Blog Archives

The Misadventures of an Author on the Road

Long before I was a published author, I tried my hand at filmmaking. And being a playwright. And learning the guitar. That last one might not be relevant. At all.

But the first two are. And when I say “filmmaking” and “playwright”, I mean in the broadest, most amateurish way possible, like making dumb little movies with friends and writing a particularly tragic high school play that shared its title with the one and only movie that Britney Spears ever starred in.

So I know what it’s like to have people read out dialogue you’ve written. Sometimes it’s embarrassing, or frustrating, but every so often you hear your own words read aloud to you and they sing (the words, that is. Not the person reading them).

It’s been a long time since I last experienced that, but this past week I once again had that opportunity.

I was thrilled to be invited to the Carey Celebration of Literature, a writers’ festival held by Carey Baptist Grammar. The day started off with a workshop where the students and I went through the fundamentals of storytelling, with a lot of activities peppered throughout, before I set them the task of creating their own superheroes. I was really impressed with the imagination and storytelling instincts on display.

But as impressive as that was, I was even more blown away when I showed up for the talk I was to present in the afternoon to find that a few of the kids had put together a dramatic presentation of a scene from Vanguard Prime: Goldrush (specifically, the scene where Major Blackthorne introduces Sam to Agent Alpha, and they discuss the history of the team).

As with all adaptations some changes were made, the major one being (no pun intended…well, maybe slightly intended) that Major Blackthorne had been split into two characters, one named Blackthorne and the other called Silverleaf. This is, of course, so utterly brilliant that I’m now sorely tempted to introduce a clone of Blackthorne called Silverleaf…and given that Blackthorne’s hair is silver, Silverleaf’s hair would of course be black.

I think I just came up with a fanfic idea for my own book series.

In addition to the Celebration of Literature, I also got the chance to call on Ivanhoe Grammar again, where this year’s bunch of students were just as bright and inquisitive as last year’s. I’m often asked what my favourite part of writing is, and I have to admit that getting to meet the readers would be right at the top of the list.

So thanks to both Carey Baptist Grammar and Ivanhoe Grammar. I had a great time and was honoured to have been invited along, making it well worthwhile that I never learned how to play the guitar. And if Major Silverleaf should end up in a story, please don’t sue.

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Learning As We Go: New Adult & The Digital Revolution

I’ve been thinking about the difference between New Adult and Young Adult fiction this week. For a few years now I’ve been kicking around a story idea that, when I first heard about this blossoming genre called “New Adult”, seemed to fit the idea like a….can I say “glove” and not have my writer’s licence revoked for dabbling in blatant clichés? Yes? Okay. It fit like a glove.

Or at least I thought it did. The longer the New Adult genre has had to gestate, the more it’s been reduced to “Young Adult with sex scenes”. Worse, booksellers seem to be struggling to work out where to shelve New Adult titles, which can’t be placed with the kids books but get lost in the General Fiction section.

The suggestion would be to create a separate sub-section on the Young Adult shelves marked New Adult, but this creates extra work for the store for a genre that hasn’t yet proven that it has a dedicated market and warrants the effort.

It’s a shame, because I think there’s a great deal of potential for New Adult. As buzzwordy and marketing-driven as that term sounds at first, I think it correctly captures the mindset of the high school graduate/first year undergrad who’s out there looking for stories to read that reflect all the pressures and challenges they’re facing as they make that transition into adulthood.

But perhaps I’m being too Old World in my thinking about this. Shelving isn’t as much of an issue for e-books, and if the readership for a title is from the Millenial generation, who’s to say a bricks-and-mortar store would be their first destination in searching out a New Adult book?

As with everything in the Digital Revolution, we’re learning as we go. My sincere hope would be that this genre is used for more than Romance + Naughty Bits and actually takes advantage of its potential for looser boundaries and richer thematic material.

Not that I’m opposed to Romance + Naughty Bits. In fact, I may go copyright that as a book title right now…

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In case you haven’t checked the Events page in a while (and really, why would you?), I’ll be at Eltham Library on October 20 (aka THIS Sunday) with George Ivanoff. We’ll be discussing Vanguard Prime: War Zone, taking questions from the audience, and then leading a workshop on Where Ideas Come From, which will cover genre, story structure, and creating characters. Bookings can be made through Eltham Bookshop. I’ll be bringing lollies with me, so expect plenty of sugary bribes to be made from the front of the room.

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Listening: Champagne Supernova by Oasis

Reading: Gamers’ Quest by George Ivanoff, The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

Watching: ER Season 3, Adventure Time

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EDITED TO ADD: I meant to mention that I’m actually using my Tumblr account now. I continue on in my cluelessness, however, by basically running it like it’s a Pinterest account, but if you’re curious to see what material I’m drawing on for my writing, then check it out; http://stevenlochran.tumblr.com/

Speaking as an Author

A lot of people think that the life of an author involves nothing but writing. If only that were true!

Setting aside the fact that most authors don’t make enough money from their writing to do it full time (and thus have to hold down another job in addition to their writing career) there are a lot of other components that go into being a professional writer that often go overlooked. And public speaking would have to be the big daddy of them all.

Before I was published, I’d heard of writers being provided with media training by their publishers and thought I may experience something similar. As it turned out, I was more or less thrown in the deep end and had to learn along the way. Thankfully, I’d attended enough author events to have an idea of what was expected of me, but it’s one thing being an audience member and something completely different to actually be the focus of attention.

