Saturday, July 9, 2022

Two Paths, One Lesson

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: How do you get a book published? There should be a path, right? And that once you know it, you are all set. 

But ha. SO much for that idea. But the brilliant Sandra SG Wong  (and wildly successful) has some truly wise observations about the path--since she has traveled several!  

(And her new book, IN THE DARK WE FORGET---is amazing!)


And therein lies the story.

And of course, there's a giveaway!


Two Paths, One Lesson

by Sandra SG Wong

 

Thanks so much for hosting me today, Hank! It’s so lovely to debut on Jungle Red Writers with you.


I think by now many of us have heard of the term, “hybrid author.” It’s a descriptor for those who have published with traditional publishing houses or small-/medium-sized presses, and also as self-published—or indie—authors. (But, of course, not to be confused with hybrid publishers or presses, which you’d be well-advised to research thoroughly before using.) 


 


I’m not sure that many hybrid authors plan on this path from the outset. I’ve noticed this category now includes many “trad authors” with long careers who got backlist rights back and have decided to reprint / re-release older titles on their own. And, of course, there are a few high-profile indies who sold so well that publishers or agents approached them to shift to the trad model, such as E.L. James, Hugh Howey, and Andy Weir.


 

My story isn’t nearly so glitzy. I signed my first book contract in 2012, un-agented, with a “digital-first” all-genres imprint of Harlequin, debuting “ebook-only” in 2013. In 2014, the book was a finalist for the Crime Writers of Canada debuts award—but I was also out one publisher. My editor had left the scene, my second manuscript had fallen through the cracks, and the eventual assigned editor didn’t connect with it. In all fairness, newbie author mistakes + low marketing support = abysmal sales. It wasn’t personal, but still tough to accept.

 

It also left me in a lurch. I’d pitched that debut as a series kickoff. But no agent wanted to rep a newbie with a series book 2. No publisher wanted to take on a book 2 when book 1 was owned by another publisher. Agents and editors alike encouraged me to write “something else.” I didn’t like it, though I understood. If I wanted to continue my series, I had to find another way.

 


In 2015, I jumped onto the self-publishing learning curve.


Among other things, I discovered that I’m not willing to publish more than one book a year and that I spend way more than I ought to on custom book covers. Also, marketing can be fun. So far, I’ve published 3 titles in a novel series as an indie, and half a dozen short stories with various presses. In 2018, I aimed to sketch out the next three series books.

 

But then came an idea out. of. the. blue.

 

I’d never written contemporary suspense, but I figured there was only one way to find out if I could do it. As I did, I felt this book had more commercial potential than my other work. So I decided to try the trad publishing waters again, this time with an agent. Four years later—I’ve got my first release with a “Big 5” publisher.

 

The re-learning curve in the trad system has thankfully been much more fun. A lot of why is perspective gained from 10 years ‘in the trenches,’ for sure, but it’s also because I found my community.

 

So, if anyone were to ask about ‘going hybrid,’ I’d say: Connect with supportive writers and authors, both indie and trad. Share knowledge and wisdom and enthusiasm. Stay authentic throughout your journey. Be a good community member. And of course: keep writing the best stories you can.

 

Nothing in this business is really easy, though it can look like that from the outside. But it can be easier when we know we’re not alone.

 

Have you ever had someone unexpectedly offer support which helped get you through an especially trying time?

 

Comment below to be entered into a random draw for one Canadian print edition of IN THE DARK WE FORGET. Open to US and Canada, until Midnight ET today.


HANK: Oh, what a great question! And that could happen on so many levels–maybe just a supportive word, right? Or encouragement at just the right time? And - this might be fun–if you are comfortable doing it, tell us the name of a person who changed your life! 




