Weird up your story with fold-ins and cut-ups

Inject a dose of the weird and wonderful into your stories with fold-ins

Inject a dose of the weird and wonderful into your stories with fold-ins and cut-ups

It was on Twitter where I first heard the terms ‘fold-ins’ and ‘cut-ups’ – a method of working used by William S. Burroughs.

I was intrigued. Actually, I was desperate. Bored by my own work, it’d become difficult to motivate myself to sit down and work on stories I’d already started. (New work was fine! I’m one of those writers who finds it hard to finish things.)

After a spot of Google research, I found a few brief descriptions of the technique used by Burroughs. Although the technique seemed better suited for poetry, I decided to give it a go with prose.

Before I explain how to use cut-ups and fold-ins in your own work, following are a few words of advice about using the technique in your prose fiction.

When to use fold-ins and cut-ups
Are your writing workshop friends saying your story is over-edited? Has your vocabulary become tired and unadventurous? If you’ve received feedback that your story is lacking in ideas or interest, this technique may be for you.

WARNING! Be prepared for the unexpected! Your carefully crafted sentences will be reduced to gibberish. However you can always revert to your backed-up original.

When not to use cut-ups and fold-ins
Conversely, if you’re not comfortable with the utterly unpredictable nature of what will happen to your writing after using cut-ups, I’d suggest avoiding them as a writing technique.

You may be the sort of writer who carefully crafts stories and is unwilling to relinquish control to the vagaries of randomness. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! We’re all different, and not all writing techniques are for everyone.

How to generate cut-ups and fold-ins
1. Choose one or two pages of your own work. In the case of a work-in-progress, preferably a portion that is vaguely coherent. Open the story in your word processor of choice. Copy and paste this section of your story into a new document and close the old one.

2. Select all of your story portion and format it using a generous line height, for example 1.5 or double line spacing. Make sure the font and font size is easy to read. Print off the resulting pages.

3. Now you need to find another story portion to fold in with your story. I suggest looking for a story that contains some element you’d like to emulate. Maybe you feel your story would benefit from more action? In that case, look for a story that that draws momentum from action. If your dialogue sounds inauthentic, choose a story containing lots of interesting dialogue. You can focus on any element of storytelling: vocabulary, dialogue, tone, pacing or description.

I’m also going to suggest choosing a story portion written in the same genre as your story – unless there’s some other aspect of the other story you’d like to build in to your story.

Here’s some suggested pairings:

    Your historical murder mystery with Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations
    Your post-modern urban crime story with a pulpy crime story from the 1950s
    Your science fiction story paired with an HG Wells’ classic

It’s preferable that your ‘fold-in’ story is in digital format, not a print copy. There are thousands of public domain stories, freely available, online. Project Gutenberg is a good place to start.

4. Once you’ve chosen a fold-in story, select one or two pages of the text and copy it to a blank document in your word processing program.

Format the story portion in exactly the same way as your first portion: same line height, font and font size. Print out the pages. For your first attempt, I suggest starting with one page from each story.

5. Fold each of the printed pages into four quarters. Using scissors, cut each page into four along the fold marks.

6. Shuffle the resulting small (A6) pages around on your desk. Sift through the pages, choose two of the small pages and place them side by side so that the sentences are aligned.

At this stage, you will probably begin to see interesting phrases you can use. You can choose random pairings, or pair the mini pages based on intriguing fragments that emerge.

7. Using sticky tape, stick the new, aligned mini pages together. You should have four new horizontal sheets.

8. Select one of the new sheets and type up the new sentences that have formed. You will need to alter grammatical elements such as pronouns and verb tenses. Insert prepositions if needed to give meaning to the new sentences.

9. Put your first new page aside and type up the other pages.

10. Print off the resulting pages. Find a comfortable spot and read your new pages. You may have generated sentences that almost make sense, or you may find a few interesting phrases or sentence fragments. Highlight the bits you like, put each page aside and move onto the next one.

It’s important that you don’t worry too much about the whole. Although you can use the resulting piece as the basis for a whole new story, you can also cherry-pick phrases, fragments and sentences you like and use them in your original story. If you’ve ended up with a particularly intriguing phrase, think about how you could alter your story so that the phrase makes sense.

For example, for a science fiction story I am working on, I ended up with the phrase, ‘the smell of white’. I wondered how white could have a smell. I brainstormed this idea and ended up with two ideas I then incorporated into my story: the smell of chalk, the smell of a hygienically-clean hospital room.

I like to think of fold-ins and cut-ups as a way of playing with words. If you are open to the possibilities, at the very least you will end up with an injection of new vocabulary! You may also have generated new ideas for the direction of your story.

Have you tried cut-ups and fold-ins before? Do you have any unusual ways to bring life to your stories? Share your results using the comments form!

William S. Burroughs and his philosophy behind cut-ups and fold-ins
More about how to do cut-ups.

Related posts
Tips for young writers: How to make your story more interesting by Marianne Musgrove
Tips for young writers: Write in character by Teena Raffa-Mulligan

Part two of an interview with Tansy Rayner Roberts

In part two of my interview with Tansy Rayner Roberts, Tansy explains how she promotes herself as a writer.

The cover for Ink Black Magic, Book 3 in the Mocklore Chronicles trilogy.

The cover for Ink Black Magic,
Book 3 of Tansy’s Mocklore Chronicles trilogy.

Did you plan the promotional websites or have they evolved as a result of the projects you’ve been involved with?
They’ve absolutely evolved. I’ve been blogging for at least a decade, but made the shift from Livejournal to a proper blog with my own URL round about the time that the Creature Court books were first published with HarperVoyager. When a new social media platform comes along I will usually have a play with it, and set something up, but I am wary of over-stretching myself. My blog remains as the central online place to find me, and I tie everything back to it as much as possible. Livia Day [Tansy’s nom-de-plume for crime fiction] is a bit neglected on the social media side – I find it too straining to pretend to be another person – but I have a basic site for her if people go hunting for the name and books.

