Why marketing is all about relationships – a guest post by L.M. Merrington

Today’s post is by L. M. Merrington, an Australian writer of Gothic fiction. Take it away, Lou!

Two years ago, almost to the day, my first novel, Greythorne, was released. Because I had a contract with a digital-first imprint of one of the Big Five publishers, I (naively) thought that this meant they’d take care of a lot of the marketing. I quickly discovered, as plenty of debut authors have, just how wrong I was.

Fast forward two years and I’m about to release my second novel, The Iron Line, which is out on 4 December. A lot has happened in the intervening time – the imprint I was with closed down, leaving me with some big decisions to make. I eventually got my rights back and, rather than pursuing another traditional contract, chose to go indie. (If you’re interested in reading more about how and why I came to that decision, I recently wrote an article about it for online magazine Inside Story). In terms of marketing, this means I’m now completely on my own, but I’ve also got far more freedom than I had before.

There’s so much out there about book marketing, especially for indie authors, and especially using online tools like email lists or Facebook and Amazon ads. I don’t want to rehash that here; rather, I just want to share a few of the things that have worked for me over the last two years. I’ve discovered a lot of this through trial and error, and growing an audience for your books is a slow process. But the main thread that’s come through for me is the importance of relationships and authenticity.

  1. Build your networks

Networking has always been a major factor in my career success outside of writing, and I’m finding that it’s exactly the same in Book World. By networking I don’t mean getting up in people’s faces and selling aggressively, but rather establishing and maintaining relationships with people who are genuinely interested in what you do. These can be online, in person, or a combination of both – one of my first speaking gigs as a published author was via Skype with book club members at a public library in Ohio.

In fact, one of my most fruitful ongoing marketing efforts has developed as a result of networking. While I was writing Greythorne I happened to get back in touch with my former English teacher, who is still teaching at my old high school. I asked if she’d beta read for me, which she did, and after the book was released she invited me to give an author talk and run a writing workshop with students. Based on the success of this, Greythorne was added to the Year 8 reading list – although it’s not strictly a YA book, it has a young protagonist and themes suitable for teenagers.

The teachers also encouraged me to run a workshop at a conference for Victorian Association for the Teaching of English, and an attendee at that workshop subsequently got Greythorne added to the Year 8 reading list at her school. In addition, I was also contacted by a parent of one of the students, who had contacts in the film industry and was interested in passing the book on to them for consideration. So you just never know where things might go. I hadn’t initially considered teachers as part of my marketing plan, but now I see these relationships as invaluable.

  1. Make life easy for your audience

Over the last two years I’ve built up quite a few supplementary materials for Greythorne, aimed at libraries, schools, and journalists. These include book club notes, teaching notes, and a media kit. All of these provide extra information about the book (in the case of the notes), or about me (in the case of the media kit), and they’re all available for free on my website. Teachers and journalists in particular are very time-poor, and are more likely to engage with your book if you’ve already done some of the hard work for them. A Canberra news site, The RiotACT, recently published an article on my new release using material drawn almost entirely from my media kit.

  1. Say yes to things

Say yes to opportunities, even if they’re a bit outside your comfort zone, and you’ll be amazed where they can take you. Give talks at libraries (or schools, or nursing homes); do interviews with local media; run free writing workshops with your local community; write guest blog posts or articles; attend conferences and markets; and give your readers some way to contact you (and of course make sure you always respond). And ask the people you interact with if they know anyone else who might be interested – word of mouth is a powerful thing. When I was still with a traditional publisher, I sold considerably more books myself than the publisher did, even without access to online promotional tools. In the two months since I’ve gone indie, I’ve sold more paperbacks than the publisher did in a year.

For many authors, the idea of getting out there and spruiking your wares is terrifying, and as an introvert myself I can understand that. But I also see it as a huge privilege that people even care about my little book and want to hear more about it, and I love interacting with readers. There are also so many organisations – especially libraries, schools and local media – who are keen to support local and emerging authors, so they’re relationships that are really worth building.

I believe it’s a very exciting time to be an author – we have more options and opportunities to reach our readers than ever before. Marketing shouldn’t make you feel uncomfortable or scared; you just need to find a way that works for you.


