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- Ian Walkley: On Self-publishing and Finding Your Authorial Voice
Ian Walkley: On Self-publishing and Finding Your Authorial Voice
Ever wondered what it's like to be a self-published author? We asked action/thriller author (and QWC member) Ian Walkley to tell us about his journey to publication.
What drew you to writing?
Like many writers, it started with a passion for reading in primary school. In my late teens I loved to immerse myself in a Wilbur Smith adventure or Robert Ludlum thriller. I began writing a few novels over the years, but life kept intervening until in 2008 my kids had almost finished school and I had the opportunity to give writing a serious go.
Tell us about your experience writing your novel No Remorse—what challenges and hurdles did you face?
When I made up my mind, I just wrote and wrote until I finished the first draft. It took six months. But I had not done any writing courses, so when I took my wonderful manuscript to a writers’ workshop at Olvar Wood, my teacher Inga Simpson explained very nicely that there was some work to be done. The MS was 300,000 words, for example, and full of adverbs and info dumps. I mixed viewpoint within chapters, and had no idea about structuring a novel to maximise suspense and conflict.
So I set about learning the craft of creative writing. I attended the Brisbane Writers Festival, and did a QWC Year of the Edit with Kim Wilkins, who was fantastic.
Almost three years after I started No Remorse, the final version was published, (109,000 words) and has received excellent reviews.
What kind of planning do you do when you start to write a novel?
For No Remorse I did no planning at all in the first instance. I had the first scene (a prologue that I subsequently deleted), and that was it.
With my second book, Deception Crossing, I have planned the key elements to the story, but I still find that as I write, the story changes. Which makes it fun for me, because I don’t always know what’s going to happen next.
What are your three top tips for emerging fiction writers?
1) Get some training in the craft. You can never know enough.
2) Try to build your personal backstory so that you have something interesting to talk about. Travel, get a job that’s interesting, do unusual things for research. They call this “building the author’s platform.”
3) Write a story that you would want to buy in a bookstore. Don’t write what everyone’s reading just becuase it's popular--write something you would want to read. And don’t be constrained by what your relatives and friends might think.
What was your experience with self-publishing? How did you decide to self-publish?
I feel ambivalent about self-publishing at this point. Had I known how complex this industry is, how difficult it would be getting my book in bookstores and how impossible it would be to get traditional media to review my book, I might have persisted more in finding an agent or publisher.
But I’m a bit impatient. Life is short, and publishing is notoriously slow acting.
My biggest mistake was thinking my MS was good enough to send to agents and publishers. When it was rejected by a dozen or so, I decided to self-publish. Only then did I look around for an editor. In retrospect, I should have found an editor and used her to help get my MS to a better standard. Maybe publishers would have taken it then.
While it is relatively easy to publish an e-book on Amazon or Smashwords, self-publishing a paperback is quite a different story. There are so many elements to marketing a book, and dealing with these is time consuming and can be costly. There are copyright and ISBN issues, setting up the printing format, finding a distributor, dealing with publicists… While you still need to market yourself if you have a publisher, you don’t have to handle the complex relationships between wholesalers, distributors, and retailers, set pricing, and deal with all the issues associated with returns and remainders and the costs associated with this.
Unfortunately, some self-published books are poor quality. This has resulted in all self-published books being seen as second rate. Fortunately, Dymocks and retailers like Guy Coaldrake were willing to consider No Remorse on its merits. Some other indie bookstores declined to take my book because of past bad experiences. Hopefully they will change their minds as No Remorse becomes widely requested.
While publishing an ebook costs virtually nothing, it is expensive to print hard copy books. I only printed a run of 2,000 for the Australian market, which will all be sold soon, and I will probably wait until the second book is released to determine whether to print more. In the US and UK I have a print on demand arrangement, which means bookstores can order them as needed. The disadvantage with this is that the cost per copy is much higher than printing off a large run using offset presses.
More likely what will happen is that stores won’t order them unless customers request a copy. And that means people won’t see the book in store. Most books are impulse buys or are bought through browsing. Few people bother to place an order.
So, whereas most published books have a big initial promotion and sales taper off after a few months, a self-published book like mine will tend to start slowly and gradually build a readership. It’s a long, slow, tough grind.
Even though the returns are much higher for self-publishing, the potential sales are much higher through traditional publishers. On balance, I think I would prefer to have an agent and publisher in the future, especially if it was one of the majors.
As a self-published author, how did you develop your author platform?
Travel to the countries in my book was the most important thing, I think, in terms of having relevant backstory. I am also a social researcher by trade, so that has given me licence to comment about social issues such as human trafficking.
I published early versions of No Remorse on a website called Authonomy, which is a wonderful place for aspiring writers to get feedback on their work. I have Facebook, Twitter, Google accounts, and a website. I am on Goodreads. I write guest blogs about writing and my experiences, and I review other authors’ books on the International Thriller Writers website.
Although it took me a while to gain sufficient confidence to put my own views out there, once I started receiving favourable reviews of No Remorse I realised I could actually write a good yarn. Now I believe my wife when she tells me things!
I am doing lots of book signings, and speaking to libraries and book clubs. I love talking with readers.
We all know that publishing and writing is an industry of relationships, how important do you think these relationships are for a self-published author?
I’m not the best at keeping relationships going. I tend to get immersed in tasks, and if given the choice would write an email rather than call someone. There is no doubt authors who are outgoing will (as a rule) be more successful than those who are wallflowers. That is a reflection of business generally, I think. The most important thing for writers is to write the best story they can. There are many writers on Facebook who just write commentary that is only seen by other writers or their friends. That is not developing platform, although it may help to develop voice.
But attending writing events, being members of the QWC, that sort of networking is vital.
What are your three top tips for potential self-published authors?
1) Keep persisting with getting an agent and publisher, even after you self-pub.
2) Only publish as an ebook. That way, a traditional publisher can still be interested in the paperback edition.
3) Use a professional editor.
How did QWC’s Year of the Edit assist you to improve and develop your manuscript?
I learned so many tips about self-editing from Kim Wilkins, it improved the manuscript immensely. But it is important to use a professional editor before finalising the manuscript.
I still keep in touch with four or five writers from Kim’s Year of the Edit course, and we compare notes every couple of months. Several others are near to getting published.
These courses are both inexpensive, and very effective in teaching people the basics of the craft.
[QWC are excited to announce Year of the Edit II with Katherine Howell will begin 12 August. To book please visit the Year of the Edit webpage or call us on 07 3842 9922.]
How did these programs assist your professional development as an author?
They helped build my confidence, and improve my craftsmanship, and this is shown by the fact my second book will be completed in six months where the first one took three years!
What recommendations would you give to a writer considering enrolling in the Year of the Writer programs?
Regardless of how good you think your skills are, seeing other writers’ work, and comparing to yours is helpful. You might also meet some valuable contacts in the industry. If nothing else, it will build your confidence, and give you a reality check. Writing is not easy, and doing a QWC course will help smooth the way.
Ian has kindly offered to give five (5) Thinking Out Loud readers a signed copy of his action thriller novel No Remorse.To win be one of the first five people to tell us about your favourite QWC event and how it helped you on your writing journey (post your comments below).