I think it’s pertinent to share my thoughts with everyone on what I learned through the release of my second novel, The Curse of Pirini Lilapa. It was officially published on June 21, but I didn’t have its release party until June 22.
The undertaking in releasing this book was something like I have never experienced before and has made me but luckily I had some experience already in this sort of thing. The hardest part, of course, was the language barrier and communicating my ideas and design to someone whose native language is not English. Luckily, I had met a few contacts who could speak a decent amount of English and worked in the positions I needed them to work in. I knew someone in an advertising agency who could design the inside of the book with her staff. I also knew another person who knew a book printer who could help me with printing books. This, my readers, is known as 關係(Guānxì). It means relationship in Chinese and it is part of the cultural identity that thrives here in China. So many times I have seen this play out, sometimes in bad ways (like when students enter our program because they simply know someone), sometimes in good ways (like my case) but it’s a fundamental idea that one has to be cognizant about while in China. If you’ve ever heard of the phrase “Don’t burn your bridges,” and thought it was just an idiom, it is actually life over here.
In fact, this idea permeates through more than just simple relationships, but it also affects how we are perceived as foreigners. For example, I recently went to a family lunch for the parents of a recent graduate to our program. I had never heard about this lunch until the day before, but no one actually invited me. At 7 p.m. at night I finally get an invitation from a colleague who must have “forgotten” about me (all too common in China), but I refuse the invitation as I already had other plans. Then the father personally adds me and invites me to the lunch. Now, I actually do enjoy these lunches and dinners quite a bit, and I did eventually end up going, but only because the father actually took the effort to invite me. So, there I was, the only foreigner in a room of 200 or so Chinese, and I needed to be there in order for them to have the ability to say that they know a foreigner, in order to give them 關係. Now, how does this relate to the novel? I only mentioned that story to show you how essential it is for Chinese people to have us at events, no matter the event, even if it’s simply taking a picture with you so they can claim to have a “foreign friend.” So, getting back to the book release, I held this event at a coffee shop and when asked how much money it would be to reserve the second floor they said there was no money needed, just that everyone should buy at least one drink and that they would have the ability to take photos of us for use as promotional material. Compared to other places and prices that I looked at in Yixing, this was a great deal and I ended up having my event there. You can see some of the pictures below, but again, it reverts back to this idea of relationships and not only that but “the face” here in China.
China is, lack for a better word, shallow. They DO care about how you look. They DO care about your skin color. They DO care about your sex. Although they may not say it explicitly, it goes back to their cultural identity and never losing “face” to someone. Face is like reputation, and because people take photos of me, or have lunches with me, or have their coffee shop filled with a bunch of foreigners, they automatically gain a lot of “guanxi” and they gain a lot of face.
Another thing that was extremely surprising to me doing the second release of the book is that, since traveling and teaching abroad, I have actually gained more fans than in the States. You think that this would be the opposite, right? Back home people know me, I grew up with them, I have established long-term friendships with them. While that is true, some of my best friends are actually the ones I have made abroad and I think it’s because we have gone through the same thing. We are both living and adapting to our environment and the struggle we share is similar. That is why support is so high here. Even from the Chinese actually. Although they most likely cannot read the book, they still buy it and support me and that matters a lot to me. I also think it’s because when people find out that I’m an author and a traveling teacher it kind of makes me an outlier. I mean, it’s like randomly seeing a celebrity on the street. Now, I’m not trying to equate myself with a celebrity, I am far from rich and famous yet, but it’s not that many times that you run into someone (especially someone so young) who has published a novel—that, too, I believe helps me gain fans and supporters.
The last thing I learned doing this book release was that timing is EVERYTHING. Now, this should be obvious, but it’s even more so when you are living abroad (especially in China). As I have an American fan base and a Chinese fan base, I need to post things on social media at the specific times where it can gain the most traction. Typically for me, this is in the morning (or the night before for America) or late at night in China around 9 PM which will then hit America at 9 AM. This, for the most part, I did successfully; however, I did fail in getting pre-publicity reviews before its release, and I hope that doesn’t really hurt me and my sales for the book. This time doing it I am much more cognizant about the money that I spend in promotion and marketing because the last book cost me waaayyy too much money and I doubt I’ll ever make a profit on it (to be honest, most authors don’t make a profit on their first book anyway as it’s just a way to gain your fan base and establish your credibility). Also, I’ve learned that I waited much too long to release this second book as it has been 5 years or so. I really should keep sequels to no more than 3 years, so I will be much more diligent on this third novel and hope to release it maybe in my early 30s, maybe before 30, who knows, it all depends on where the story goes. I do know, however, that China has given me the time and the economic freedom to publish my books as an author which is fantastic.
Overall, as I turn my nascent author career into one that is hopefully full-time professional career I will need to keep up with the times and learn new things on the way. That is the most exciting part about being an author and a traveling teacher, never growing stagnant. I always have to adapt to situations and it has made me a more confident and competent person than I was before.
Do you have any experiences that have shaped you as an individual? I think we all do. I would like to hear them in the comments if you would like to share!
- Michael E. Thies
P.S. Also, it’s my birthday June 29th. As a birthday gift to all of my fans I have discounted my books on Amazon from 2.99 to .99 cents. So, download them while you can by clicking on the links here. The Trials of the Core and The Curse of Pirini Lilapa. Also, you can win autographed copies of both books by going to The Guardian of the Core Facebook page, liking the page, and sharing the most recent post with your friends!