TWO TIPS FOR ASPIRING AUTHORS (nothing to do with writing!)

Hello, everyone! Important question: where did 2023 go?? I can’t believe it’s already holiday time.

I hope you’ve been staying safe and healthy, wherever you are…especially during these tough times in the world. I love what MLK Jr. once said: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Maybe that seems overly optimistic, but honestly, what can we do but try to spread some light and love from our little patches of the world — right?

So that’s what I’ll try to do with this post. Below, I’ll provide a couple of tips for aspiring authors (tips that have nothing to do with the craft of writing!) and some other happy tidbits.

But first…

QUICK BOOK-RELATED UPDATES:

Title Change

My next book was originally entitled, THE NO SHOES HOME. But I’ll be honest: that title always sounded a bit clunky to me. So after mulling over it a while, I emailed my editor at Penguin Random House to see if this title might be better: SHOES OFF, PLEASE! Shorter, catchier, plus it conveys a fun, sassy tone. My editor agreed! So the official title is now SHOES OFF, PLEASE, and the book will be released in early 2025.

This is another story based on (you guessed it!) my childhood, when I introduced my non-Asian friends to my family’s tradition of removing shoes before entering our home. Nagging them about this each time was an absolute chore, and I even begged my parents to let us live American-style, with shoes worn in the house — they said NO WAY!

The story has moments of humor and celebrates the magic of childhood & friendship. That’s what I love about working in the world of illustrated books…I get to be a kid again! And I’m so eager to see how the artist Myo Yim (who is based in Australia) will visually tell the story with her charming illustration style. Check out a cool interview with Myo here.

Sora’s Seashells  & School Visits

I did some really fun author visits at schools this fall semester, and two particular aspects of Sora’s Seashells seemed to really engage the students:

  1. The inspiration for the story: for the first five years of my life, my name wasn’t Helena. I revealed why my name changed (some relentless teasing at school) as well as how I came to appreciate my original (Korean) name. The students found this background info really interesting, along with my impetus for writing the story: I wanted to tell the tale of a girl named Sora who learns to stand up for her unique name, even while facing school bullies, all thanks to her grandmother. A teacher even requested that I sign her copy of Sora’s Seashells using my original Korean name. What a sweet request!
  2. The editing process: for instance, on one of the pages, I’d originally compared the size of a shell to a dime, to convey its tiny size. But I later changed the word to “button.” Why? I realized that if/when the book travels to different countries, people overseas may not be familiar with the size of an American dime. A button is a more universal reference. Students + educators appreciated this glimpse into the editing process — this particular change had both storytelling & business considerations.

The final book states “button” instead of “dime.”

The Paper Kingdom continues its incredible journey…

The Paper Kingdom continues to garner praise and awards from gracious readers. Thank you!!

The book was a finalist for Minnesota’s Star of the North Award — woohoo!

More info here.

Michigan Radio gave a nice shout out for The Paper Kingdom and some really cool books. I love many of the books mentioned: The Oldest Student and Beekle are part of my home collection. And I’ve been meaning to read Wings of Fire. (Plus, a huge congrats to the wonderful author-illustrator Dan Santat for winning the National Book Award for his graphic novel A First Time for Everything!).

Check out the lovely review of The Paper Kingdom from a smart 8-year-old reader here.

TWO TIPS FOR ASPIRING AUTHORS (UNRELATED TO CRAFT)

And now, some tips for future authors who are reading this post…

Author Photos

During the years I dreamed of becoming a published author, I fantasized about getting professional photos done…in Paris. I pictured myself sitting in one of the literary cafes, such as Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots, with a coffee cup on the table and a moody atmosphere all around.

The place I’d originally pinpointed for a photo shoot…but life had other plans.

And though I go to France nearly every year, I kept putting off hiring a photographer…and kept putting it off and putting it off for “another day.” And then the pandemic hit and I had no choice but to put it off some more. Now, many years and some wrinkles later, I finally got to have a photo session in Paris.

Paris had gorgeous weather this past October, so I was certain that outdoor café shots would be perfect. But then…RAIN! Yup, the only streak of stormy weather arrived on the morning of the photo shoot. OMG! The photographer Pierre went early to scope out my dream sites, but he quickly texted me that both were completely packed with people trying to avoid the drizzle!! Mais non!!

