This month, we look at travel fiction with traveller and new author Marissa Luna. Last year Marissa self-published Goa Traffic, and in this interview, she shares with us her journey from creative idea to publication.
This month is we travel in to the world of fiction with traveller and new author Marissa Luna. Marissa has recently self-published a novel set in Goa. Read on to learn about Marissa’s journey from idea, publication and promotion. We hope her experience will inspire you to write and publish your travel experiences.
DiverseTraveller.com: How did the idea for ‘Goa Traffic’ come about?
Marissa: I went back to my family home in Goa, where I spent a couple of months. I have always considered Goa as my home. It is different from any other place in India that I have been to; it is probably the most westernised state in India and has a strong Portuguese influence having once been a colony of Portugal. However, although Goa is largely a tourist destination, tourists often only see one side to Goa. I wanted to show people a different side to Goa; something that would shock and intrigue.
DiverseTraveller.com: How much reading did you do before and while writing ‘Goa Traffic’?
Marissa: I have always been a keen reader. I always have at least one book on the go. A good book can provide some escapism and sometimes that is just what you need when you can’t switch off from figuring out how your character will resolve the problem in front of them.
I did have to do quite a bit of research when I was writing Goa Traffic, which was time consuming, especially when working full time. So some of my reading revolved around the topics and themes I was exploring in my novel.
DiverseTraveller.com: Did you have any writing experience?
Marissa: No! I often used to start writing an opening paragraph for a story, but then my lack of confidence stopped me from continuing.
When I started writing it was, and still is, a hobby. I just wanted to write and not read books on how to write. However, after completing my first draft I realised that I did want to know a few helpful hints and ways in which I could better my writing. I didn’t go out and buy any books but I did do some internet research, www.mslexia.com is a great website.
I have now joined a writers group which has helped me develop my writing. It is refreshing to be able to talk to other people who are on the same journey and share my enthusiasm when it comes to writing.
DiverseTraveller.com: How long did it take you from your initial idea to writing the final page?
Marissa: I started writing Goa Traffic, at the airport on my way to Goa. I had a pocket sized notebook and pencil, so I started scribbling down the story that was rapidly forming in my mind. That was in 2008. I left what I had written for a while thinking it wasn’t very good until my sister saw it and read it. She loved it and being someone who is very difficult to please I thought why not carry on with it. So I typed up my scribbles on a computer and saved my work on a memory stick, to work on anywhere I had access to a computer.
Finding the time was difficult, after travelling for a year, I had to find a job, buy a house and plan a wedding, so there were weeks when I didn’t look at my manuscript. Then, I spent time after work and snatched the occasional hour on weekends to write. I finished the first draft at the end of 2009, but that was the easy part. It was the editing that took the most time, I finished the last edit at the end of 2010. I took the final draft on holiday with me and read it by the poolside. It was very rewarding knowing I had completed what I had set out to do.
DiverseTraveller.com: What was your editing process?
Marissa: When I started writing Goa Traffic I just wanted to get the story out, so I refrained from editing as I went along. Once I had written what I call the skeleton of the story I started the editing process. Taking bits out that were not needed and adding descriptions and so forth. Editing is a very difficult process as sometimes you can be very reluctant to cut out chapters that you spent so much time writing. I also think it takes quite a bit of will power to stop editing; you will always find something you can change in your novel every time you read through it.
There was no doubt in my mind that I had to have my novel professionally edited. My grammar is not the best and I felt that I could not put my name to something that was grammatically incorrect. It was an expense at the time but it was worth it.
DiverseTraveller.com: Did you share Goa Traffic with others as you were writing?
Marissa: After my sister read the first few words, I kept my book away from prying eyes until I finished the first draft. I did this so that friends and family could critique the characters and plot with fresh eyes. After completing the first draft, I gave my manuscript to my sister and mother to read. Both keen readers, they gave me honest opinions on how I could improve the story.
A couple of drafts later, I gave copies to friends and a work colleague for some alternative opinions – people who had never been to Goa. I found, when writing your own novel you can sometimes be too close to the book and fail to see things that may stand out from a reader’s point of view. I felt that it was important to gain further opinions on the plot and the story as it made me aware of how other people would see the book.
DiverseTraveller.com: Take us through your self-publishing journey, including any lessons learned?
Marissa: Like most new authors I wanted to take the traditional publishing route. I am a writer and did not want to be concerned with designing a front cover, paying for a full edit and be responsible for the publishing process. So, I bought a copy of The Writers Handbook and started sending query letters and submissions to writer’s agents. After a couple of months I received several rejection letters, so I put my initial fears aside and looked into print-on-demand self-publishing, a cheaper alternative.
I put money aside and made a call to Authorhouse, because it looked like they did a bit more hand holding than the other companies, and I felt that that is what I needed. I knew I would have to sell hundreds of books to break-even, packages at Authorhouse start at £750, but it was something I wanted to do.
Surprisingly the process was relatively simple. All I needed to do, was upload the edited copy of my book in a word format. Authorhouse provided the editing service, gave me a comprehensive list of what would happen once they received my book, and how long it would take at each stage of the publishing process. I set my own price; print-on-demand is more expensive than having your book printed in bulk, but this way I would not have to pay up-front for a large quantity of books, and you choose how much of a royalty you receive from each copy sold.
