A decade before self-publishing her second novel, Memoirs of a Eurasian, with Amazon’s CreateSpace—a chapter of which won an award in the 2007 WNYC Leonard Lopate Essay Contest—Vivian Yang released her debut, Shanghai Girl, with Xlibris.
And while her experiences with Xlibris and CreateSpace were different, due in large part to new technologies and changes within the publishing industry, Yang remains a proponent of self-publishing as a way for serious authors to find an audience.
“The ability to leverage the Internet’s global reach, given the right content and flair combined with targeted use of social media, provides a unique marketing platform,” she says, noting that she initially came to self-publishing out of necessity.
During the late 1990s, Yang—who earned a master’s degree in communications at Columbia University, where she workshopped Shanghai Girl in creative writing classes—returned to China. There she wrote Memoirs of a Eurasian and began to contact literary agents.
“The Internet was not as developed back then, and I conducted my agent-hunting through international snail mail,” Yang says. “I queried by sending sets of photocopied manuscripts.”
Although she established relationships with several agents, she never found representation. At the same time, she learned about Xlibris and in 2001 decided to give it a try. The results were nothing short of spectacular.
“Shanghai Girl became a critical success in Asia,” Yang says. “My book talks were always full-house events and the copies all sold out.... Shanghai Girl received many positive reviews and interviews—it was picked up by a small Japanese publishing house and appeared in translation as Shan Hai Gaaru in 2002.”
However, the experience was not without its difficulties. Because Xlibris offered no distribution services at that time, she was forced to purchase copies of Shanghai Girl, send them to an address in the United States to avoid international shipping costs, and then personally carry the books back to Asia via airplane.
Following the self-publication of Shanghai Girl, Yang received a scholarship to attend the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, where she presented Memoirs of a Eurasian and met several editors from traditional publishing houses to whom she sent her manuscript after returning to Asia.
The book was not picked up. However, upon repatriating to the U.S., the Leonard Lopate Essay Contest recognized Yang’s work.
“This boosted my confidence as an author whose unique background and perspective have the potential of commanding a wide American and Western readership,” Yang says. “So I decided to continue with self-publishing, this time with Amazon.”
Compared to the experience with Xlibris, Yang describes the process with CreateSpace as “quite straightforward.” She simply selected the services she wanted—opting only for the basics and Amazon’s extended distribution service, which costs $39 per title for the first year and $5 per year thereafter—and self-published Memoirs of a Eurasian, along with Shanghai Girl and the reissued Shan Hai Gaaru.
The books are now available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com, and thanks to Yang’s promotional efforts, on the shelves of stores in New York City (the Strand, McNally Jackson, Kinokuniya Bookstore). And while the commercial response to Memoirs of a Eurasian has been positive, Yang says she owes much of her success to having established a strong online presence.
Additionally, Yang participated in the 2010 DUMBO Arts Festival and did a reading as part of the New York Foundation of the Arts’ Immigrant Artists Project. She also began to utilize social media, creating pages on Facebook, Amazon, and LinkedIn, as well as a Twitter account (@ShanghaiGirlUsa).
But even with her success with Xlibris and CreateSpace, Yang acknowledges the limits of self-publishing.
“There are obvious disadvantages, such as the challenge of having to handle promotion yourself,” she says. “I would certainly welcome the opportunity to be published conventionally if a literary agent can help bring my books to a wider readership.”
Nonetheless, Yang remains positive about her decision to use CreateSpace, dismissing concerns about the stigma of self-publishing and instead focusing on producing quality work.
“Hone your craft and let your work speak for itself,” she advises, encouraging writers considering self-publication to build a body of published work across genres and develop a business sensibility in addition to an artistic and creative one.
“Compartmentalize different aspects of your writing career,” she says, “and learn to enjoy the process. Hopefully, sales and recognition will follow in due course.”