So we had to pivot to find alternate locations for the photos. Pierre hunted high and low for a spot nearby with good light and no crowds — he did a wonderful job of making lemonade out of lemons. The photos turned out quite well, despite that they weren’t taken at the exact locale I’d imagined. I was really chilly sitting around without a jacket, but I didn’t have a proper coat with me because I hadn’t expected the weather to be so cold and rainy that day (the forecast didn’t predict rain until much later).

Similar, yet different. Would a black & white image be better? Hmm… If you have an opinion, do let me know!

(The red contrasts nicely with my blue shirt, but I realized why this café was completely empty: the coffee was terrible!)

Anyway, my tip for aspiring authors is this: if you’ve secured a book deal and already have a vision for your headshot, go get it done. Don’t delay! Time flies and aging is real, despite the diligent use of Korean & French skincare products.

(Side note: I previously got photos done at a professional studio in L.A. with a makeup artist and hair stylist. The L.A. photographer mostly worked with actors, and though I was grateful for the opportunity to sit in her glamorous photo studio, I’ve realized that I’m just not a fan of highly stylized photos of myself. I prefer natural! The Paris photos above involved no makeup artist, no hair stylist…maybe I’m pointing out the obvious, ha!)

Tip #2: Public speaking

Before becoming an author, I had absolutely no idea how much public speaking would be involved. I’m still stunned sometimes when I’m standing before an audience of hundreds of people … my mouth works on autopilot while I have an out-of-body moment, observing the auditorium and myself, and feeling like I’m a performer with an oversized personality and dynamic presence that are unfamiliar to (normal) me. A performer is exactly what you’ll become as well if your goal is to become a traditionally published author. I even know several savvy authors who’ve taken acting and improv courses to learn how to better project their voices and to cultivate charisma for the stage.

I truly enjoy public speaking…this came as a huge surprise, which I discovered thanks to my publishing journey. Whenever I speak about books and writing, the nervousness quickly falls away as passion and energy take over.

I’ve found it immensely helpful to watch established authors speak about their craft and publishing journeys on platforms such as YouTube, BBC Maestro and MasterClass. If you find a talk that resonates with you, you can be sure it’s resonating with other people as well. You can learn from how these authors weave in their personal hopes and desires into their talks about the craft of writing, the business of publishing, etc. Nowadays, publishers expect authors to be active participants in spreading the word about their books, and with the popularity of social media, readers will want to hear directly from you — so get ready to engage!

Recently, during a writing workshop I held for 5th graders, I told them that you must become comfortable with public speaking as part of your job as an author. So after I had them do some writing exercises, I asked for volunteers to read their excerpts into the microphone. Well, it turns out this school was full of extroverts! There were so many volunteers that I had to do crowd control. Maybe it’s because these kids are of the social media generation, but they were all so accustomed to being stars. I certainly wasn’t like that as an introverted kid — I wasn’t shy, but I didn’t like calling attention to myself (I’m still like this, which is why I really have to push myself to do promotion!). So I definitely would not have stepped eagerly onto the stage; instead, I would’ve likely approached the speaker after the session to privately ask a burning question or two. But I admire these students’ boldness, and everyone could use a dose of that fearlessness!

Anyway, those are my two tips, but please do reach out if there’s anything you’d like to know about writing/publishing/dark chocolate/nonsense.

THINGS I LOVE

I absolutely loved the novel, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. It’s so brilliant and imaginative.

The movie Past Lives, directed by Celine Song. Absolutely lovely. I’m a sucker for books & films about lost love.

Do you know Rajiv?? If not, you should! He played a goofy side character in the comedy Mean Girls, but that character is not at all representative of who this amazing man is: an artist, teacher, deep soul.

Rajiv now:

Rajiv back then:

And last, have you seen the Beckham documentary? Oh it’s so good. I don’t follow soccer, and I didn’t know much about the Beckhams, but I truly enjoyed the Netflix docuseries. Afterwards, I wanted more Beckham-related content, and landed on this SUPER HILARIOUS video:

Have a wonderful holiday season, and remember: books make fabulous gifts! Books invite the reader to experience a new world again and again. If you’d like to order signed/personalized copies of my books, please use this link (or feel free to email me at hkrheeauthor(at)gmail (dot)com and I’d be happy to mail over some signed/personalized bookplates for free).

I’ll be back in early 2024 with some more news and fun tidbits, but in the meantime, be safe and be well.

Your friend,

Helena