Christmas Podcast: Heather Smith and Al McKillop

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Christmas 2012 podcastFor the Christmas edition of our podcast, we’ve done something a little different. Regular listeners will know that we usually interview one author per podcast. This time, we’ve interviewed two former students of the Sydney Writers’ Centre who both have books released this month.

Heather Smith completed course Feature Writing for Magazines and Newspapers at the Sydney Writers’ Centre several years ago. This propelled her into business blogging on a regular basis for national online and printed publications, including The Daily Telegraph, Flying Solo (a website for ‘solopreneurs’), My Business (a website for business advice), ninemsn, Woman’s Day, The Courier-Mail, Latte and Network magazine. Her first book Learn MYOB in 7 Days (Wiley) was published in December 2011. Heather is currently working on her next book, Learn Small Business Start-up in 7 Days (Wiley).

Al McKillop is an accomplished corporate business writer but, since an early age, he harboured a secret ambition to become Scotland’s answer to Bruce Lee. Enthralled by the bravery, athleticism and professionalism of the fighters, the guts and glory spectacle, the sheer brutality of mixed martial arts (MMA), Al decided that writing about it was a much better option. Now living in Sydney, he has turned that dream into reality with The Last Word Mixed Martial Arts (Germinal Press). However, Al’s first love is writing fiction, mostly in the crime or thriller genre. He is currently working on a crime based novel based in his native Scotland.

Click play to listen. Running time: 42.05

The Last Word Mixed Martial Arts Learn MYOB in 7 Days

Transcript

* Please note these transcripts have been edited for readability

Valerie
So, thanks for joining us today, Heather and Al.

Al
Hi, good to hear from you.

Heather
Thanks for having us.

Valerie
Well, Heather, let’s start with you, your first book published by Wiley has just been released, or it’s being released this month, isn’t it? Tell us what it’s about.

Heather
Thank you Valerie, thank you for having us on the show. The first book is entitled Learn MYOB in Seven Days. So as the name suggests, it is an introductory book for you to actually teach yourself how to use MYOB, and how to use it within your business and how to understand your numbers, and how to use your numbers to better manage your business. Useful for anyone, from a book keeper through to a job seeker, through to a small business owner.

Valerie
And it’s a great time of year, isn’t it? Because this is the time of year that people are always thinking, “Once Christmas is done I’ going to actually learn MYOB,” and get stuck into actually figuring out how to use it.

Heather
Absolutely, it’s all part of self development, and I’m a really big believer that if you are a business owner you don’t necessarily have to know everything there is to do in MYOB, but you have to understand the numbers, and you have to use them to manage your business. This is really what a lot of this book is about. At first it has the fundamentals there, but it also goes through and says, “This is how you should design your reports so you can get good information out of it, this is what you should be looking at to manage your business better.” It’s really for the person who is entrepreneurial, who is looking to better understand their finances.

Valerie
But really, I’ve tried to learn in MYOB, can you really learn it in seven days?

Heather
Look, I think it’s really about jump starting, and it gives you the concise elements, every section is broken down into a seven day element. I find with people, because I’m a consultant, I’ve dealt with close to a thousand people teaching them MYOB, which sounds amazing, but through training I have done that. I find that if you break things down, every day is about two to three hours, and with my clients, when I work with them, sometimes they ring me up and they book me for five hours, and I say, “No, two to three hours, and then we’ll build on top of that.” You may not do every seven days, you may not do them consecutively, but if you said, “OK, every Monday I’m going to pick up the book and just work my way through it,” by the end of that seven days of working on it you will have such a good understanding of using MYOB. You’ll be able to talk to your book keeper better, you’ll be able to talk to your accountant better, you’ll understand what’s going on in your business, and that’s really exciting.

Valerie
I can’t wait for it to come out.

Al, your book is very, very different, and it’s just been released with Germinal Press. Tell us what your book is about.

Al
Well, it’s probably about as far away from MYOB as you can get. I guess in one way it is complimentary in that it is a personal development book in some ways. This book is about mixed martial arts, which is now commonly known as cage-fighting, made popular through the Ultimate Fighting Championship, UFC, which has a big pay-per-view following on the TV around the world. It’s actually the fastest growing spectator sport in the world. It kind of gives people a tongue in cheek, sharp, insightful, irreverent look at the whole sport, from the history right through to how to do some of it, in terms of entrepreneurs and small business people learning a new skill. Perhaps, they might need to learn some skills to deal with an accountant who can’t use them for MYOB purposes.