SANDRA SG WONG

Sandra SG Wong (she/her) writes fiction across genres, including the cross-genre Lola Starke novels and Crescent City short stories. A Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence finalist & Whistler Independent Book Awards nominee, as well as a speaker, mentor, and hybrid author, Sandra is Immediate Past President of Sisters in Crime and a proud member of Crime Writers of Color. A standalone suspense, IN THE DARK WE FORGET is her most recent release. Tweet her @S_G_Wong & visit sgwong.com.




IN THE DARK WE FORGET

Some things are better left forgotten...

When a woman wakes up with amnesia beside a mountain highway, confused and alone, she fights to regain her identity, only to learn that her parents have vanished—not long after her mother bought a winning $47 million lottery ticket.

As her memories painfully resurface and the police uncover details of her parents’ mysterious disappearance, Cleo Li finds herself under increasing suspicion. Even with the unwavering support of her brother, she can’t quite reconcile her fears with reality or keep the harrowing nightmares at bay.

As Cleo delves deeper for the truth, she cannot escape the nagging sense that maybe the person she should be afraid of... is herself.

With jolting revelations and taut ambiguity, In the Dark We Forget vividly examines the complexities of family—and the lies we tell ourselves in order to survive.


80 comments:

  1. The ins and outs of publishing/self-publishing sound as if they invite frustration, Sandra. Congratulations on your newest book . . . “In the Dark We Forget” sounds so intriguing; I’m definitely looking forward to meeting Cleo and her family.

    I am so fortunate . . . whenever I’ve needed support in a trying time, family and friends were always there with support that was never unexpected . . . .

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    1. That IS fortunate, Joan! So glad you have them to count on. What a blessing.

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    2. OH, it must be so inspirational to have that reassurance..

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  2. Having had a hybrid career (author and publishing lawyer) for more than 40 years, I have balked at the idea of becoming a hybrid author-- I want to WRITE, and I prefer that someone else take on the exigencies of getting the work out there, from editing and book design to printing, distribution, sales, delivery, even publicity. I just don't want to do those things, and it is worth it to me to have someone else them. Hence I have stayed with traditional publishing, which has the additional incentive of motivating me to finish my books. (Damned if I'm giving that advance back!)

    But I do have the rights back to my science fiction series, and there is an additional unpublished book in it that is finished, so the thought of an e-edition, or a print-on-demand version has crossed mt mind.

    The problem for me is that I'm just too dang tired. Even the thought of doing what a publisher needs to do exhausts me to the point of needing a nap. (Or maybe that's my age. Everything lately seems to prompt the need for a nap.)

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    1. Ellen, I totally hear you! It can all feel quite overwhelming. We all have whatever speed works best for us, and it changes at different points in our lives, so I hope that you do explore the paths that works for you. Though I have to say, I love the nap strategy..!

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    2. Yes, wise, as always, naps are good. And things change so quickly!

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  3. Sandra, I haven't gotten to In the Dark We Forget yet, but it's in the pile!

    I started out with a small press, then began a string of ongoing contracts with Kensington, and I also republished my first four historical mysteries after the press closed, so I'm right there on the path with you. I much prefer having a press do all the work I don't have time to, and my most successful books have always been the traditionally published ones.

    I've had lots of support, including from all the Jungle Red authors and from my Wicked Authors blogmates. Community is everything.

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    1. Edith! Always happy to know my book(s) are on someone's TBR. *fist bump* on being hybrid. I don't think success as an indie is quite as straightforward as it used to be, so yes, having opportunities in trad pub is a definite plus.

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  4. SANDRA: Welcome to JRW and I am soooo looking forward to reading IN THE DARK WE FORGET.

    I was at a low point with a new director at Environment Canada in Toronto. Unbeknowst to me, a work colleague (Dave E) sent my name to his friend in Ottawa. This person, Dr Chris Tucker, phoned me & offered a 1 year secondment in Ottawa with National Defence. I leapt at the chance &;ended up staying 3 years with him running a small research programme. The experience there also changed the focus of my climate change research when I returned to my old Environment Canada position in Toronto. Those influences & another new direcyptir led to my most productive & rewarding decade in research until I made another career change in 2013.

