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So-you-want-to-be-a-writer---Episode-41

Ep 41 Is blogging dead? The art of note-taking, novels written by computers, how to transcribe efficiently, Kidspot’s Voices of 2014, and Writer in Residence Rachel Johns.

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In Episode 41 of So you want to be a writer, the business of freelancing, NaNoWriMo finishes, is blogging dead? The best book note-taking system, print highlighted passages in your kindle, novels written by computers, the Kidspot Voices of 2014, Writer in Residence Rachel Johns, easy transcription, to pseudonym or not to pseudonym and more!

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes

The Business of Freelancing

Shoutout to Guy who wrote a first draft – 60,000 words – during NaNoWriMo!
(And congrats to everyone else who finished, no matter your word count!)

Is Blogging Dead? How Blogs are changing and How You Can Stay on Top

How to Better Remember and Make Use of What You Read

How to print out your highighted passages from your Kindle

Computers Are Writing Novels: Read A Few Samples Here

Revealed! Winners of Voices of 2014

Checks and Spots

Writer in Residence
RachaelRachael Johns is an English teacher by trade, a supermarket owner by day, a mum 24/7, and a writer by night. She lives in rural Western Australia with her hyperactive husband and three mostly-gorgeous heroes-in-training.

At 17 she began writing, enlightened by the thought that she could create whatever ending she liked, and almost a decade later, after many, many attempts at writing different types of novels, she joined the Romance Writers of Australia association.

It was there that Rachael learnt there was more to writing a book than just typing out random thoughts. She learnt about the craft, conflict, consistent characters, etc, and also discovered that she LOVED contemporary romance.

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Speechpad transcriptions

Working Writer’s Tip

I’ve been listening with interest to your thoughts about a writer’s social media presence.

I have a fairly common name (especially when doing a Google search) and have considered using a pseudonym. Should I try to build a social media platform around that pseudonym before even querying agents and publishers? Or wait for them to suggest if a pseudonym is appropriate or not (assuming, of course, I have a scintillating manuscript that agents/publishers want)?

What’s your advice?

Thanks in advance.

Regards
Karen L

Answered in the podcast!

Thank you!
Thanks to Wandering Sheila for her wonderful review – and to all our listeners for tuning in every week!

Sign up to the Australian Writers’ Centre Newsletter!

Just fill in your details over here.

The Mapmaker Chronicles is on sale!

Find out more here.

Your hosts

Allison Tait
Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait
@valeriekhoo

Email us
podcast at writerscentre.com.au

Transcript

Allison

Rachael Johns writes romantic fiction for Harlequin Australia. She’s an English teacher by trade, a supermarket owner by day, a writer at night and a mom to three boys 24/7. Rachael was voted in the top ten of Booktopia’s Australia’s Favorite Novelists in 2014. Her new novel, Outback Ghost, is out now.

Welcome, Rachael! How can you possibly fit us in with all of that going on?

Rachael

Thank you, I’m really glad to be here. I’m happy to fit you in!

 

Allison

Firstly, tell us a little bit about your work. Your style of writing is generally put into the rural romance section of the bookshelf, which I struggle to say, but I enjoy reading. Tell us a little bit about that. Would you describe it as that? Rural romance?

 

Rachael

Yes, I think I would. My stories are more probably at the romance end than some of the rural fiction authors out there, and I think that’s because I come from a romance writing background. I always wanted to write for Mills & Boon, actually, and tried that for a long time. When I decided to write a rural book, it was because I was living in a small town and rural romance seemed to be doing really well in Australia. I had friends saying, “You should write one, because you live it.”

 

But, I’m not a farmer’s wife, I’m not a farmer. I did feel a bit of a fraud to start with, but now I don’t because I think rural is about a lot more than just being on the farm, it’s about the community and small towns, and how they interact and look out for each other in good times and bad. I now consider myself — I am definitely a rural romance writer because my setting is usually a rural community, but I’m more focused on the community and what happens between the people, necessarily than, say, big rural issues such as drought and whatever is going on in farming.

 

Allison
What draws you to romance writing? You said that you always wanted to do that, what took you into romance fiction in the first place?