You’re often busy on Twitter. Did you make a decision to avoid Facebook?
I don’t avoid Facebook at all! I’m more active on there now than I have ever been. I still love Twitter best – but I used to just mirror tweets on Facebook for years before a friend told me kindly to stop, because it’s really obvious.

Part of me has regretted those early sales, before I was entirely ‘cooked’ as an author.

I generally use Facebook to keep an eye on actual people I know, and don’t get to catch up with as often as I’d like. Twitter is something I enjoy for conversations across the international community. I put links to every blog post on both platforms, and convey news about my books etc. but otherwise I don’t really use them for promotion as such – I don’t think social media works that way. I prefer to use it for communication and fun and that instant ‘I don’t have a water cooler because I work from home’ chat that livens up the day. The good thing about that attitude is that I never convince myself that hanging out on Twitter for an hour is the same as doing an hour of work.

Do you give talks about your writing and books? Do you have a particular approach to public speaking or do you ‘wing it’?
I love to talk. I don’t do enough of things like school visits – I really should, but I’m constantly snowed under, so it’s not something I actively seek out. I often go to conventions though, and will speak at writers festivals when I’m asked. I was recently invited to the Beaconsfield Festival of Golden Words and loved it – I got to talk to a classroom of kids about writing, and then I got to be on panels as both Tansy and Livia!

My process is to figure out what’s wanted – if they want a formal speech, I will prepare something. But I know from experience that I am excellent at winging it, and so I will rely on that rather a lot. If there’s someone to ask questions, like at a panel, then I know that I don’t need much pre-planning at all. It helps to know that, because I get terribly nervous before presenting, and the earlier I start thinking about what I’m actually going to say, the earlier I get nervous. So I often terrify people by refusing to think about public appearances AT ALL until the very last minute. It almost always turns out wonderfully!

Tell me about your involvement with the crowdfunded Cranky Ladies of History project. Do you believe it is necessary to fund small press publications in this way nowadays?
I don’t think it’s necessary as such – though there is more of a strain on small presses than ever before, because a lot of the niche work of quality that used to come their way is now being self-published by authors. But crowdfunding can be an excellent business model for small presses and solo authors alike – it’s a brilliant way to create buzz around a project, and to check that it’s viable before you go to the presses. Not just having the money up front to print a book, which is fabulous, but also having your readers committed.

It’s heartbreaking at times – I have a lot of friends who are small publishers – to see them sink so much time and money and unpaid effort into a work that they think will have a solid audience, only for it not to find that audience.

Cranky Ladies of History was crowdfunded for one simple reason – Tehani [Wessely from Fablecroft] and I wanted to make the book, and we wanted to be able to pay pro rates to authors. Small presses can often get very good writers to work for them for a smaller amount of money because they have other things to offer – great editing, personal involvement in book decisions, and most importantly, a modern, flexible and collaborative approach to digital publishing, something that many of the larger publishers are seriously falling behind on.

So Tehani was always planning to print the book herself, and cover those basic publishing costs that she always does. The crowdfunding allowed us to test the idea to see if it had legs (people loved it! The title of the book created half the buzz) and also to raise the funds to pay authors what they are worth. It meant we could approach some seriously big name authors to take part, but also means that the newer writers who take part will be paid substantially as well.

My blog remains as the central online place to find me, and I tie everything back to it as much as possible.

Many of the authors helped out with the campaign – and even authors who didn’t have time to write a pitch or story for us volunteered to spread the word. Others wrote blog posts for our Cranky Ladies of History blog tour, which celebrated Women’s History Month. It was a mad, glorious festival of retweeting, and we were so excited to make not only the target goal, but our stretch goals, so the book will be illustrated now and have more stories in it than originally planned.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you sent off your first manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?
That’s a tricky one! Part of me has regretted those early sales, before I was entirely ‘cooked’ as an author. A debut is a terrible thing to waste, and I do feel at times that mine was a bit soggy. I had my expectations rather horrible dashed within a year or two – coping with your first novel rejection after being published feels much worse than working up to an acceptance slowly! But without that first sale, I wouldn’t have learned half the lessons about writing and publishing that I did, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to earn an income as a creative writing teacher for so many years.

I think sometimes, these days, authors are in such a hurry to be published, and because they can do it themselves, they hurl themselves into the fray. And I wince, because I see authors who start getting published later in their lives who seem to do a better job than I did of turning one or two sales into a proper steady career. It’s a tiny bit painful to have your juvenilia out there, published as a real book, when you know you can do better now. But I guess most of us feel that way about books we wrote 15 years ago?

My path to and from publication may have some bumps (and dips!) in it, but it’s mine, and I don’t think I’d do anything differently. I would tell my younger self to go ahead, post the manuscript, publish and be damned! (But also to write more books before having kids. Trust me on this.)

Tansy, thank you!


Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy Rayner Roberts is a fantasy author who lives with her partner and two daughters in Hobart, Tasmania. Mind-bogglingly prolific, Tansy has edited Andromeda Spaceways, co-edited AustrAlien Absurdities and promoted (and will co-edit) the Cranky Ladies of History project for Fablecroft. Tansy is one of the three voices of the Hugo-nominated Galactic Suburbia podcast. She also writes crime fiction as Livia Day.
Tansy has won Aurealis, Ditmar and Washington Small Press Short Fiction awards. She won the Hugo award for Best Fan Writer in 2013.

Tansy’s blog: Stitching words, one thread at a time.
Website for Tansy’s nom-de-plume: Livia Day.
Tansy’s Creature Court trilogy.
The Galactic Suburbia podcast.
To promote the Livia Day series.
The Cranky Ladies of History project on Fablecroft, on Pozible and on Pinterest.

