- Guest Author -
Welcome to an interview I conducted with another Aussie author - Stefan Vucak. Stefan often reviews books and also writes helpful articles for writers. Several of his articles are also included today.
Welcome, Stefan ...
US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
As a kid, I liked
doing things all other kids liked doing - until I discovered books. After that,
I was gone, lost in the universes those books opened for me and dreaming of
creating my own. I had a great time at school, even though English and its
convoluted grammar rules did give me some trouble, but those rules gave me a
grounding how to write. My first effort was pretty awful and I am glad it will
never see the light of day. Call it my training wheels.
My first successful
book, a science fiction work, was presentable and I tried for a long time to
break into the traditional publishing market while holding down a demanding job
in the IT industry, which kept me very busy. But writing has always been a
passion and a drive, and I kept at it in my spare time. When ebook publishing
took off, I at least got my books out to readers. I have been writing for some
time now and still learning, but I am proud to share my books. These days, I am
no longer in the IT industry and I spend my time writing, reviewing and being a
AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
I always wanted to
write. As far back as I can remember the printed word held a fascination that
allowed me to escape into other worlds, other characters. For an imaginative
kid, it was better than candy - almost. Where I attended primary school, there
was a small library at the top of the street, which I made my own. At school, I
loved my essay writing assignments, even though many of my classmates found it
an agonizing chore. I could never figure out what was the big deal. My
specialty was using elaborate flowery language. Nobody could describe a sunset,
a moonlit night or the booming of crashing surf like I could. The one thing my
writing lacked was people. It took me a while to make the connection. How I
laboured to learn what good dialogue was all about! You can have brilliant
narrative, but crummy dialogue will sink you. I still haven’t stopped writing or
learning the craft.
TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR
JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
Getting an idea for a
novel is the easy part, and every author has his own approach to writing. I
guess my background in IT has ingrained a discipline which I follow with my
books. Before getting stuck into the actual writing, I spend a lot of time
preparing. This involves getting a short outline done, identifying the main
plot and sub-plots, and the characters. I research extensively to make sure my
‘facts’ are actually factual. For my contemporary novels, that meant a lot of
Internet time and double-checking with reference books as not everything on the
Internet is reliable. Of course, not all the material I dig up ends up in the
novel, but the additional information provides a broad background base against
which I can write with confidence.
Once I have the
basics, having decided I really want to put myself through this torture, I
write a detailed outline – putting meat on the bones. I have written short
stories without any planning because everything was in my head. With a novel, I
cannot do that. There is simply too much to keep track of. That is where a
detailed outline is invaluable. I look at it as my building plan, confident
that if I follow it, everything will hang together.
Read my article on
planning and writing a novel:
WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
My training is in Information Technology, specializing in
program/project management and strategic planning, but that came after what I
call an apprenticeship period of being a programmer and a systems analyst. Like
everyone else, I worked for several companies, the experiences broadening my
horizons. My time in the Middle East was particularly demanding, professionally
and culturally, but lots of fun as well. My IT career was an exciting and
challenging time for me where I learned about the world, people, and myself.
This has undoubtedly influenced my approach to how I write, and is an ongoing
ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
Right now, I am into a new political thriller/drama novel
‘Proportional Response’. All I will say about it is that an unfriendly power
induces a natural calamity with the expectation it will ravage the United
States, leaving that power to step into the resulting political and economic
chaos. This one is really stretching my horizons as there are so many available
sub-plots I could pursue, but if I stick to my outline, I’ll get there in the
GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
Most of my writing was in ‘hard’ science fiction, which
resulted in eight novels in a series. I loved SF ever since as a kid, I picked
up an illustrated copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Having reached a
crossroad, ideas for other novels churning in my mind, I branched into
contemporary thriller/drama books, producing four. Writing them turned out to
be harder, as lots more research is involved, but the process also matured my
YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
If there is one thing I learned over the years as a
writer, if anyone is contemplating taking this on seriously, he should be
prepared to spend many lonely hours with a pencil and paper, and sitting behind
a computer screen. There will be disappointments, frustration, angst…and
moments of sheer exhilaration and satisfaction when the words flow and the
creative process produces something wonderful. Writing is a gift, but it can
also be a curse. But once bitten with the urge to create, there is no cure.
YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Every writer stumbles into a mental pothole from time to
time, and I am no exception. Regardless of how well my work is plotted and
outlined, by definition, it is impossible to set out every little scene or
paragraph. There is also the inevitable divergence from the outline where
characters take me somewhere I never intended to go. That can be interesting
and can enrich the novel, but tight control must be exercised or the work can
descend into a disorganized ramble.
A block car rear its head simply because I cannot find
the words, even though the scene is clear in my mind, or the scene isn’t
properly resolved to fit into the plot. My mind might be preoccupied with
something else, like life’s little problems. The only thing to do is get up, do
something else, and let the subconscious chew on the problem. Sooner or later,
things work themselves out and I am off again.
Read my thoughts on this at:
YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I am a morning person, and some of my best writing is
done before lunch, although that’s not a fast rule. It all depends on when
inspiration strikes me, which can happen in the middle of the night. I churn
out several pages of manuscript, and I use a writing pad for that. I tried
composing directly into the computer, but it just doesn’t work for me. I must
have the tactile feel of a pen in my hand, able to dash words down as they come
to me. Sometimes the hand isn’t quick enough to keep pace with my thoughts,
which invariably results in sometimes barely legible writing. Once I have a
block of material, I transcribe it to the computer, doing light editing along
the way. In the afternoon, I look at a section of latest writing and edit it
more thoroughly. Developing my editing skills took a while, but I feel is
something every author must work on.
ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
There is no doubt my writing has changed over the years,
and I hope, improved as my skills matured. Not only my technical skills, but
the breath of knowledge and experiences I accumulated throughout my life, which
has invariably influence my writing. We all change with the years, and my
writing reflects those changes. There is no single life event that influenced
me, but there are writers who have, like Roger Zelazny, Keith Laumer, Stephen
Coonts, and Michael DiMercurio – to name a few contemporary ones.
YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
In addition to my writing, I am a professional editor and
book reviewer. I see lots of books that fall short for lack of being properly
edited. There are lots of reasons why this happens: authors feel they can edit
their own work without paying large sums of money to have their work looked at
by a professional. This attitude is reflected in many poor quality books
released by self-published authors. Certainly, a professional editor charges a
fee for his or her service, but no matter how good I think I am, an objective
pair of eyes can and does spot small bloopers I missed.
THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
Like many writers starting out, I submitted to agents and
traditional publishers. I’m still doing it. When the ebook market opened up, it
was an opportunity to have my books out there. After the euphoria wore off and
I learned about ebook publishing, I realized that simply having your book out
there wasn’t enough. Several vanity/subsidy publishers approached me to publish
my books, but I never fell for that gag. With the advent of self-publishing outlets,
I realized I could do far better doing it on my own rather than have my ebook
publisher take a hefty slice off my royalties for doing nothing – and I have.
Seeing some of the books produced by traditional publishers makes my hair stand
on end, and I wonder what I have to do to become noticed. Yes, it is
What you can expect from a marketing
a writer, I am comfortable sitting behind my desk, scribbling away on my
writing pad, or staring for hours at my computer screen engaged with my
characters. When my novel is finally finished and edited, I breathe a sigh of
relief and have the thing published. Then comes the nightmare to market and
promote the book. We all have to do this for ourselves, as for sure, your
e-book publisher won’t. Marketing, of course, requires a Jekyll and Hyde
transformation—and I am generalizing here—a makeover from an introverted writer
to extroverted publicist. For most, it simply doesn’t work. If marketing is a
breeze for you, than I am envious. So, what to do?
have the usual social media pages: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and
a personal website. I am also connected to several writer and promotion groups
where I make posts and initiate discussions. Sometimes they generate a lot of
response, and sometimes not. Oh yes. I also ‘link’, ‘friend’, ‘follow’ people
and ‘like’ pages. The theory is, the more numbers I have, the better I should
feel, knowing I am reaching to an expanding audience. That’s the theory. Okay,
sounds good, but what about hard promoting and marketing of my books? Simply
having them sit on Amazon, Smashwords, CreateSpace or LightningSource is fine,
but how do I get more sales and more hits on my website and blog? You might be
asking yourself the same question.
