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Ep 98: How to get your book to be an Amazon bestseller for $3; Confessions of a ghostwriter. And children’s author Jen Storer.

podcast-artwork In Episode 98 of So you want to be a writer: An intriguing memoir, how to become an Amazon “best-seller” for just $3 and 40 words for emotions you’ve had but couldn’t explain. Plus: confessions of a ghost writer and the trouble with using fashionable words. Meet successful children’s author Jen Storer. Also: a writing device for nostalgic tech geeks, should you put your writing on your website, 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

Pick my brains: Skype coaching sessions

Review: In ‘My Father, the Pornographer,’ Chris Offutt Opens Up

Behind the Scam: What Does It Take to Be a ‘Best-Selling Author’? $3 and 5 Minutes.

40 Words For Emotions You’ve Felt, But Couldn’t Explain

Confessions of a Ghost Writer: Pay No Attention To That Woman Behind the Curtain

Writing: Fashionable, foreign and superfluous words

Writer in Residence

Jen Storer
Jen Storer author pictureJen Storer writes her stories in a pretty timber cottage in Melbourne, Australia. She is inspired by everything around her but especially by words. She collects words. She cannot read a book without stealing words from its pages.

She has written many books for children including the best-selling Truly Tan series and the acclaimed gothic fantasy, Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children. Her latest novel, The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack was released in 2015.Truly Tan: Hoodwinked is due for release in May, 2016. There are eight books planned for the series.

Find Jen on Twitter

Web Pick

I wrote this piece without using the internet. Can you tell?

Working Writer’s Tip

Do I publish bits of my work in progress on my author website?

Answered in the podcast. 

Let’s Address a Common Misunderstanding About Author Websites

Competition

Killing Love by Rebecca Poulson

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

Share the love!Ep 98 artwork image of a river and a mountain with the episode title laid over the top

Interview Transcript

Allison

Jen Storer has written 18 books for children, including the best-selling Truly Tan series, for which we won a 2014 Davitt Award, and the acclaimed gothic fantasy, Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children, which was shortlisted for everything from the CBCA Book of the Year Awards to the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards in 2010.

 

Her latest book is also her first foray into picture books, Clarrie’s Pig Day Out, illustrated by Sue deGennaro.

 

Welcome to the program, and thanks very much for coming along to have a chat with us today.

 

Jen

Thank you, Al. Thanks.

Allison

Let’s start at the beginning. What was your first published novel, and how did it come about?

 

Jen

My first published book was a little Aussie Chomp. If you remember the Penguin series, they did Nibbles, Bites and Chomps. So, that was the first book. I think that came out in 2003.

 

And that came about in a really strange way, because I had gone back to school in my 30s. I had a bit of a midlife crisis.

 

Allison

An early one.

 

Jen

Well, my husband left me, so that sort of started the ball rolling. I had a little baby. I thought, “Oh, I need to really do something that I really, really want to do, rather than doing things that everybody expects of me.”

 

So, I had this big change. I came to Melbourne and I enrolled at Monash University. Instead of taking a really wise course, I decided to do literature.

 

Allison

Excellent. Very practical — very practical.

 

 

 

Jen

I thought, “This is your chance, Jen,” because I had been a nurse and a public servant and all sorts of practical things, and I was just dying on the inside.

 

I went off to uni and I did a BA and I just loved every single minute of it. I did a very traditional BA, Shakespeare and Milton and all of that sort of stuff.

 

And then when I came out I was like, “OK, I’ve got a piece of paper, I’ve got about $11 in the bank, what am I going to do?” It was just this weird course of synchronicity where a friend of mine had just started working at Black Dog Books, which was a children’s publisher in Gertrude Street in Fitzroy. She said, “Maybe you could get some work experience there. Give Andrew…” it was Andrew Kelly who owned it then, “Give Andrew a call and see what happens.”

 

I thought, “OK, take a risk. Yep.”

 

So, it was a bit of a sliding doors thing, because I still had my suit prepared for an interview that week for a drug rep job and this other thing.

 

I called Andrew, and he said, “Sure come in and you can do a week’s work experience.” And so I went into Black Dog Books and ended up staying there. It was just…

 

Allison

As an editor?