L.M. Merrington was born in Melbourne, Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in media and communications and Chinese, and a PhD in international relations. A former journalist, strategic analyst, and university communications manager, she currently runs her own business, Pure Arts Communications. She is also the author of a non-fiction book, Communications for Volunteers: Low-Cost Strategies for Community Groups, released in early 2017. She lives in Canberra with her husband, Tristan. Her first novel, Greythornewas published in 2015, and her new novel, The Iron Line, will be released on 4 December 2017. Her website is www.lmmerrington.com.

Elements of a Great Story: Editing

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Aussie Owned and Read has spent this month exploring the elements of a good story. Their awesome articles have explored ingredients such as the importance of authentic characters – by identifying their values, their beliefs, their reactions; the power of dialogue – by including conflict and subtext; the importance of pacing – how we can pick it up with action and dialogue and short, punchy sentences; and the power of setting – one that has been artfully woven through our scenes and characters. It really impresses on us the complexity and layers a good story needs to grasp readers. That’s a lot of balls to juggle…

How do you make sure the creation you’ve spent untold hours and sacrifices for has ticked all these boxes? You harness the power of editing.

Editing is the process of putting a new, very valuable and incredibly important, lens on your story. Stories are our babies. And just like our children or siblings, we tend to overlook (or plain old not see) their flaws. In our eyes, their strengths outshine any flaws they might have. With our family, that’s the way it should be. With a product that’s going out to for stranger’s consumption, we need to raise the bar. Editing creates the space you need to look at your story in a new way, find the weaknesses, and shore up the strengths. Luckily, there’s more than one way to do it, and it can be free.

  1. Self-Editing

There is a lot of information out there, blog, books and courses, about undertaking your own editing. If you want to hone the skills, then I suggest spending some time with Google. In the meantime the first step I recommend if you’re going to self-edit is to let your manuscript rest for a spell. And I’m talking at least a month. The first thing that will happen when you come back with fresh eyes is issues (that you hadn’t considered) will leap out so fast you’ll wonder how you missed them. Next, consider a lens that you’d like to elevate to next level; maybe dialogue, maybe pacing, maybe weaving setting through more seamlessly, and go through your manuscript with that filter in mind. Last, read your manuscript out loud, you’ll be surprised what you pick up.

This stage is important and shouldn’t be skipped, but it depends on you knowing your strengths and weaknesses in the craft of writing, and I’m not sure I’ve found a writer who has that level of objectivity. I know I don’t. This is why I recommend the next step as a vital part of making your story ready for publishing.

  1. Critique Partners

The discovery of my critique partners took my writing from a level I didn’t know I’d settled into, to a level I couldn’t have predicted. Critique partners are fellow lovers of the written word that have some understanding of the anatomy of a good story. As a general rule, these are fellow writers, and you exchange your work to provide honest and encouraging feedback. Critique partners can find things you missed, plot threads you’ve left dangling, characters that are hard to connect with. What’s even more rewarding, is finding critique partners that share the writing journey with you – the highs, the lows, the unexpected turns. They provide a level of support and encouragement that is impossible to quantify.

The points you need to keep in mind is being selective in your critique partners – you want a critique partner you can trust; one that is insightful, knowledgeable, discerning, and kind. Sometimes that takes more than one try. The other point to consider is that critique partners are still invested in your writer’s ego (they don’t want to hurt your feelings), which can cloud judgement and complete honesty. They also don’t necessarily have the qualifications, knowledge and experience a professional editor can offer.

  1. Hire a Professional Editor

As a developmental editor, and a writer that has had my manuscripts professionally edited, I’m a firm believer in the power of hiring a professional editor. If you hire an editor, you get the experience and knowledge I just mentioned, but more importantly, you’re paying for objectivity that values the power your story over the protection of your ego. An editor will delve into your masterpiece, pull out the gems, and shine a light on the holes. Character inconsistencies, POV issues, story structure slumps will all be identified in a constructive way. Because you’ll be given a road map on how to make your story the best it can be. And you’ll learn from it. You’ll experience ‘aha’ moments that will open a whole new world of possibilities, which will shape your future writing endeavours. In my opinion, that’s money well spent.

What’s your experience of editing your book? How did you take your manuscript to the next level?


