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DIY publishers break out in Korea

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Published : 2014-02-11 20:10
Updated : 2014-02-11 20:10

The difficulty of finding a voice in a country that doesn’t speak her language is all too familiar to Doria Garms-Sotelo.

The aspiring journalist, whose husband is in the U.S. Army, has called Korea home for the past nine years. She has used that time to hone her writing skills and complete a book on a topic that is close to her heart.

“I lived in Sri Lanka from 1988 to 1993. It was the bloodiest time of the war there. I just want tell people, and teach them, about Sri Lanka.”

And therein lay the rub for Garms-Sotelo.

“The problem I found was that no one spoke English, and that made publishing very difficult,” she said.

After trawling through the Linked In career site and various literary blogs, Garms-Sotelo hit upon a solution: self-publishing.

Self-publishing is essentially authorship without the middle man. Writers harness the potential of the Internet to transform a story into a fully-fledged publication. 

The covers of “Weird and Wonderful Korea” by Chris Backe and “War Remains” by Jeffrey Miller

Chris Backe, a self-published author whose latest book, “Weird and Wonderful in Korea,” is now available on Amazon, knows the world of self-publishing inside and out.

“We’re past the days where distribution is controlled by a handful of book companies, or requires a large upfront investment. If you have a computer and an Internet connection, you can self-publish a book and have it on sale anywhere in the world.”

Backe now lives in Thailand, but spent five years in South Korea blogging about travel and life in the Land of Morning Calm.

Having successfully taken the step from blogger to self-publisher, Backe began running workshops with fellow writer Jeffrey Miller to help aspiring authors crack the self-publishing market and bring out the book lurking within.

Backe says that he had the whole gamut of people attending his workshop: “old, young, long-timers, newbies, male and female.” Authorial experience is not a pre-requisite to self-publishing. Backe believes that getting self-published is simply a matter of having a story to tell, and expats have some particularly fascinating tales up their sleeves.

“The history of expats writing about their experiences is a long one,” he said. “Some English teachers put together their memoirs after their time ‘in Korea,’ while others aim to explain Korean history or culture to the rest of the world.”

Writers are not limited to memoirs or travel tales. Expats have been known to write everything from novels and poetry to comics and cook books. Daniel Gray, who also runs the “Seoul Eats” blog, has combined the latter two in “Say Kimchi!” a comic book on Korean food he cowrote with Sohn Hee-jong and Jia Choi, and former English teacher Jeffrey Miller has four novels, a set of short stories and a collection of essays to his name after discovering the creative freedom that comes with self-publishing.

One of the greatest assets that self-publishers in South Korea have is the strong writing and self-publishing community. A dearth of local platforms on which to publish means that self-publishers have to look overseas when publishing their work, and this is where the advice of an old hand becomes welcome.

“The most popular platform I’ve found is Amazon’s CreateSpace,” says Garms-Sotelo, “There’s (no self-publishing) platform in Korea, but if there was the foreign writers would be all over it, especially if there was one in English.”

Backe is also a fan of CreateSpace, which requires an American bank account in order for authors to use it. He advises anyone who wants to get their work out there to become part of the growing online community of self-publishers.

Self Publishers in Asia operates a Facebook group aiming to enlighten and assist writers in getting their work published. A bit closer to home, a group of expats have formed the Seoul Writers Workshop, which runs separate critiquing and poetry workshops twice a month.

With a raft of social and charity events, as well as the publication of a yearly anthology, the Seoul Writers Workshop is the perfect fit for anyone wishing to test the waters of the self-publishing world.

It can be difficult for writers living outside Seoul to take advantage of these communities. Seoul Writers Workshop is beginning to branch out into regional events and the frequency of their workshops is geared toward accessibility, but living outside the city presents a hurdle for would-be authors.

Garms-Sotelo, who is based in Pyeongtaek, says that constantly traveling to Seoul can be tiring.

“The support networks are missing, but between blogs and Linked In you can usually get along.” While a strong online community is invaluable for regionally based writers, what is really needed is further expansion of the writing community to locations outside Seoul.

Busan Writers Group has heard the call for regional writing groups, and meets every Sunday evening to share short stories, poems and non-fiction.

Self-publishing is an increasingly popular option for the expat community, and foreign voices are becoming more and more prominent within literature emerging from Korea.

The only risk aspiring authors take is writing a book no one wants to read, but with a little research and a lot of passion, this risk is not only alleviated, but almost never encountered.

By Kate Bolster (kbolster@heraldcorp.com)

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