Interview with Author Y. Y. Chan – Ramona Portelli Blog

Interview with Author Y. Y. Chan

Author Y.Y. Chan was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Brisbane, Australia.  Her family migrated there when she was around six years old.  She flew back and forth between Brisbane and Hong Kong regularly.

Studied at an all girls’ school in Brisbane, and an international school in Hong Kong for a few years before finishing the rest of her studies in Brisbane.  She studied Bachelor of Education at Griffith University and graduated with First Class Honours.  Then decided to move back permanently to Hong Kong to begin her teaching career.  Taught English in an all boys’ primary school for about 10 years. 

When her dad passed away, Y.Y. Chan decided to take a year off to spend some time with her mum, travel, read and write.  Worked part-time for a while and also worked freelance, writing teachers’ guides and teaching resources for different education institutes.  She is now tutoring English and working on various writing projects. Had always wanted to write a children’s book, but she never spent any real time or invested in it enough to make it happen. It wasn’t until COVID-19 hit in February 2020 that she really started writing with a goal of getting published. 

Tell me more about your latest book 

My latest book is about a young girl who finds out her daddy has cancer. The book is written as a series of diary entries where she documents all the events that are happening and how she feels. It is a faith-based story so it also talks about how faith in God can help us deal with loss and grief. The story is based on my own experience but the events are all fictional. 

What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?

I started writing several versions of the book two years ago. It morphed and changed in format and style. Originally, it was going to be a memoir but I had forgotten a lot of the details so I pushed the project aside and tried again later. I finally decided to write a fictional story for children and that made it a lot easier. I kept a lot of the major events the same, as well as using a lot of my own thoughts and feelings in the story. But it was slightly difficult trying to write from the perspective of a young girl. The language is very different; a lot of the details had to be simplified and broken down to make things more relatable and easier for a child to understand. I decided to write a children’s book because I wish I had read a book like this when I was young. I did a lot of research, reading other books similar to what I wanted to write. Most of the books were very general and didn’t cover the deep inner feelings a child might be feeling in those situations. It was hard to know whether what I had written was an authentic representation. I also had difficulty deciding on the tense of the book. I started with present tense, thinking it would be easier for the younger kids to read and make them feel like the events were happening in real-time, but later changed it to past tense instead as the events had already happened at the time of writing.

What is your normal procedure to get your books published?

This is my first time getting a book published so I can’t say I have a ‘normal procedure’. But I think there are a lot of things I could have done differently or better. It’s a huge learning curve that takes a lot of patience, research, understanding of the market, and so on. The easiest part of the process was writing the book! For the picture book, I found an editor to edit the manuscript before seeking an illustrator. It was a big investment, not knowing if the book would sell or not. I didn’t know how to budget my spending and probably could have saved a lot more! I was quite hesitant to share about my book in the early stages. It wasn’t until I had the first round of illustrations that I started marketing and sharing on social media about it. I think I could have started the marketing process a bit earlier and built a larger following. It is difficult to promote a book to people you don’t know or haven’t connected well with. I learned a lot from publishing my first book and hope that the future books I publish will be easier, and I can use the lessons I have learned this time, instead of trying everything through trial and error.

What motivated you to become an author?

I have always enjoyed writing – from short stories, poems, blogs to my own teaching resources. I had dreamed of becoming an author a few years after I started teaching. I was writing so many stories for my students for reading comprehension, assessments and everything, I thought I could someday actually write a story to publish. I really love to read and thought it would be amazing to be able to hold my own book in my hands or to see someone else holding my book to read. What motivated me to finally publish this story was that I wanted to share my personal experience. I had shared it a number of times in small groups in church and with friends but it would always just remain within that small group. It couldn’t reach anyone else beyond the people I had told. I knew the only way I could make an impact was to write it and publish it so that it could reach more people. I wanted to share and spread the message of love, hope and faith in God to cope with the loss, grief and pain we all feel in our lives. Death and loss are inevitable in life and they can have a big impact on how we live and move forward. It took me a long time to come to terms and deal with my pain and I wanted to share my experience with others so that they can find the hope and peace that God gives us. 

How many books have you written so far?

I have written two books so far. They are the same story but one is a picture book for young children and the other is an early reader without pictures for slightly older readers. The early reader has additional notes and discussion questions at the end. 

Picture book: ‘Can You Hear Me, Daddy?’ 

Early reader: ‘Can You Hear Me?’ 

As an author, do you prefer the traditional book or online version? Why? 

I like both. It feels great to hold a traditional physical book in your hands but when it is over 300 pages long and heavy to carry around, it is less likely that I will be able to finish it quickly because I don’t want to be carrying such a heavy book around. The great thing about e-books is that I can read anywhere on the go. I love being able to switch from one book to another whenever I want, depending on my mood. It’s especially great when travelling. I can never decide which books to bring on a trip. For picture books, they are definitely the best as physical print books, especially for kids. They do make your bookshelves look beautiful, too. As an author, I think we need to take advantage of all the different formats of books to have a bigger reach and build a larger audience. We can’t rely on just one format of a book. E-books are definitely the fastest to receive upon purchase. You can even put links in it and make it interactive. I also love how it can show you how long it will take to read the book, too. But it doesn’t beat that feeling of turning a page, feeling and smelling the pages of a book. It’s a completely different experience. 

How hard or easy is it to establish and maintain a career in writing?

I think the hardest thing is marketing and how to maintain steady sales. Writing in itself can either be very easy or very hard, depending on different circumstances. It has a lot to do with having the right mindset. But it is extremely difficult to market and sell books, especially as a new independent author. I relied a lot on my family, friends and other authors to help promote and share about the book. It’s not easy trying to convince complete strangers to buy your book when they have never heard of you before. I think you also need to release a lot of books before people start noticing you. I am working on some new stories but I am nowhere near ready to publish them yet. But I know that if I don’t soon, people will lose interest quickly. You can’t promote the same book all the time. People would be expecting something new to come out. I am hoping that I can maintain some momentum and publish one or two more books before the end of the year. 

What is your advice for aspiring writers?

I think the best advice is just to finish the first draft. It will not be perfect but at least it is done. Do not edit while writing the first draft. Just get it done. Also, start sharing your work with others early, read fellow writers’ stories and offer each other feedback and learn from each other. Keep reading a lot of different books to learn how to make yours better.

Don’t take criticism or negative reviews personally. It can be scary releasing or publishing a book for the first time. We want everything we write to be great and loved by all readers, but that isn’t always the case. Some people may think it’s great while others may think it’s trash. Opinions are subjective and we cannot please everyone. Focus on the positives and write because you want to write, not because you want to please people. 

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