Updated: Jun 25, 2020
Shoba Sadler was a traditionally published author before the fanfare of being traditionally published wore off, leading her to the world of self-publishing. She has been a writer for 20 years and is the owner of Agape, a Christian magazine. She is also an award-winning author of Love's Treacherous Terrain and Child of Dust (which I've had the pleasure of reading and reviewing). She shares some of the pros and cons of traditional publishing in this blog post. I asked Shoba to share her passion for writing, the role her Christian faith has played in shaping her stories, and some general guidance on the art of writing and getting published.
How long have you been an author?
I’ve been writing for 20 years, not necessarily books but mainly feature stories for newspapers and my own Christian magazine, called Agape. I started off my writing journey by being an author first with the launch of my first novel, Love’s Treacherous Terrain, followed by a second novel. Both were published by traditional publishers. I became disillusioned by the publishing side of the craft as I had very little control over my own work and also because my stories didn’t quite fit the genre specifications publishers want at the time. So I stopped writing novels for a long time until I returned to it again a few years ago after a “fan” tracked me down through Facebook and gushed about my first novel. I was amazed at how intimately she knew my characters, asking me questions about each one of them. She even said the whole reason she had to track me down was to ask if the story was real as it seemed so real to her. For me, that is what writing is about. If I can take at least one person on a journey like that to be absorbed and lost in the story and through a roller coaster ride of emotions, I have succeeded as an author. I have never been concerned about fame or sales. At the time she contacted me I discovered self-publishing had evolved so much since I first started writing. In my maiden voyage of writing novels, self-publishing was associated with vanity publishing and there was a terrible stigma attached to people who resorted to that. They were never accepted as “true” authors. Today self-publishing is a respectable avenue and nothing like vanity publishing and for me at least, it gives me the freedom to write without being tied down to publishers.
As a traditionally published author turned self-published author, which option do you find to be more fulfilling as a writer?
I definitely find self-publishing more fulfilling.
You describe yourself as an author who likes to write in multiple genres. I find this both relatable and interesting because the general advice authors receive from publishing pros is to find a niche/genre and specialize in that. However, my unpublished manuscripts range from women’s fiction to murder mysteries and contemporary romance. I read broadly, so as a result, I tend to also write broadly. Would you say that this applies to you? And if so, what are some of the genres you’ve covered besides Christian fiction?
Yes, definitely I can relate. I can understand why they would give that kind of advice. It is because firstly, for marketing it helps to find a niche and stick with it because it is easier to build a fan base, quicker to write the stories because you don’t need to spend too many hours on research as you can use your same research findings to craft several different stories (such as the language used in 18th century England with a historical novel ). Your book is easily cataloged at retail outlets and publishers websites and when you do your promotions, you can use the same media list for your subsequent books. For example, if you have been asked to speak on Crime or Detective Stories at a Mystery Writers Festival, you can be expected to be invited again the following year and the more books you have out in that genre seems to make you more “qualified” to speak on the subject. Lastly, it helps when you are writing a series, I think as series writing is very popular these days. Having said all that, I will now say that it doesn’t apply to me because as I mentioned before, I am not interested in making a living from being an author. I live on an idyllic farm where I conduct workshops on healthy eating and holistic living in harmony with nature. I find that if I wanted to make a living as an author I would have to compromise my writing style to suit the market and please publishers and then writing becomes a chore and not something I love to do. Don’t get me wrong, I know these publishing houses have sound advice as they have been in the business a long time, but because my writing style and topics or genres, whatever you’d like to call them, simply do not fit neatly into a publisher’s box, I have to find my own way to publish and market. A short story I wrote called Behind The Veil took the Finalist Award in the SLO Nightwriters Golden Quill Writing Contest 2017. So besides Christian fiction, I have just ventured into writing two chat fiction stories which will be published in English by Readify India and translated into other Indian dialects. One of the stories is speculative fiction and the other is a romance between two office colleagues stuck in a lift. It was so much fun to write because it is creating a story using only text messages. This is a new wave of stories being enjoyed by the millennials.
As a Christian author, how does your faith influence your stories, if it does?