Valerie
The book is called The Last Word: Mixed Martial Arts. Are you a cage fighter yourself Al?

Al
Well, no, I’ve never been in a cage, and I probably never actually been in a proper fight, because I’m too much of a sissy. I guess martial arts is something that I’ve always had a bit of an interest in, right back from days of good old Bruce Lee films, Enter the Dragon, and things like that. It’s one of those things, you can tell from the accent, I’m not Sydney born and bred, I come from the Glasgow area in Scotland, which had a bit of a reputation for being a rough and tough area. People knew how to fight, not everybody, it got a bit of a bad rep in that respect.

I think people started doing Judo or they started doing Karate and it became, “Well, my Judo is better than your Karate, and I take you down, or you’ll never have a chance against me.” And what’s happened is that martial arts throughout the world, everybody started saying, “Well, mine’s better than yours, let’s prove it.” And the cage fighting evolved through a number of disciplines into what it is today to kind try and prove which is the best, but I don’t think anybody can really prove which is the best, the mixed martial artists today are really rounded fighters, and they’ve got a grounding in just about every martial art there is going. That’s how it is.

I do a bit of boxing, but I’ve only really hit pads rather than people, unless they slip and miss, but that’s about as close as I get to it.

Valerie
Tell us about the research for this book then? How did you go about researching it if you didn’t actually put yourself in the cage to get body slammed and eye gouged and all of that?

Al
Yeah, I guess this is the wonder of the internet, when you’re trying to research something like this. What I did was I came up with a structure for the book, and I agreed that with the publisher. I started really researching through both internet and books and watching on TV, to be honest, and speaking to some people who train in this. There are people in martial arts schools who specifically train in MMA. It’s just getting an insight into how hard it is apart from anything else. A lot of it was around the history and some of the fun stuff as well. Whose got the worst tattoo, and whose got the worst entrance song. Like any sport of this magnitude there are some great characters in there, and I tried to tease that out.

Valerie
Go on then, whose go the worst entrance song?

Al
I won’t tell you his name, but the worst entrance song was Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight.

Valerie
Really?

Al
Imagine the scene, you’ve got a few thousand people screaming for blood, waiting for you to come out, the lights go down and the music starts, but I don’t know if you know that tune, but it’s got a really, really slow start. Phil Collins comes in at about a minute and a half with the drum solo. It’s the slowest song in the world. It’s what we call in Scotland a “dirge”, it’s a good Scottish name. It takes the guy 30 seconds to get into the ring from the side of the ring. Can you imagine seeing these boxers coming down with their hoods on and their entourage around them, and things like Eye of the Tiger going, this guy’s walking in to In the Air Tonight. The crowd have gone to sleep by the time he gets there. There’s a few characters like that.

Valerie
That’s definitely the worst entrance song. Both of you, in addition to being authors or near-authors, you have day jobs. Tell us, Al, tell us what your day job is, and then Heather.

Al
Yeah, I kind of write for a living, I don’t do so much of the direct writing, I’m a corporate communications manager, and have done that for most of my career. I always thought my first book was going to be an anthology of CEO messages that I’ve written, because believe it or not, your CEO doesn’t really write all their own messages. But, yeah, I deal with a lot of corporate communications issues, I’ve had a lot of writing, business writing, published through that genre. The day job kind of gets in the way of the evening writing job.

Valerie
And Heather, yourself?

Heather
I am a Chartered Certified Accountant, and I help small business owners manage their accounting function. I don’t go in and actually do it for them, but when they run into problems, or if they need to understand things I help them. I deal with hundreds of businesses, it’s actually quite amazing. Many of them I actually just remotely connect in with, so they’ll just ring me, or text me, or contact me by email, and they’ll say, “OK, having a problem with this report.”