For the front cover, I sent a picture to my consultant at Authorhouse and they designed the front cover for me. Once the front and back cover was finalised and approved along with the wording, I was given a publication date and a copy of my book was sent to me in the post. When I held that first copy in my hands, I knew all the hard work had paid off. Self publishing takes a lot of time, and is daunting, but if you are serious about getting something published you will want to spend the time going through your novel with a fine tooth comb.
I did learn, from researching the company online, to ask for all the hidden extras up-front - such as including the design of the back cover, getting an e-book version of the book created and getting some free marketing promotional materials thrown, bookmarks and postcards, before I signed the contract.
DiverseTraveller.com: Take us through your marketing of Goa Traffic.
Marissa: Authorhouse provide a great distribution network, which was one of the reasons I chose them. Within four weeks of receiving my first copy it was available on several on-line book retailers. I waited until the book was fully available before I started marketing it, and that’s when the hard work really started.
I started by putting postcards and bookmarks in local cafes. I wrote a press release telling local press and various magazines, whose readers I felt the book would appeal to, that I had published a book. Within the body of the press release I provided a short synopsis of Goa Traffic, and it was worth it because a couple of journals and free publications published it.
I then started on-line marketing in earnest. I spoke about the release of the book on my blog. Social media is a great marketing tool and I immediately created a Facebook page for Goa Traffic and a Twitter account, for updates about my book. I also have bought my own website www.marissadeluna.com.
I set up an author profile on www.amazon.com and www.amazon.co.uk giving readers information about me and my novel.
Another marketing tool I utilised, was to create a sample chapter of my book at Yudu, so I could email a link to people and ask people to forward it on. The email contained a list of retailers of the book as well as a synopsis.
I also discovered www.goodreads.com where I registered as an author and joined a book giveaway; over 1000 people registered for a free copy of Goa Traffic and two people won. I noticed that several readers purchased the book soon after the giveaway was over.
With regards to getting my book into bookshops, I approached my local Waterstones and local independent book stores, asking them to stock my book, but I haven’t heard anything back as yet.
Marketing takes about as much time as writing, it is a long and often frustrating process. Without a publishing house behind you, the marketing and the cost of it, falls on the writer.
I can’t expect to sell hundreds every month, but as the reviews increase on Amazon, and more people take a chance on a new author, the sales will increase. I get a quarterly statement from Authorhouse showing me my sales figures and so far the book is selling well.
DiverseTraveller.com: Why should Diverse Travellers read Goa Traffic?
Marissa: Goa Traffic will appeal to women from their early twenties to late thirties. The main character, Lisa is someone that most women can identify with, as she embarks on a journey of self discovery in Goa. It is a great holiday read that keeps the reader in suspense and, has a twist at the end.
Having lived in Goa for many years, I have managed to describe the location, the food and the people in detail, that readers will find themselves transported there. If anyone has been to Goa or plans to go there, this book will give you locale insight.
DiverseTraveller.com: What advice can you give others who are writing a novel with the location as a central character?
Marissa: I think the setting can really make a book. Most people read for a bit of escapism and a book set in a different location is often a big selling point.
In Goa Traffic it was important to pick out the tiny descriptive details, details that show the difference between having visited to knowing it like the back of your hand.
I think it is important to make readers awaken all their senses through your words, so describe the scent in the air, the weather, the colour of the mud and the trees, the roar of the waves in the background and the delicate flavours of the food– it all adds to the setting and will transport the reader away from their living room to somewhere much more exotic.
Spend time in your chosen location as well, make a list of all the sights, sounds and smells you come across and how they make you feel – you must then convey these feelings to your readers through the description of the location.
People who are from that particular location will enjoy picking up on little details that they are familiar with. My advice would be to keep it as real as possible.
DiverseTraveller.com: What one thing do you wish you had known before self-publishing?
Marissa: With self publishing you are really on your own which can be a blessing or not depending on how you look at it. In the future I will definitely gather all the information I want displayed in my book before I start the process again. Once you approve the book with the publishing company there is no going back unless you want to pay the full package price again. Make sure you are 100% happy with the final version, before you give the go-ahead for publication.
DiverseTraveller.com: So Marissa, what next for you?
Marissa: Writing gives me a sense of purpose and I enjoy it - so I will never stop doing it. The beauty with writing is that you can fit it in to your spare time whilst still keeping your day job. I have just completed the first draft of my second novel. It is a psychological thriller and its working title is “The Bittersweet Vine.” I will try the traditional publishing route once again, but if I have no luck I will definitely be going down the self-publishing route for a second time. With the introduction and popularity of the e-book there is no longer a need to pay a large amount to have a book in print as on sites such as Amazon you can upload the book yourself, and it’s a great way to test the market.
DiverseTraveller.com: Thank you so much for sharing with us your insightful and inspiring journey from writing idea to book marketing. We look forward to yor second novel. Please stay in touch.
Click here to read the rest of this inspiring interview, and learn how Marissa published and marketed Goa Traffic.
You can read a sample chapter from Goa Traffic by clicking on this link. And you visit Amazon to a copy of Goa Traffic or via Authorhouse.