 

Jen

As an everything. I was called the ‘glue,’ Andrew used to call me the glue.

 

Allison

Wow, OK.

 

Jen

Yeah.

 

Allison

That’s an interesting job description. “What did you do in your last job?” “I was the glue.” Excellent.

 

Jen

I kind of did what everybody wanted me to do. I just went from project to project to project, sometimes rewriting manuscripts, sometimes editing, sometimes designing, working things up. I was really heavily involved in working things up in creative development. I just learnt the industry, the educational, basically, that side of the industry really, really thoroughly. It was a baptism of fire.

 

 

Allison

And how long were you there for doing that?

 

Jen

I think I was there for about maybe 18 months. It wasn’t a long time, but it felt like a long time because I learnt so much and it was so full on, it was so much fun. It was just amazing.

 

And there a lot of Australian illustrators and authors and stuff who were still — they were out there, but they were still finding their feet. So, I was sort of going through with a lot of people who are now really established.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Jen

Leigh Hobbs, who is now our Children’s Laureate. I remember working on some of his stuff. Terry Denton, Mitch Fane.

 

Allison

Oh, wow.

 

Jen

I got to meet lots of amazing people during that time — Craig Smith I worked very closely with for a long time.

 

Yeah, so it was this amazing experience, yeah.

 

Allison

How did you go from that to writing?

 

Jen

I like BDP and I went to Mimosa, which was bought out by McGraw-Hill while I was there. Again, in the sort of same capacity. And, so I was doing a lot of educational writing. So, I really cut my teeth on educational writing.

 

In the meantime I was thinking, “I really want to do something for trade,” so I was working on this little book, just this little book called I Hate Sport.

 

Allison

Written from the heart was it, Jen?

 

Jen

Written straight from the heart, because I had been working on a sporting series back at BDP. One afternoon I was sitting around with Andrew having a coffee and I said, “It’s just ironic that I’m working on a sporting series, having to bring up all of these elite athletes. I don’t even know who I’m talking to.”

 

I said, “I hate sports, someone needs to write a book about that. There’s plenty of kids out there that hate sport.” I thought, “Hang on a minute, I might do it myself.” So, that’s what was happening in the background. It was just a little love project on the side.

 

But, yeah, so I sent it out to a variety of trade publishers. I remember I got a rejection and an acceptance on the same day, six months later.

 

Allison

On the same day? Well, that’s a coincidence for you. It just goes to show you the way the publishing industry works, isn’t it?

 

Jen

That’s right. It depends on how publishers are placed, you know? I Hate Sport was only little, so it had to fit in a series. So, it was perfect for an Aussie Chomp, so Penguin was really well placed to publish it, whereas some of the other publishers, they wouldn’t put out a little 13,000 word book just on its own, it’s not worth it.

 

Allison

Were you drawn to children’s fiction because your first experience in publishing was with children’s fiction? Or was there another reason for that?

 

Jen

Yeah, very much so. Very much so. I mean I’d always loved children’s fiction — loved it. And I had fiddled about and tried to write picture books way back in the ’80s when I was nursing and then I got all of the rejection slips and what not.

 

But, yeah, that was really a turning point, when I went to BDP, because when I came out of uni I kind of had my sights set up screenwriting. I absolutely loved cinema, and I did a double major in cinema. So, screenplays were kind of my thing that I was really mucking around with, but yeah…

 

Allison

Your whole career has basically been in children’s fiction, of different age groups, do you have a love project of a screenplay or a novel?

 

Jen

I draw on screenplay writing all the time. It really influences how I write books and films really influence me. I actually adapted one of my books into a screenplay, one of my novels, just for the exercise, which was fantastic. I actually put it on the Blacklist, which is this screenplay thing in Hollywood. You can pay to have your book put on there and have it assessed, your screenplay. And it did well. I think it got an 8 out of 10, and some really lovely feedback, but I just haven’t had time to follow it up.

 

Allison

Do you have a preferred age group that you really like to write for as far as the children’s fiction?