And I use GoToAssist software to remotely access their computer, and it’s amazing, I do it for Universities and for government organizations, and for very, very small businesses. And I log in and I’ll show them what to do and how to do it using a variety of different accounting software programs, and help them manage their business. All the way through to perhaps BAS statements, being an accountant, I’m not a tax accountant, but I just support lots and lots of little businesses. Really, really exciting job because I get to see and talk with so many small business owners, typically I can be sitting here at my little office with my dog at my feet, and I can be dealing with ten different clients in the day; lovely, fabulous job for me.

Valerie
Sounds like a pretty busy job, why did you want to write a book?

Heather
I have probably always been a writer, and have thousands or hundreds of journals and writing all over the place, and always wanted to write a book. I had a manuscript in the cupboard, in the back of the cupboard, and I kept filling it out and re-doing it for submission. And then one day, I was looking through my junk folder, and I saw this little email from Wiley asking me to write a book for them, and I screamed and probably, I was in Randwick in Sydney at the time and probably lots of people probably stopped in their tracks, and that’s how it came about. I always wanted to write a book, perhaps, maybe it was just the catalyst that got me going, because I really should have written something ten years ago, but I just didn’t know where to go.

Valerie
People are going to be wondering how in the world this email ended up in your junk folder? Not the fact that it was in your junk folder, but how do you think Wiley identified you as somebody that they would like to see a book proposal from?

Heather
I did the online feature writing course with Sydney Writers’ Centre, which really helped me understand what I should be doing with writing, and I found that was a fabulously useful writing course to do. What I started doing then was writing blog posts for other organizations such as Flying Solo and My Business, and then they would appear in NineMSN or Woman’s Day. And it was such a good feeling to be writing, and so every time I would see a client and he would have these issues, I would go home and I would write it up, because I’d see that client, the same issues over and over and over again, so to try and sort of help people out, I would write it up, identify or bullet point to all and then sort of get it published somewhere. In the end the Learn MYOB in Seven Days book, a lot of it was pulled from articles I’d actually put together as blog posts in other places.

Also, I tweet a lot, and I have a Facebook profile and a LinkedIn profile, so I was really involved in connected with people in social media, but Wiley and my editor at Wiley said that she’d been following me for awhile. I hadn’t approached her, I hadn’t talked to her, they said that they had just been following my articles. That was probably maybe two years into me just blogging for other people and blogging myself.

Valerie
So you’re already onto your second book, you’ve been commissioned to write your second book, which is Learn Small Business Startup In Seven Days, is that right?

Heather
Yes, very excited about that one.

Valerie
Tell us how that came about, obviously Wiley first only commissioned you for one book, how did the second one happen?

Heather
I finished the first one probably almost a year ago now, but what happened was the actual release of it got delayed due to the software keeps slightly, the release date of the software kept changing on me, so the book couldn’t be released until the updated software was released. I’d finished the first one, I got it all sent off, packed away, and I talked to my editor and said, “I have this idea in mind.” And she said, “Put together a proposal.” They have this very structured form, template, that they give you for putting together a proposal, and you have to say what you perceive the book will do, what are the chapters that you’re going to offer them. You have to say what is the market, who is the market, how will you promote the book. You put that template together and it’s submitted to Wiley, and there are two different departments who go through the process of approving it, and it came back approved, and so I’m on the journey of writing it. I’m about 42,000 words into a 55,000 book at the moment.

Valerie
Wow, almost there.

Heather
Almost.

Valerie
Alistair, which is your full name

Al
My Sunday name.

Valerie
Your Sunday name, yes. I know that you don’t only write business writing, and you don’t only write about cage fighting, you also have a novel in there somewhere, is that right?

Al
Yeah, well, I guess, a bit like Heather, I’ve had a lot of stories running around my head. To be honest, my first passion outside of work writing is very much creative writing. I did the creative writing course at the Writers’ Centre, I’m not entirely sure when, but it must be over a year ago now. I’d never really set out to write a non-fiction book, even if this is called a non-fiction book, but I guess my process for that, just to kind of get the opposite of what Heather had to go through, mine was really around, the process I went around was really around coffee and wine, basically. Which I have to say sounds far more exciting than filling in marketing templates, because the chap that established Germinal Press, is a guy called Stephen Townshend that I worked with. And he set up this indie publishing imprint, and he had the idea for this book, and he asked me to write the first draft, which I did. And we then went on to kind of co-author it with a guy named Paul Hansford.