Tamar Profile PhotoTamar Sloan is a freelance developmental editor and the creator of the PsychWriter blog – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers. Come and explore it at www.psychwriter.com.au. Tamar is also a passionate writer of award-winning young adult romance. You can find out more about Tamar’s books at www.tamarsloan.com. You can connect with Tamar on Twitter or Facebook.

Psychology of the Villain

Villains. We love to hate them, and at times hate to find we love them. Last Tuesday’s Aussie Writers post looked at the possible motivations behind a villain’s actions, but what in their psyche allows them to make the choices that lead to these villainous deeds? To help me answer this question, I thought I better enlist an expert, so I teamed up with PsychWriter author, Tamar Sloan, to explore a villain’s psychology.

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A complex villain in most books isn’t your run of the mill sociopath with fifteen bodies in their basement. Yes, these individuals exist. We’ve seen the documentaries and read the books about them, but the broken characters we love to hate have greater depth than that. The villain of our masterpiece is usually a wounded human with the capacity for empathy, guilt and remorse. A human who makes choices that violate ethical, legal and moral boundaries.

What ultimately makes them a villain is that they reach a point where they’re okay with their choice, maybe even delight in it, and it’s the progression to this point that is valuable to tease out as a writer. Either in the planning or in the aftermath, your villain moves through a series of psychological steps that allows them to live with their choices and sleep the sleep of the guilt-free (or mostly guilt-free). Capture this process in your book and you’ve got a realistic, authentic villain your readers are going to be fascinated by, and possibly even understand on some primal, psychological level.

So what is this psychological, possibly subconscious, process your villain goes through before or after their villainous deeds?

The starting point is often a discrepancy between your villain’s beliefs and their behaviour. We each hold many beliefs and thoughts about the world and ourselves. Most of the time these beliefs, and the choices we make, coexist happily in the folds of our grey matter. Sometimes though, discrepancies arise. Like when we eat chocolate cake even though we know we should be dieting. Like saying family comes first, but then having an affair. Or like saying we value humanity, and then sacrificing thousands in the name of a cause.

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Image credit: Ryan McGuire http://www.gratisography.com

When our beliefs and behaviour clash we become uncomfortable. Nervous. Distressed. And if there’s one thing our brain doesn’t like, and has evolved to avoid, it’s discomfort. So it will do what it needs to do to achieve harmony and balance. Since the behaviour has usually already happened, or is committed to happening, the brain needs to do some cognitive gymnastics, and your villain will probably do one or more of the following:

  1. Change their belief: The ‘I don’t really need to be on a diet’ reasoning.

Saruman in the classic Lord of the Rings uses such reasoning. Originally a powerful Istari entrusted with guarding Middle Earth like Gandalf, Saruman’s belief—and allegiance—changes when he comes to believe that Sauron’s victory can’t be avoided. His love of power drives him to abandon his order and convinces him that he’s better off on the side of evil.

  1. Minimise their behaviour and how they perceive it: The ‘I hardly ate any chocolate cake at all’ reasoning.

From Middle Earth to Creekwood High and Martin Addison in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. It’s not often the class clown is written as the villain, but when Martin stumbles on a personal email of Simon’s, he threatens to out him unless he helps Martin get close to Simon’s friend, Abby. When Simon asks if Martin is actually going to make him do this, Martin deftly minimises his behaviour:

‘Make you? Come on. It’s not like that … It’s not like anything … I was just thinking you would want to help me here.’

  1. Rationalise their behaviour: the ‘Chocolate cake is a good source of calcium’ reasoning.

The Hunger Games series offers us a slow-boil villain in President Alma Coin. She is all about freeing Panem and making it a better place, but her desire to take President Snow’s place as ruler at any cost, including killing Katniss’ sister, Prim, reveals her for the power hungry sociopath that she really is. Whether an act or her true belief, Alma Coin’s ‘for the greater good’ reasoning continues to the very end:

‘Today, the greatest friend to revolution will fire the shot to end all wars. May her arrow signify the end of tyranny and the beginning of a new era.’

  1. Reduce perceived choice: the ‘I didn’t have a choice. It would have been rude not to eat it …’ reasoning.

Twilight’s Aro is a villain with very clear cut, black and white principles. His primary objective as head of the Volturi coven is to keep the existence of their kind hidden. When it’s rumoured that Bella and Edward have created an immortal child, Aro argues he ‘has no choice’ but to destroy the infant who poses a threat of exposure for the vampires. Only when Aro sees a vision of his own death as a result of him trying to kill the child does he back down and let her live. Even a vampire sleeps easier at night when he’s convinced himself he had no choice.