 

Jen

Yeah, I really like to write middle grade, for sort of 8-10 year-olds, because they’re really good readers and they adore story, but they don’t have attitude yet. They’re not dealing with puberty, or any of those sorts of things, so they’re really focused on books and stories, and so they really live in the stories that you write. I just get it from the kids that write to me, they read my books repeatedly. They’ll write and say, “I’ve read Truly Tan six times,” or,” I went to Scotland and I forgot my Truly Tan book and I was beside myself…”

 

It’s beautiful. It’s just the best feedback any writer can have, that kids just live in the stories. They send suggestions and outlines for the next book and title suggestions, they make videos and send you videos of themselves dressed up as the characters and doing stuff.

 

Yeah, it’s a wonderful world of the ten-year-old.

 

Allison

Let’s talk about Truly Tan for a moment, because it is a truly successful series — did you see what I did there? Did you get it? Yeah, I’m on fire.

 

Did you always have it planned as a series?

 

Jen

No.

 

Allison

How do you know that a book is going to be a series?

 

Jen

All of those things can happen really accidentally. Truly Tan was just a little standalone book that I was working on, on the side…while I was writing Tensy Farlow, actually. I gave it to Penguin and they really loved it. They said, “Hey, we should make this into a series.” I thought, “Oh, OK. All right.” So, it was Penguin that sort of came up with the idea of making it into a series.

 

They published the first one and they renamed it, it had a very long complicated name, and all of those things happened and it just went out into the world and disappeared without a trace. I had already written — this is a big story. I had already written book two without a contract, and spent the best part of a year sort of writing book two. Unfortunately because book one failed there was no market for book two.

 

I just had to shove the project. There was a lot of tears.

 

Allison

Yeah, really.

 

Jen

In my heart I kind of didn’t give up, because on Tan, herself, and on the stories because I just knew this really, really adorable character that I loved writing about. And the few kids that did read the first book were very, very passionate, it had this little like cult following.

 

I kept it in my heart. There’s nothing I could do with it, but I just kept it in my heart.

 

Then out of the blue three or four years later I opened up my email and had an email from Harper Collins and they said that they would love me to write some middle grade fiction and did I have anything. It just so happened, more synchronicity that Tan had gone out of print that same week, the rights had reverted to me. I said to Harper Collins, “Well, you can have Truly Tan if you want.” And they were like, “What? Yes, please.”

 

So, that’s how it started.

 

Allison

So they took Truly Tan on and you… they put the first book out again with the second book?

 

Jen

Repackaged it, renamed it, gave it back its originally title and contracted me for four more books straight up.

 

Allison

Wow.

 

Jen

By the time I was sort of halfway through the third one they said, “We’d like to make this bigger,” so now it’s an eight-book series.

 

Allison

I guess that just goes to show you, doesn’t it? You’ve got something there now that is really successful and has been really well received both commercially and critically. In its first sort of incarnation it disappeared.

 

Jen

Yeah, it got off to such a wobbly start.

 

Allison

What do you think the difference was?

 

Jen

Well, I think we really lost our way with the naming of it, because it was called
Tan Calhan’s Secret Spy Files: The Mystery of Purple Horn. No one can remember that.

 

Allison

No, whereas Truly Tan you’re not going to forget.

 

Jen

Truly Tan, bang, you get it straight away.

 

Allison

Yep.

 

Jen

The cover was a bitsy, you know? The illustration was gorgeous, Caroline McGirl did the illustration and I love Caroline and I want to work with her on more things, and we made good friends. But, the way it was all designed and put together didn’t showcase it properly and it didn’t make Tan standout as an iconic figure, whereas Claire Robertson, her illustration and her approach, it’s very iconic. Like, you just know Tan straightaway, she’s very accessible.

 

That age group, they like to imagine they can draw the characters as well as the illustrator, so they really do… this is what I’ve been noticing, they really do go for lovely clean lines.

 

Allison

What we’re basically saying here then is that the title and the cover are absolutely critical?

 

Jen

They’re huge.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Jen

They’re huge with kids.

 

I can just see it, sometimes I’ve done focus groups and I’ve laid books out, just to get them to say, “Which books do you like here?” Without a word of light they will shun particular books that I know are really good books, but they won’t even pick them up, they won’t even touch them. You know? They’re so visual.

