By: Shahnaz Radjy
Regular Guy – Exceptional Advice
Some authors I have corresponded with come across as normal human beings who can call on the magic of words when they are working on a project. Others do not seem to switch off, and even a casual two-line email is full of wit and grace that makes you yearn to bask in their brilliance so a little might rub off on you. That is what corresponding with Teymour Shahabi was like.
The ensuing interview shed light on the writing process both for a debut author and in terms of tackling a sequel and includes backstage insights useful to anyone on the publishing path.
An Award-winning Young Adult (YA) Novel and its Sequel
In 2016, Teymour – having grown up in Paris and of Persian descent – self-published The Secret Billionaire. The main character, Andrew Day, doesn’t come from money. Far from it. When he gets a scholarship to an exclusive private school, he can’t wait for it to change his life. And change his life it does, as he makes new friends, enemies, and stumbles upon the mystery of a missing billionaire and who is the elusive Lucian Baker, the heir to his fortune.
The book won numerous “Best Young Adult Book” Awards, including:
- Best Young Adult Book, Great Midwest Book Festival, 2016
- Best Young Adult Book, Northern California Book Festival, 2016
- Gold Medal, Juvenile / Young Adult Fiction eBook, Independent Publisher Awards, 2017
- Gold Medal, Juvenile / Young Adult Fiction, eLit Awards, 2017
- Best Young Adult Book, Reader Views, 2016-2017
Best Young Adult Book, Florida Book Festival, 2016
Here’s an unexpect hack for you, apply for some of these as a way to promote your book.
Three years later and a mere month or so ago, Teymour self-published the sequel, Someone in the Walls. He was gracious enough to share his experience, insights, and backstage learnings.
Book 1: Progress, Frustrations and a New Approach
Teymour held himself accountable by publishing a new YouTube video every week. He shared progress, frustrations, and even asked his audience to vote on different cover options. Looking back, he says his whole approach was to take writing the book as a fun experiment. He was doing it to prove to himself that he could.
It went well. So much so that based on readers’ enthusiasm and insistence, Teymour relented and dove in with gusto to deliver the sequel. In a twist of irony, he admits that while he was more excited to tackle this second project, Book 2 was much harder to write and took longer than the original.
Book 2: More Progress and Recognition
This more recent book writing process felt dramatic and painful, and he finished a year behind schedule.
However, Book 2 already placed 20th on the list of best children’s detective stories on Amazon (to put that in perspective, number six is the legendary “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis!)
That’s the beauty of writing – it will always maintain the power to surprise you, whether you are the reader or the author!
Finding Balance and Rhythm
Having studied Mathematics and Comparative literature at university, Teymour works full time. Over the years, this has meant management consulting with a focus on corporate finance, entrepreneurship, and now financial services. Based in New York City, where the pace of life is full-throttle ahead, and distractions abound, he does not wait for inspiration to hit, much like author Phil Tucker said when I interviewed him for Two Drops of Ink.
Instead, while working on his latest book, Teymour made a pact with himself: he scheduled one or two nights a week when he wrote for 1-2 hours after work, dedicated his weekends to the task, and took a few vacations to focus on his writing.
These vacations took him to a cabin in the woods. Okay, not exactly – but he did stay in remote hotels and bed and breakfasts near woods, so he got close to his intent. There, he wrote every day of the week based on goals he set for himself. And yes, he is human – he sometimes took a snack break, and what felt like an hour later, he was suddenly five hours behind schedule.
With a single restaurant in the nearby town that closed at 9 pm, he had to make sure he met his writing goal early enough in the day if he wanted a good dinner.
That’s incentives at their best.
Coming back to his day job after such seclusion was something he looked forward to, all the more so given how supportive his boss and colleagues have been. Teymour also feels that this dual life keeps his writing fresh and exciting.
How a Writer’s Brain Works
Throughout the conversation, a few fascinating sources of inspiration came up:
- Jack London’s “White Fang” – Teymour has always been obsessed with dogs, although if he is honest, it’s a wolf he has always wanted to have as a companion-slash-fellow-adventurer. (You’ll have to read the book to figure out if and why this is relevant.)
