The business of writing: Part 2 of an interview with novelist and travel writer, Cameron Rogers

Today author Cameron Rogers talks about working with publishers, using a pen-name, having an agent, and what promotions support emerging writers can expect from publishers.

Cam, with your novels, what do your publishers expect from you in terms of rewrites?
It varies from publisher to publisher, editor to editor. A good editor understands what you’re attempting to do with a given manuscript and helps you work in that direction. Another editor may have a more commercial mindset and ask that the main character of your period drama be more like Starscream from Transformers. I wish I was making that last bit up.

But generally, I have to say, I’ve rarely come across an editor I had a hard time working with. The key, for me, is understanding that the end quality of the manuscript is more important than anything else, including your ego. You need to be okay with amputating whole chapters – months of work, maybe your best work – if the end result for the reader is greatly improved.

How do you find switching between novel writing and travel writing? Does one style of writing help with the other?
I think so. I think travel writing has made me a better novelist. I think it’s accentuated my grasp of texture, of experience, of immediacy, and how people can work. I can’t overstate the value of travel for any kind of writer.

Why did you decide to use a pen-name for Nicholas and the Chronoporter?
It seemed prudent. An established genre writer – like Cliver Barker or Neil Gaiman – can write a book for kids and people find that interesting. They seek it out. It’s almost as if they’ve descended from Olympus to impart some small gift to the people of the lowlands.

But if someone who is perceived to be a children’s writer publishes a conventional novel … that doesn’t seem to work. R.L. Stine – who started the bestselling Goosebumps line – did that. The book rotted on the shelves. So I decided to go with a pseudonym because I didn’t know which way my career was going to go, and I liked the idea of writing a book as a character. I’m hoping I can do more with Rowley Monkfish. I kinda like him.

I wonder why companies don’t make a more concerted effort to promote up-and-comers … I mean, Bryce Courtenay isn’t going to be around forever

Do you have an agent?
I’m represented by Howard Morhaim in New York. He’s had 30 years or more experience, is respected, and I like him as a person. I trust him, and it means I can spend less time sweating the fine print and more time writing. It just makes sense to have an agent like that onside. You not only get their experience, but you get their network of connections as well.

How do you go about negotiating your contracts with your publishers?
Again, that’s the value of an agent. Howard deals with them, gets back to me, we kick it around, and if need be there’s some back and forth. The idea of having to talk business with a publisher over the future of the current book … eurgh. Just, no.

Can people buy ebook versions of your novels?
The Music of Razors can be bought for the Kindle, via Amazon, if you’re in the US.  I’d very much like to get everything happening digitally, globally, eventually.

What’s happened in the past with publicity and promotions for your books? Have you had much assistance from your publishers or have you organised everything?
Somewhat oddly, it’s the popular and established authors who get the bulk of the publicity budget. First-timers, mid- and back-listers get practically zip. So it’s up to them to generate their own publicity however they can.

Since the financial meltdown pretty much every publishing house on Earth is fighting for its life, and they’re doing that via their front-list, so you can’t blame them for focusing squarely on the writers who pay the bills. But, that said, the front-listers have always had 95% of the budget. That’s not a new thing.

Partly out of self-interest and partly out of genuine curiosity I wonder why companies don’t make a more concerted effort to promote up-and-comers, if only to protect the future of their corporation. I mean, Bryce Courtenay isn’t going to be around forever.

Have you done a book trailer? Is this something you’d consider doing?
No I haven’t, but I definitely would. Anything that helps keep people aware that you’re still here doing your thing is valuable. Whether or not it’s cost-effective is something else entirely. But yeah, I’d definitely do it.

An editor may ask that the main character of your period drama be more like Starscream from Transformers. I wish I was making that last bit up.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you sent off your first manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?
Brian K. Vaughan said that writer’s block is just another word for computer games. The time lost playing just one of those things to completion, if you add it up, is shocking. Furthermore I find the repetition of action and visuals blunts the mind and makes it harder to work afterwards.

It pains me to say it, because I love the escapism of gaming, but I’d advise throwing out all of them, then travelling for three weeks to flush my head and reset. Then returning and getting started on something fresh.

And to remember that everything will take three times longer than I expect.