You can also find Tansy on Twitter as @liviadaysleuth and @tansyrr.

Interview with Tasmanian fantasy author, Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy Rayner Roberts is a prolific fantasy author. In the following interview, she talks about her writing career.

Photo of fantasy author, Tansy Rayner Roberts

Fantasy author,
Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy, can you tell me how you first came to be published?
I always feel a bit guilty about telling this story, because my path to publication is no help to anyone! I entered the George Turner Prize (which no longer exists) for an unpublished SF/F novel, and I won! Splashdance Silver was bought by Transworld in 1998 when I was just nineteen years old, and published a few months later. It was at a time when there was a very set idea in Australia about what fantasy fiction was like, and my book was very different – it was a comedy about pirates and explosive magic.

How have you developed your writing craft?
Absolutely through practice. I spent most of my teens writing novel after novel, and reading voraciously. Formal study was never much use to me because the creative writing teachers I had access to were not sympathetic at all to genre. I actually learned a lot from teaching, as well – through a stroke of luck I fell into work as a creative writing teacher at night school through my twenties, and developed several regular courses, mostly for beginner writers. There was often one or at most two writers in each class who were there because I was a fantasy writer, and I did my best to give them more genre-specific support than I ever found myself.

I actually only quit teaching back when I had a trilogy deal with HarperVoyager and realised that to get the books finished and to make them good, I needed to not be thinking about the beginner end of writing for a while – I had to push myself beyond the basics.

The most useful professional development I did over the last decade and a half or so was as part of the ROR group – a collection of SF and fantasy writers who wanted to work on our skills collaboratively, because there are so few development options available to you once you’ve sold your first novel, but still so much learning to do. Every year and a half or so, we would exchange manuscripts and then all go away together for a long weekend to exchange critiques. It was an amazing experience, though sadly we struggle to find time for those getaways any more – mostly for good reasons like publisher deadlines!

How has being a parent influenced your writing?
That’s so hard to answer! Being a parent is who I am now – nine years and counting – I hardly remember who that person was, before my first daughter came along. Most of the everyday effects of being a parent vs not a parent that I actually think about do involve time management, and all that practical stuff. But all life experiences inform my writing, and I think I’m a more interesting person in my thirties than I was when I was younger – my kids and partner and parenting experience are all part of that.

You wear many hats as a writer. You’re also an editor and have reviewed an impressive list of titles. You write in the speculative fiction and crime genres (as Livia Day), for children, and publish through different publishing houses. Was this a deliberate decision or something that comes naturally to you?

I’ve never been able to settle to just one kind of writing or work – on the one hand, I might have a more effective “author brand” (ugh) if I did. But today’s publishing industry is so scattered, it’s hard to limit yourself to one kind of opportunity. I got involved with small press publishing and editing at a time when I had been dropped as a writer from my previous publisher – and I was burned out on writing novels. That gave me amazing experience that I could feed into other writing work, and also introduced me to some wonderful people in the SF community. Reading and reviewing helped me to keep a foot in that community even when my professional side was elsewhere – studying, or working.

As for publishing across multiple houses – if you’re not a bestseller, you can’t afford not to keep moving, spreading your work across different platforms. If one publisher doesn’t like a particular book, maybe the next one will. I’m lucky at the moment to have two wonderful indie presses publishing my work – Twelfth Planet Press has published a lot of my short fiction, and now the Livia Day novels. Many of the awards I have won have been down to the work Twelfth Planet Press has published.

Meanwhile, Tehani of Fablecroft has reprinted my old Mocklore novels including my debut Splashdance Silver, and recently launched the long-unpublished third Mocklore Chronicle, Ink Black Magic. She is going to publish some collections of my essays later this year, and we collaborated together on crowdfunding the Cranky Ladies of History anthology. I rarely have time for editing these days, but a great project can occasionally lure me back…

Cover for Livia Day's A Trifle Dead

A Trifle Dead, published under Tansy’s nom-de-plume, Livia Day.

Can you tell me about using Hobart, Tasmania as a setting for your crime novels?
I live and breathe Hobart! I’ve lived here all my life. I was always a bit hesitant about writing my own city when I was younger – it seemed much more intimidating than making up a world from scratch. But I’m hooked now. My first Hobart-set longer work was the novella ‘Siren Beat’ which had a kraken invade the Derwent River. Mostly I use it for the ‘real world’ work like Livia Day’s novels – and I have occasionally paced a few streets, though I am also lazy and use Google Earth when I need a refresher on a particular area. For the second novel, Drowned Vanilla, I invented a town just south of Cygnet [also in Tasmania], because my mother lives in that area and I didn’t want to offend anyone by making the population of a real town too nasty!

Your work is published with a number of houses: Fablecroft, Twelfth Planet Press and Harper Voyager, as well as writing for children with ABC Books. Is there any particular reason for this?
Different projects, different publishers. It’s very rare for an author to stick with a single publisher for their whole career – unless you’re making millions, and even then, there are often reasons to change! Publishing houses have different priorities and modes, and of course it’s all about what a commissioning editor will buy. I’ve been lucky to work with some of the very best in recent years, whether that’s Stephanie Smith at HarperVoyager (now sadly retired!) or Alisa and Tehani with their boutique presses.

Do you have an agent?
Not currently. I have had at various stages of my career. The last one and I parted company amicably after the Voyager trilogy – we weren’t a good fit for each other. I am aiming for an American agent now, because getting my work out of Australia has been the biggest challenge – but it’s a tough time. The last book I wrote was the one I was hoping would be my breakout, but it’s only swum in circles and is still unpublished. I’m resting it right now and working on a new novel that I will shop around agents in the hope of finding the right person. It’s a tricky business, matching agent to author.

In a few days I’ll post part two of this interview, where Tansy talks about how she promotes herself as a writer.