Disclaimer: no chocolate cake was harmed in the writing of this article! Well, not a lot of it anyway, and our hands were tied. We had to eat it … for research purposes.

About the author:

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Tamar really struggled writing this bio because she hasn’t decided whether she’s primarily a psychologist who loves writing, or a writer with a lifelong fascination for psychology. Somehow she got lucky enough to do both. Tamar is the author of the PsychWriter blog – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers.

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Tamar is also a passionate writer of young adult stories of finding love and life beyond your comfort zone. You can find out more about Tamar’s books at www.tamarsloan.com

 

 

 


Kat Colmer Author

Kat Colmer is a Young and New Adult author and high-school teacher librarian who writes coming-of-age stories with humour and heart. She lives with her husband and two children in Sydney, Australia. Her debut YA The Third Kiss is due out with ENTANGLED TEEN in August 2017. Learn more on her website, or come say hi on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Guest post: Where and how to begin writing your story, by K. A. Last

Hi everyone, K. A. Last here. It’s been a while since I’ve written a post for Aussie Owned and Read, and it seems fitting that this month’s topic is beginnings, because I was unsure where exactly to begin for this post … So, I’m going to tell you about a book I wrote to help authors with this exact problem.

Where and how to begin writing your story

Beginning a story isn’t always easy. We can have an amazing idea but absolutely no clue where or how to start writing that idea down. Well, I’m here to share a secret with you …

It doesn’t matter. The only thing that does matter is … beginning.

This is a rather long post, so bear with me, because I have some great points to talk about, and there might even be a couple of free things along the way.

As a writer, I often find it hard to get the thoughts in my head straight, and in any sort of coherent order. There are so many voices in there vying for my attention, and at times I feel like one big jumbled mess. Over the years I’ve tried different things, including pantsing and plotting my stories, and I’ve come to realise that for me, the best and most productive method is outlining my ideas in detail first. Once I have a solid outline, I find that when I sit down to write I waste less time, because I already know what I want to write about.

Sometimes I’m lucky enough that my ideas pop into my head fully formed with characters, and plot, and the entire world my story exists in. But mostly all I have is one concept, or a character name, or a theme, and it needs a lot of help to get started. And like I said before, getting to the point where you have a solid story idea or somewhere to begin isn’t always easy.

ani_cover_3dmockThat’s where A Novel Idea! comes in. I created this journal to help writers of all ages and skill levels—to help you be as prepared as you can be when you sit down to write your story. A Novel Idea! is divided into sections, much like the traditional three-act structure of a story plot, but with extra scenes. It will help you work through your story idea from the initial light bulb moment, to all the details about your characters, to visions for the world you want to create. By the time you finish filling in the pages, you will have a wonderful story idea to start writing, and a host of invaluable information to refer back to once your first draft is completed.

I know what you’re thinking, I’ve made it sound all too easy, but I know just how much it isn’t, and that’s why A Novel Idea! is not only a writer’s journal, it’s also a colouring book. When I get stuck on an idea, or I feel I need to work through the thoughts in my head, I often turn to colouring to help me clear my mind and set my ideas straight. The aim of including illustrations in this journal is to allow another creative outlet while working on your writing. If you find yourself needing time to think, but you would like to keep your hands busy, the illustrations can be used as a means to clear your mind. The borders on each page are also colourable, so switching between the two creative modes is easy.

If you want to know more about what A Novel Idea! contains, and how it can help with making a start on your writing, then read on …

THE IDEA

Okay, so the first thing I do is I tell myself to forget about the fact that I need to write around 70 thousand words to make a book. This is just a ball park figure. Some books are shorter, and many are longer, but I write for the YA market, so 70k is a good target number. But like I said, forget it. You don’t want that big, scary number holding you back.

Next, you need an idea. For anyone with a vivid imagination, these are not hard to come by, and we can find inspiration anywhere. But how do we shape and expand an idea into something that we can turn into a novel? This is where we start small, and work until we can see the bigger picture clearly.