Cam’s bio

In 2001, Cam was the first author to be nominated simultaneously for three separate Aurealis Awards (Best Horror, Best Fantasy, Best Young Adult). This was for the Australian edition of The Music of Razors, which Neil Gaiman described as “A nightmarishly imaginative debut from a writer of real assurance and vision.”

Cam’s YA novella, Nicholas and the Chronoporter, is in print with Penguin Australia. It was written under the pen-name of Rowley Monkfish. His first published work, a YA novella entitled The Vampires, has been in print with Lothian since 1997.

Cam is currently travelling and working on his next novel. His most recent sales were articles on Wave Gotik Treffen in Leipzig and Sun Studio, Memphis, for The Age.

Weblinks

Click here for Cameron’s website/blog.

And here for paperback edition of the Music of Razors on Amazon.

Here is the link for The Music of Razors on Kindle.

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How will you promote your book? Pt 3 of an interview with author, Chrissie Michaels

This is part 3 of my interview with author, Chrissie Michaels. Today she explains how she is promoting her new book, In Lonnie’s Shadow.

Chrissie, how do you market yourself to teachers and librarians?

Rachel at the Australian Education Union has just interviewed me for the teacher’s union newsletter and I recently did an interview with Judith at SLAV (School Library Association of Victoria) for their Bright Ideas blog.

Will there be teachers’ notes for In Lonnie’s Shadow?

There are teachers’ notes on Ford Street’s website and also on mine. I do plan to add more. I have put on an FAQ section on my site as there have been a few questions about which items from the dig are real or imagined. I should reinforce at this point that Lonnie is a work of historical fiction.

Do you or you publisher have any plans to sell your book overseas?

Paul Collins (publisher at Ford Street Publishing) has mentioned that it went to Bologna. We won’t know for a few months. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

How did you decide what content to put on your website?

I am a novice at this. I only set up the website over the summer holidays and haven’t got a domain name yet. Sophie Masson gave some good advice, which I took up about using the Google site. I wanted the focus to be on Lonnie and to make the book trailer more available. I also wanted it to be a focus for teachers. That’s why I am putting up some additional classroom activities. I have just included some work on the language in the novel, clarifying terms such as: duck shoving, on the wallaby etc. 

Who is the audience for your website?

I guess I have made it more for teachers at this point. I am a real novice at this at the moment. I haven’t even faced Facebook or Twitter yet!

Why did you do a book trailer? How did you decide what to do for it?

Paul Collins suggested we have a book trailer. This was over the last summer holidays. Hopefully it provides an entry point for some to read Lonnie.

My partner Michael produced the trailer. Between us we came up with the ideas for the script. It was a matter of what we could do and what we could work with. Michael is fabulous at using MovieMaker.

We had some photos of Little Lon from my research. They feature buildings that appear in the novel which is set in Little Lon in 1891. There is the Leitrim where Daisy lives and the Governor, one of Pearl’s haunts. The Royal Exhibition Buildings, the fountain and the Carlton gardens are central to the illegal horse race through the streets. The knife relates to Slasher Jack; the bottles (the bottle for medicine or poison and the Glass and Bottle gang); the fob watch (the cause of some of Lonnie’s unhappiness); these all appear in the novel. The trapdoor and the traditonal nursery rhyme ‘Around the rick’ are also key links. 

The background music to the clip was a birthday present from my brother who plays the classical guitar and composed the piece,which he called Lonnie’s Lick. He says he is available to compose music for any other clips. 

My daughter and her boyfriend were most put out that their words weren’t used, as they spent at least an hour one afternoon rehearsing lines, as Lonnie and Pearl. My daughter does appear as Pearl though in the news clipping section of the clip!

How are you integrating your online promotions with your ‘real world’ promotions?

I don’t think I really live in the ‘real world’. That internal landscape keeps building fences. This is the first time I have been involved in any online promotions’ venture. There have been quite a few interviews for blogspots (such as yours) and we are all certainly grateful for the opportunity to talk about our books and writing. Networks are so important for writers. It can be quite isolating otherwise. But there has to be a balance. 

Are you a full-time writer? How do you structure the days that you write? 

I do have a part-time teaching job at the local secondary school, three days a week, which is quite time consuming.

