Christopher Ride self-published his first novel, The Schumann Frequency, after spending 10 years writing it but having no success in finding a publisher. He went on to sell well over the 10,000 copies he was aiming for and the rights to the novel were eventually bought by Random House. They have now published the second book in the Overseer series, The First Boxer.
Christopher also owns a successful IT business, which employs over 220 people. He divides his time between managing the business and writing.
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* Please note these transcripts have been edited for readability
So thanks for joining us today, Christopher.
Thank you, Valerie. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Now tell us a little bit about The Schumann Frequency and The First Boxer. I know that many people have read your books, but just in case there’s a few people out there who haven’t give us a little bit of an idea on what they’re about.
Well, they’re based on the premise that a time traveler is sent back from the future to manipulate historical events. So you get to study the ancient history and all the interesting facets of our historical past, but through the eyes of someone who’s coming back to actually manipulate the future.
You know that old line that nothing is more bizarre than actual fact is really the basis for the stories that I write and it’s about submissions that are encoded in the Dead Sea scrolls to go back and effectively take control over time itself.
Now you must have a very active imagination. How in the world did you come up with this premise?
When I first started writing The Schumann Frequency, which is the first book that I wrote, I really just started out, as most writers do, just with a few pages thinking that little fantasy that we have that we can sit down and that we’re actually going to one day write a book and we’re going to get published and we’re going to see it on the bookshelves.
Really, it started out just as a hobby and then I actually wrote the initial story. Then actually when I first finished the first manuscript, which was after a few years of writing, I actually went out to party afterwards and I didn’t normally tell people that I was writing a book in my spare time. I told them about the story about the concept of time speeding up and a time traveler getting sent back to the present day to slow down the speed of time.
You know that whole concept that every year feels like it’s going faster and faster, like, I can’t believe it’s the end of November now, for example. It feels like I was just trying to live up to my New Year’s resolutions from last year.
Time seems to be moving more quickly and I told this guy, who interestingly only has one leg, I told this guy, the one legged man, the story and he said, “Well, you’re actually talking about a phenomenon called The Schumann Frequency.”
And, I went and did some research on The Schumann Frequency and found out that a lot of the premise that I’d been writing about was actually based in historical fact. So, I sort of stumbled upon the fact that I was on to something which is very close to the truth.
I went back and spent another couple of years feeding all the historical factors into it, that the magnetic frequency inside the Earth’s atmosphere was increasing and so The Schumann Frequency came to be. Originally the book was called The Mission of Isaiah. When I found out about this true phenomenon I then went and folded it all back in and it went from there. That’s where I sort of got the bug for historical fiction writing.
Now, you said that you’ve spent years writing your first manuscript. At that point during those years did you think that it was going to end up being a published book, or did you do it for fun? What drove you to finish it?
I actually have trouble sleeping at night, and I’m sure like many writers. Some people write in the morning, some people write during the day. I’m one of those people that writes sort of in the dead of night. So for me rather than watching television, writing was just something that I found the most enjoyable thing of all.
Let’s face it, if you’re a writer you’re the master of your own universe. You can make characters do whatever you want them to do. You can control people. You can control the future. You can control time. All of those factors and I guess I became a little addicted to the writing.
I think if you want to be a writer you’ve got to love the writing. And, so there’s nothing hard about sitting at a computer for hours and hours trying your best to master your craft. For me, there was nothing hard about those years of toil.
I think it’s certainly hard when you get rejected. There’s no question about that. That is a soul destroying experience on every level. But, you learn to deal with that as well. You realize there’s as many critics as there are people that are going to praise you along the way, so you’ve just got to try to balance yourself out there. But, I think a good bit of rejection for a writer is a good thing.
So tell us a bit about that. Because now you’re successfully signed Random House, but initially was there periods of rejection? I understand that you ended up self-publishing The Schumann Frequency initially. Tell us a bit about that.
I actually got rejected by every single publisher in Australia with the exception of Random House who had the courtesy of not writing back to me, which I’m always very grateful for.
So what I did I finished my manuscript, I sent it out to everybody. I got back the standard rejection letters of the course of anything from a month to a year. You know every time you’d see that envelope from Harper Collins, or from Penguin or from Hachette there would be this anticipation. You’d open up the envelope and then there would be a rejection in there; a pretty standard form letter.