I like writing crime fiction, I’ve got a number of short stories that are sitting there, waiting to be expanded into something a bit more substantial. I did start the NaNoWriMo journey this year, but unfortunately didn’t get to the end of it with 50,000 words. But, I’ve got the start of something that hopefully will come to fruition in the not too distant future.

Valerie
Why are you interested in crime writing? Is it the solving the mystery? Is it the, what is it?

Al
I like telling a story. For me, crime’s all about a story, or an adventure story of some description. And that’s all, when I started reading, it was all people like Wilbur Smith, and even when I go back beyond that, it was Biggles books by W. E. John, Enid Blyton, it was all kind of adventure stories. They all had a twist in the tale. I kind of always liked crime pieces, and coming from Scotland, there are some fairly well established crime writers, people like Ian Rankin, and Val McDermid, who are world-wide successful crime authors. I just like being able to tell a story and throwing in some twists and some good characters. I guess I do like throwing in a bit of dry Scottish humor in there as well.

Valerie
Some people who have full time jobs or businesses, like both of you, they say that they don’t have time to write. How do you guys fit in time to write a book, and like with Heather, your second book and with Al, not only your book but also an entire crime novel that you’re working on at the moment. How do you fit in the time? Is there – do you allocate space, do you fit it in where ever? Take me through it. Why don’t we start with you, Al.

Al
When I was writing the mixed martial arts book, Last Word Mixed Martial Arts, I guess the driving force for that was really a deadline, and a fairly aggressive deadline. It was really just making sure I had the time allocated on the weekends and through the week to do that. The creative piece around the novel and short stories, I’m not very disciplined at saying I’m going to write a thousand words a day or anything like that. I’m kind of one of these guy that when I find the mood takes me, I will just go with it. But, when I go with it, I’ll do ten-thousand words at a go, or something like that, which is probably why I’ve never been published yet, I’ve never had the discipline around writing that, it’s more when the muse takes me, I will do it.

Valerie
Is coffee and wine involved?

Al
Yeah, coffee, wine, and whisky. I think my goal for this year is to be far more disciplined around setting aside time for writing. I suppose we all set goals for ourselves, and this was my first New Year in Sydney, and the theme of the New Year celebration in Sydney was make your mark. And I said, “Yeah, this year I’m going to make my mark, and part of that is to be published.” The mixed martial arts was not exactly what I had in mind at the time I made that, but a goal’s a goal, and I can do that. But, certainly my goal for next year is to fulfill the dream and really have a fiction novel well on the way to being published, if not published.

Valerie
Fantastic, I love it that you decided to make your mark and you had a book published. I have to say, I have the book, and some people may know I have more than a passing interest in cage-fighting myself. I thought it was absolutely amazing that you wrote a book on that very topic. And, I absolutely love it.

Heather, tell me, how do you fit it in? You’ve got kids too!

Heather
Could I first say that I have read some of Alistair’s fictional work and it is really, really good quality, and I’m so impressed, and I know he’s going to be an international best seller one day.

I perhaps am more methodical about the way I write. And in the terms of what I’m writing, it’s perhaps more a technical book. I’m given 55,000 words, I break that up, I perceive that as 110, 500 word groups or blogs. So, I’ve got 110 different sections, that I’m then writing about. If I’m looking at maybe putting together 500 words, what I think about is, “Well, basically, I just have to get about three points out in each of those 500 word groupings.” So I’ll think about something while I’m driving in the car, or cleaning up, or something like that. I work out in my head what those three points are going to be.

Then I can sit down, put them down, flesh it out, write it up. I look at 500 words. I will then pin it on the fridge, cook the dinner, come back, edit it, edit it, edit it. Even sometimes – oh, I should actually go back one step, sometimes I’ll actually go, “This is what I’m going to write about tomorrow.” I’ll then sleep on it, which is a fabulous technique for actually pulling together all the things that you want to think about and pulling into that article. I will always go to bed on an idea I’m going to write on. Then I pull it together and what I then have is 110 little pieces, and you then stitch it together like a quilt. Each one is full of information and brimming, and then you’ve just got to pull them all together.