The pros & cons of Authonomy: A guest post by Paul Xavier Jones

The cover for Paul Xavier Jones' book

Paul's book, Boundary Limit

Today emerging writer Paul Xavier Jones shares his experience of publicising his book through the Harper Collins website, Authonomy.

What exactly is Authonomy?

Authonomy is a website managed by Harper Collins publishers. The idea is, rather than submitting a manuscript directly to the Harper Collins’ slush pile, users of the site rate books and provide feedback to authors.

How does Authonomy work?

A fledgling writer can upload either a few chapters or an entire manuscript onto the site. Other writers and the general public then read as much as they like, and rate the book. There is a ranking system, based on how many people load the work onto their ‘bookshelf’ and there is also a ‘star’ rating system. Readers can leave comments about the work, or suggestions for improvements or ideas.

If your book gets into the top 5 of books on the site, then Harper Collins will select it for review by their editorial team.

What have you found useful about the site?

I found the comments section the most useful, although you have to take them with a pinch of salt. A lot of the people who write comments are other authors on the site. They tend to be gentle with their comments, because they want you to read their work and comment favourably, or back their work by putting it on your virtual bookshelf. I only got one really critical comment, and the person leaving it had a point; I used what he said to improve the work.

What hasn’t been useful about the site?

The site isn’t achieving what Harper Collins set out to do. People solicit for votes. If you want to move up the ranks, you need to plead for votes, or join voting ‘blocks’ where if you vote for someone, their friends will vote for you.

There seems to be little interest in the actual merit of the writing itself. The work on the site is variable in quality. I’ve read stuff that was absolutely first rate, and I’ve also read stuff that was poorly written.

About Paul
At ten years old, Paul Xavier Jones was part of the generation captivated by the first Star Wars film. He thus began a life long love affair with sci fi, fantasy and thrillers. Three decades later, he has accomplished something that was just a dream back then – completing his own work on a sci fi thriller, Boundary Limit.

Paul has also written a fantasy trilogy, the Ameca J series, which will be available on Kindle shortly.

Paul is married, has two daughters and lives in Wales.

About Boundary Limit

What happens when a boundary limit is exceeded?

Blake Trubble is a man with an obsession. Personal tragedy and a troubled past have moulded him into an emotionless killing machine, with one aim in life – the ruthless and relentless pursuit and destruction of all extremists.

With his job as a Major in a crack SAS team dedicated to hostage extraction, he has numerous opportunities to fulfil his aim.
But there’s one man Blake wants more than any other: Mahmoud Sabak, the Western governments’ most wanted terrorist leader, the so-called ‘missing link’ between the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

When Sabak seizes the Euro Large Hadron Collider at Batavia, Blake must rescue the four hundred scientists and staff being held hostage from Sabak’s deadly grip.

But both Blake and Sabak haven’t counted on the power of the Collider – when it pushes at the boundary of this reality, breaching its limits and opening a door to another.

And when doors are opened, things can come through …

Click here to visit Paul’s blog.

You can order Paul’s book through Amazon UK.

Click here to visit Authonomy.

Life as a writer: Part 2 of an interview with Amber Averay

In the second part of my interview with author Amber Averay, Amber talks about her writing life.

Amber, are you a full-time or part-time writer? How do you organise your writing time?
Through necessity I’m definitely a part-time writer at this stage. I’d like to be able one day to be a professional full-time author, but right now it’s a case of writing when work and family commitments allow.

Someone described me as a … writer of fairy tales for adults …

Unfortunately I don’t have an organised diary when it comes to writing. When the mood takes me, I get on the computer or whip out paper and pen and begin. However I never try to force a chapter out. When I’m motivated I can write up to twenty pages a day; when I’m not, I find it hard to even scratch out a paragraph.

I have found, though, that if I’m enjoying what I’m working on I’m rarely lost for motivation!

How does your own background inform your writing?
I’ve grown up with books; my mother read to me almost from being a newborn, I’ve been told. As soon as I could read I was never without my nose in a book, mainly Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse, or E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. I have always loved fantasy, or the sweet and strange.

As a child,  my choice of television shows and movies included He-Man and She-Ra, The Neverending Story, Labyrinth and Krull, to name a few.

As a child when I would go out farming with my father, I would pretend that I was an explorer discovering new worlds and would race around, dodging monsters and flying beasts and chatting to new friends that were visible only to me.

How would you describe your ‘brand’ as an author? What is it that differentiates you from other authors?
Someone described me as a unique writer of fairy tales for adults, which I think is nice as it’s not something often heard today. And as for what it is that differentiates me, I am really not sure. Perhaps it is that I have only one novel published at this time, but I write to please myself and try not to use creatures or genres currently popular in the mainstream.

Are there any ‘how-to’ writing books, workshops or online communities that you could recommend to other writers?
Having never used a ‘how-to’ guide or attended a workshop of any kind, I am truly not qualified to suggest such things to other writers. I would recommend however that they join their local Writer’s Centre as they have invaluable information for budding authors.

Goodreads is a fantastic source of support and encouragement from people who have managed to get published and can give advice, or who are still struggling but can share their experiences.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you sent off your first manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?
Be patient! I had been warned it would be a month before I heard back from the publisher (which turned out to be a short week) but it felt like forever.

The worry, the concern, the certainty that I would be knocked back made me irritable, and each morning when I checked my inbox I grew ever more sure that my manuscript would not be accepted.

Patience is not something I’m known for, and it is the one thing I would advise myself to have if it were possible for me to travel back to that moment. I’m sure such advice would have made life for my family so much easier!

Enchantment’s Deception — on the back cover

Sigrid is a young witchwoman of Zircondia, rebel and outcast. She ‘views’ the bloodthirsty alien wars blasting the skies of a neighbouring world, and her desire to learn the truth behind the beloved Tale of the Banished Trolls leaves her sister cold with terror.