I thought, well, Patrick Gallagher who at the time was the CEO of Allen & Unwin rang me up and said, “Look, I really like your manuscript, but you need to take it to the next level. I suggest you speak to this manuscript assessment agency called Lynk.”
I then sent my manuscript to them. I then spent another couple of years backwards and forwards really trying master my craft and really tried to take the cliché elements out of it as much as I possibly could. I think it was a worthy right of passage really when I look back at the whole journey. I think that they were really good experiences to go through.
He gave me some great advice. Then Lynk said that they thought that I really had a publishable manuscript and wrote me a letter saying that they thought it was the best unpublished manuscript in Australia at the time, but look it’s their point of view.
I then thought, “OK. I’m going to send it out to all the publishers again.” This time I got the rejection letters back, but they were much nicer this time. So, I know that there is a degree of compassion that exists within the publishing industry for the slush pile.
The whole concept that unsolicited manuscripts won’t be accepted is actually not true. If you do send your manuscript into a publishing company they will look at it. It may take up to a year for them to look at it, but they will.
This time the rejection letters were along the lines of, “We like your work, but we don’t believe that there’s a market which is large enough to cater for time travelers going back to manipulate time.”
The whole concept that it was really getting typecast as being science-fiction and I never really felt it was that. I thought it was historical fiction and that the concepts of time travel themselves, time travel actual is possible. It’s just the technology to do it doesn’t exist. I never really felt that it was science-fiction.
So the journey really went from there. I really had to make a choice for myself and that was what was I going to do? I’d spent ten years now writing this. I thought, “Well, if I can spend ten years focusing on something well, I should have the nouce to be able to publish it myself,” and hopefully do a good enough job to at least find out whether there is a market or not.
What happened next because once you self-publish you obviously need to ensure it gets into bookstores and you need to market it. Is that what you did?
Yeah. Look, I think that ultimately you can’t sell a book if it’s not on the bookshelf. The first and most necessary equation is that you’ve got to get it on the shelf and the only way to get it on the shelf is to get support from the book seller. Book sellers have a tremendous amount of power in relation to what gets sold and what doesn’t get sold purely by how many books they’ll put on the shelf and what position they’ll take within the store.
I literally went on a campaign to go and visit every single bookstore across Australia. We went and visited something along the lines of 300 bookstores and all of the head offices. I really took to it like a businessman would take to it, and really tried to sell it.
We put together a small marketing campaign associated with it. We got some great support. We actually got 12,000 books put out on the shelf, which was in June 2007, for a June 1st release in 2007. Within three months we’d sold 10,000 of the 12,000, had been sold within three months.
Which was and if I look back at that now, if I could give one piece of advice for anyone that wants to self-publish you’ve just got to have a cover that is incredibly distinctive because you can walk into a bookstore and if it just blends into everything else then it can be very hard for the book-buyer to identify it. So I think we a really great job just with the red and white cover. I think that was probably the secret to why it got picked up.
I’ll just make this quick point, I’ve spoken to a lot of writers over the years and I have had the privilege of spending some time with Matthew Reilly, who obviously famously self-published his first book, and people like Garth Nix. Universally most people, probably with the exception of Matthew Reilly, would say don’t ever self-publish. I think that is wrong.
I think you just have to make sure that your network is clear and that you’ve got books on the shelf. There’s no point in self-publishing if you can’t get the books on the shelf. It’s a bit of a catch 22, but if you can do that, then really you’re in exactly the same league as any publisher because everybody is fighting for the same piece of shelf space.
Ultimately the reader will decide and if you’ve got something which is good. Word of mouth really is the biggest driving force in selling books. No one really knows why one book sells more than another does and it’s still a mystery to me, and I look at it all the time. But, I really think that cover dynamics is massively important and you’ve got to believe that you’ve got something and you’ve got to try and identify who your market is and I think it’s possible.
Rather than trying to negotiate the only avenue into being published is via a publishing house, they take such a tiny, tiny amount of books that are out there, of manuscripts that are on the market. They tend to ere towards more literary fiction because your mainstream fiction is, you’ve got your Clive Cusslers, and you’ve got your, at the time, Michael Crichton, Dan Brown.
Just so many people fit that marketplace so well, worldwide writers. It’s very difficult for your local publishing industry to say, “Well, OK, let’s take a mainstream contemporary writer from Australia and let’s put them on the shelf and let’s compete with them.” It is difficult. Very difficult.