 

Rachael

I wouldn’t say I always wanted to be a romance writer, I only started writing and decided that I wanted to be a writer when I was about 17, when I broke up with my boyfriend.

 

Allison

Heartbreak drove you to romance fiction?

 

Rachael

It did, actually, yeah! At 17 you’re a drama queen and you think your life is over when you break up with who you think is the love of your life. For some reason I decided to write, and I wrote our story and it was absolutely terrible. I had to make up the ending because breaking up was not a very good ending. I gave him a horrific disease and killed him off in the story, then no one else could have him. It was a form of therapy for me.

 

But, that made me realise I really liked writing and I decided then to do a writing degree at uni, that wasn’t really that enlightening or helpful to me. But, I met some great friends and realised that I did want to do this. I sort of wrote what I’d call a weird combination of literary chick-lit for the next five or so years, because I was writing what uni lecturers wanted me to write, that might win fabulous literary prizes or get great reviews from important newspapers and the like, but really I just wanted to write Bridget Jones’s Diary. I kept going, trying to write this weird thing that really wasn’t anything, and I think that’s what I’ve learnt through targeting a specific genre, if you want to be published you need to know your readership and you need to write to a readership, to an extent, and I wasn’t doing that. I was just writing weird airy-fairy stuff.

 

What happened is a friend of mine from uni, we saw an article about Mills & Boon writing. I had never read a Mills & Boon book in my life, but we saw that apparently you could make lots of money writing Mills & Boons and that there were lots of writers in Australia doing this and we thought, “Why not us? Maybe this is a way to finally get published.”

 

I went out and I read about 50 Mills & Boon in a month I realised actually I did quite like this romance stuff. It wasn’t all heaving bosoms and throbbing manhoods. It wasn’t all that, quite like I had imagined that it was. I don’t know where I got that cliché from, it was just sort of there. Some were good, some were bad, just like any books. I really enjoyed the other side of it, that was definitely something that I wanted to write.

 

Then I found Romance Writers Australia, I joined them. I think that was in 2006, and that was when I really decided that I was going to focus on romance and get serious. I did, for a few years, try Mills & Boon. I got quite close, I came runner up in a worldwide competition for Mills & Boon, worked for the editor for a couple of years, but never quite got there. It’s not as easy as everyone thinks.

 

Allison

I’ve tried it, it’s definitely not as easy as everyone thinks.

 

Rachael

It’s not easy. Everyone thinks, “Oh, there’s a formula, you’ll write it out in a couple of hours and then get published.” It’s definitely not like that. I know a lot of Mills & Boon writers now and I really admire them for being able to write that tight story in that specific sort of way. But, yeah, I decided to try my hand at something a bit longer.

 

Allison

Just before we go onto that, I do want to ask you about how your first novel came to be published, but tell me how many manuscripts did you write before your first novel was published?

 

Rachael

I really should count that up.

 

Allison

Just give me a ballpark.

 

Rachael

I’m thinking probably about ten.

 

Allison

You completed ten entire stories, entire books, before you wrote the one that actually came to be published.

 

Rachael

It was about 15-17 years from when I decided I wanted to be a writer, to when I finally got an offer from a publisher.

 

Allison

Wow, so that’s persistence?

 

Rachael

In that time I had three kids, I did the uni degree, we moved towns, as I said it was from 2006, really. So, probably for about six years that I was really serious and really dedicated to doing it. Prior to that I think I sort of did one story and got a rejection, and wondered why I wasn’t getting published, but looking back I wasn’t actually submitting. That’s a big thing if you want to write, make sure you finish the book and submit it.

 

Allison

What was your first novel and how did it come to be published?