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    1. What a good friend you had (have) in Dave E. Wow! I'm always interested to hear of your career, Grace. Thanks for sharing.

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    2. And I love how it all flows together...you have the most amazing career!

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    3. Wow, Grace, what a great story. So glad Dave E was there for you!

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  5. Sandra, welcome to JRW. "In the Dark We Forget" sounds fascinating and terrifying. I cannot imagine how frightening it would be to wake up with no memory of who I am.

    Your publishing story is inspirational. It takes courage and determination to keep pushing through all the obstacles that have been in your path. What I read here daily, is that it is not unusual for authors to have to keep moving to find their niche. I would love to know more about your earlier books, too.

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    1. Yes, that's a great observation! It does take determination! (And skill, and savvy, and ...luck.)

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    2. Thanks, Judy. Totally true, everyone's journey is unique though we all share the same 'waters' which can certainly get choppy. My indie series is the Lola Starke novels, which are hard-boiled PI books, set in an alternate history 1930s-era "Chinese Los Angeles," and the world also has ghosts and magic. I've also published short stories in the same setting, Crescent City, with a number of different presses. I hope you'll check them out. ;)

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  6. Welcome Sandra! Such good advice, and I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed both ways of getting published. It's a hard business either way! Now I'd love to hear more about how this new idea appeared...

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    1. Thanks, Lucy! You're so right, publishing is NOT for the faint of heart. The idea came to me while on a road trip with my husband, in the Canadian Rockies. I saw a bit of grassy land spreading out toward the heavily forested base of the mountain, and the thought just struck me: What would it be like to just wake up there, with no idea how you got there, or of who you are? I always make sure to shout-out my husband because we were on a romantic getaway and I couldn't stop thinking about that idea! But he was right there with me, curious, drawing me out to talk more about it whenever he caught me lost in my head about it. Not surprising, though, since he's married to a crime writer, right?

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    2. Love that you shared your inspiration behind this book, and the support you received from your husband to keep the idea burning bright. Looking forward to your next suspense book!

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  7. Sandra, your story is so interesting! I've heard from many authors who tried hybrid and hit a dead end, but you have a great story to tell with your success. And, as you so demonstrate, it's a tough road to hoe. Congratulations! The new book sounds wonderful and your plan for what comes next.

    And YES I have had SO MANY people who unexpectedly offered support to get me through (though I'm not sure "through" is the right word for it) a difficult time. Many here on Jungle Red. And I'm so grateful for it.

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    1. Aww....we all stick together. xooo (Interested in "through." "during"? "enduring"?)

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    2. Thanks, Hallie! What a gift to have community. ("through" because if I can never seem to just "go around"!)

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  8. I think I will like your book a lot! Your publishing story gives insight into the crazy system. I'm so glad your hard work paid off, Sandra.

    Years ago, I was going through a really tough time and a co-worker was unexpectedly very kind to me. I will always remember her act of kindness==it's the first thing that comes to mind when I think of her.

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    1. What a gift! Do you think she knew the extent of what she was providing?

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    2. Thanks, Gillian. So lovely that you always associate kindness with that person. That's certainly something we can all aspire to.

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    3. Hank, I don't think she did. Our former priest's catch phrase was, "Never resist a generous impulse." I think Kim had a generous impulse and she just went with it. It meant a lot to me though.

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  9. In the Dark We Forget sounds captivating, and I look forward to reading it. And I appreciate learning Sandra's experiences. I think it's a little like talking about labor: anyone who's gone through it has a slightly different story to tell. I've only done the indie route, (in publishing - not labor, although that's always indie in the end!) but I hold on to dreams of someone-ANYONE-taking over what for me is the heavy hitting and allowing me to focus primarily on writing.