So you obviously need some level of entrepreneurial marketing nonce in addition to obviously your writing ability if you want to self-publish; would you say that? Or, what do you think?
I think anyone that’s got the capability to write a book has got the brains to be able to put it together in their own mind if they really want to. That’s my honest belief, because it’s not that complicated provided that you’ve got the fundamentals and that is you’ve got a good manuscript; it’s marketable. You’ve got it on the shelf and you’ve got the support of the booksellers, then you can make it work.
Look, I wouldn’t say to people, “You need to just throw $40,000 at this and see what happens. I think you’ve obviously got to be smart about it. But, I think that it’s very, very difficult to get published and if I could go back again I’d probably focus more on literary agents because once I got a literary agent that’s when it really all took over, really started to go well for me.
Selwa Anthony became my literary agent. That was after selling 10,000 copies, and then before I knew it we had deals in Europe. We then did a deal with Random House in Australia, and then Random House Worldwide ended up picking up the rights for everything, for all the remaining regions.
But, I think a literary agent is the key because it’s very difficult to sell yourself, but literary agents, they’re experts at it.
Very inspirational for all the people who are listening. Now you’re normally in IT? Is that right?
I do run an IT business and we’re renown in the IT business for not being too creative. So they are two definitely different worlds.
Did you ever want to be a writer previously and you kind of somehow ended up in IT? How did this work?
Well, I always wanted to be a writer right from a very young age and spending a lot of time traveling. My IT plan was my backup plan while I was writing, but my IT business just did very well and employs a few hundred people now across Australia and the Asian Pacific. So it definitely pulls me in two different directions, but as long as you love what you’re doing. Like I said, nothing is hard if you love it.
Sure. So your second novel, The First Boxer, which has been published by Random House, now I’m assuming it was quite a different process you’ve had one under your belt, but that one took ten years in the making, how long did this one take? How was the process different the second time around?
Random House took The Schumann Frequency and re-branded it and released it in A-format, which is the little format. The original format was C-format. So, they re-released The Schumann Frequency and then signed a two book deal beyond that. The First Boxer, they gave me twelve months and said, “Ten months from today we need a completed manuscript from you,” which was a very, very different process.
So rather than having an open-ended view towards how long it would take you to get the job done, now you’ve got a timeframe that you’re working to. I found the timeframe factor much easier to work with than not really having a compelling event.
You’ve got your editor that gets assigned to you ringing you up every month saying, “Send me your latest pages so that I can have a look at it so that they can make sure that you’re on the right track.” The European contracts also bought The First Boxer as well, so there was some pressure to make sure that we did a good job.
I went to China three times to write The First Boxer, which is set during the Opium wars in sort of the late 1800’s through to the Boxer rebellion. It’s actually a sequel The Schumann Frequency, but you can read it as a stand-alone book. I spent a lot of time there in China and just treated myself like I was the most famous writer in the entire world, which is great even if it’s a little bit of fantasy in there as well. I really enjoyed the process. Going and visiting places knowing that you’re trying to glean some inspiration from it is a very, very satisfying thing to do. I love Chinese culture.
I just had a fantastic time writing that book and loved every minute of it, and delivered it on time to Random House, which was great. It’s been a fantastic process, but definitely a different set of pressures. But, you go from when you’re trying to self-publish and you’re out there on your own, really nobody wants to be your friend. I’m sure that there will be a lot of people that are listening to this who are aspiring writers, or who are writers really, waiting to get published. They’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
You then go into a family like Random House, I’m sure it’s the same with Harper Collins, or Penguin, or Hachette, or Allen & Unwin, I’m sure with all of them.
They just give you so much love and encouragement that it really feels like, it’s a bit of a twilight zone experience because you go from real seclusion to really being part of a team that’s trying to put together a project. It’s very, very satisfying.
Now, are you one of those writers that has to plot everything out, so you’re quite clear on where your path is going? Or, do you just let the creative writing process take over and just write what comes out and sort of see what happens?
Well, with The Schumann Frequency it was just let it come out because I never really knew where I was going with it, which makes the writing very exciting because for you it’s unfolding for you as well. I’m sure that this will be clear to a lot of your listeners as well.