Yet her actions reveal aliens and trolls’ stories to be incontrovertibly entwined, as is her own mother’s involvement in the wars of the former and the banishment of the latter …

About Amber Averay
I am the fifth child of six, and aunt to five nieces and one nephew. I have two great-nephews, and a forest of family rather than merely a tree.

From the age of two I would go out farming with my father, and thought I was the most important person in the world because of it. School readily knocked such ideas out of me, and I took to reading and writing to distract me from the misery that school places on most children.

After completing Year 12 I did work experience at the local Magistrate’s Court, had a twelve month Clerical Traineeship with the S.A. Government, worked for some years as a temp (where the jobs were varied and entirely dissimilar to each other), then began working for Angus and Robertson, where I remain today.

Writing has always been my passion, and since the publication of my debut novel my coworkers at the Munno Para store have been incredibly supportive and helpful. They recommend Deception to customers, have handed out fliers, bookmarks, posters, and are encouraging the other stores in the company chain to join them in promoting my book.

Between them and my amazingly generous and helpful family, I consider myself a very lucky woman.

You can buy Amber’s book from a few online bookstores:



Strategic Marketing and Publishing

Angus and Robertson

Borders Australia

Enchantment’s Deception can also be ordered through Angus and Robertson stores.

How did you get published? Interview with emerging author, Amber Averay

Enchantment's Deception by Amber Averay

The cover for Amber's book

Today, I’m talking to author Amber Averay. Amber’s first novel — a fantasy and science fiction story — is called Enchantment’s Deception. It’s the first in a series of five and is published by Strategic Marketing and Publishing under the imprint Eloquent Books.

Amber, can you tell me how you first came to be published?
I had been sending query emails to publishers dealing with unsolicited manuscripts and agents in Australia and Britain. The rare times I was sent a reply it was a polite ‘no, thank you’.

I found an agency in America who said they would forward my email to their sister company, Strategic, and to give them a week to reply. The next morning in my inbox was an email requesting the entire manuscript, and to give the publishers a month to get back to me. A week later I was sent my contract.

I wanted to write something that my then six-year-old nieces would enjoy … they were fans of Charmed, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie

How have you developed your writing skills? Have you done any courses or workshops?
I think most of it is self-criticism. When I completed the first draft of Deception, I was supposed to be studying for Year 12 exams, and I handwrote a 93 page story without a title. I was proud of it and myself, and put it away for 6 months.

When I went back to it I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever written. I inserted new chapters, edited existing ones, and removed those which I realised were completely unnecessary.

This process continued for several years, interspersed with critical feedback from my sister, who told me if she thought passages were boring, repetitive or irrelevant. I had the manuscript, by then called Enchanted World, read by a manuscript assessment agency, who were generous with both their encouragement and criticism. Their main problem was the title, which they considered ’too twee’. I tweaked the work where suggested, changed the title to Enchantment’s Deception, and began looking for agents or publishers.

Having never done a writing course or workshop in my life, being told by the agency that I should begin looking to get Deception published as it was a ‘great story that cries out for a sequel, or even a series’ was a huge thrill.

Did you have a deliberate strategy to develop your career as a writer?
No, not at all. Initially it was something I did for fun after school; writing short stories and poetry gave me a creative freedom that I don’t think many schools allow for. Neither my Primary nor High schools offered creative writing lessons, so it was something that I really did for myself. I always wanted to be an author, but never really knew how I would go about it.

When I began Enchanted World, I wanted to write something that my then six-year-old nieces would enjoy as they were fans of Charmed, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie, to name a few. But as it grew and evolved, I started thinking more seriously about having Enchantment’s Deception prepared for perusal.

Do you ever encounter obstacles (in terms of craft) when writing for publication? How do you address them?
As this is my first published novel, and one which originally I was going to leave hidden in the back of the wardrobe, I don’t really know what it’s like to write strictly for publication. While working on the second book in the series I have found writer’s block an annoying irritant that comes more frequently than I’d like. When W.B. strikes I step away from my work and don’t touch it again for a week or more until I know I’m ready to get back into it.

I know a few people who say it’s best to work through writer’s block, but that has never worked for me.

Do you do research for your fiction? If so, how do you tackle it?
I don’t actually do any research; I think, if it was closer to science fiction than fantasy, I would have to do quite a bit research, but my novel is set on another world, in another galaxy; and I think, realistically, that’s what I enjoyed the most about writing it. I had the freedom to create something that I could sit and write, without needing to refer to other books.

With your novel, what did your publisher expect from you in terms of rewrites?
Well, I really don’t have much to say on this topic; my manuscript was accepted, I was sent a contract, and the publication process got underway. I was told initially that the editing process would take up to three months; I think it was the next day I had an email saying they had no editing to do, which was great to hear.

The only times rewrites or corrections suggested were back in 2007 when the manuscript assessment agency suggested the removal of a chapter, and the extension of another.

Apart from your novel, do you do any other forms of writing?
Over the years I have written the four sequels in the Enchantment’s Deception series, created a book of poetry that will likely never see the light of day, written song lyrics.

I am working on a screenplay with a friend in America when we can both get on the net at the same time, and we’re also currently collaborating on another project, along the lines of a supernatural thriller.

When W.B. (writer’s block) strikes I step away from my work and don’t touch it again for a week or more until I know I’m ready to get back into it.

Do you have an agent? Why/why not?
I wanted to have an agent, but could not get anyone interested. Then, when Deception was published, I tried again to approach agencies requesting if they would be interested in representing me. Unfortunately so far I’ve not had any luck, but I’m not going to give up. I’ve made it this far with determination, the support of my family and luck; I’ll not be giving up until I’ve achieved my next goal.

How do you go about negotiating your contract with your publisher?
I have a set contract with my publisher, which does not appear to be open to negotiation at this time. Before I even consider trying to renegotiate, I’d like to try and build up sales of Deception. I’ve had positive feedback so far, so I’m hoping it will have some popularity in the future.