Start by writing down the basics of your idea. It doesn’t have to be fully formed, but you need to get onto paper what your idea is so you can free you mind to think about all the other things you’re going to need to know to write your story. It could be as simple as one or two lines, or maybe you’ve been thinking about it for a while and you write a page.

Once you’ve done that, focus on working out the three most important aspects of your story. Take three sheets of paper, or use a notebook (you should have a notebook!) then write about the goal, the motivation, and the conflict of your story.

From here, you should try and briefly outline all the important parts of the story. Story structure usually goes something like this:

  • Beginning
  • First major plot point
  • Second major plot point or midpoint
  • Third major plot point
  • Climax
  • Resolution

If you know what the main obstacles of your story are, then filling in the gaps becomes a lot easier.

Once I’ve worked out the basics, something I like to ask myself when I have a new story idea is why is it exciting? If your story doesn’t excite you, then it won’t excite your readers. You need to pinpoint what it is about your story that will get people excited about it. This could be anything from the romance, to a rebellion, to who murdered someone.

By now you should have a pretty good idea about what your story is about, what the main plot points will be, and how it begins and ends. For me, the climax and the ending are very important, because that is what the story is working for and towards.

CHARACTERS

The next step is to cast the characters of your story. Sometimes my ideas start with a main character, and their conflict and story grow from there. Before I sit down to start writing my story, I like to know who I’m writing about. Of course I don’t know everything, because writing a character is sometimes like meeting them and getting to know them. There are a lot of things about them that I discover along the way. But I always work out the basics of their character profile. Usually a story will have the following characters:

  • Protagonist
  • Antagonist
  • Secondary characters affiliated with the protagonist
  • Secondary characters affiliated with the antagonist

Don’t forget that characters don’t always have to be people. You can download a printable character profile sheet to help with the development of your characters.

STORY WORLD

So now you know who the main character in your story is, and what their goal, motivation, and conflict are, you can build the world in which they will navigate and interact with other characters. World building is important for any story, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. The type of world your story exists in will depend on what your story is about, and there are many factors to consider. Not all of these will apply to every story, but they are a good starting point, and you should try to work out as many details as possible to understand how your story world will work.

  • Time or era
  • Place
  • Landscape and architecture
  • Reality or fantasy
  • Climate
  • Magic system
  • Weapons
  • Technology
  • Transport
  • Government
  • Social hierarchy
  • Currency
  • Language
  • Fashions
  • Rules

LET’S WRITE

By this point you should have the three main areas covered. Your story idea, the characters within your story, and the world they will inhabit. All that’s left is to sit down and write! Now is when I like to make a short paragraph outline of each chapter in my story. Sometimes I can’t outline all of them, but I outline as many as I can, as well as the most important scenes to do with the major plot points, climax, and the resolution.

My last piece of advice is nothing is set in stone. I often find that while I’m writing, my characters do something I hadn’t planned, or something I had planned doesn’t fit with their character development. When this happens, it’s okay to re-evaluate your story outline. As we write we get new ideas, and we see things differently. Our stories evolve, and that’s perfectly okay. It’s all part of the creative process.

(NB: the above section was first published at www.storyqueens.com.au for the full article, please go HERE.)

As a bonus to Aussie Owned and Read readers, I’m also giving you a FREE colouring page download. If you would like to know more about A Novel Idea! or any of my other books, come and say hi on my Facebook page, or check out my website.

Good luck with all your story beginnings.

K. A. xxx

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Guest post: The Lost Journal

What happens when you find your old journal, and in it is jotted the bones of a story?

What happens if that story has been rattling around in your head for fourteen years?

What happens if you’ve always wanted to write, and now finally you have time to pursue this dream?

You start writing, of course!

The happy confluence of idea, passion and time was the catalyst for me. It was a lightbulb moment, though it took two and half years of hard work!

It sparked my debut Young Adult novel Collision, published on Amazon.com in July 2015.

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Photo attribution: cooldesign on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What was the initial spark which inspired you to be a writer?

I’m fascinated by the diversity of writers’ inspirations, and the tenacity which results in a published book. That step from thinking, hoping, imagining a book to making it a reality is a massive one. Though of course achieving that reality consists of many small, persistent steps, a few forward, some back, but always heading towards that ultimate goal of publication.