But, when you’re writing under a pre-agreed contract you actually have to give them a synopsis of the story that you’re going to write. My agent is telling me if you want to veer from the synopsis that’s OK, but if you build a framework like that you tend to work to it.
So, again, it’s a different writing process because you more or less know that the framework that you’re trying to work within albeit broad because your synopsis is only two pages long. There’s some scope to veer around in there, but it’s a different process. I think that probably if you write to a timeframe you really need to know I think where you’re going.
Did you set yourself some targets of ‘X’ number of words per day? Was it quite systematic? How did you set aside the time to write considering you run a company with a few hundred people?
Yeah. Well, what I do is I write every night between 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM, and generally that’s six days per week. So I write evenings six days and all Sunday, and then have Sunday evening off. I’ve always likened writing to a little bit like going to the gym. The more you do it the easier it becomes. Four hours can go very quickly if you’re in the zone.
I’ve had people ask me, “Do you ever get writer’s block?” Touch wood. I’ve actually never had writer’s block to date. But, I think that just comes from, I think if you’ve got the ability to talk a lot of crap then generally you can find a vein of inspiration somewhere in there.
Are you writing your third book at the moment?
Yeah. I’ve already started that. Just came back, well it’s four weeks ago now. I went to Peru to go and visit Machu Picchu, and walk the Inca Trail, and spend some time up there on Mount Machu Picchu in the ruins, which the Inca civilization and the invasion by the Conquistador in 1532 and Pizarro and, absolutely extraordinary, extraordinary history.
So, I spent some time there and I have already provided my synopsis. They’ve already, Random House, has given me a time frame to write the third book in the series. And so we’re off. I will confess though, I have not typed one single word yet other than the synopsis.
But, I’m reading all the historical reference books, which then provide the foundation for the story because really people that read my books, hopefully what happens is you learn a lot about the history from a moral prospective, which is more like our own, as opposed to the moral perspective of the Spanish invaders, which I can guarantee you that was very, very different where anyone that wasn’t a Christian effectively was a heathen and worth half as much as any Christian. So, some pretty diabolical things took place.
Yeah, history’s littered with some really shocking things.
Do you think you’re going to stick with historical fiction? Or, do you think you might branch out into the future, that is, and try other genres?
I haven’t really thought anything past this third book because I probably haven’t got the capacity to think beyond one set of stories at one time. Look, I’d like to think that things will go well enough that I’ll be able to write whatever I choose, but you build up a base of readers and you need to be true to that to a certain extent.
The advice that I’m given from Random House is to stick to the genre, because the genre, for whatever reason, is working. I think we’ll see. I know how to write that way. So, what we’ll do is we’ll see how it pans out. I think we all hope that we’ve got an unlimited amount of books in this boat. I’ll just take it one book at a time.
Now during the day when you’re in the world of IT and it’s not 10:00 PM to 2:00 AM and you’re doing all of your IT work, does your brain run riot with stories of Conquistadors and Machu Picchu settings and all of that? What happens when you’re meant to be looking at this server, or whatever it is that you’re doing?
Well, I often say that dealing me on a normal day-to-day business transaction is a very, very risky thing to do because if you’re an extreme character in any way you may just find yourself in one of my books. A lot of the characters and a lot of the traits of the characters, one of the big benefits of working everyday and dealing with lots of different people, the world is full of characters. I mean there’s no question about it. All of the people that I write about in my stories are based on people that I actually know, and real events. Sometimes it can be a high pressure environment in the IT industry. I learn a lot from those events and what’s taking place. I try to apply that and try to apply what I’ve learned into what I’m writing so that hopefully it’s got some kind of basis in fact.
But, one thing I know for certain and that is that it’s far easier to be a businessman. It’s far easier to run a successful business than it is to be a successful writer because there’s a thousand ways to succeed in business. Everybody’s looking for the same objective, which is to make it work. Hopefully, you always get win-win scenarios.
But, in writing what is it that particularly touches people? And, the balance of how much pain and suffering versus how much joy, and how much love, and how much loss there can be in a story really can determine, can really have an effect on the reader. That’s a very, very difficult thing to judge, let alone the publishing industry, which is a mine field in itself.
So, I’d say if you’re looking for an easier path business is far easier, but writing is where your satisfaction comes from.
And on that note, that’s perfect. Thank you very much for your time today, Christopher.