What’s happened in the past with publicity and promotions for your books? Have you had assistance from your publishers or have you organised everything?
Strategic created a press release for me, and have also made up a book trailer on YouTube. My niece, knowing I’m definitely not very Internet savvy, created a fan page for me on Facebook. My sister and I have worked together making up bookmarks with Deception’s details, which we’ve left with the local bookstores, libraries, and handed out to people throughout the nearest shopping centres.

The bookstore I work for have given me a large window for promotional purposes, and we have posters of the book’s cover in store with ‘Coming Soon: Order Now’ signage. I was also interviewed and photographed for our local Messenger newspaper, which has garnered some interest in the book.

Have you done a book launch, book signings, spoken at literary events and festivals, or spoken on radio?
So far I haven’t been able to get the attention of radio stations, nor have I done any book signings. We have arranged a belated launch, complete with raffle, giveaways, book signing and balloons for children — we are just waiting on the stock to arrive before we can set a date.

Have you spoken to schools or other groups?
Not as yet; it’s currently school holidays, so I am unable to contact anyone regarding speaking to the students. However, several schools have already stated their interest in having Deception included in the school curriculum for next year. When the holidays are over I’m going to be approaching the schools again, and will continue to do so, until I get an answer.

I know you’re not very keen on online promotion, but how do you find online communities such as Goodreads?
Goodreads is fantastic. I’ve joined several online communities, such as Elfwood and Authors Den, but I have found Goodreads to be by far the best. The interaction is fun, informative, and nobody is excluded as you can sometimes feel on certain sites. It was my friend in America who introduced me to Goodreads, and I’d been on it for a week or so I think, when I was contacted by Mandy and invited to the Aussie Reads section. I’m not very confident with the internet, but Goodreads has been invaluable.

In part 2 of her interview, Amber talks about life as a writer and her writing background. I’ll put up part 2 early next week.

Promoting your book to the converted: AussieCon 4 from an author’s perspective

Today I have a guest blog from sf&f author, m a miller. The World Science Fiction Convention, AussieCon 4, was in Melbourne this year. Miller bravely decided to promote her new book to the diehard fans. Here is her story …

AussieCon 4: We have lift off …
Every year for the past 68 years the World Science Fiction Convention has taken place somewhere in the world. Yes, you guessed it, this five-day extravaganza is a coming together of all things Science Fiction or Fantasy. Authors, illustrators and fans alike converge to discuss the most recent speculative fiction, how it relates to world events and what the future may hold.

It’s also where the coveted – to those in the know – Hugo Awards for all things SF take place. Oh to be on the receiving end of one of those!

So imagine my joy when, as a newly-published science fiction & fantasy writer I discovered that 2010 was the year of World Con’s return to Melbourne. It’s only the fourth time it has landed on our shores. Oh yeah! Oh bliss! How can I get involved?

For a newbie author it is quite daunting to get ‘noticed’ in among all the other books out there. I write young adult speculative fiction and the YA market is huge. And growing. And there are some great big looming titles out there. Anyone here heard of Harry Potter? The Twilight Saga?

So who should I target my publicity at? For that matter, how do I get any publicity?

It was fantastic meeting people who had travelled from all over the globe to be there – USA, Canada, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Great Britain, Germany, Japan —  and of course, Australia.

Houston, we have a problem!
So I took my proposal to my publisher at alto books. Would he be interested in getting some exposure for his science fiction & fantasy books to a dedicated audience? Would he please book and pay for both a table in the dealers’ room and for my ticket and in exchange I will ‘man’ the table?

It took a while, but after some persuasive – okay, maybe begging would be a better word – emails he finally agreed. Only to discover that all the dealer’s tables were fully booked. Oh the disappointment. But such is life and I thought no more of it until three days before the event when an email landed in my inbox saying that a table was now free and would I still like to go? Yeah baby!

Storm Troopers, Jedi Knights, a bounty hunter and a TIE fighter pilot, a Doctor Who, vampires, people wearing Victorian/Gothic/futuristic costumes and characters of unknown origin wandered past

Publicity: The final frontier …
On day one of AussieCon 4 I set up the alto books table with a great deal of trepidation – after all, I was squashed between Borders (who knew they had so much Sci-Fi/Fantasy stuff?) and Penguin (they had raffles and games! Why didn’t I think of that?) I only had a very small list of books to sell.

As Storm Troopers, Jedi Knights, a bounty hunter and a TIE fighter pilot, Doctor Who (an incarnation as Tom Baker rather than the current Matt Smith), vampires, people wearing Victorian/Gothic/futuristic costumes and various characters from unknown (to me, that is) origins wandered past I soon realised that my larger bookseller neighbours were in fact attracting more people to my table. They would stop and chat and meet the author. What? Oh yes, that was me as the big sign I’d printed attested to.

The result? Discussions on all things Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Fans of the genre. Fans of books. And yes, book sales. Oh my!

It was fantastic meeting people who had travelled from all over the globe to be there – USA, Canada, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Great Britain, Germany, Japan …  and of course, Australia. And an absolute thrill to know that copies of my book – signed, of course — are winging their way to all of these countries.

It was an even greater thrill that the Fan Guest of Honour bought a copy!

Aussiecon 4: A learning experience
Would I do things differently? You bet. I should have been on a discussion panel or two (yeah, I know, it was the ‘known’ writers who were represented but I can dream!).

Mis'ka: Rite of ascension

m a miller's new book

I had bookmarks that I handed out but I now feel that I should have been wandering the halls of the Melbourne Convention Centre and shoving them at all and sundry.

It can be difficult to spruik your wares but the great thing about AussieCon 4 was that I was spruiking to the converted – these were people who want Sci-Fi, who get Fantasy and who, in many cases, actually dress up to prove it.