And, sometimes they came out 300 words and you have to flesh them out a bit more, but because it’s not a fictional novel and you’re writing a story — well you are writing a story, but it’s not the same kind of story, like at the moment, I’m trying to flesh out insurance for the small business owner. You can imagine, I just have to sit down, research that kind of area, understand, bring in my own thoughts on what I’ve seen out there, pull it together, flesh it out to 500 words, and then I’ll focus on something else. Hopefully that explains it, but it really, 55,000 words, God, that sounds like an awful lot of words; but then if you go, “Well, no, it’s 110 lots of 500 words.” That really sounds a lot more manageable, and 500 words — that’s what I practice with, that what I practice with Flying Solo, which is really great, fabulous ground for starting off with. And, that’s what I’m trying to practice with other blogs, 500 words.

Valerie
That’s a fantastic, very methodical.

Al
I’m blown away with that.

Heather
I am an accountant, so…

Al
That’s what I was going to say, we all see you’re an accountant.

Valerie
Al, I saw your tweet the other day, and you tweeted a picture of yourself with your book in Dymocks, what was it like going into Dymocks, and this was in the city, was it, and seeing your book on the shelves like that?

Al
I’ll tell you, that was a bit of a special moment. My mum and dad were here for holiday, and they’ve just gone back to Scotland. Obviously they had already read the book, but to actually walk into a book shop and be able to pick it off the shelf when your mom’s there is a bit of a special moment. That was really, really one of those moments that will go down for me as being a top moment.

Valerie
It was wonderful, I loved it when I saw it I was just thrilled. Speaking of Twitter, you’re both very active tweeters, and active in social media. Can you tell me, Heather, perhaps, if you can start first, if Twitter or other social media, you’ve touched on this a bit already, how much it’s played a part in building your online profile or putting you in contact with people in industry, or forwarding your career as a writer really?

Heather
In terms of the technical aspect of writing, and I’ve discussed this with you in past actually, but I find Twitter really, really useful in the fact that I have 140 characters, so if I’m working on a sentence, I will frequently post the sentence on Twitter to see if I’ve actually been able to explain what I’m trying to explain –

Al
Oh, sorry, that explains a lot now. I just thought you were mad.

Valerie
There was method to the madness, Al.

Al
Absolutely.

Heather
What I’m doing is I’m constructing a sentence, like this morning, no it was last night I constructed a sentence about, there’s a website you go to, to find grants, government grants for small business. So, I construct it, I post it out there, and then people come back to me and they react to it. That actually provides me with A.), the sentence made sense, B.) people found it interesting and this is why they found it interesting. So, if they ask further questions, “Well, do I need to put more in the book?” From that perspective, I actually find it really useful to ask questions.

And, I’m one of these people who really believes, I don’t want to pull the wool over your eyes when I’m explaining something. I want to explain it really simply so you understand it, and I find a lot of things I pick up, maybe because I’m dumb, I don’t understand them, or I go to a lecture and I’m like, “What are you talking about?” I got nothing from that. So it’s really important to me to get things from it. Seeing that you can put something out there and it gets re-tweeted or picked up by someone means that I’ve connected with someone, means that someone there has understood or responded to me.

In terms of Twitter, the second thing I’ll say is I also use it for research. If I’m looking for something, I’ll put perhaps a hash tag on the word, by putting a hash tag on the word I can then post a tweet and say perhaps, let’s go back to the insurance one. If I’m thinking about writing about insurance, I’ll go and put up some sentence about insurances, “Do you have #insurance for your small business?” I will then hash tag ‘insurance’. I will then post it, click on ‘insurance’. I will then get a column up of people talking about insurance, which may then identify people who are perhaps experts to me, who I can then perhaps ask questions of. Things that I’m unaware of, or things that I’m trying to find out, I’m then in front of someone asking them questions, which is really useful, and really a time saver. I obviously have to go and verify everything that they’ve said, but sometimes you already know, you’re just kind of double checking with someone.