 

 

 

Allison

That’s really interesting. For a series to take off though it has to be about more than the cover.

 

Jen

Absolutely.

 

Allison

I know that quite of a few of our listeners are writing children’s fiction and they’re writing fiction that they would like to be a series. The prerequisites for a series to really take off, I mean clearly that protagonist, that main character is essential.

 

Jen

Yep, you’ve got to have a really strong main character, but it’s also, personally, I think voice is just absolutely critical for kids, to get the voice right. And it’s got to be a very warm and very inviting sort of voice. You’ve got to create a world that they want to keep reentering. So, it needs to be very visceral. I use a lot of food in my books.

 

Allison

And that’s got nothing to do with how you feel about food at all, right?

 

Jen

No. No.

 

But, I know kids really respond to it, they just love food. It makes it real for them. Yeah, it’s really important that you pay attention to those sorts of details.

 

Allison

You write both series fiction and standalone, do you have a preference? Like, do you prefer to write one or the other?

 

Jen

I find myself getting a bit resistant every time I’m lining up to write another Tan book, but then once I’m back in her world I’m happy again.

 

But, I do like the freedom of standalones, I love creating new worlds and going into new situations and new characters. I find that really stimulating.

 

Allison

From a publishing perspective though, the series, particularly in that age group, is so incredibly popular, isn’t it?

 

Jen

Kids just want more. They’re voracious. I mean they’ll come up to you at launches and say, “When’s the next one?” I just want to put my head on the desk and cry.

 

Allison

Also, parents… as a parent and also as an author who goes to these things as well, you get parents going to you, “Oh, can you…” they love finding a new series that the kids will read, because then they’ll know what the next eight books are going to be.

 

Jen

That’s right.

 

Allison

Whereas opposed to scratching around for things that they need to start again. I do understand why it’s so popular.

 

Jen

Particularly I’m finding that particularly with Danny Best, because Danny Best is winning a lot of boys who wouldn’t read normally.

 

Allison

Oh, that’s great.

 

Jen

It’s great, yeah. So, I’m getting letters from mums saying, “When’s the next one? When’s the next one? He’s actually reading.” So, they want to strike while the iron’s hot.

 

Allison

You’ve got how many Danny Best — because Danny Best came out last year? Is that right?

 

Jen

Yes, so there’s four in that series.

 

Allison

The four of them are out already?

 

Jen

No, no, no. They’re coming out one a year.

 

Allison
One a year.

 

Jen

Yeah, so the next one comes out later this year, I think it’s August. Danny Best, they’re really complex to pull together because they’re so heavily illustrated, so Mitch and I work really hard on the layout. And Steph, the designer, oh my god, she works so hard on those books.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Jen

So, they’re deceptively complex. I don’t think you would want to be churning them out any faster, because they’d lose their quality. They’ve got lots of running gags and marginalia and little graphic sort of comicy strips and all sorts of things going on. So, there’s a lot of work, yeah.

 

Allison

So, you and Mitch collaborate quite closely right from the start with those? Or do you write the words and then…

 

Jen

I write the words, then the manuscript goes to Mitch, and then she starts doing illos and sort of mocking stuff up, and then we physically meet. So, we actually met last week. She has miles and miles of illustrations to go through. And we just work out what works best.

 

Allison

Wow.

 

Jen

Yeah. The Danny Best books are short stories.

 

Allison

Yep.

 

Jen

And so we started out with six short stories, but we’ve already culled two, and they can go into book three, because we need to open it up so there’s lots of air around the text, and lots of space for the illustrations, because the last thing we want the Danny Best books to look like is a school reader.

 

Allison

Yeah, they don’t want to look like hard work, do they?

 

Jen

So there’s illustration plopped here and there.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

 

 

 

Jen

They need to really work together and be really inviting work, and lots of space. There are practically empty pages in the Danny Best books, maybe just a paw print or a dog poo or something.

 

Allison
Dog Poo, lovely.

 

Do you enjoy the collaborating with an illustrator like that?

 

Jen

Absolutely. It’s awesome. I love it.