It was Trial Bay gaol, and its history, which initially fascinated me. Why was this forbidding, granite structure built on Lagger’s Point in Arakoon, looking across to South West Rocks? Some readers may know this area in the Macleay Valley, near Kempsey, on the mid north coast of New South Wales.

My family, friends and I holidayed for many years here, our children playing on the beaches. We swam in the turquoise water, barbecued, picnicked, read and relaxed. It must have been a strange, bittersweet experience for the inmates, living on this glorious headland, yet restricted in a gaol, their freedom curtailed.

In particular, I was interested in the German “enemy aliens” rounded up and imprisoned in this gaol during the First World War. We have internment camps still, in 2015…well, sadly, they started a century ago here in Australia.

I bring this to life with Gustav Becker, a fictional German jeweller, interned here with his Uncle Ernst. Gustav secretly meets a local girl Grace, and they fall in love.

This historical story is told in flashback by Stella, an angry and defiant seventeen year old runaway, who lands by chance in the town and is unsettled by her dreams about Gustav and Grace one hundred years before.

My research included visits to the gaol and reading widely. The Enemy at Home by Gerhard Fischer and Nadine Helmi was very informative, detailing the various camps in New South Wales during the Great War, including a very large one in Liverpool in Western Sydney. Many of the men sent to Trial Bay were wealthier professionals and entrepreneurs. Under the control of the gaol superintendent, a German committee helped to organise the almost six hundred inmates who were given a degree of freedom, for example, permitted to walk about one and a half kilometres around the gaol after morning roll call. A strict curfew was enforced from 5pm onwards.

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They had a rich cultural life, each week producing an uncensored (!) newspaper, theatre productions and orchestral concerts.The Germans had many business activities including cafes, trades, a canteen, restaurant and market gardens. They pursued avenues of self-improvement like educational classes (languages, maritime subjects, business), as well as recreational activities like sport, swimming and fishing. Many huts or villas in the German style were built on the perimeter of the gaol walls and along the beach.

This photo from the museum at Trial Bay Gaol of miniature wood-work pieces is a small sample of the fine craftwork created by the “enemy aliens”. There were exhibitions and displays within the gaol of such work, as well as photographs and paintings. This creativity was undertaken as a way to dispel boredom in the gaol. The men suffered depression and listlessness during their imprisonment; many of these inmates had lived in Australia for decades, married and had families. Their families, without a breadwinner,
suffered greatly during this time.

It is gratifying that finding my old journal inspired the story of these German “enemy aliens”, forgotten or unknown to many Australians. The memorial on the hill to four men who died in the goal was exploded by unknown persons after the war.

However, in a gesture of reconciliation, the local community and German immigrants rebuilt the memorial. The gaol itself, after being a desolate ruin for decades, is now a thriving tourist attraction under the management of the National Parks and Wildlife Services.

51nyGeSjdsL._SX345_BO1,204,203,200_PJ Byer is a Young Adult writer, and her first book, Collision is a fast-paced, coming of age mystery about a teen runaway Stella. Reality, romance and fantasy blend, as Stella has flashbacks to Trial Bay gaol a century before.
For many years, PJ was an English, History and Drama teacher who secretly had a yearning to write. The day after she retired she began, and two years later Collision is the result.
PJ and her family holidayed at beautiful Trial Bay north of Kempsey, on the Australian mid-north coast, and the ruins of the gaol where hundreds of World War One Germans had been interned sparked her imagination, and was the catalyst for her story.
She is writing a prequel to Collision, and plans a sequel to explore the story of Gustav and Grace.
PJ is married with two adult daughters, and lives on the Central Coast near the beach, an hour north of Sydney. Her interests include bushwalking, stand-up paddle boarding, theatre, music and singing, as well as volunteering for ShelterBox, a disaster relief charity.

Catch her at pjbyerwriterblog.wordpress.com or https://www.facebook.com/pj.byer

Guest post: ‘Writing Short Fiction’ by Emma Osborne

Emma is another of my favourite and my best on Twitter. When she asked me what sort of post she should write for Aussie Owned and Read, I suggested a post on how to write short stories, because that’s something she excels at, and I struggle with. Especially the “short” part. Verbose? Me? Nah. — Cass

There are thousands of ways to write short stories, and the internet is thick with all kinds of writing advice. The more I learn about writing short fiction, the more I feel that it’s an intrinsically personal experience. Learning how to write a short story could easily be rephrased, “How do YOU write a short story?”