    I'm ancient, but the people that had the strongest, most supportive impact on my life were two high school teachers. Teenage years are hard for everyone, but I had two teachers: Marta Perez and Steve Curti, who saw potential in me when I thought life was hopeless. I've tried to remember what that support meant to me and pass it on, whenever possible, to young and old alike.

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    1. So wise! So you accept, and you pass it on. Perfect.

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    2. Actually, the labour analogy isn't entirely off-base... at least in terms of the pain and hardship being forgotten just enough that we merrily go right back to doing it all over again... Ha! Seriously, though, I'm so glad you had those people in your earlier life and have been passing along the wisdom and love since.

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  10. It's great that you've been able to make a success of writing regardless of the type or size of publisher. Such an inspiration to anyone trying to get a their book out there.
    I don't know of someone that's been particularly supportive of me in a hard time, but then again I am quite personal about things like that and don't tend to tell or involve others.

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    1. Hmmm..that's so intersting! And definitely one way to handle it!

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    2. Thanks, Alicia. I get that tendency toward keeping things private. It can feel so discomfiting at times to be vulnerable. I hope, though, that you always find people to support you when you do take that step.

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  11. Sandra, you have really thought outside the box in your writing career! I'd say the marketing is the part that most often trips people up, especially for self-published writers. It's not easy to wear all the hats, and marketing requires a whole different part of the brain, don't you think?

    I had my own hybrid writing/publishing career, starting nearly 30 years ago with a self-pubbed book that led to a traditionally published one. But the publisher did not do nearly as well with the marketing as I did myself, and I still don't understand why that was true. I guess it was just far more important for me to put my own baby out in the world than it was for them, with their thousands of other children.

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    1. Yes, thousands of other children, I think that is the exact answer. xx

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  12. Your book sounds fabulous, Sandra, I look forward to reading it. So interesting to hear about your journey and you’re right, none of us could do this without support. When I started to write after finishing work finally, I knew no one in the community or the industry, little by little I learned craft and joined writing groups. And with that help and support I finally, after seven years at least, have a book on the way. I’m with a traditional publisher but still need to do much of the promotion etc, that seems to be the way of it now. It’s been my friends and colleagues who have helped me promote and I am so grateful to them. And as an aside, I applaud your big extravagance, paying a lot for your covers. They make all the difference and are worth the money. As well as a great editor of course :-). Good luck with sales - from a fellow Canadian! Joyce Woollcott.

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    1. Hurray! I hope you will blog for us when the time comes!

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    2. Greetings from Edmonton, Joyce! Congrats on your upcoming book! No matter how many we have, every single one is an accomplishment worth celebrating. Hooray that you have friends and colleagues to celebrate with you! (*bowing to your applause* I love my indie book covers!)

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  13. Sandra, kudos to you for your efforts--being willing to do the grunt work and learning as you go sounds like a recipe for success. Congratulations on your standalone!

    A person who stepped up unexpectedly was my graduate advisor. I was undergoing my phd oral exam--a point at which many students faltered--and I was just about ready to run screaming from the room when my advisor called for a break. I made it to the rest room, threw cold water on my face, took a deep breath--okay, several deep breaths--and managed to finish. I didn't expect that note of kindness--it showed in his face.

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    1. Awww...congratulations! Yay, you. ANd yay wise advisor. PhD in what?

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    2. Thanks for the kudos! I've frozen a time or two during oral presentations, so I have an inkling of what you were feeling..! So glad your advisor was able to tap into his empathy and offer you what you needed.