 

Rachael

My first novel was actually called One Perfect Night, it was published by Carina Press, which is a digital imprint of Harlequin, and it was targeted at Mills & Boon, I wrote that book for Mills & Boon. I worked through with an editor on that book for a long time. They told me, “Change this… change that,” then even after I had changed all of these things and upped the sensuality levels, which they wanted me to do, then I still got a rejection. I realized my rejections were changing. Initially when I first started submitting things the rejections were, “The conflicts aren’t right…” “The characters aren’t right…” but, I seemed to be getting all of this stuff right and the problem with that book was it just didn’t suit the particular line that I was aiming at for Mills & Boon, it was not quite sexy enough for their really sexy line, not quite sweet enough for their sweet line. So, that was my rejection basically, “It doesn’t quite meet our sensuality requirements.” I realised maybe I had something, maybe I did have a story, maybe I could write, but I just maybe wasn’t suited for Mills & Boon.

 

Allison

That must have been a crushing blow after all of those years.

 

Rachael

It was big crushing, because I had been working with an editor for two years, getting to go straight to — not going to the slush pile, but straight to the editor’s desk. I got so close so many times. I know that book actually went to the senior editor and they considered it to acquisitions, but it just didn’t quite hit the mark.

 

I was ready to give it up and throw in the towel when Carina Press launched. Their motto, I think, was “Where no great story goes untold,” and because it was digital they could take risks that maybe a traditional publisher wouldn’t. Not that my book was anything way out there, it’s just quite a normal contemporary romance, but it was too short for a mainstream publisher, so it did the digital market quite well.

 

That was the first book I got published, from there I actually got to go to a dinner with some editors because I now was Harlequin author, so I met the Harlequin Australia editors through a dinner and that’s the contacts that I then got for my published print books in Australia.

 

Allison

You’ve now written I think it’s ten books, ten published books all up, is that correct?

 

Rachael

Yes, I think that’s right.

 

Allison

I know that you are currently working on a manuscript, do you do anything differently now from when you sort of started out? Like how do you approach your writing now as opposed to when you began?

 

Rachael

I think the big difference from when I first began was that I know my market, and I know sort of what readership I’m aiming for. I don’t plan very much and wish that I changed a bit more from when I started, because I like the idea of having a bit more of an outline and knowing where I’m going, but I think my thinking is different. When I first set out, as I said, I didn’t know a lot about the characters needed to have goals, they needed to be motivated by their back stories, and just a whole lot of things that I’ve picked up, probably from being a member of Romance Writers Australia more than anything else.

 

Allison

More that than your creative writing degree?

 

Rachael

Definitely. Yeah, in the years since I’ve done a creative writing degree I hear that they’ve changed, got better, but unfortunately I didn’t get much out of mine at all, and that’s disappointing. But, though just talking to other writers, making connections and reading some craft books, and as I said, the biggest thing for me is definitely being a member of Romance Writers Australia, that was my turning point about learning a bit more about what I need to put in a book. Now I think it’s more of a thought process, necessarily, than what I put on paper, but I definitely think I probably think more about the book before I start, about where it needs to go and what things must happen in the book.

 

Allison

How long does it take you to write a book?

 

Rachael

I’ve written some novellas and some longer ones. My big one is about 100,000 words and it will take me probably three to four months, ideally, to do the first draft, of course then there’s edits and rewrites sometimes. I wrote Outback Blaze in two and a half months, which is the quickest I’ve ever written a book, because there was a mix up with deadlines. Yeah, that was the quickest I had ever written. I actually really like writing fast, you’ll stay in the world of the book better.

 

Allison

If you write like that, is there a lot of redrafting for you? Or do you edit as you go?

 

Rachael

I definitely edit more as a go. I hate rewriting, and I know it needs to be done sometimes, and I do it, but I definitely have quite a clean first draft. Now I submit that clean first draft, I’ll read through it and if there’s any major things that I notice that are wrong, but then I’ll submit that and work with the editor to get it up to the next round, kind of thing.

 

Allison

Right, I guess that’s the difference too, isn’t it? Between being over the line and being not quite over the line is that you can work with your editor on it like that, rather than having to work through it yourself until it’s at the point where it’s ready go to.

 

Rachael

I think you know when you’re writing, as well, there’s a deadline coming up, so you’ve got to get it done, but you also know there’s going to be someone else who is going to help you. Yeah, as you said, that is a difference, yeah.

 

Allison

Are you an author with a notebook full of ideas? Like do you know what your next book is going to be, and your next book, and your next book, and your next book?

