider publishing with The Unpublishables a small step to create attention for a bigger project. Also on The Unpublishables website, they say sometimes we might be crazy, sometimes we might be annoying, sometimes we might be hypocritical. But one thing that we will always be is honest. And that message came through so often in this conversation. And in fact, the title of this episode “Reflect Your True Self.”
They’re talking a lot about authenticity. And then they also talked about building an audience for your writing and Maloy Paramita Lin gave us a really great mini master class in marketing for writers that marketing is just telling stories and talked about the maxim of finding a thousand true fans and some really specific ways to kind of build up that audience. And in fact, I’m looking in the show notes to a piece that read aloud wrote in response to that big tweet from Patton Oswalt, who tweets about the short story Advent calendar every year and really enjoyed her piece and singled that out for praise.
And then the response that she created based on that to kind of build a bigger story about her writing and tell that story, in fact, about how the ending hadn’t been celebrated by all the publications she’d sent it to. But in fact, is the thing that people were talking about, that was the most exciting part about it. You can follow The Unpublishables on Twitter at unite the rice. Again I’ll link to that in the show notes as well.
Lit Mag Love is co-presented by Room Magazine literature, art and feminism and since 1975 and the Lit Mag Love Course, an online course to get smart, fearless and published with lots of help from me. Sound editing for the episode is done by Mica Lemiski, and I’m your host, Rachel Thompson.
[background music playing] if you want to give us some love in the form of a review, wherever you get your podcast, we would love that. And it really helps other writers discover the podcast, you can find us online at Lit Mag Love podcast, dot com or on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at Lit Mag Love. Thanks for writing and reading literature and thanks for listening to Lit Mag Love. [background music fades]