In high school, I’d been a bit of a drama nerd, acting in a few plays and even writing one (it was our Year 12 production and it was terrible…but hey, I was 16! Or 17. I think. It gets harder to remember as you get older).

I was really thankful that I had that background to draw on when heading out on the promotional trail. I used my experience on the stage to help channel my stage fright, to project my voice, and to keep the audience’s attention.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t have a lot to learn…and still do!  As with many things in life, you only learn through doing, and you only get better through experience. As it stands now, I still get nervous before an event, and think of all the things I should have said afterwards.

But as it turns out, the in-between part? Where you’re actually onstage, interacting with the audience? It can be a lot of fun.

So if you’re looking to be a professional author, there are a few things you’ll have to make peace with now. Unless you’re very lucky, your contract won’t be of the “Rich and Famous” variety. They reserve that for high-profile non-fiction writers (aka celebrities), self-published authors with phenomenal sales numbers to back them up, and vunderkind [vunderkinds?].

The rest of us will be published almost anonymously, and you’ll have to fight to get people’s attention. In doing that, you should say ‘Yes’ to every opportunity you’re offered to go out into the world and talk about your book. And you’re going to have to work out for yourself how to do that in a way that’s both entertaining and informative.

The first step in developing those skills (short of attending a public-speaking course) is to go see other authors and pick what works best. Discard the rest.

It may not be what you imagined the life of a writer to be, but I promise you that it’s essential. And along the way, you may even have fun. 

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I’ve been meaning to write a new post for some time now, and while my usual excuse has to do with ‘Life’, this time it has to do with writing. Unexpectedly, I’m about a quarter of a way into writing a new book that I hadn’t planned to tackle at this stage. I’m still very much in that honeymoon period, where the ideas are rushing out of you and the whole endeavour is proving strangely enjoyable (I say strangely because I still vividly remember the painful process of getting both War Zone and Wild Card out into the world). Fingers crossed that the words continue to stream out of me and this becomes a story I can share with you all before too long.

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The Goodreads competition for War Zone has now closed – congratulations to those who won and thanks to everybody who entered! In case you haven’t seen it yet, the first review has gone up on Goodreads, though be warned that it contains some mild spoilers. If you don’t want to know one of the main mysteries of the book, I suggest waiting until after you’ve read it yourself before checking it out.

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Listening: Theme from Shaft by Isaac Hayes.

Watching: ER Season 2.

Reading: Railsea by China Mieville.

3 Tips for a Successful Author Signing

In a couple of days I’ll be flying out to the Somerset Writers Festival to kick off the promotional tour for Vanguard Prime: Wild Card. There’s a variety of events you’re asked to do as a writer, and I have to admit that I find the Q&A-style events the easiest; after all, it’s pretty straightforward answering questions about yourself.

In promoting a book, however, you’ll sooner or later be asked to do one of the trickier style of events; the in-store appearance. Of course, if you’re a famous author you’ll more than likely find a clamouring crowd of fans waiting with bated breath on your arrival, and you can just sit down and start signing.

But when you’re starting out, the situation’s very different. You’ll arrive at the store to find a table set up with a chair and a pile of books, and you’ll take a seat and wait…and wait…and wait.

If you’re a new author heading out for their first in-store appearance, allow me to offer three pieces of advice that may make the experience a more successful one for you.

 1         Everyone loves a freebie

It can be hard getting people’s attention, and even harder finding a way to strike up a conversation. There’s a very simple solution to this; sugar.

If you take a big bowl of lollies with you, you’ll have something to offer people as they pass by/enter the store/do their best to avoid making eye contact with you. I recommend a variety pack of individually wrapped lollies; that way people can pick a flavour that appeals to them, and they know they haven’t been breathed all over.

I know one author who makes up goodie bags whenever they’re doing an in-store appearance, with a couple of lollies included in a netted bag with a postcard flier for their book.

If you feel guilty about the prospect of widening the spread of diabetes, however, you could look into getting promotional bookmarks made up with your book cover printed on it…but people will be less likely to take something like that than they are a free sugar hit.

 2         Don’t be afraid to come out from behind the table

One problem that keeps authors from having a successful in-store appearance is that they feel they should be anchored to the one spot, sitting in their chair behind their signing table waiting for people to come up to them.

You may feel shy, you may feel like you’re owed the public’s attention, but the simple fact is that no one’s going to come to you; you have to go to them.

So stand up, make eye contact, stand in front of the desk, or even on top of the desk if you have to. Smile, say hello…and then ask them if they want a lolly. You’ll have much more success with the public if you engage with them instead of sitting there thumbing your iPhone.

 3         Don’t go for the hard sell

People don’t like being aggressively marketed to; they prefer to make a connection with someone. You’d be surprised the kind of reaction you’ll get if you ask people what kind of books they read or what they’re looking for, rather than jumping straight to who you are and why you’re here today.

In fact, I had that very experience myself – people were much more likely to pick up my book and consider buying it if I’d chatted with them first, rather than falling all over myself to try and put the book in their hands. Be confident enough to take the slower path. Make a connection. In short, have fun.

 

At this stage, I don’t have any in-stores lined up for this tour, but should one arise I’ll be doing my best to keep my own advice in mind. After all, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re in a situation like that…but if I were to add one more piece of advice, it would be to relax, breathe and remember; this is life as an author. Enjoy it!