 

Allison

 

Jen

My publisher at Harper, Lisa Berryman is extremely hands on, and it’s just a joy. She really believes in bringing creatives together. A lot of publishing houses keep their creatives apart, and that’s for different reasons — I’m not saying that’s bad, but from my perspective, as an author, I just love it. I love being in the same room, because that’s when the fire really starts to crackle.

 

Allison

Yeah, yeah, you bounce off of each other and you get something completely new.

 

Jen

Yeah, and we get to use each other, and stuff comes out of that.

 

Allison

When you sit down to write a book, whatever it may be, say you were going to sit down tomorrow to start a new something, do you plan your books out? Or do you just start with an idea and write?

 

Jen

I work in three different ways, depending on the project. I’ve figured that out over the years.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Jen

Some books I write organically and I just let it unfold. Mostly with fantasy I work organically. I can’t plan fantasy, I get too bored, and it comes out really contrived. And so Tensy Farlow was written really organically. And The Accidental Princess was also organic. For Truly Tan I now plot those in advance, because I have to write one a year, and I have to be fairly quick, so there’s no time to ramble around. But, also because it’s a mystery, so you’ve got to have a bit of a clue where you’re going.

 

Then I also have another way where I write organically then I stop and I plot a little bit, and then I start writing organically again, and then I stop and I plot a little bit. So, I call that my Swedish Chef method.

 

Allison

And what do you use that for?

 

Jen

I use that for the The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack, which is my fantasy novel that came out last year.

 

Allison

That’s more of a YA, sort of an older reader?

 

Jen

No, no, it’s middle grade, upper middle grade.

 

Allison

Middle grade, sorry.

 

Jen

So, it was 65,000 words, I think. And also that was a sort of a project, a bit like Tensy, sort of written on the side, so I’d work on it for a couple of months and then put it aside, and then come back to it a few months later.

 

Allison

So you wrote that as a side project, that wasn’t contracted at the time, you just basically wrote it to see what would happen with it?

 

Jen

Yeah, I was just playing with it on the side, yeah.

 

Allison

And do you have an agent? Do you work with an agent?

 

Jen

I do now.

 

Allison

OK.

 

 

 

Jen

I didn’t have an agent for a long time. So I now have Clare Forster from Curtis Brown. She’s been after me for about three years I think.

 

Allison

And what made you make the switch to having an agent?

 

Jen

I just felt like I needed somebody there to help me juggle all the contracts and all the bits and pieces. Things were falling through the cracks.

 

I don’t know whether I can give you a hard and fast answer, it’s just almost like a psychological thing, I like having somebody on my side who’s sort of monitoring my career a bit and putting out feelers overseas. And just pushing things along gently for me. Yeah, and it’s like, Claire kind of holds my hand, it’s really nice.

 

Allison

Well, and that’s one of those things, isn’t it? Because it’s a question that I often get asked, that we are often asked, is you know, “Do you need an agent and why would you?” And I always find it interesting to ask people, because not all published authors use an agent.

 

Jen

No.

 

Allison

And the reasons why people do vary.

 

Jen

Yes.

 

Allison

I just think it’s always a good question to put out there.

 

Jen

Claire and I sort of established early on that she doesn’t get terribly involved in the creative process with me. That’s always very much myself and Lisa, my publisher. Claire just really looks after the contracts, and all the overseas, the rights and you know what they’re like, they can be a bit of a nightmare. Yeah, so she does all that.

 

Allison

Alright, so your new book is a picture book, and this is a new area for you. Was there anything you found surprising about making the switch to that genre?

 

 

 

Jen

Well, I had a lot of trouble writing picture books, so I was stuck with picture books, I just couldn’t pull one off. Even though I was writing all these novels over the years, every time I sat down to write a picture book, I went down into that inner critic just got really savage.

 

And I had this thing in my head that a picture book had to be really wordy, and so every time I sat down I had all the CBCA was sitting in with me. And raising their eyebrows and saying, “This is rubbish,” you know?

 

And so I just kept giving up, or I’d write really earnest, really awful serious books. You know, I wrote one based on the Lady of Shalott.