So my five days of standing and signing turned out to be a fun weekend with results – I also sold many of the other alto books as well.

Would I do it again? You bet. Bring on the 69th World Con. It’s in Nevada and will be known as Renovation – best I get saving!

m a miller’s debut novel, Mis’Ka: Rite of Ascension was released earlier this year by alto books. Miller has assisted in the development of an animated children’s television series as well as a live action kid’s show. She has won short story competitions and worked in the script department for
Blue Heelers.

In her spare time, miller finds time to swim, walk her dogs and eat (lots) of chocolate – not necessarily at the same time!


Click here for m a miller’s website.

Click here to visit the website for AussieCon 4.

And here for the website for the 69th World Science Fiction Convention in 2011.

A guide to finding writers’ resources on the web: A guest blog by Tahlia Newland

Today I’m featuring a guest blog courtesy of Tahlia Newland. Tahlia is the author of a new YA fantasy novel Lethal Inheritance.

A guide to finding writers’ resources on the web

By Tahlia Newland

Some people get frustrated with trying to find information on the web.  This is understandable because it is a web with limitless junctions and connections. It is easy to get lost or miss the very thing you are looking for.

From my own experience, I’ve found that there are a few things we can do to minimise frustration and help us find what we’re looking for.

Know what you are looking for
Do you want quick hints or a detailed essay? Do you need help with grammar, punctuation, editing, style, finding an agent or publishing? Are you interested in non fiction writing, speculative fiction or general fiction? Or do you just want general articles?

Frame searches carefully
Be specific. If you want quick general writing tips, use the keyword, ‘tips’. Type something like ‘top tips for writers’, or ‘10 tips for successful writing,’ into your search engine. If you want a quick overview of what’s important in editing, try ‘tips for editing writing’. The last word could be ‘essays’ or ‘novels’ but if you leave off the last word, your search engine will come up with points on editing music and film as well as writing.
If you want something more than a brief list of points, search for ‘how to edit writing’ or ‘how to edit a manuscript’.
If you want to write a novel, search for ‘how to write a good novel’, or be even more specific eg ‘how to write a good fantasy novel’.
When I needed them, the following searches came up with lots of excellent results:

  • ‘writing a synopsis’
  • ‘ writing a querie letter’, and
  • ‘how to write a querie letter’.

Guess the contents of a page before opening it

After you click ‘search’, your search engine will show a list of possibilities. Which do you choose? Yes, whatever is closest to what you’re looking for, but it’s not necessarily the first one on the list. And be careful; check the URL beneath the entry. If the name of the site has no relationship to writing, you may find that it’s just a one line reference in someone’s personal blog or a mostly unrelated forum.

Open links in new browser tabs
This is really important for ease of navigation. Right click on a link and select the ‘open in a new tab’ option. You can easily return to your search results by clicking on your previous tab.

Don’t be distracted
You’ve arrived at a page and it’s full of text, maybe some pictures, advertisements, links etc. They’re all very interesting, but don’t get distracted by them. Remember what you are looking for and find that on the page first.
When you do check the links, consider how relevant they are to your search. If you want to go off into something related that looks interesting, still keep in mind what you started out looking for. Otherwise you can end up wandering aimlessly through a maze of information.

Scan text rather than read it
You might read a page of text and get to the bottom only to find out that it’s not what you’re looking for. Learn to scan. Run your eyes quickly over the text looking for key words. You’ll get a feel for the content, enough to know whether you want to spend more time on it or search elsewhere.

Bookmark as you go
As soon as you find any info you think will be helpful, bookmark the site so you can easily go back to it. Alternatively copy and paste the info into a word document for later study (and copy the link to the site too).

Avoid getting overwhelmed
Be relaxed about your searching. Don’t get fixated. Get up and stretch every now and then.

And lastly, use the history button if you get lost!

Links to useful writers’ resources

These aren’t necessarily the best and there are masses more out there, so I encourage you to do your own searches. I have some links on my blogsite too.

Editing, style, grammar, good writing grammar and composition.  I’ve returned to this website many times for clear and detailed info on the basics of writing.

There is a particularly good section on ‘cutting the clutter’

An associated site covers fiction writingThere are lots of tips, for example ‘writing dialogue’There are also tabs with info on getting started and getting published.

Revising and editing

This University of Queensland site has links to info on grammar, punctuation, structure, plot, feedback and so on.

Writing Novels

Fiction Factor contains lots of useful links.


There are many blogs offering writing tips and related topics of various depth and you can find them in blogsite listings like Blog top sites, Blogflux, Blogarama, Blogcatalog, Bloggapedia, Bloggexplosion, Bloggernity, OnToplist and Australian Planet. There’s a world of writers like us out there and we have so much in common and so much to share. I have links to my present favourites on my blog

At the book launch for Adam Stiles’ The Uniques


Author Adam Stiles and Kate Stiles

Author Adam Stiles and his mother, Kate at the book launch

Back at the beginning of May, I interviewed emerging author Adam Stiles. Last week, Adam launched his new book, The Uniques at St Edmund’s College in Ipswich. Here’s what Adam had to say about the event:

I started off by gathering the crowd around me (it was a very informal setup) and explaining to them how the book came to be, where the ideas came from, what it took to become published. I explained that it is a series, and took them through the basic premise of Act I.

My mate Odin (the first person to read the manuscript) gave a short, impromptu speech, and then I did a full reading of the prologue.

Afterwards, I took a couple of questions and then we had afternoon tea while I went around chatting to the guests, which included the school principal, several teachers, and handful of students who waited around after school, and of course my friends/family.

Eager crowd at the launch of The Uniques

An eager crowd listens to first public reading of The Uniques

I finished by setting up a table to sell and sign copies. Nearly everyone who was there now has one. Overall it was an excellent launch!


Congratulations Adam!