Then the third aspect, as you said, in terms of connecting with people I find the social media, LinkedIn and Twitter. So, LinkedIn, perhaps the group areas of LinkedIn, I find them really useful for the niche area that you’re working in. My love is small business, I’m passionate about small business. It allows me to connect with other small business owners. It allows me, and LinkedIn allows me to connect with other small business owners, as well as your Flying Solos with their forums, etc. It allows me to talk with them about various things. And, I think through doing the course at the Sydney Writers’ Centre, I’m now talking, because you have your own private forum, which has been really useful for finding out, just going through that technical stuff about the actual writing process and getting it out there and, “Oh, is this OK or is this not OK?” But, actually now talking to authors, which is kind of a bit freaky, so I kind of have another separate, I follow lists, so I have a separate list of just authors who I follow. And, talking to people who are actually writing, and who are pulling their hair out during the writing process, or who are saying, you know, “This really helps me write,” or, “This hasn’t helped me write,” etc. I was watching the, I always say it wrong, the Ni Hao Ma thing that’s been going on since November.

Valerie
NaNoWriMo for those people who are listening.

Heather
Watching that has been really interesting and watching people actually write. And so Twitter, having a tweet deck, or having hoot-suite which I’ve just set up myself, which I’ve just converted myself to, allows you to connect and talk with people while you are writing, and so I’ve found it really motivational.

Valerie
You’re absolutely methodical in the way you’re using social media as well, that’s impressive. Al, you are an active tweeter.

Al
Yes, and rather than using a 140 characters to test out whether something makes sense, I use 140 characters to test out if my bad jokes work or not. I am certainly not as methodical as Heather, I really applaud the way she uses social media across all the platforms. For me, it’s just been a great way of connecting with people. And to be honest, I wouldn’t be speaking to you two if it hadn’t been for social media. It has been fantastic from that point of view.

It’s fantastic as well for me to connect with authors, established authors, published authors, and people kind of at the same stage in their journey as me. They’ve got lots of ideas, lots of words, not necessarily in the right order, sitting there, waiting for the moment to get them out there and really look forward to seeing it in print. And, I do use LinkedIn for my work as well. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without it.

Valerie
Yeah, I think it’s one of the most under-rated tools for a lot of authors, there’s a lot of power in social media. And as you say, Al, the three of us probably wouldn’t be speaking today if it wasn’t for social media.

Your books, both of your books have been very recently released, and Heather any day now in December. I’m interested to know what you have planned, both of you, what you have planned by way of promotion? That is, do you have any strategies in place to boost sales, or are you preferring to leave that to the publisher?

Al
Well, let me take that one because I haven’t really got a marketing plan in place other than just doing podcasts like this lovely session this evening. My publisher is certainly putting things out in social media, we’re canvassing the mixed martial arts training clubs, trying to get some MMA artists, if that’s the right word, or fighters, to give us endorsement quotes and stuff like that. It’s really been led by my publisher more than me. But, I will support it in any way that I can, obviously.

Valerie
Sure. And the great thing about your book is that because it is so niche, it is not that difficult to find the market, to find the target audience.

Al
That’s true, yeah.

Valerie
And you, Heather, how about you?

Heather
The book that I’ve written is retailing at $29.95, and it’s a quite small, handbook-sized book. What I’m hoping to do, and this what I’m going to look at in the next couple of months, as well as Wiley the publishers, they will do what they need to do, but I will proactively, in the learning curve of publishing our first book, we’ll approach organizations that I feel if they gave it out to their customers would have a beneficial relationship from that. There’s a lot of people who, like such as banks, who deal with small business owners, so if they are in a position to say, “Hey, we’ve just purchased a thousand books off Heather,” and they can hand it out to the small business owners when they take out their first loan with them. Or banks, insurance agencies, real estate agents who are leasing properties, those sorts of people, that’s one of the concepts I have in place.

I also, I’ve been running a business for five, six years now and every time I do any sort of promotion, it’s promoting me and it’s using up my actual time. And so this is the first time I’m actually going to have a product in place. Because if you over promote yourself, you’re just working more and more and more, which isn’t necessarily the solution. For me, this is just such a relief to finally – I do have an eBook, but to actually finally have a product out there that I can promote. I will continue, I’ll mass hit the blogs, and, look, I would really like to more formally write for the newspapers and hopefully that way can promote the book. I would like to do sort of the thing like you yourself do, Valerie, or like Neil Whitaker does, and pay the bills and get the book out there and promote it out there. There are also training course, so I’m already being called in on training courses, and they’re saying, “We’ll use your manual to train people, because it can actually be used as a training manual for a three day course.”