 

Allison

Wow, OK.

 

Jen

It was a thing, and sort of, I don’t know, anyway. So Clarrie came out of, one day I was in a café, and I was just doing some people watching, I didn’t have a pen with me. I was just having a cup of tea, and I saw this older woman, I think she was a grandmother and she had like a little boy on her knee who was about three. You know how in cafes often have those really crappy picture books?

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Jen

Sort of mass produced, soulless things. Anyway, she was reading this book to the little boy, and I was watching, and the little boy was so desperate to get into the story, you could really tell by his body language that he really wanted to enjoy it, but he wasn’t. He wasn’t enjoying it at all, and I just thought, “What would I do if I had that kid on my knee and I was trying to read him a really bad picture book?” And I thought, “I’d make up words, I’d make up really silly words and I’d flip it all around and just make it really silly.” And then I thought, “Hang on a minute.”

 

Allison

“Wait a minute.”

 

Jen

“That could be an idea for a picture book.” And, so I sort of gathered up my belongings and scuttled off home and started mucking around with words.

 

Allison

Which you’d always loved.

 

 

Jen

Yeah, yeah.

 

So, it was a number of things at play though, because I was also, I’ve been studying art for about three years just at night classes. And at that point, I was learning how to draw circles. So I’d been drawing a lot of eggs, and also cakes and stuff like that.

 

And I don’t know, out of all that, this character, this funny old farmer who loved chickens called Clarrie just sort of emerged literally overnight. You know, when he did emerge he emerged quickly, and he started talking, and he got all his words mixed up, and I just thought, “Oh, you’re adorable, let’s tell your story.”

 

Allison

That’s fantastic.

 

Jen

I lost my fear, and I just wrote from the heart. And that’s what I always tell authors, just write from the heart. Don’t worry about critics, judges or the market. Just write from the heart, and then your heart will respond to somebody else’s heart.

 

Allison

Which is interesting, and the other thing I find interesting too, is that I read your blog, which is called Baxter Street, and which is just beautiful.

 

Jen

Well, thank you.

 

Allison

And you often share pages and thoughts from your journal, your diary. And you have a lot of illustrations. But, I wondered, is illustrating your own picture book at some stage something that you would do?

 

Jen

No. No.

 

Allison

Why is that?

 

Jen

No. I don’t know… well I know that, I just know how much work is involved and how amazingly skilled the illustrators are. I just admire them so, so much, and I just know that I’m not cut out for that. You know?

 

Allison

Fair enough.

 

Jen

I love doing art, and I love drawing, but I don’t want to make it something that I have to do.

 

Allison

Oh, that makes sense.

 

Jen

Yeah, yeah.

 

Allison

So with your journal, do you journal every day?

 

Jen

Writing or art?

 

Allison

Either.

 

Jen

Accidentally every day, but not purposely.

 

Allison

Right, OK.

 

Jen

Yeah. So I would never, ever tell anyone to write every day. That would just destroy me if I had to write every day, if I felt that was a part of it. Because some days you just don’t want to write. And you just want to look, and take stuff in.

 

I do morning pages, I’m back on that train at the moment, which is from the Artist’s Way, so she, Julia Cameron advises you to do three pages stream of consciousness every morning.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Jen

And I did that when I was first starting out, I did that for about six years straight. It really kept me sane, I find it more beneficial than meditation. And then sometimes I drop off the train and I don’t do that sometimes for years. And in the last six months I’ve just come back to morning pages and I’m loving doing it again.

 

Allison

OK.

 

Jen

It’s very, it’s almost like a sacred place. Like, I get up before everybody else in the house and I light a candle and I sit down with my journal and away I go.

 

Allison

So you’re actually hand- you’re actually writing longhand?

 

Jen

Absolutely, handwriting, yeah, yeah. A lot of it you can’t even read when you go back.

 

Allison

I was about to say, I wouldn’t be able to read mine at all.

 

Jen

Yeah. I do find that ideas tend to flow, and it’s really good, this sort of brain dump. Also, you know, it can be really whingy and boring, you wouldn’t really want to read back over it.

 

It’s literally stream of consciousness.