Writing at home is relaxation time, done purely when I feel like doing it, which turns out to at least a few hours a day, mostly on my days off, and during weekends or holidays. I do have spells where I do more, especially when an idea is ripening or a deadline is due. 

How does your background inform your writing?

I’m an avid reader with a love of literature and history. I have a curious (and at times, a troubling) mind.  When I was 17 and in my first year at uni, where I was studying French, I was introduced to the French authors, Zola and Balzac. They still stay with me now. 

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

I think I will end up being tagged as a writer of historical fiction. If I could live my life again, I would have been an archaeologist or historian and I guess I would have ended up in the same place. (Then again I would like to be Doctor Who’s assistant and I have written a sc-fi novel for Scholastic Press…) 

I just consider myself a writer who is lucky enough to be published sometimes.

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

Never send a handwritten manuscript. Accept any criticism as constructive advice. 

Always be polite – remember that the commissioning editor who refuses your manuscript today will probably move on to another publishing house and you may meet up again soon. 

In Lonnie’s Shadow
The discovered artefacts from an archaeological dig in Melbourne become the backdrop for this story about a group of teenagers in 1891 who are struggling to make their way in a world that seems to be conspiring against them whichever way they turn. Lonnie McGuinness knows only one thing for sure – there doesn’t seem to be any fairness in life for him or his mates. So he decides to take matters into his own hands. 
But when does a favour turn into a crime? 
And when should a secret no longer be kept?

Chrissie’s bio

Chrissie’s published work includes junior fiction, poetry and short stories, as well as a series of primary school texts. In Lonnie’s Shadow is her debut YA novel and is published by Ford Street Publishing.

She will appear at Melbourne’s Emerging Writers Festival, at 7 pm on Thursday 27 May 2010 at the Wheeler Centre, 176 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. 

Click here to visit Chrissie’s website.

View the trailer for In Lonnie’s Shadow here. (Scroll down approx. 4 screen lengths to find it.)

How did you get published? Part 2 of an interview with author, Chrissie Michaels

In part 2 of my interview with author Chrissie Michaels, Chrissie explains how she does historical research and how she plans to promote In Lonnie’s Shadow to schools.

Do you ever encounter obstacles when writing for publication? 

Time is my greatest enemy. Where does the time go when you are on a computer? You look up and several hours have passed. I become obsessive and bossy to the extreme—‘Who took the Do Not Disturb sign?!’ When the computer crashes; the printer runs dry; the internet won’t work; there’s a paragraph to finish but I just can’t get it right; ‘Who’s taken the Macquarie?’… 

At this point I take a break—a walk on the beach, do some gardening, go on a short holiday…

Cover for In Lonnie's Shadow

Cover for In Lonnie's Shadow

How do you tackle historical research?

I really enjoy the thrill of discovery in historical research. In Lonnie’s Shadow is the second of my published historical novels, although it is my first novel for young adults pitched at the more mature reader.  The other novel is On Board the Boussole, the diary of Julienne Fulbert, written for the 12+ age group and based on the French explorer, Lapérouse’s tragic voyage in the 18th century. This is part of the Australian, My Story series by Scholastic Australia. 

Melbourne’s State Library has been an invaluable resource for both novels. The Argus newspaper was an important reference for me when researching Lonnie. I trawled the microfiche at the Library, referred to academic papers about the archaeological digs, checked out the ephemera section. I also visited Museum Victoria and studied their exhibition on Melbourne. Many artefacts from the digs are part of this display. In fact this was the source of my inspiration for Lonnie.

While writing Boussole, the rare books section of the library was invaluable for research on Lapérouse.  I corresponded closely with Reece Discombe, who rediscovered the site of the shipwrecks near Vanikoro in the 1960s. Reece gave me some of his photographs, sent me photocopied material and gifts, such as a book signed by the French admiral who oversaw the French navy’s dives to the wrecks (which I now treasure). Pierre at Albi sent me a wonderful limited edition print of the Boussole (ship) commissioned by the French government, as well as one for the National Maritime Museum in Sydney which I sent on to them. Jean from the Association Salomon sent me copies of his own novels on the subject. I also visited the Lapérouse Museum in La Perouse, NSW. 

