Featured Author: Mina V. Esguerra

The above is an actual photograph of our chat with Mina.

Mina is a Filipino author of several contemporary romance novels spanning the YA, NA, and adult genres. I stumbled onto her novellas on Amazon, where she opened up a world of stories about young, modern characters finding love in the Philippines to an international market.

When not writing romance, she is president of communications firm Bronze Age Media, development communication consultant, indie publisher, professional editor, wife, and mother. She created the workshop series “Author at Once” for writers and publishers, and #romanceclass for aspiring romance writers.

I’m currently “enrolled” in #romanceclass and it’s fantastic — the structure, timeline, and support you get from her is invaluable. What really made us want to interview Mina is that she’s a writer who wants other writers to succeed, and is vocal on her blog and Twitter about making that happen.

As a published and self-published author, she has valuable insight on how to approach writing as a business: not just how to write, but protect your work and your rights. Meanwhile, as a romance writer, she has even better things to say about finding your voice as a writer and being proud of what you write, no matter what. We hope you enjoy what Mina has to say!

— Bea

Here she is!

Here she is!

On Writing

What are you currently working on?

A steamy romance featuring a rugby player and an aspiring filmmaker.

As a published author, what is the most difficult part of the novel writing process for you?

I’ve actually managed to create a work plan for each step of the process so I can maximize the fun out of each step, from research to outlining, writing, everything. So now the only absolutely worst part is when somewhere in the middle I start hating everything I just wrote.

What do you do to come up with ideas for story lines and story plots?

I used to think that I was just writing my fantasies (it’s romance, after all), but after ten books, I’ve had to branch out. Now I tell myself to be open and find the romantic in new things. I also read chismis/gossip blogs a lot and fill in the blanks in the drama. 🙂

What is your top advice for writers who have gotten stuck and can’t get past a certain chapter/plote?

Walk away from it and skip to the thing that comes after, the part you really want to write. You can bridge the two parts later, or fix it by removing the problematic part entirely.

What has been your most gratifying experience as a published author?

Hearing from readers WHY they like a particular book. I don’t like my books the same way sometimes and external validation makes me like them more.

“To write good romance, one must  ___________.”

Be a good observer and listener. I am shocked (SHOCKED) when people tell me they can’t write romance because they’ve never been in a relationship. No one *knows* how to be a vampire, really. Writers make it up.

“To write a good steamy read, one must ___________.”

Know what turns people on. This is trickier to do right, because you’re aiming for a very specific reaction from the reader.

It used to be considered (a very long time ago!) that in order to be successful one had to be based and published in the West. Do you feel it’s been more difficult for you to get a readership as a writer in the Philippines? Is it possible to achieve success by writing purely for the local market?

I guess it’s how you define success for yourself as an author, or for that specific book you wrote. Because I write in English, I want my books to be read wherever there are people who speak that language (and read romance). There’s a boom in young adult readership in the Philippines right now and I think it’s entirely possible to be a publishing success by writing into that trend. (For how long though? Pinoy authors, I think, should plan out a writing career that will survive trends.)

On Publishing and Trying New Trends

mina-wattpad

Mina shared her findings on Wattpad and readership in a blog post

 

You’re tend to be involved in a lot of “experimental projects” in the digital realm — packaging novella bundles, testing prices and trying new platforms and distribution channels. Can you briefly walk us through some of the digital projects you’ve undertaken in the past year?

The first one was when I joined a romance ebook bundle organized by author Marian Tee. That was a wonderful experience and showed me how much larger the romance market could be, for me, if I chose to do it that way. It’s influenced my writing schedule, so now I plan to write more international-setting romances.

I also run classes called Steamy Reads, and those are short-term online classes (more like writing groups really) and we write steamy romances with a deadline and certain guidelines. I’ve learned that a lot of writers seem to work better when there are deadlines, when the focus is narrowed, and when there’s a prize at the end. The prize is usually a digital distribution deal.

What is your goal when you undertake a new publishing venture? How do you deem them successful/unsuccessful?

I have a different goal for each one, and it’s not necessarily financial. For some publishing projects I want to reach a certain audience, or I want to test out a way of telling a story and if readers will get it, or maybe I want to try out something new for myself. Each one has its success measure and it’s fine if the others don’t necessarily perform the same way.

How much of your time is spent on creative work, and how much is spent establishing your author platform? How do the two feed into each other?

I can probably only get about 6 hours a week of uninterrupted writing. That’s maybe two afternoons in a week. Everything else is publishing planning, social media, and other things that I can do from a phone, or even if my daughter’s around.