Good short stories are essentially complex little puzzles. They’re akin to a mechanical watch, filled with moving parts. Short fiction can contain a miniature universe, or be specific to a single day or scene in just a few thousand words. While there are many ways to approach writing a short piece, here are some tips that might be helpful:

Don’t Worry About Length

We used to ask my high school creative writing teacher “How long does it need to be?” to which she would reply “How long is a piece of string?” Most of the time I’ll be able to figure out pretty quickly if the idea I’ve had will fit in a short story, but I sometimes get paranoid if it feels “too short”, i.e. if it tops out at a bare 2000 words. Conversely, sometimes stories I think will be short when I’m initially writing them will grow in the telling and end up double the expected length. Just have a crack and see how you go. Even if you come up around the 1000-1500 mark, you’re fine. There are plenty of stories that have achieved amazing things with a tight word count. Rachael Swirsky’s “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” is one such example.

Top and Tail

It can be interesting to repeat a symbol or a motif that featured in the opening few paragraphs at the end of your piece. It can help you stick the landing and it’s a great way of measuring what has changed throughout the story — is the character no longer afraid of something, for example? Or does a familiar person or location take on new import based on what’s happened throughout?

Get to the Guts

You don’t have much room in a short, so no waffling! You don’t necessarily have to start with BOOM FIREBALL but get to the gist in the first paragraph. It’s important to consider why you’re starting with this day, why right now? Make sure you’re telling the story from the most important point. The story should be set in a pressing point in your characters’ lives.

Agency, Agency, Agency

Yeah, your characters need to DO things. They need to have power or struggle to attain it. They need to make decisions, fuck things up, get their hands dirty. If they’re coasting through the story without having an impact, it makes it really difficult to give a shit.

Music!

I’m huge fan of writing while listening to music. It helps me to focus and to keep my brain on track (I am so easily distracted; you have no idea). My all-time favourite music app for this is 8tracks, which you can listen to for free online or via the downloadable app. You can pick a theme, or a TV show, or a couple of keywords — “action, adventure,” or “cry, instrumental”. It has some wonderful hand-picked playlists for any theme you could possibly imagine. Here’s my favourite to get you started:

Save the Day – http://m.8tracks.com/melsparrow/save-the-day

First Drafts are Always Shit

Always. ALWAYS. Well, OK, you might somehow magically nail it on the first go, but DO NOT WORRY if everything is terrible the first time you write it. That’s what editing is for. There are also some great critique groups out there like Critters (for beginners) and Codex (if you’re a little more established) that are filled with people who can help you to work out the kinks.

Don’t (Necessarily) Skimp on the World-building

You can do a lot with just a few small details. It’s absolutely worth spending some time thinking about the way the world is set up, even if you just throw in a couple of small elements to indicate a larger whole. For example, you could think about the geography of your setting, the politics, the different religions and cultures within your world and how they shape the inhabitants. Try to slip in a few hints along the way to give your story some depth.

Writing lots of short stories will do wonderful things for your craft. Even though there’s nothing quite like writing novels to help you to learn to write novels, short stories can help you to get good at so many things — conveying detail, nailing voice, smoothing out prose. You also have enormous opportunity to play. If you’re just starting out, it can be a wonderful way to experiment, especially if you write across a lot of genres or traditions.

Writing short fiction can also help you to spot your weaknesses. In the past I’ve struggled with character agency (“Stop just reacting to everything, damn it! Steer your goddamn life!”), and working through a bunch of shorter pieces has really helped in that respect. A friend of mine struggled to nail the emotions in their stories, and has managed to write their way out of it by sheer force.

Finally, read widely. There are hundreds of stories online for free. You can start by looking at stories that have been sweeping recent awards, or by asking people to suggest their favourites.

Best of luck!

Author details

Emma Osborne

Emma Osborne is a fiction writer and poet from Melbourne, Australia. Her work has appeared in Apex Magazine, Shock Totem, Aurealis and Bastion SF. She starts dance-floors and bear-hugs with the slightest provocation.

Twitter: @redscribe

Website: emmakosborne.com

Guest Post: Four things to consider before going Indie

I’d like to extend a huge welcome to our second guest for the month of July, MJ Stevens. Not only is she a fabulous YA writer, she’s an Aussie to boot, so we’re super excited to have her here today. ~Stacey

“Being independently published is fun, exciting and … terrifying.” – M.J.