Without a doubt, I get carried away doing research. Here’s an example of what I mean—when researching the cost of an apple for Lonnie, I came across a reference to the gangs who roamed around Melbourne at that time. It was like falling into a vat of scrumpy in the form of my gang leaders, George Swiggins and Billy Bottle, who must have been fermenting somewhere in the back of my mind. Believe me, they poured out that day, packing a punch and set for a bottling. At the time, I forgot about the apple…

Do you do book proposals for your work?

I always try to follow the submission guidelines that a publisher has. If this calls for a book proposal then I will do it. I try to present manuscripts as professionally as I can and always include a return envelope with the required postage, unless stated otherwise. 

Why do you write under a pen name?

Really just because I can… it fits into where I am at this point in my life. If you do write under a pen name you should inform Public Lending Rights; Educational Lending Rights and Copyright Agency Limited. Also I always put my ‘real’ name along with my other details on a manuscript’s cover page.

Do you have an agent?

Because we do still have a range of markets here in Australia I have been happy to do it alone. However, I’ve just sent some material to a US agent. I saw an advertisement in one of my network newsletters. But this is the first time I’ve done so. 

For your latest book, what aspects of publicity and promotion will Ford Street handle? What do you plan to do?

Paul Collins my publisher at Ford Street is supersonic. He has sent off stickers, bookmarks, set up interviews and provided contact points. He provided the opportunity for my involvement in the cultural exchange of Australian books to the Shanghai and Nanjing Libraries. The exhibition is called ‘Finding Gold’ and is associated with the current Shanghai World Expo. I am very excited to be one of the featured writers. 

I am one of 16 writers selected to launch their book during the Emerging Writers Festival in Melbourne. My timeslot is Thursday 27 May, 7–8pm. Estelle Tang is hosting these ‘15 Minutes of Fame’. There will be book sales and a book signing at the end. More details are available on the EWF website. Please come along if you can. A launch is a real celebration, like a birthday because our characters are like our own children (almost).

What do you plan to talk about to school groups?

I am happy to speak to school groups. Lonnie is for the more mature adolescent reader as it has some gritty and violent moments. Some of the characters are hard done by but they are resilient and determined and don’t give up. 

I have a Lonnie collection of my own to act as writing inspiration. My favourite is the phrenological head (chapter: ‘Skull’ from In Lonnie’s Shadow) which I picked up at a market over one summer holiday. I also have an old brown bottle with ‘not to be taken’ on it (‘Bottle for medicine or poison’). I’ve got some great old coins (‘Three coins and a token’). I have some great photos of the area around Little Lon as well.

There’s the book trailer to show and extracts to read, language to explore… 

There are also stories to tell. Just yesterday I had a phone call from a lady whose mother spent her early childhood in Cumberland Place (part of the setting in Lonnie). She told me how her mother wandered down to the nearby theatre and watched Pavlovna dance. I was so thrilled to hear from her and even more that she was really excited by my book. She is going to keep in contact by email and tell me some more stories. I can’t wait.

Tomorrow, Chrissie explains more about how she plans to promote In Lonnie’s Shadow.

In the meantime, take a look at the trailer for the book, along with Chrissie’s article about using book trailers in the classroom.

How do you promote your books? Pt 3 of an interview with YA & children’s author, George Ivanoff

Yesterday, I dropped by at George’s book signing in Ringwood. It was lovely to meet him, and sales were going well. George had a great display of posters with the Gamers’ Quest cover, a laptop showing the book trailer, and some freebies: bookmarks and stickers.

Today, in part 3 of my interview with George, I ask him more about his book promotion plans, especially his online strategy. George also talks about his life as a writer.

Cover for Gamers' Quest

The cover for George's new book

Will you sell or promote your book outside of bookstores?

I’m happy to promote where ever I can. I’ve done talks and signings at science fiction conventions and at the Melbourne Science Fiction Club. Recently I did a reading as part of the children’s program at the Bright ‘n’ Sandy Food and Wine Festival. So if there’s anyone out there reading this, who would like to book me for a festival or school or library or whatever… drop me an email!

Are there plans to sell your books overseas?

My publisher has the book with an overseas rights agent. So it’s a matter of wait and see. If there are any o/s publishers reading this who would like to bid huge sums of money for the right to publish Gamers’ Quest in their country, please contact Ford Street. 

How did you decide on the elements of your online strategy?