How will you promote your book? Pt 2 of an interview with YA fantasy author, Adam Stiles

Today, I’m quizzing YA author Adam Stiles about how he plans to promote his first book. Adam also talks about his writing influences.

Can you tell me what aspects of promotion your publisher will handle? What do you plan to do?

Zeus submit all new works into a variety of databases and send out marketing information to retailers about their new authors. I will use this as a stepping stone for my own marketing ideas.

Author Adam Stiles

Author Adam Stiles

Of course, my launch, book signings and interviews such as these are an integral part of my marketing strategy, but I have several other ideas to help me stand out from the crowd.

The biggest of these plans revolves around the internet – in particular, my website, forum and Facebook fan page. Growing up, I was a part of several different forums and websites for various interests and I saw first hand how helpful these tools can be in growing a community. I can now use this knowledge and experience to help me achieve my own personal goals.

Finally, I can say I am working when I’m surfing the internet all day!

Since I am fairly close in age to the target audience for the book, I think I still have a pretty good idea of what will and won’t work in promoting the book to young adults.

Will you do a book launch or book signings?

My official launch is scheduled for May 7th at my old high school, St Edmund’s College in Ipswich. I plan to donate a signed copy to the school library, tell the guests and students a bit about how the series came to be and do a reading of the prologue. Afterwards I will hang around to answer questions and sign copies. The Queensland Times newspaper will cover the event, so hopefully that will generate publicity.

When the launch is out of the way I will organise signings and similar events. I plan to send out information and previews to any libraries and reader groups I can find information on.

Will you promote your book outside of bookstores?

Yes definitely, but at this stage my time has mainly been devoted to getting the launch sorted. Afterwards I will happily look into other means of promoting the book to the public. I did a lot of marketing as a part of my business degree so I’m sure I can come up with many ways of shameless self-promotion. One example is that I plan to print up shirts with the cover and logo on them so that I am advertising everywhere I go.

Describe your online strategy.

The whole point of my online strategy is to make readers feel part of a community. To do this I have to offer them content and insights that they would not get anywhere else. This involves me being active on my own site and Facebook fan page so that readers hear about things when they happen.

As the forum grows I am going to slowly release little titbits of information about the series, teasers for future books, fun facts or other things that I deem interesting. I have also started keeping a little diary about my progress on Act II so readers can gain an insight into my writing process. Things like these will go a long way in forming a loyal readership.

Another advantage of this strategy is that it helps me to identify what is working with the series and what isn’t, so I can make adjustments accordingly. There is nothing better than dynamic feedback directly from the readers themselves.

The main drawback was choosing a host and setting everything up. I crashed the forum so darn often in the initial stages that I’m scared to tinker with any settings!

Are you a full-time writer?

I am not a full time writer, but I do try to write every day, even if it just one sentence that I will end up deleting later. That way I always feel a connection to the process, and I won’t grow distant. Sometimes it just can’t be done due to other work commitments, but I try to stick to that plan as much as possible.

I also don’t believe in a structured ‘writing day’. If I’m feeling particularly inspired I can get in there and write for hours, but other days I might just read over what I’ve got already, or just brainstorm. As a general rule, I tend to write better at night when there are less distractions and I can focus on the story in front of me.

How would you describe your ‘brand’ as an author?

A lot of authors tend to be quite secluded, so to stand out from the crowd I literally plan to be IN the crowd. I’ve never been afraid to get in there and get things done, so my approach to promoting myself and the series will be no different. I plan to spend a lot of time interacting with the public and talking to readers, either in person or over the internet.

When all is said and done I would like to be thought of as the people’s author – the guy who isn’t afraid to mix with the fans, grow a community and make every single person feel like they are an integral part of what I’m trying to create.

How do your interests inform your writing?

I love a good story, regardless of whether it is a book, movie, game, or even anime. By seeing how others have achieved story-telling success in their chosen mediums I am able to put my own work in perspective.

I also love music, and often I find that a great song is the best way to get the creative juices flowing. Coheed & Cambria and Dream Theater in particular are amazing bands that I like to listen to whilst writing.

Who are your favourite authors?

My three favourite authors are Brent Weeks (Night Angel Trilogy), Sergei Lukyanenko (Night Watch Trilogy – though technically it is four books long) and Peter F. Hamilton (Night’s Dawn Trilogy). Though I wouldn’t recommend them to a young adult audience – there is a LOT of violence and adult themes in all three series – their storylines and styles have really influenced the way I think about the writing process. I only really started getting heavily into reading once I began writing, so similarities between those three authors and myself probably won’t be evident in Act I of The Uniques, but without a doubt I will take what I have learnt from those writers and apply it to my future work. The way they weave their tales is just so amazing it is impossible not to be drawn into the worlds that they have created.

Currently I am about half way through book three of Sergei’s series and am loving every moment of it.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you sent off your first manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?

Full steam ahead. I haven’t regretted a moment of the process and wouldn’t do a single thing differently.

Adam Stiles, thank you.

Adam’s Bio

Adam Stiles was born in Brisbane in 1988, but was raised and educated in Ipswich. He has a Bachelor of Business Management, majoring in Physical Activity, and was employed at Big Dad’s Pies while studying. Despite being an avid reader, it wasn’t until his third year at university that Adam realised that he wanted to write for young adults. He used his holiday break to write the first act of his series, The Uniques. He plans to pursue careers in business management and as an author.

Click to visit Adam’s website for the book.

The forum for the book.

The Uniques on Facebook. (If you’re not a FaceBook member, go to Adam’s website, then scroll down to the heading on the right ‘Facebook Fanpage’. This should work.)

What’s next on Great (book) expectations? Later this week I’ll be posting an interview with the prolific George Ivanoff.

I’ll also be compiling and uploading my notes from a recent seminar at the Victorian Writers’ Centre – three fiction publishers/editors spoke about what they’re looking for in manuscripts.