Neesha Meminger’s first novel, Shine, Coconut Moon, made the Smithsonian’s Notable Books for Children list and was selected as one of the Top 100 Books of 2009 by the New York Public Library’s Stuff for the Teen Age. Her second novel, Jazz In Love, released to rave reviews from online bloggers and industry professionals. It was picked as a top YA selection by the Pennsylvania School Librarians’ Association and was selected for Bookslut’s recommended Summer Reading List. You can find out more about Neesha and her work at http://www.neeshameminger.com/
Q. Tell us about your books.
A. My first novel for young adults, Shine, Coconut Moon, released in 2009. It’s the story of an Indian-American teen who learns more about her family and culture in a post 9/11 world when her turban-wearing uncle comes onto the scene.
Jazz in Love is a light, fun romance with a dash of Bollywood. Jazz, the protagonist, is caught hugging a male friend and now her parents have gone into overdrive with a Guided Dating Plan to help her find an “acceptable” date.
Q. What makes your books different from other young adult novels a reader might choose?
A. I am one of only a handful of writers focusing on the Indian-American (I prefer the term “South Asian”) experience in YA literature. It’s important to me to write stories steeped in the culture and traditions I know and grew up with, without necessarily making identity the sole focus of the story.
Q. Your second book you chose to self-publish. Why did you make that decision and are you happy with it?
A. I am thrilled with my decision! When I was shopping JAZZ IN LOVE around with my agent, the publishing industry was just getting the rug pulled out from beneath its feet. My agent and I were both bewildered as we got one rejection after another for a manuscript that should have sold fairly quickly. My first novel had released to rave reviews, made the Smithsonian list for best YA, was selected for the New York Public Library’s Top 100 YA list, and the book was selling consistently – not blockbuster sales, perhaps, but definitely a steady stream of loyal supporters. Clearly, I could write, I could promote, and I could sell. So why couldn’t we get anyone to publish my second novel?
But even before all that, I knew that a fellow YA author, Zetta Elliott, had self-published her brilliant novel, A WISH AFTER MIDNIGHT, and she was reaping the rewards of her bold decision. That was the tipping point for me, really.
Shortly after that that I happened upon Konrath’s blog, and then read the story of Karen McQuestion and others. I decided to do some research and, at the same time, decided I did not feel like waiting for someone to deem my book worthy of publishing. *I* thought it was worth publishing, my agent thought it was worth publishing, and my readers were eager to read my next book. I kept feeling like I was letting them down. So, it was a number of factors, really, but the main one that pushed me toward self-publishing was connecting with my readers.
Q. As a self-published young adult author, what have you done to get into the library and school market?
A. The best thing I did was to establish an online presence. From there, I began to make connections with bloggers, reviewers, librarians, and teachers. I learned that teachers and librarians are an extremely well-connected, technologically-savvy bunch who love books and love to talk about books. And, unlike those in the publishing industry, teachers and librarians are not worried about the profitability of a book – they are more interested in whether a book is *good*, and whether young readers connect with said book. I have been extremely fortunate to meet the many devoted and committed librarians and teachers out there – most of whom tirelessly advocate on behalf of the young readers they serve.
Q. What are the biggest differences for you between being published by one of the Big Six and self-publishing? (pluses and minuses)
A. The most obvious one is that I have far more control as an indie author. I decide what goes into my book, what gets taken out, what the cover looks like, the font, paper color, *everything*. I love that. I also love that I don’t have to wait YEARS for my book to come out. Young readers, especially, are a NOW bunch. In fact, with the immediacy of the internet, I think *most* people don’t want to wait years for an author’s next work to release. So, that is another huge plus. The biggest plus for me, however, is that most of the money a title earns comes to me. Instead of making fifty cents per paperback, I earn almost four dollars per paperback. And since I am an author who sometimes likes to eat and ikes to buy things occasionally, that is the best plus EVER. >grin<
The down sides are few. One of the biggest ones for me has been the non-returnability factor. Because I don’t have a physical warehouse for books, I can’t take returns. Most bookstores, whether they are big chain bookstores or indie sellers, will not order books they can’t return. As a result, my books are mostly available online. HOWEVER – having said that, my first novel, which was published by a major New York publisher, was “skipped” by the big chain booksellers anyway. That means that the largest booksellers in the nation decided not to carry the title. Which is something the chains do rather often. Why they skip certain books is a mystery, but it means that the bookstores have a
LOT of power in the whole book-buying/selling/publishing business.
Q. Are you planning more books? Can you tell us about them?
A. Yes! I’m very excited about my next novel. It’s a paranormal featuring four kick-ass female protagonists. I’ll say only that it is a multicultural, all-female cross between Heroes and X-Men >smile<.
Q. For these future books do you plan to market them to a publisher or publish them yourself?
A. I went back and forth for quite a while on this, but I’ve decided to put them out on my own. Both SHINE, COCONUT MOON and JAZZ IN LOVE are doing about the same in terms of sales of distribution. I’ve done the marketing and promotion legwork already and I am enjoying the feedback from my readers.
Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about for me – the connection with my readers. I am not willing to hand the control of that over to someone else. I’m not willing to let someone else decide when my new title will release and how it will be marketed. I know my readers. I know my market far better than most publishers do. I value my readers tremendously.
To a publishing house, I’m one of many writers – one of many possible revenue streams. To me, I am handing over some of my life force, my conversation with some of the deepest parts of my soul, to readers who connect with it.
Why on earth would I hand that over to someone whose primary interest is in turning a profit? Don’t get me wrong – I like to earn money, too :). But that is not ALL I’m interested in. And I won’t do it at the expense of other bigger, more important things – like art and spirit, and fighting for something I believe in.
Q: What route would you suggest for an author who hasn’t been published before? Should they still follow the old route of agent/publisher or do you think going straight to self-publishing is a good option?
A. I would urge them to think about what they truly want from being published. If it is the recognition of being accepted by the publishing establishment (which is a totally okay goal), then I would say press on along the traditional publishing route. If, however, an author wants only to get her/his work out there, under the eyes of readers who might devour it, connect with it, change their lives because of it, then I would say explore the wonderful world of indie publishing. But I would highly recommend doing a lot of research. Read the stories of people who’ve self-published, check out blogs, pick up books that have been self-published and are highly recommended by trusted sources. Ask a lot of questions! :)
Q. What comes to you first with your books-a character, place, situation or something else?
A. Hmm. It’s always something different for each book. I write paranormal romance under a pen name, and with those novels, it’s usually a situation that comes to mind first. A scenario that plays out in my mind about the conflict between the protagonists. With the YA novels, I think it’s usually the characters who come first.
Q. Are there any writing books you would recommend or other writing tools?
A. Francesca Lia Block’s THE WATERS AND THE WILD.
Q. Where can readers find you online?
A. My website is www.NeeshaMeminger.com and I’m on Facebook and Twitter (@Neeshamem). Readers can get to my blog through my website.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to add-either for readers or other writers?
A. Just that now is a really exciting time to be a writer. There are tremendous changes and the industry is in flux, but there are more opportunities right now than there ever were for emerging authors. If you love to write, don’t let anything/anyone stop you from creating the best work you possibly can – finding the readers eager to connect with you.