Valerie
I think that approach, the one where you are looking for multiple sales or box sales with, as you say, either a bank with small business customers, or maybe a franchising operation, is also one of the most under-utilized strategies of writers out there. And in fact, with your book, Al, with certain MMA organizations, again, instead of going for the individual sale, sometimes the bulk sale is something that can save you an incredible amount of time and an incredible amount of effort, and your return on investment skyrockets basically. I actually think that it is one of the most under-utilised, so you’re ahead of the curve if you’re thinking that way, both of you, in terms of the bulk sale. Good on you for incorporating that approach.

Finally, it gives me a great thrill, I’ll be honest, that you’re both former students of the Sydney Writers’ Centre, and it gives me a great privilege that you’ve both become great friends as well. On a final note, what would your advice be to people who might have been you guys a year ago? They haven’t, or two years ago, where they want their book out there, but they just don’t know what to do next. What’s your advice to them now that you’ve actually done it?

Why don’t we start with Al?

Al
I guess it would be drink lots of coffee and wine with publishers. Really, I think, a year ago — well, a year ago exactly I would never have dreamt of that becoming a reality. Yes, it’s a bit of hard work, but if you follow through there, it can be done. And, it really is just following through on your dream. You can’t let it pass you by, because if you’ve got the passion, you’ve got the talent, you’ve got to go for it. There’s nothing to hold you back. That’s one of the things about Australia in particular, it’s the phrase “a fair go”, everybody will give you a fair go, so absolutely go for it, and just believe in yourself.

Valerie
Great, great advice. Heather?

Heather
First of all, I would say that, for me, I would not call myself a former student, I would call myself an existing student, because I’m always learning from you, and we are active, I’m not sure whether Alistair has access to the forum, but I know I’m active in the forum. And, I probably will do more courses with the Sydney Writers’ Centre, and as I said before, and it sounds really cheesy, but I got an immense amount from, what was it? A five hour maybe a ten hour course that I did with you? Which was over a five week period, and I felt that I learnt more than all the time I spent at my very expensive school that I went too.

Back to the question, you start with journals, you start with one word, you start with posting comments on other people’s blogs, you construct sentences, you put them together. You go from, it amazes me that I go to, because I’m perhaps more of a technical writer, I go to business forums and people are posting these phenomenal responses to people’s posts, and I’m like, “Well, why don’t you get that together, and submit it to an editor, and just start submitting it to an editor?”

Through the course I did with you, you gave very clear instructions about how to actually approach editors, which, admittedly, I do find very hard to do, and I would have found like your methodology of doing it was pretty, for me, scary. But, I think it was right, I’m not dissing the fact that it wasn’t right, but it was pretty (scary), so I was actually quite happy to be approached. But, it’s starting with words, and just getting your words out there. And also not attacking people online, but if you don’t agree with them, discussing the non-agreement with them.

I know that I’ve built a good relationship with Kate Tribe from Tribe Research, she wrote an article, a blog post, that I completely disagreed with. And,  initially I attacked it, and I shouldn’t have done, but I actually developed a really good relationship with her, and I did apologize. Don’t be negative, but do put your opinions out there, and people, it’s amazing who’s watching, and I know some of my blog posts I’ve had calls from America from some of my blog posts out there saying, “Wow, that just blew me away.” You’ve just got to get yourself out there, and you’ve got to find something — if you’re reading something, if you’re putting up posts, it amazes me that people can put it together, they’ve just got to keep writing and put something out there.

Valerie
So, just get going, and just do it, basically.

Heather
Just do it.

Valerie
On that note, look I’m so thrilled about both of your successes, and I have no doubt that this is going to be only the start of many, many, many more. So, thank you so much to both of you for your time today.

Al
Thank you, Valerie, and Merry Christmas everyone.

Valerie
Merry Christmas.

Heather
And thank you Valerie for all of your support, and your insight, and your wisdom, and the directions that you’ve provided myself and I’m sure Alistair probably thinks the same.

Valerie
You’re most welcome.

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