- 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 ...
TELL 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 hardnosed editor.
WHEN 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.
WHAT 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:
WHAT 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 process.
WHAT 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 end.
WHAT 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 skills.
DO 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.
DO 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:
DO 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.
WRITERS 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.
DID 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.
DOES 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 frustrating.
What you can expect from a marketing ‘expert’
A guest post by Stefan Vucak www.stefanvucak.com
As 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?
I 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.
Having 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?
One 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:
· 10 to 30 interviews, which will be posted on various blog sites.
· A personal tour page on the host’s website.
· A book banner of your book posted with each interview.
· Press releases to magazines and newspapers.
· Organized book giveaways.
· A number of book reviews.
Sounds 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.
· Tweet your tour, your interviews, and reviews.
· Announce your tour stops on Facebook, Linkedin, your website and everywhere else.
· Chat about your stops on social networks, e-groups, your blog, everyone in your email folder.
What 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…
I 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.
Your 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 this:
· Identify your target audience—I like that!
· Engage your social media outlets.
· Have a comprehensive personal website and blog.
· Run book signings.
· Give your books to libraries.
· Give away bookmarks and flyers.
· Run book giveaway contests.
· Have business cards made up.
· Mobilize your friends, family and fans.
· Advertise in magazines and newspapers.
· Issue press releases.
· Get radio interviews.
· Run webinars and teleseminars.
· Regularly guest post to ‘influential’ blogs.
· Attend conventions and book fairs.
There 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.
The 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 anyway.
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."