 

Rachael

I know about what the next book is going to be, and that’s about where I’m at, at the moment. A few weeks ago I was stressing that I had no more ideas, then I went for a walk with the dog and some things started to drop into place.

 

I don’t have a notebook full of ideas, I wouldn’t say that I’m a huge ideas author. I just write one book and hope that when I’m writing that book the next will kind of come to me, and so far it has. I hope it keeps coming.

 

Allison

Do you start with a character or a situation? Like, when you sort of say you’ve got an idea for your next one, what came to you? Was it the characters? Was it something — a plot point? Where do you start?

 

Rachael

I’ll talk about the one that I’m actually writing now, where that came from, because that’s easy to explain. I think the title will actually change, but my working title for my current book is Patterson’s Curse, anyone in a rural area will probably know that is a weed, actually, that can be quite damaging to crops — I’m not a farmer, as I said. I drive along and I see this beautiful field full of purple flowers, to me, and I think, “Oh, isn’t that pretty,” then I get told, “No, that’s quite…”

 

Allison

That’s bad.

 

Rachael

Yeah. A friend of mine just happened to say to me, “You should write a book called Patterson’s Curse, it’s a great title.” I thought, “It is a good title.” I had always kind of liked the idea of a family curse, but never actually, for some reason, thought about writing it. Then I thought, “Well, the Patterson Family…” that can’t be the title. Then I just started to work back and started thinking from there.

 

Sometimes the things that have happened to me, like, the book I mentioned a few minutes ago that I wrote very fast, Outback Blaze, that’s actually based on a true event that happened in a small community we were living on, very loosely. My husband was the supermarket manager in a town called Kojonup and one night it burnt to the ground. The whole town was out there in their pajamas and slippers, none of them bothered getting dressed, they just wanted to go see what was going on, the sticky beaks that we all are. I just remember standing there watching this building go up in smoke, it was sort of like the meeting place, the harbor for community. It wasn’t just a supermarket, it was a hardware store and a few other things, and it was just going up in smoke. There were jobs gone, thinking all of the things, but also just watching the people around me in their pajamas and slippers and thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is so going in a book one day.” I didn’t write it for another few years, because I didn’t have the rest of the story, but it was just there, saying that scene would be good.

 

Allison

How do you fit the writing in with all of the other things that you have going on?

 

Rachael

Well, I’m lucky in that now we own our own business. I’m more of a silent partner now, and my mom and her husband and staff run our supermarket. I basically write full time, when the kids are at school, I have four school-aged children now, so that’s in theory what happens.

 

I still write a bit on the weekends, as well, especially when I’m in a current book, because as a mom other things pop up like, like today I have a child home from school because he’s not that well. Yesterday we had a sports carnival, so the days are not always completely your own, even though in theory I write full time. I just fit it in where I can. It all seems to work out in the end. I don’t a lot of housework.

 

Allison

There you go. Do you work hard at your author platform? Like, this idea of an author platform, where do you stand on that? What works best for you, as far as you’re considered.

 

Rachael

It doesn’t feel like hard work, in a way, because I’ve chosen things that I like doing. I have a very active Facebook page, and I interact with readers on there. I update it regularly, but it’s fun. I like posting a photo of my crazy dog or something and then everyone telling their stories. Or recommending a book I read recently and getting recommendations from other people. I’m active on Facebook and I enjoy that.

 

I’m on Twitter as well, and that’s quite fun too, but I’m not as active on there. I talk mostly to writers, not necessarily readers, whereas Facebook I feel like it’s readers that I’m talking to.

 

I’ve got a Goodreads profile, but I’m not very active there.

 

A very inactive blog, but I do like it when I get around to doing it, and I get some comments.

 

My websites is currently being revised, but, yeah, I keep that up to date quite a lot as well.

 

I don’t feel — it takes time, yes, but it also is quite fun for me, but I’ve only chosen those sort of things to focus on. I basically don’t do some of the other things that I could do, because I just choose to focus on the ones that I enjoy.

 

Allison

I guess if you enjoy it, then it doesn’t feel hard, does it?

 

Rachael

Yeah.

