This is the second part of my interview with author, Richard Blackburn. Richard has written an historical fiction trilogy for young adults.
Richard, do you sell or promote your books outside of bookstores?
Most definitely! I average a book signing a week and sell around twenty books each signing, and this is really helpful, especially now the three books of the trilogy have are available. But I’ve had a lot of success as a guest speaker for National Seniors Groups, Probus Clubs, etc. The audience is often about 80 people and they are interesting and educated people who often want to get published themselves. So I talk of my experience and how they can start out for themselves.
I give talks at high schools. My first two books have been accepted for the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge so I have a good ‘in’ there. I’ve given talks at council libraries readers’ and writers’ groups and sold copies there.
For the Canadian/US market I have to rely on the internet. Lachesis has its own marketing section but I’m not happy to leave it at that. I’m sending emails to every library, high school and reading group I can find an email address for. I’ve applied for a grant to attend a two-month residential in USA to follow up on this work – and it is work. California alone has over 9,000 high schools.
I’ve just had a website created for me and I’m going to link it to the blog site I’m trying to get going. That’s where I hope to sell more books. It will also be a place I can advertise the time and location of my signings. I send notices to all newspapers already and it helps. It’s great to have people come up and say that they’ve read about me and want to hear more – a great advantage.
For school groups, what do you talk about?
I introduce myself and my book. I have a funny story about how my father was a story teller and I followed that way. They all love a laugh.
I talk about growing up on the site of an ancient castle, long demolished, but with some evidence still in the contours of the land. Then I talk of the writing process and how lucky we are to have the English language to use. Over the millennia we’ve pinched a huge number of words from Latin, Norse, French, German and many other languages so we have a word for every degree of emotion.
At my talks I have a few coins from the 12th century, I have a chain mail vest and helmet. I tell them my wife won’t let me have a sword because I’m very accident prone and she’s sure our insurance wouldn’t cover me being trusted with a dangerous weapon. So I set the scene for my books.
Also I have a 1m x 0.5m poster of my books’ cover art – it’s really eye-catching. After the talk, I let them try the armour on. In that way the students remember it and it usually gets into their school magazine.
Do you market yourself to teachers or librarians?
I find schools a hard market. I’ve emailed every public school in Australia and every time a book is accepted for the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge I contact every school library in NSW. I’ve had talks to many teachers at my book signings and, even though I have my blue card, little has come of it.
Libraries are different. Again I’ve emailed every one of them. This has had good results. I’ve followed up by checking the entries for my books in the catalogues of all libraries. Caloundra library had one book of the trilogy in the Adult section and two in the Young Adult section. They were happy to fix it up. Even the national library had the third book categorised for preschool readers. It’s best not to assume anyone will get it right for you – check it for yourself.
The Moreton Bay Regional Council has a webpage for local authors and I’m on that. By attending their Arts promotional meetings I met some State Arts staff and I’m on their email list and have been invited to the launch of their annual arts program. This ‘getting in’ to the Arts world is important. That’s why I’m putting in for research grants, development grants and residential grants. If you don’t push yourself, no-one else will do it for you.
It sounds like you devote a lot of time and energy to promoting your books. Does this impact on your writing time?
Just now I don’t have time to write. I’m putting all my efforts into the Canadian/US market to whip up sales there. It is very important to me because I have written the film script to the first book. If I can get a lot of interest in it, that will be the time to approach Hollywood. So it’s not worth my while trying to write. My mind isn’t there.
Are you a full-time writer?
I tell everyone that, now I’ve retired, I’m a full time domestic servant (my wife works). But all the rest of my time is writing or related work.
How does your background inform your writing?
I find that experiencing a lot of different lifestyles has allowed me to talk with confidence about the things I write. I’ve worked in the Simpson Desert, in the New Guinea jungle. I’ve parachuted (and not that tandem stuff!) and scubadived – and still do. I’ve travelled and observed.
There are people who will look for flaws in your work. I find that having been adventurous myself gives me permission to write about someone else who is involved in fascinating adventures.
How would you describe your ‘brand’ as an author?
Lots of books today are yea thick. There are often parts where the story gets bogged down. Well, I was a hopeless student. I didn’t read books because there wasn’t one I’d really liked. I passed my HSC at age 30 odd and my degree in IT at 52! So I’m a slow learner. That makes me very keen to cut the fat from my writing. I want action and interest all the time. I’m delighted when people say they couldn’t put my book down. I want to give students like I was the sort of book I would have been really happy to have found.
Also I am fascinated by interesting facts about the past and love to share them in my work. A few readers have said they eagerly await the next footnote because it is about something really interesting.
If you could travel back in time to the moment before you sent off your first manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?
I’d edit the work with my present knowledge of what is needed with regard to craft. Then I’d really put every effort into getting an agent – using the Preditors & Editors website. If that was absolutely impossible, I’d keep on trying at the top end of the publishers’ heirarchy.
I’ve nothing against Zeus and Lachesis, but the large publishers have a huge advantage in the market. They can get your book into all the bookshops and they can afford much better advertising. So, yes. I’d really work hard on my manuscript then I’d not become impatient so easily.
Richard Blackburn, thank you.
Richard Blackburn is Zeus Publications’ bestselling author and has written a fantasy trilogy: The Gatekeeper, Rudigor’s Revenge (both listed in the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge) and The Regiment. He sells a version of The Gatekeeper overseas (The Guardian of the Gate). Richard lives in Queensland and travels extensively to do book signings.
Click here for Richard’s website.