I’m M.J. an indie author from Brisbane, Australia. I currently write YA. I’m finishing up the final book in my Guardians trilogy, Liberated in November this year. My debut novel Bound released in January 2014 and it’s been a whirlwind ever since.

I have had some great success over the last few years … and some really stupid, face-palm-moment failures.

So listen up all ye wishful authors, it’s time to get serious and nix the dreaming. Being indie is more work than it sounds…

FOUR THINGS TO CONSIDER

BEFORE GOING INDIE

 

Unlike being published through traditional means, everything falls to you. Oh yes, and I mean everything. Writing your manuscript is only one part. What about the editing? What about the cover, the design work, the promotion, and the (sometimes dreaded) events?

That’s right: all you.

Now, I’m not trying to scare you off being indie, far from it. I’m here today with some helpful tips to get you started on the right foot.

1)   What are your skills?

And if you say writing, then I might have to karate kick you in the head because, duh!

I’m talking about other skills, important ones. Are you an editor by trade? Do you have a bachelor in design? Is social media is a breeze for you? Cool.

If not, don’t freak out!

Independently published authors don’t instantly have a network to help them become successful. There are things you need to think about before you go hitting PUBLISH on your computers or tablets.

  • Even if you are a grammar whiz, having an editor is a very good idea, nay vital! Having a fresh perceptive on your work will help you see errors and plot holes. It’s better that someone who is kind (because you’re paying them) tells you something you can fix, rather than having a reviewer smash you … and then you have to sit and cry. Save yourself the trouble and heartache; get a second opinion, even if it’s just for a spell check.
  • Whoever said “don’t judge a book by its cover” was an absolute twat, excuse the French. Let’s get real, we all do it. If something has a boring, badly edited, Microsoft Paint designed cover, you’re going to question the quality of the work. It doesn’t matter if you’re the next J.K. if your book never gets read. Presentation matters!
  • You need to research and decide on what your brand is going to be as an author. Are you a dark romance gal, or a fun children’s author? Make sure your entire collection of business related online channels match the image you want to project. Whether or not people need a Facebook page as an author is actually quite a debateable topic. So this is just me speaking here: GET ONE. Personally it irks me when authors have pages where they add people as friends, rather than having a business page with likes. To me, it says unprofessional, even if your little page only has 20 likes for the first few months. And they’re family members.

You don’t need to have friends; it’s time to have fans! Let them adore you!

2)   Can you afford the costs?

Editing, covers, printing … it’s not free. If you’re planning on doing a paperback, costs stack up in the blink of an eye. Keep in mind that your first book order is going to sell well. Friends and family are going to want them, and chances are word has spread around your community. Places like Amazon Createspace are great for printing on-demand, but remember that prices are often in US dollars and that means your quotes are wrong (for us here in AUS). Make sure you’re not spending more than you can make back, at least not at first.

3)   Are you in this for the money?

Then refer to point 2. If you are very, super-duper successful in the start, then I wish you all the best. However, over half indie authors out there will tell you they hardly make any money, and an even sadder amount will say that they are still in the red, unlikely to recover their costs … ever. It’s a great goal to be rich, but don’t expect it to happen straight away.

4)   Long term promotion

Don’t get disheartened if it’s been one year and your Facebook is STUCK on 78 likes. (I’m speaking from personal experience!) It takes time for things to get traction, especially online. The world is saturated with info, so take the time to read up on good ways to promote and stick with them. Research reputable bloggers, who have paid services, (note: not overpriced services, beware of scams) and will do things like: promote your book by contacting other bloggers, do cover reveals, review tours and help get your name out there! The import thing is to keep up with what’s new and do it if you can. Keep your own blog, even if no one reads it at first. Later down the track it will help your reputation build.

I hope this has been helpful. I can’t wait to read your book!

M.J. xoxo

__________

M.J. Stevens thinks of herself not only as an author, but a true storyteller.

M.J. has been writing tales of action, adventure, and love since she was a child. For so long she tried all of the creative arts, trying to find a way to make her stories heard, and writing became the lead way that she could share her ideas with the world. Today, it is her number one passion in life.  http://www.mjstevensauthor.com