It was a matter of doing whatever I could do myself and whatever I could get other people to do for free. Back when I had a real job, I used to work in web development, so I was able to put the website together myself. Unfortunately my skills in that area are sadly out-of-date — so the website is put together in rather old-fashioned way. But it works!

The Gamers’ Quest theme music was composed and performed by my brother-in-law Marc Valko, member of the Melbourne band Thrashing Zombies.

I was going to do the book trailer myself, using my very limited knowledge of the web animation program Flash. My first attempt was pretty crappy. Then my friend, H Gibbens, stepped in and saved the day. He’s a CG animator…  click here to check out his website.

I wanted a book trailer because I wanted to pursue as many promotional avenues as possible. And I like watching book trailers… so I assumed there must be other potential readers out there who also like watching book trailers.

The book trailer was entirely conceived and made by H Gibbens. He read the book, then came up with a script and story board. I was happy to leave it in his hands. He thinks in a very visual way and I trusted his judgment.

How did you decide what content to put on your website?

I just asked myself what sort of info I’d want from a website about a book I was interested in… and that’s what I put up. Then my publisher suggested I should include some short stories. That was a great idea. I loved the opportunity to revisit some of the characters from the novel.

The website is mostly aimed at potential readers — kids and teens — hence the colour and movement and sound. Time was pressing, so I didn’t end up doing any research other than testing the site out on some kids I knew and then modifying it accordingly.

How are you integrating your online promotions with your ‘real world’ promotions?

All the bookmarks include the website address. Every time I do an interview or write a guest blog, I mention the website. And on the website, I announcement any upcoming events and signings, as well as quoting a whole bunch of reviews.

Do you market yourself to teachers, librarians or any other groups?

Not as much as I should be. It all comes down to a matter of time. I’m trying to promote while also writing and taking care of my two kids (I’m a stay-at-home-Dad). But I do send out promotional material to schools, especially those in an area I’m about to do a signing in. And my publisher has sent out a huge amount of material to libraries all over the country.

Did you write the teachers’ notes for Gamers’ Quest?

Yes. I’ve done quite a few writing workshops in schools, which has given me a bit of an insight into the way a book can be used in classroom discussions. I applied this when writing the notes.

Are you a full-time writer? How do you structure the days that you write? 

I’m a stay-at-home-Dad, so I write around the schedules of my children. My eldest daughter is at school, but my youngest is still at home. So, apart from the one day a week she goes to childcare, when I have the whole day to write, I write during her nap times, in the evenings and on weekends. Sleep? Who needs sleep?

How does your background inform your writing?

In every way possible! How can you write and not be informed by your background. My opinions creep through, even when writing fiction. My likes. My dislikes. Certain characters are inspired by people I’ve met and certain plotlines are inspired by events from my own life. My very first book, a collection of short stories about high school, Life, Death and Detention, was heavily inspired by my school experiences.

How would you describe your ‘brand’ as an author? What is it that differentiates you from other authors?

I’m not sure I have a ‘brand’ as such. Writing for the education market means that I write a huge variety of stuff in differing styles. With my trade writing, I hope what manages to come through is a certain off-beat sense of humour… particularly in terms of character. Edgar the dragon, for example, from Gamers’ Quest. He’s old, grumpy and sarcastic, and married to an enormous, human-looking woman named Vera, who has a liking for interior decorating and floral patterns.

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

Two main bits of advice:

1. Be prepared for rejection! There will be a lot of it.

2. When you do finally get a book published, be prepared to promote it. When my first book was published I naively thought that was it — I went back to my computer and went on with my writing. Meanwhile, the book went on to get a couple of good reviews but languish, unread, on bookshop shelves. I stupidly though the publisher would do all the promotion. Experience has taught me that I need to get out there and promote. Which is exactly what I’ve been doing with Gamers’ Quest.

George Ivanoff, thank you!

George’s bio

George Ivanoff is an author and stay-at-home Dad residing in Melbourne. He has written over 40 books for children and teenagers. His latest novel, Gamers’ Quest, is currently in bookstores. Two of his books (Life, Death and Detention and Real Sci-Fi) have been on the booklist for the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge since its inception in 2005.

George has also had stories published in numerous magazines and anthologies, most recently in Short and Scary and Belong. Check out George’s website at: www.georgeivanoff.com.au