 

Allison

Do you write full time? Would you call yourself a full time writer? Like, how do you fit writing into your life?

 

Jen

Yes, I’m a full time writer, but it’s not so bad for me now, because my kids have left home. So, you know, my days are my own now. I schedule everything and I have my workout and what I have to do, how many words a day I have to do, how many words I have to achieve and I’m pretty good. I’m pretty disciplined, I suppose.

 

Allison

Because you are working on multiple projects, aren’t you? At any given time?

 

Jen

Yeah, so I have to be pretty… pretty careful about how I schedule things. But, that’s not to say that I don’t stuff up all the time, because… like, at the moment I’m just in meltdown over Truly Tan, this sixth book. I just had a month’s extension, it’s like handing in an essay from my publisher, because this is a busy year for me. There’s a lot of other stuff going on, so yeah, it’s challenging.

 

Allison
So, you’ve got a looming deadline and that horrible feeling that comes with having to hand in your homework?

 

 

 

Jen

That’s right, so I’ve got to write the sixth Truly Tan book, the third Danny Best book, and I’m studying business online at the moment, because I’m interesting in doing some other stuff, plus I’m teaching creative writing… yeah, so there’s a lot going on. But, it’s all about scheduling…

 

Allison

Routine, yeah.

 

Jen

Well, I wrote this thing today, actually, this thing called… because creative people, you would know yourself, often have a lot of trouble saying ‘no.’

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Jen

You know? And, so I heard this thing today about jump on the ‘no’ train.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Jen

And when anybody asks you to do anything try to make your first response ‘no,’ even if it’s only just internal. And then really think about it.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Jen

Really think about, “Is this the best use of my time?” “Will I spend time resenting this and regretting… because I won’t get that time back again.”

 

Allison

Yeah, which is so true. So, you’re practicing the ‘no’ train, are you?

 

Jen

As from this week. It’s a new one for me.

 

Allison

Keep us posted on how you get on with that. Your answer to that is, “No, Allison. I’m not going to do that.”

 

Jen

Yes, exactly.

 

Allison

All right, so let’s talk about how you feel about the idea of… because with as many projects as you have you must spend a bit of time with promotion, like, it’s part of the job now. How do you feel about this idea of the author platform? Are you active on social media? I know you said you have your website, you have your blog, do you consciously do any other things to kind of build your profile or sort of keep it all going?

 

Jen

My blogging is really important to me. I don’t do a lot of school visits. I did a fair few for a while there, and then I realized that was just… school visits exhaust me. It’s not just the visit, I enjoy the visit, but it’s the lead up to it. It’s everything that goes around the school visit, trying to get there, find out where it is, trains, parking. And I just thought, “You know what? I’m better off writing. I need to master my craft, not go running around schools.”

 

Allison

Yep.

 

Jen

So, I don’t do a lot of that.

 

Look, I’m a plotter, you know? I just keep my eye on the ball and I keep moving forward, and, to me, at the end of the day what’s really important is the book.

 

Allison

Yep.

 

Jen

The quality of the book — not my platform, not my Twitter feed, not how many followers I’ve got on Facebook. It’s… yeah.

 

So, that’s really my focus. Yep.

 

Allison

Does your publisher expect you to do promotion work at all? Do you feel any pressure around that at all?

 

Jen

There are a few things, but they’re certainly not hardcore at all.

 

Allison

Oh, good.

 

Jen

But, I am going on ‘tour,’ I use a bit of commas.

 

Allison

Oh, there you go. Look at you.

 

Jen

Later this year, it’s called the Telling Tales Tour. That’s funded by Harper Collins. They’re sending myself and Jude Rossell and Kate Nannestad

Allison

Oh, that will be fun. What a great team.

 

Jen

So, we’re flitting about. We’re going Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and regional Victoria, I think. So, that’s sort of looming.

 

And, I’m looking forward to that, but I’m also a bit stressed about it as well, because it will take me away from my work and there’s deadlines around that time. You’re on the road for three days, and for someone like me, I’m an introvert. It takes me a couple of days to calm down. I can’t write when I’m in transit, when I’m on the move. I need my space to write.

