Author Marian Tee: On Romance Writercraft Self-Publishing Success By Spunky Filipina Novelist
by Michael Rene D. Kanoy
Marian Tee is one of the most underrated Filipino authors doing well in her chosen genre: Pulp romance writing. While some literary aficionados might sniff at the cheesiness of this genre, many young Filipino writers are successfully getting published and making a good living as romantic comedy authors as well as supernatural or paranormal romance scribes.
Image Credit: Marian Tee 2016 used with permission The cutest Pinay romance author and maybe the most successful too! Marian Tee.
The best thing about being a pulp romance writer like Marian Tee is that you outsell the winner of the local literary book awards by factorial margins—with a ranking on the Amazon e-Book bestseller list as proof. No local romance writer worth his salt would trade some lame, Ivory Tower-establishment trophy for the thousands of readers loving your work, hoarding and downloading your books, month in and month out. Another thing going for Marian Tee is her amazing writer blog. She provides would-be writers and readers extensive and detailed insights into the world of self-publishing and writing for a living.
Image Credit: Marian Tee 2016 Used with permission. Billionaire romance book by Marian Tee.
In the past, before self-publishing allowed all capable authors a chance to push their own work (and earn up to 3x more than a standard publishing house contract could offer), making a living off writing in the Philippines was difficult because of limited opportunities and the very low pay offered. Now you can see BOTH good and bad writers SELLING books like crazy. That's always a good thing.
Image Credit: Marian Tee 2016 Used with permission. Paranormal romance book by Marian Tee
Sometimes self-publishing still gets you a golden publishing deal—like Eragon's Christopher Paolini (who finished Eragon at age 15) and the surprise hit, 40 Shades of Grey from E.L. James
Marian knows her craft well and she has esconced herself into several pulp romance niches—as personal preference of a romance author, and as a writer marketing her work. Her bestselling Greek Billionaire series has been consistently in the top 200 of Amazon's bestselling books for romance. She has written a paranormal romance about a werewolf stud, and a BDSM themed story...
We approach her as a fellow writer looking for insights into making the writing life a successful one if going into self-publishing pulp romance.
REACH: Hello Marian! Thank God, we get the chance to interview you. Unknown to many, you just might be the most successful Filipino self-published writer at the moment with your books consistently ranking on Amazon's e-book bestseller lists.
Marian Tee: Hi! Thank you for the extremely flattering introduction, although I strongly doubt I’m the most successful self-published Filipino author. Pretty sure there are many other authors who are more deserving of that title, could be we just don’t know they’re Filipino. (winky smile emoji)
REACH: How did you start out as a pulp romance self-published writer?
Marian Tee:My indie career began when a former boss bought a couple of my stories (stuff that I had shared for free on Female Network’s GirlTalk forum). I was amazed that she was able to market my work and that readers outside PH were actually willing to pay to read my books.
After that, things happened that required me to quit my “day job” (online content provider) and – after much soul searching as well as doing major research and networking with other indie authors (mostly from the US) – I eventually found the courage to part ways with my boss/publisher and self-publish.
REACH: How many near misses before you started hitting your stride?
Marian Tee: I was very lucky that all the misses I had in my career took place when I was still hoping to be traditionally published – queries to local editors were either rejected or ignored, literally hundreds of rejected queries and submissions to literary agents, a disappointing run with a U.S. literary agent, and so forth. I also quietly struggled with years of self-doubt, wondering whether writing was really for me.
My foray into indie publishing / self-publishing was moderately smooth sailing in comparison. My first self-published book, The Art of Catching a Greek Billionaire, was included in the NYT and USA Today bestselling Billionaire Bad Boys of Romance Boxed Set. That and the other multi-author anthologies I joined in my first year (almost all of which made it to Amazon’s Top 100 and hit bestselling lists) enabled me to find lots of new readers. I sincerely believe that without those boxed sets, my reader base wouldn’t be what it is now.
REACH: For any writer looking to commit time and resources over the long run, what encouragement would you cite to them to show that risking self-publishing their own books is well worth everything.
Marian Tee:Assuming that the writer’s already weighed the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing (this is very important, and there’s no right or wrong decision, you just have to choose what’s best for you) and still opts for the latter, I say go for it!
The beauty of self-publishing, you see, is that you have everything to gain and nothing to lose. You don’t require anyone’s permission for what, when, and how you should write or publish. You’re not bound by any contract. And in the event that sales of your first book didn’t meet your expectations, that’s totally fine. Just pick yourself up and start again. With self-publishing, you have as many chances as you need to succeed. Just keep writing.
REACH: You've made a very smart push into niche genres of pulp romance, exploring Paranormal, New Adult, and BDSM, and becoming as successful as you've been. How do you study trends or opportunities in a niche book market before you commit to writing for one? Do you still write what you want for yourself and let the fans enjoy that too, or do you spin your novel into what readers crave for in a niche book market?
Marian Tee: My first year self-publishing, I constantly studied trends by taking note of which types of romance would make it to Amazon’s Top 100. From there, I’d see what I could do to apply those trends to my work while ensuring that I’m still writing what I love.
For instance, there was a time when biker romances were really hot. Basically, they were like Sons of Anarchy with more smut. So I wrote my own biker romance series – but I wrote it the way I like it (e.g. still Greek billionaires, just younger, enrolled in college, and with a passion for bikes).