 

Allison

Romance is both an easy sell in some ways, because readers love it. It is one of the most always high-selling genres of fiction in the world, but difficult because writing festivals and those kinds of places tend to overlook it. What are your thoughts on that?

 

Rachael

Yeah, it’s a tricky one. I think traditionally that’s been the case, and hopefully, slowly we’re seeing a change, because I think a lot of the people — I’ve heard from writers’ festivals say, “Well, romance doesn’t draw a crowd,” and I think half the problem has been is that when there is a token romance session on at a festival it’s often not really a romance session, because it’s either international authors who are not really romance, but have a love thread sort of in their theme, or they choose Australian authors who aren’t really romance either. They’re supposedly talking about romance, but they’re not really.

 

I’ve watched a few podcasts or heard panels and stuff, and you’ve got a romance panel where the author is up there saying, “Well, I don’t really like romance,” yet, in Australia we have so many romance authors they could be taking advantage of. I think it’s a bit like the whole platform thing, if you get actual, real romance authors doing the romance sessions at festivals you’ll get the passion, you’ll get the knowledge, and you’ll get the readers then who love it too, because they’re coming to see authors that they know.

 

Allison
Authors they love.

 

Rachael

Yeah. I think the Australian Romance Readers Association is really good at promoting romance, they Sylvia Day out last year, I think it was, and she’s a massive romance writer and had a huge crowd. So the crowds will come if you get the right people to speak about romance. I think that’s a lot of the problem. But, I know the Brisbane Writers’ Festival had a few romance panels, just a couple of weeks ago, and I saw on Twitter some photos, and they actually had romance writers on there, not just writers who might have a tiny love thread throughout their book. I think the romance book is not just a book that has a little bit of a love story in it, it is a book that is very specifically romance and happy ever after.

 

Allison

The romance is the focus of the story.

 

Rachael

Yeah. I think writers’ festivals have maybe missed the point of what romance is and they’re trying — they’re doing their best to put a romance session on there, but it’s not actually a romance session, and therefore it’s not actually drawing all of those readers that they could be drawing, who love and buy romance.

 

Allison

All right. Let’s just sum it up then, let’s get to our happy ending. Let’s talk about tips for would-be romance authors. What would be your three top tips for people who are writing romance and would like to be published in that area?

 

Rachael

If you’re writing romance, and I think I’ve said it a few times probably throughout here, my biggest tip would be to join Romance Writers of Australia. There’s about 900 members now, some published, some not, they just run conferences, they have newsletters, contests, and just great community too where you can talk to other writers and get tips and feedback. That was the biggest thing for me, I think, finally turning the corner.

 

The other thing would be to make sure, obviously you said we’re writing romance here, but to decide what type of romance you want to write and if you want to be published where you want to be published and really go and research that genre, make sure that you’re —

 

Allison

Writing for them.

 

Rachael

— writing for that theme.

 

Read and write. I’m not very good at maths – there’s four there I think… but Romance Writers of Australia, know your genre, and read really widely in that genre, but also in other genres.

 

I don’t understand these writers that say they don’t read, it just baffles me. And then write. I think the difference between being a hobby writer and being a professional writer is that you often have to write when you’re not in the mood to write, when you haven’t got the idea. You’ve just got to sit down…

 

Allison

And find one.

 

Rachael

… and do it. Yeah, I get emails from people that sometimes say, “I was wondering how you find the time to write…” you’ll do it if you want to do it, because we’re all busy, we all have houses that need to be cleaned, kids that need feeding or jobs that we need to go out and do, but it’s just like if you love knitting you find time to knit, you know?

 

Those are my tips, I think.

 

Allison

Fantastic. Thank you so much for your time today, I really appreciate it.

 

Rachael

Thank you.

 

Allison

Good luck with the writing of Patterson’s Curse, we look forward to seeing what that ends up being called.

Also, good luck with your new novel, Outback Ghost, which of course is out now.

 We will see you around the social media traps at some point.

 

Rachael

Definitely. Thank you so much for having me.

Dec 3, 2014 Podcasts Australian Writers' Centre Team

Written by Australian Writers' Centre Team

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