 

It’s a double-edged sort of a thing. It’s a great opportunity to promote our books and get out there and meet the readers, but it’s also very time-consuming and it’s a bit stressful.

 

Allison

Well, that’s the problem, I think, isn’t it? I think all authors find themselves in the same boat, if they want to write the next book, but you’ve sort of got to keep up the interest in the books that you have out there.

 

Jen

That’s right. Yep, yep.

 

It can be a very hard world out there, can’t it? In terms of books.

 

I remember a bookseller once telling me, “Oh, Jen, books have a shelf life of a tub of yogurt.”

 

Allison

Yeah, thanks for that.

 

Jen

“That’s really reassuring.” Your book goes off… you do have to take that window of opportunity when it first comes out and interest is at its highest to promote it.

 

 

Allison

All right, so just to finish up for today, we have to ask you the big question of your top three tips for writers. What three tips would you give aspiring writers?

 

Jen

Well, it’s funny you should ask that, because I just was talking about this to my class the other night. I teach how to write books for children. And, I talk about the three Ps, which is patience, perseverance, and passion.

 

Allison

Oh, there you go.

 

Jen

So they are the three things that I…

 

Allison

I like it, look at you. You’ve got an actual — you’ve got a slogan and everything.

 

Jen

I know! A slogan, right?

 

Allison

Right, so talk me through the three Ps.

 

Jen

  1. So, patience is very important. I find that very much in aspiring authors that they are in a hurry. And, writing is very difficult. It’s very multi-leveled, as you know, and you have to really apply yourself, and you cannot expect to write a bestseller. Just making up your mind and sitting down, you know? You have to learn the craft, and it’s just like I say to my students, “I can sing beautiful arias in my head, but you don’t want to hear me open my mouth.”

 

You really have to work at it. Like anything that’s worthwhile, it takes a lot of work.

 

So, that’s where the patience comes in. Patience also comes in, of course, when you’re dealing with the publishing industry, which, you know, moves like an old mechanical crab’s pace. It can drive you nuts, especially at the beginning.

 

So perseverance is the same sort of thing, it’s really persevering, hanging in there when the chips are down, just soldiering on. Truly Tan is a good example of perseverance.

 

Allison

Yeah, definitely.

 

Jen

I kept that in my heart, I kept it alive and went back to it.

 

And passion. Passion I think is the one that is really easy to overlook, but it’s really, really important, because if you’re not writing with passion then you become really miserable, because creative writing is really hard work. If you’ve lost your passion then you just won’t enjoy the process anymore.

 

So, you need to keep fueling that passion and be very mindful of it and do it regularly, not just every six months do something, but I think every week you should be immersing yourself in something that reminds you about why you love literature. And, that’s probably not reading other people’s books, you know? It might be for some, but sometimes when you’re aspiring and you start reading other people’s work it can be very intimidating. It can actually…

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Jen

Yeah, it can actually crush your spirit. So…

 

Allison

What would you suggest instead?

 

Jen

Anything that makes you feel alive, even if it’s just walking in nature makes you feel happy again, or picking up really old poetry that you know you’re not going to try to imitate, but it just brings that feeling, that feeling in your heart when you read something that’s just so moving.

 

All last night I watched a special about the Bronties. I just thought, “Oh my god…” Or, I go to the movies… the movies just always inspire me.

 

Allison

Excellent. All right, Jen. Well, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it. And, I’m sure that our listeners will have learned a lot. You had some very interesting stories there.

 

Thank you very much.

 

Jen

Thanks, Al. It was great. Thank you very much.

 

 

 

Mar 2, 2016 Podcasts Australian Writers' Centre Team

Written by Australian Writers' Centre Team

Comments

One response to “Ep 98: How to get your book to be an Amazon bestseller for $3; Confessions of a ghostwriter. And children’s author Jen Storer.”

  1. […] “You’ve got to have a really strong main character, but it’s also, personally, I think voice is just absolutely critical for kids, to get the voice right. And it’s got to be a very warm and very inviting sort of voice. You’ve got to create a world that they want to keep reentering. So, it needs to be very visceral. I use a lot of food in my books.” Jen Storer, children’s author, episode 98 […]

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