My first two novels have a heavy underlying Christian theme. When I first launched them it was hard to market them to mainstream Christian publishers because they didn’t want Christian books that discussed the messy things in life such as divorce, prostitution, illegitimate children, etc. Neither is passion allowed to be expressed in romance novels which can make for a dull and placid read. I’m not talking about the need for what goes on behind a bedroom door. All I’m talking about is the passion two people in love feel without going into the details of love-making. I don’t condone sex outside of marriage in my writings. My peeve is if we can’t talk about what is wrong in society and un-Biblical how are we going to show the redeeming qualities of God? When I addressed these subjects in my books about 16 years ago such topics were unheard of in a Christian novel. At least today there is a sub-category of Christian books called ‘Edgy’ which is sad because it is like wearing a Scarlet Letter to brand a book less than pure. So you see the marketing dilemma here. Christians don’t want to touch it because they think it is erotica and non-Christians don’t want to touch it because it is Christian. I think a lot of Christian fiction out there is dull, unrealistic and I’d go so far as to say an insult to our intelligence for presenting a la-la world of scenarios that border on foolishness in their attempt to be self-righteous.
Absolutely! I agree. I had the pleasure of receiving and reviewing a copy of Child of Dust, and I can still remember the story and certain scenes. One thing that stood out to me was that even though it's a Christian novel, it was not boring or morally stiff. And as you rightly mentioned above, Christian novels tend to have a reputation for being dull. Did you have this in mind when writing Child of Dust? If so, how were you able to plot a realistic, engaging and enjoyable story-line?
As explained in my answer above I felt there should be a better representation of Christian fiction as I certainly did not find anything in that category, during that time in my life, worth reading. At that time I was also running my Christian magazine called Agape and I was blown away by all the amazing stories coming my way on what God was doing in Asia. I found absolutely no representation of Asian stories in the Christian romance genre. The handful of cross-cultural stories you got in the mainstream romance books, even back then was a joke because they were written by Caucasian writers who had no clue of the culture or setting of Asia. It was a bit like watching a black and white television show with all white actors pretending to be native American or African American. It takes more than applying some dark make-up on the skin. Since then multi-cultural romance has got a little better in the mainstream romance arena, but Christian romance has still a long way to go.
Often times, writers are discouraged by their lack of progress with the writing and editing process mostly due to unrealistic expectations about the process. How long did it take you to write and publish each of your two novels, and what were some of the challenges you faced?
It took three months to write Love’s Treacherous Terrain because it was set in Malaysia, the country of my origin and I was familiar with the culture and attributes of that society. With Child Of Dust, it took 9 months because it was set in Vietnam. The challenge with that is I have never been to Vietnam and thus it is so satisfying to hear people say they could “see” in their minds the streets and shops and sense the smell and taste of Vietnam in Child of Dust and get embroiled in its culture. As an author that is quite possible to do when you have great research skills.
How did you overcome the challenges listed above and what advice would you give upcoming writers about the book publishing process (writing, editing, publishing, and marketing)?
I overcame that simply by doing proper research. I would say think about what you would like to achieve. If you would like to write for a living, then book sales would be important. So you must have a marketing plan to promote the book. If you don’t want to be burdened by decisions of the book cover, editing, distribution then going to a traditional publisher might be the answer. If you would like more freedom of choice, then go with self-publishing. If you can’t afford editors, network with other great authors, and offer to edit their work in return for them editing yours. This will reduce the burden of cost as you would have to fork out a lot out of your own pocket as a self-publisher. With traditional publishing, the publisher does most of the work to publish the book. Unfortunately, they don’t help much after which means you need to do a lot of the book promotion yourself, including funding the expense of it. Now if you’re new you probably won’t find many veteran authors wanting to edit your book in return for you editing their work. As an amateur, it would be best to hire a professional editor for the first few books and study how they suggest changes and make the corrections. Eventually, you will be able to edit very well yourself provided your writing improves and your books are outstanding.
What other creative pursuits do you have outside of writing?
I play the violin and I run an eco-resort on my farm which is 27 acres of pure bliss. We have a pristine stream and mountain with an abundance of fruit trees and vegetables. I give workshops on healthy cooking and I will make organic meals for guests who request for them. It is the ideal getaway for creative people and for writers who want some peace and tranquility to inspire them to write.
Shoba Sadler is a writer, an author, and a health and wellness enthusiast. She has won awards for her novel, Child of Dust, and short stories. She lives on a farm in Australia with her husband, where she leads workshops on healthy cooking and hosts writing retreats. You can read more about her writing pursuits at http://shobasadler.com/ and about her healthy cooking activities and events at http://healthycountrylife.com/ and http://stonehousefarm.com.au/. To connect with her on Facebook, visit https://www.facebook.com/ShobaSadlerAuthor/