- The New Rome, the big city, featured in both novels, is the mythologized version of a reality Teymour has experienced in a big city that shall remain nameless. From the awe, the smells, skyscrapers named after tycoons, gorgeous train stations, and a mysterious ambiance fed by the billowing white smoke coming out of sewage grates – Gotham City anyone?
- Batman and his dual identity, Ali Baba’s cleverness, the Count of Montecristo, and his plot twists – the stories he grew up with fed Teymour’s imagination from a very young age.
- Food also plays a mouthwatering role in Andrew Day’s narrative. I couldn’t be sure if that was me projecting (foodie here), but it turns out Teymour fantasizes about food all the time – so don’t read his work hungry, or you’ll self-digest.
My favorite insight about the plot was how intentional the message of responsibility and respect was.
Creating a Meaningful Story and Life Lesson
Throughout his arc, the main character always has a choice in terms of how he treats the people he meets. As he comes from a modest background, it is only when exposed to great wealth that Andrew Day understands that money isn’t just about having everything you could wish for and going on adventures, but that it should also be about respecting those around you.
Taking it a step further is the realization that those without wealth are often at the mercy of rich people or people in power having a bad day.
Such subplots are an inspiration to me, as they have the potential to spread important messages in a way that a more head-on or explicit approach might not achieve.
Self-publishing Advice to New Authors
Teymour self-published both of his books and says, “If you’re wondering about whether or not you should self-publish, I say just do it. So many people since Gutenberg say that the book is dead and no one is reading, but in fact, it’s a very exciting time to be a writer.”
He finds the freedom of self-publishing, with all the resources at your fingertips (thank you Google!) and being able to manage your timeline, transformative.
Two pieces of advice Teymour shared are to first, KEEP WRITING.
It took him numerous terrible first drafts and discarded works-in-progress to get to where he is, and in retrospect, he understands those were just stops along the way.
Second, if you self-publish, “Don’t think you can do it all. Ensure you work with professionals for editing and book design, as their skills and the new perspectives they can provide will get you out of your own head.” Click To Tweet
Find the Right People for the Project
For both of his books, Teymour collaborated with the same editor and the same cover artist. (Note that when it comes to editors, you could be talking about a developmental editor or a copy editor. Here, I believe Teymour went with a service that provides both.)
To find his editor, he sent a sample chapter to 10 prospects. Based on their feedback, he made a decision that reflected three factors:
- Whether the editor had what Teymour calls “a good bedside manner.”
- If the editor seemed incisive and sharp.
- He felt the editor could help improve his writing.
The winning partnership occurred through Bookhelpline.com, and he never looked back.
For the cover artist, Teymour used the platform 99designs.com to get proposals. He liked a few, exchanged emails with the artists about aesthetics, and then featured his shortlist of options on a YouTube video to get votes on the favorite choice. His go-to for cover art is now Kerry Ellis.
Beyond that, Teymour keeps it simple: he works on Word and uses both a dictionary and a thesaurus.
The bottom line is that you have to find what works for you – the right rhythm, tools, and team. Then, your imagination is the limit.
To connect with Teymour Shahabi directly, you can find him on:
His novels are available on Amazon (though I always use the Smile.Amazon.com link as it’s the same shop, but a percentage of your purchases goes to a charity of your choice – an outright win).
Bio: Shahnaz Radjy
Shahnaz is an adventurer, foodie, bookworm, and horse-lover. She is a freelance writer based in Portugal as well as the co-founder of an eco-tourism project. Alumni of the World Economic Forum and the University of Pennsylvania. Shahnaz has lived in Geneva/Switzerland, Philadelphia/USA, La Paz/Bolivia, and New York/USA.
Her website, Casa Beatrix, shows the adventurous spirit of Shahnaz and her husband, François. First, they traveled the world working on farms to hone their skills, and since 2017 have been in Portugal. They bought an old farm in 2018, and are turning their biggest dream into an unforgettable farm / nature / disconnect-to-reconnect experience she and her husband would love to share with you.
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing
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