Nowadays though, I don’t pay that much attention to trends. Instead, I look for underserved niches and – if possible – I write for those markets while ensuring that I still enjoy what I write.
Image Credit: Marian Tee 2016 Used with permission. Paranormal romance book by Marian Tee
REACH: Been looking over several writer blogs lately, and I was pleasantly surprised that your writer blog works as a goldmine for kids and even seasoned writers—for insights and details on making self-publishing work. If kids have the chops and resources for it, can you give them a short rundown or outline of the self-publishing process—from laying-out the book, proof-reading and copy editing, then shopping it to Amazon and book marketers?
1. If you’re in this for both passion and money then either target trends or underserved niches when outlining your book. 2. Write and finish your book. 3. Hire a proofreader / editor to work on your book. Edit as needed. 4. Hire a formatter to format your book. 5. Hire a cover artist to design your book’s cover. 6. Upload your book to Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon), Nook Press (Barnes & Noble), etc. Remember to use keywords when appropriate. 7. Market. Create a website and social media accounts for your author persona. Build a newsletter (extremely important). Explore and experiment with different marketing options (paid and free) until you find what works for you. Network. Update front and back matter of your books. Interact with readers (and yes, in many ways, this can be considered marketing, too). 8. Ignore all kinds of negativity (don’t beat yourself up over bad reviews, poor sales, lack of readers, et al). 9. Repeat steps 1 to 8.
P.S. Some authors don’t bother to delegate/outsource and that’s fine, too. Again, do what works best for you.
REACH: You've written paranormal romance and BDSM romance, both of which include the requisite interlude where the paramour and the object of his desire consummate their passion. As writer of sexy romances, do you write erotica as prose stylist bodice ripper yarns, or the more modern rendering of matter-of-fact descriptions, paced to heighten both interest and blush factor.
Marian Tee: Depends on my mood and what the story calls for.
REACH: Can aspiring young writers who want to explore sexy romances or even erotica, WING those parts or is it part of craft to know how to pace and lay out a love scene?
Marian Tee: As long as you enjoy reading steamy stuff, I think writing it will come naturally. You just need to get over your inhibitions first.
REACH: Is porn a good writer's reference ever?
Marian Tee: It varies from writer to writer.
REACH: You start your work process off story outlines and flesh out your novel that way. How do you put together your outline? My favorite horror author, China Mieville describes his story outline process as imagining specific scenes in each chapter—actual visual and visceral images which are then threaded into each other throughout the story. Do you have the same deal or do you approach it as a set piece where a scenario is going on and you describe the paramour and his lady go through their aso-pusa ligawan-pakipot (Pretty Woman plotline) then consummate it before leaving enough bits for readers to chew on for the next sequel.
Marian Tee: These days, I usually start with a chapter-by-chapter outline, but if necessary I also include actual dialogue. More often than not, I end up editing my outline as I go along and it gets more and more detailed as the story progresses.
REACH: How do writing outlines make writing easier over other work methods?
Marian Tee: For me, outlines make my work a lot easier because it reminds me where the story’s supposed to be heading and so I don’t waste time writing unnecessary scenes. But…that’s just me. Outlining isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. In the end, it’s all about finding what works best for you.
REACH: Among local authors you've read who write sexy pulp romance, who would you recommend to fans and writers of the genre, and how would you describe their 'art.' For example: Mina Esguerra writes intimate scenes like a 'sweetheart' (nakakakilig) Another writer may write 'intense' (baka ma-heart attack ang faint of heart) romantic interludes. Who are they and how would you describe your fave sexy romance authors' 'art?'
Marian Tee: Kat Madrid and Eve Montelibano / Eve Monte for steamy romance (she’s doing really great on Kindle Unlimited) definitely.
REACH: Many successful novelists and artists have a dedicated workspace or desk for the job and these have been features as inspiring work-cribs of their own on writer-book blogs. Can we have a look at your personal writing workspace? Do you have a personal library stack next to your workspace? Neil Gaiman has a work shed gazebo for his personal workspace at his home, what would your dream pulp romance workspace look like—a fantasy set-up like a boudoir library or a cluttered bespoke desk?
Marian Tee: I’m lucky in the sense that, with our new home, the boyfriend was able to build / design for me the exact kind of workplace and library I’ve always wanted. I told him that I just wanted a place to work/write where I can always see my books, and that’s what he gave me. So yay!
Image Credit: Marian Tee 2016 Used with permission. Marian Tee's writer's workspace overlooking her personal library.
Image Credit: Marian Tee 2016 Used with permission. The author's personal library--stacked with her favorite books upstairs is her writer's workspace overlooking this superb library.
Image Credit: Marian Tee 2016 Used with permission. Marian compact writer workspace overlooking the two-floor library with an access ladder--gorgeous home for her books.
REACH: Thank you again for the chance to interview you, and we hope more readers (and writers) support your sexy romance books. Hope you can put together a sexy supernatural/paranormal anthology series (like David Bowie's The Hunger TV series) soon, since you've mentioned rediscovering the beauty of narrative to carry a story (forgot to check, she already has The Demon Duke and I).
Marian Tee: Thank you, too, and we’ll see about that! Haha.
If you are a romance novel reader, you may check Marian Tee's books on Amazon.com and get more updates from her website. She has plenty of advice on how to make writing as a freelance self-publisher work for you if you are ready for it.