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  14. Welcome to JRW Sandra and congratulations on your perseverance and on your new book In The Dark We Forget.
    As a Canadian myself, I’m always glad to discover new to me Canadian authors and I’m looking forward to explore your writing.
    I’ve had the chance to have family and friends to help me through difficult times but the one that came to mind immediately is my ex husband Roger. Me being in introvert and he an extrovert, he helped me do things and explore zones and experiences that I would probably never have done by myself. He helped me to flourish in bloom. Thanks to him, I’m a much more fulfilled introvert.
    Danielle

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    1. Hi from Edmonton, Danielle! So glad to get introduced to you via JRW. Sounds like you have an appreciation for your ex and how he helped enrich your life, even though you've parted. That's so great. Also—hooray for introverts! I'm one too. ;)

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    2. Hi Danielle! So pleased to tell you that you've won a copy of the book. Please reach out via the contact form on my website ( https://sgwong.com/contact/ ) and send me your mailing address and we'll go from there. Thanks so much!

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  15. Wow, Sandra: You are too modest to not mention the amazing blurbs (including Sara Paretsky, Alex Segura, Hannah Mary McKinnon, and Catriona McPherson) you have for In the Dark We Forget! I wonder if this (blurbing) is one advantage authors have when signing with a Big Five traditional publisher name?

    I know I've been helped by many, along the way; recently it was really nice for me when a colleague in the non-profit arena singled me out and wrote a lovely unexpected tribute to me for my work with her on reproductive rights issues. It was unexpected and wonderful and gave me a real lift.

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    1. Awww...that's great! (And good question about blurbs.) But I think a terrific book is a terrific book, and blurbing authors know that. What do you all think?

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    2. I agree that a terrific book is a terrific book, but I wonder if a traditionally published author has an easier time getting 'big names' to blurb for them?

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    3. Thanks for checking out my website, Amanda! ;) I feel very blessed to have such positive feedback for this book. Re: your lovely story, it IS nice, isn't it, when people surprise us with kindness? In terms of access and blurbs, I think it can certainly help to have one's editor reach out, as it can broaden the arena and number of requests. Ultimately, though, the book itself has to be good enough to warrant those blurbs..!

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  16. What an inspiring, and comforting, story Sandra.

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  17. Congratulations on your new book which sounds captivating. Persistence and perseverance are vital. When I was struggling I was fortunate to get the right advice from my closest cousin who has passed. She made me realize that I had the ability to succeed.

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    1. I'm sorry for your loss, and also grateful you had a champion like her in your life.

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  18. Sandra, congratulations on IN THE DARK WE FORGET, which sounds like an absolutely perfect beach read to me. (I like my beach reads to be chilling and twisty.)

    I suspect more and more of us are going to be hybrid at some point in our careers. Even people who are successfully published by one of the big five are, as you know noted, going the self-publication route with their reverted backlists.

    I have to say, I have learned a lot from indie publishers, and I'm looking forward to finding out a lot more when I attend my first Novelists Inc conference this September. This is a business as well as an art form, and no one gets that as well as authors who are also their own publishers and marketers.

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    1. Thanks so much, Julia! I'm sure you'll learn a lot at the September conference. The indie author industry moves at light speed, especially in terms of technology and marketing. I know I'll have a lot to catch up on when I dip back in with my indie series. And I think you're spot-on about the growing number of successful trad authors looking to indie publishing with respect to their backlists. Since trad authors are doing so much of the marketing and reader relationship building now, and we're the ones most invested in our own works, it does seem to make a lot of sense, doesn't it?

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  19. Congrats on the new release. What an interesting journey you've had.

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  20. This book sounds so good, Sandra! I've been very fortunate in having friends and family who have stepped up when things haven't been going well. Even the smallest gesture can make a huge impact.

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    1. Thanks, Pat. And what a blessing to have friends and family support you like this. I totally agree that the gestures don't need to be big to make a big impact.

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    2. And it's wonderful to take a moment to remember...

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  21. Sandra, what an interesting journey you've had--I should say, "are having!" I've been traditionally published except my UK books are now Indie. Several years ago, my agent and I decided we were better off in that market publishing ourselves. Happily for me, my lovely agent does all the work!

    People were so kind to me when I first started writing, particularly established Texas writers like Bill Crider and Carole Nelson Douglas--both, sadly, gone now.