researched the Internet for some ‘practical’ advice, I discovered a wealth of
individuals and organizations just waiting to help me, promising a glorious
future, my brand name in lights, and expanded sales. I got a warm fuzzy and
thought I’m onto something—until I read the fine print…and the price for this
glorious help. Still, I won’t get anything for free, and perhaps an investment
now will pay off in the long run. The bottom line is, I must do something,
right? What are those marketing options?
of them is a virtual book tour. Depending on the amount of money you are
willing to part with, for one book only, you will get:
to 30 interviews, which will be posted on various blog sites.
personal tour page on the host’s website.
book banner of your book posted with each interview.
releases to magazines and newspapers.
number of book reviews.
great, but there is also a caveat to what might sound like a good deal. After
you have filled out your interview questionnaires and you are now waiting for
them to be released over the tour period, usually 30 days, your are asked to
participate in the tour process—nothing wrong with that.
your tour, your interviews, and reviews.
your tour stops on Facebook, Linkedin, your website and everywhere else.
about your stops on social networks, e-groups, your blog, everyone in your
is happening here really? Sure, I am getting my interviews released, and I got
one book review, not five or six as promised. The fine print will say ‘up to’!
And where are all those press releases? I am paying hundreds of dollars just to
have my interviews posted and I still have to do all the publicity and
marketing myself! What is my virtual tour organizer doing for me, apart from
giving me a page on their website? In reality, they don’t do much for you.
Having gone through one of these tour things, I am not sure I got the better of
the deal. Well, I learning something about the process…
must say one thing. Giving away your books will do nothing to boost your sales.
With Amazon, books given away for free will not enhance your rating at all. You
need to remember that there are people out there who do nothing but trawl
websites such as Goodreads looking for free giveaways. I have worked for months
producing a book, and I am not prepared to give it away for nothing. If it has
merit, an interested reader must be prepared to pay for it. You don’t get
freebies at a supermarket! I feel the same way about setting a price for my
book almost to nothing in the mistaken, and it is mistaken, belief that this
will generate sales. Research has clearly shown readers appreciate quality and
are prepared to pay for it.
other marketing option? Well, you can engage a publicist or marketing company
to push you and your books. What do these marketing gurus tell you to do? If
you want to do this yourself, have a marketing plan! It goes something like
your target audience—I like that!
your social media outlets.
a comprehensive personal website and blog.
your books to libraries.
away bookmarks and flyers.
book giveaway contests.
business cards made up.
Mobilize your friends, family and fans.
Advertise in magazines and newspapers.
webinars and teleseminars.
guest post to ‘influential’ blogs.
conventions and book fairs.
is lots more free ‘advice’ like that, but I think you get the idea. I am not
saying those tips are not useful or effective, and I do apply some of them, but
if that’s all there is, why would I want to pay a publicist or some company to
do these things for me? I recently had a quote for a radio tour of twenty
interviews for $3,400, accompanied by a promotional consultancy to publicize me
for $800. Such help is way beyond my means, and probably beyond the means of
most writers. The bottom line is, engaging a publicist costs a fortune, and
there is absolutely no way to evaluate the effectiveness of any offered program
beforehand. No one will promise that your book sales will go up by taking up
any of these promotion programs. The hard fact is, to mass sell your books, you
have to be with one of the major traditional publishers who can spend tens of
thousands of dollars on you and your book.
rocky reality for the rest of us? I try to follow my marketing plan and do as
much as I can through social media outlets, blog, tweet, and engage other
writers. Does that help my sales? Let me put it this way. If I expected to live
off my writing, I would have starved a long time ago. As with all things, buyer
beware. Remember, publicists are in the business of taking your money and doing
as little as possible in return while getting you to do most of the work
See my articles on ebook publishing:
Clancy's comment: Many thanks for sparing the time to be interviewed, and also for your guest article, Stefan. Good luck. Keep going. Would love to see your name up in lights.
Stefan is an award-winning author of the sci-fi Shadow Gods series of books. His
contemporary political thriller Cry of Eagles has won the coveted 2011
Readers’ Favorite silver medal award, and his All the Evils was the 2013
prestigious Eric Hoffer contest finalist and Readers’ Favorite silver medal
winner. His Strike for Honor won a gold medal.
Think about this!
"It is a bit freaky with this wireless technology."