You write romance under multiple genres: YA, NA, and adult romance (and we do mean adult!). What drove your decision to write under all one name? When should authors form “split identities” to separate their work, a la JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith and Eloisa James/Mary Bly?

That’s still something I struggle with, actually. I kept them all under one name frankly because it’s so hard to build a reader base from the ground up. (Case in point: How many Robert Galbraith fan groups were there before Ms. Rowling owned up to the pen name?) If I started a new pen name I’d need to work harder. I’m not ruling it out, but that’s why I’m still torn.

The growing popularity of publishers finding “hits” through Wattpad and similar stories has provoked a lot of debate about the alleged decline in editorial quality of what gets published. As someone who has been published, self-published, and featured her work for free on Wattpad, do you have any observations on this trend?

People said that about self-publishing too! And when publishers were all into YA series! And now erotica. It’s probably going to keep happening. I want to say that “not all of ____ are bad” but what do we actually see? There are badly edited, badly printed, badly designed, badly written books, from anywhere and everywhere, period. And there are good ones too, that can also come from anywhere. My main thing with that trend is that authors should be more careful who they work with, once they decide to publish. Publishing is a hazy dream for so many. They know they want it but they don’t bother to do research until it’s too late.

What 3 writing or publishing issues do you feel most strongly about/that you think all authors should be aware of?

1. Copyright and contracts: I want writers to know what it means when they sign stuff. I want them to ask questions and know what they want, and feel empowered enough to walk away if the offer sucks.

2. Romance is for everybody: I admit I’m a bit taken aback when guys read or want to write romance, but I really should encourage it.

3. An ebook is still a book: Authors, I know we all read too, and we love paper, but we can’t let that love hold back our futures. For an indie author, there’s no way to get a cheap print edition out. There’s so much wasted paper involved, and it’s ultimately not worth the effort. Go digital and learn how.

Who are your favorite authors to follow on social media?

Rainbow Rowell (@rainbowrowell) is a joy because you see her fangirling things and people.

JK Rowling (@jk_rowling) recently, because she started replying to tweets, and her wit is showing

On Being True To Your Voice

ask-a-writer-mina-esguerra

Did you always know you wanted to write romance?

Yes. I went through a “dark period” haha but came out of it still wanting to stay in the rom-com genre.

Many writers of women-centered literature still have to defend as their work in a way that others do not. As Jennifer Weiner points out, there isn’t a “dick lit” genre. Have you ever had to defend what you write to people? What’s your take on the use of “chick lit”?

I’ll use “chick lit” for as long as it’s technically the category being used in bookstores and retailer sites. (In some sites it’s “Women’s Fiction” which is still weird.) Readers who love it seem to have no problem with it, so I won’t not use it, you know? And right now, the only time that I feel I have to explain myself is when I get reactions from readers that wish the books in this genre didn’t focus so much on women thinking about themselves. So…when can we do that? We do that all the time, yes, think about ourselves and other people, worry, want, dream? When is it OK to write about women doing that thing they really do every day? I like to write books though where women do stuff, and not just think about it. It still won’t be for everyone, but that’s OK.

Do you have any fail-proof rebuttals to respond with when someone suggests that you’re not “living up to your potential” by writing commercial fiction, or chick lit, or blogs, or YA, or women’s magazines, etc? Asking for, uh, a friend…

Ah! Tell your “friend” that potential will not be remembered. And since it technically doesn’t exist, you can’t earn from it, or learn from it. Actual achievements though are documented and built upon, and inspire people, and that makes a more definitive mark on the world than “potential.”

What would you suggest for a writer who hasn’t found their voice yet? How did you find yours?

It took years of writing in the wrong voice to find what my real one is. And it sounds a lot like the voice I used when I started writing, as a teenager. I’m not saying go back to your roots, because it won’t be the same for everyone. But for me, when I got rid of the pretensions and slipped back into the person I was, when I started writing, everything became easier. I wrote faster, my books actually got accepted by publishers, people bought and read them.

Which authors do you most admire for their distinct voices?

Rainbow Rowell, Mary Ann Rivers, Tessa Bailey, and Ruthie Knox are on the top of the list for me right now. They operate in crowded genres, but they can still bring something new and refreshing to their books. Every damn time. I hug my e-reader or newly-purchased paperback whenever I get their titles.

If you couldn’t write romance, what would you be writing?

I’d write crime and mystery. Which I kind of am right now, with my Scambitious series (it’s about con artists) but it’s still got some romance because I can’t help it.

Find Mina on Amazon, Buqo, and Wattpad!


Featured images is “Le Poème de l’âme” by Anne Francois Louis Janmot.