    Your cover and your title are both fabulous, and I'm fascinating by amnesia stories. I'm looking forward to In the Dark We Forget!

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    1. Thanks so much, Deborah! You're not alone; I know that Beverly Jenkins, the legendary romance author, also has her backlist out as indie titles, managed by her agency, too. I think that's a smart way to do it, as we've noted how much work indie author-ing takes. So glad that new readers will get to find your books in the UK! How wonderful to have had that support early in your career, too, and to have made those friends.

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  22. Sandra, your new book sounds like such a great read! I love that you didn't give up when things got complicated, that you found ways through the obstacles. In the Dark We Forget has success written all over it, beginning with that outstanding cover. As you noted that covers have always been important to you, I'm sure you must be especially pleased with this one. I can't wait to read this book.

    Sometimes, it's what seems like the little things that turn out to be the big things that make an accomplishment possible. When I finally decided to pursue my Masters in Library Science in my late 40s, online classes had suddenly (well, not really so suddenly) become all the rage. The entire masters program was online, except for a couple of on-campus meetings. Of course, that was early days, and now there aren't any on-campus meetings required. Well, the course management system was Blackboard, and I knew nothing about how to navigate it. Luckily, students in this masters program had an initial on-campus meeting, and one young lady took me under her wing and took her time to go to the computer lab with me to help me set up in Blackboard. What an angel. Then, a high school teacher of my daughter had just finished her program, and she took time for me to come to her home and walk me through some more aspects of the online class learning and posting of assignments. These two simple acts of kindness from these two lovely people allowed me to pursue and achieve my dream I had deferred for too long.

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    1. Kathy, I love this story. I strive to lead with kindness and it brings me such joy to hear of how kindness touches people's lives. It's so inspiring. And yes, I'm quite in love with this cover. The designer, Lisa Bettancourt, did a wonderful job and I appreciated the collaborative spirit encouraged by my publisher.

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    2. OH! I love that...thank you for taking the time to tell us! xxx

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  23. Sandra, welcome to Jungle Red Writers! And your new suspense novel sounds very mysterious. I remember meeting you at the Left Coast Crime conference in Vancouver in 2019. I have been fortunate in having family and friends have my back during trying times. There have been some trying times in my life.

    NO Need to enter me in the giveaway. I wanted to comment because it was great to meet you in person at the LCC.

    Hank, thank you for a great post!

    Diana

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    1. Hi Diana! Lovely to hear from you, and to know you've got friends and family who have your back.

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    2. Aw...xoxxo. LOVE having you here!

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  24. Congratulations, Sandra! What a fabulous author journey you've been having! I suppose I'm technically a hybrid author as I publish mysteries and women's fiction traditionally and I've started writing novellas for fun that I release myself. The shorter format allows me to noodle around with ideas that aren't big enough for a whole book but bring me great joy to write. Win win for me!
    Looking forward to picking up In the Dark We Forget!

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    1. Thanks, Jenn! I'm a huge proponent of our writing creating joy, for ourselves and for others. It's awesome that you're sharing your novellas with eager readers!

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  25. I'm so happy for you, Sandra, and thrilled with you landing a Big 5 publisher. I'm so looking forward to reading this story. I wish I had your energy. If I did maybe I'd give indie publishing a try with some of my languishing manuscripts. :-)

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    1. Ha! I you're doing just great, Karen. Not everyone can be an award-winning author of books for young people. That's important work. And thanks for sharing in my joy.

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  26. Thanks so much to Hank and all the fabulous Jungle Reds who popped by today with warm welcome notes. What a thrill to have my first post here! Thanks, too, to everyone who commented and shared their stories. The winner of 1 Canadian print edition is Danielle! I'll post in her comment above, but also here: Danielle, please reach out via the contact form on my website ( https://sgwong.com/contact/ ) and send me your mailing address and I'll get that book into the post for you quick-ish.

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  27. I so want to read this!

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