In Episode 10 of So you want to be a writer, we ask should you dump your agent and focus on self publishing? The Best Australian Blogs finalists are announced, JuNoWriMo is here (are you in?), the Australian Financial Review apologies for ‘World is Fukt’ front page, the most hated travel writing cliches, the book Youtility by Jay Baer, Writer in Residence Gabrielle Tozer chats about The Intern, our Web Pick, our Working Writer’s Tip and more!
Forget agents and big-time publishers, today’s savvy writers are authors of their own destinies
The Creative Penn
AFR editor apologises to WA readers for ‘World is Fukt’ front page
The breathtaking world of travel-writing cliché
Youtility by Jay Baer
2014 Best Australian Blogs competition finalists
Writer in Residence
Working Writer’s Tip
The importance of actually reading the publications you want to write for
Pink Fibro Bookclub
Writers’ Centre Facebook
You’ll find your hosts at
Australian Writers’ Centre
Thanks for joining us today, Gab
My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Now your book, The Intern, is fantastic, and it has become very, very popular. Before we get onto the process of writing the book and the marketing for the book, just for some of the listeners who haven’t read it yet, tell us what the book is about.
The Intern is a young adult novel, so it’s targeted at teen girls and older. Basically it follows the adventures of Josie Browning, who’s 17 years old. She’s a little dorky, a little awkward, but quite lovable. She manages to nab herself an internship at a glossy magazine, and it just follows her crazy adventures as she battles her way through that and has to deal with a powerful editor — yeah, just a bit of a fun read.
Were you ever an intern at a glossy magazine?
I’ve done a lot of interning and work experience over the years, at a number of different titles, but never one quite as glossy, I suppose, as the magazine as I portrayed in the novel, but I have worked at those types of magazines.
There are some people who are obviously drawing parallels with The Devil Wears Prada, is it similar in that vein?
Look, while it’s really flattering that people have compared us, because obviously it’s both set in magazines, this is a slightly younger story. It’s targeted at a younger audience, and it doesn’t have quite as much of a fashion focus, it’s more focused on the underdog and her family background, and I suppose the love interest. So, there’s definitely similarities in that it’s set in magazines, but I think the similarities probably end there, but it is very flattering when people compare them.
Well, yeah, it got made into a movie with Meryl Streep, it’s fantastic.
Tell us a bit about your background in magazines then, just sort of in a nutshell whatever you’ve been working on in terms of your own career.
In a nutshell, so I’ve been getting published in magazines for about ten years, starting out in street press, like mainly music and entertainment journalism, and then once I got my first full time job at a glossy magazine, that was at good old Disney girl and Disney Adventures magazine, I was chief sub-editor there, I went and moved into roles writing for places like Dolly magazine, Cosmo, I’ve written for Girlfriend, including a bunch of other mags as well, like health and lifestyle, everything from Mother and Baby, to Prevention magazine, so just racking up all the notches on the magazine belt.
When did you decide, “Look, I really want to turn my hand to fiction,” and how did the book, The Intern, get started? What inspired it?
Look, I’m one of those dags who has known what they wanted to do from a really young age, so I’ve wanted to be an author since I was six years old, as well as being a journalist as well, I was a very ambitious young child. So, it’s always been in the back of my mind. I studied journalism and creative writing at uni, and I think it was just a matter of when I’d finally start, not if I would.
So, what happened was I actually met a publisher at a course that I was doing and she was a non-fiction publisher, so it didn’t really — it wasn’t my cup of tea, but we hit it off. Without her telling me she actually recommended me to a fiction publisher, and that’s where this crazy adventure all began, the next minute I found myself pitching stories. That’s when the seed was planted for The Intern. I suggested the idea, they liked it, and the next minute I was writing sample chapters.
Great. You just said that you were pitching stories, so was The Intern one of several story ideas that you pitched to them? And did they say, “OK, we actually like that one,” or how did that all come about?
Right, so I didn’t want to put all of my eggs in one basket, as a writing newbie. I wasn’t quite sure how the whole process worked, so I thought it was best to give them a few. So, I pitched them, I think, three or four, all young adult — I think there was maybe one children’s idea in there as well, because my publisher looks after both. And they were all stories that I would have been really happy to write, I was passionate about all of them. They came back and there was two that they loved the most, and The Intern, or what would soon become The Intern was one of them, there was another one that they liked as well .They said, “Look, we’d be happy to see some sample chapters from either of these, up to you.” And so I asked myself what I felt ready to write, and that was definitely The Intern.
I think for my first novel I jumped into that whole cliché of write what you know, but then I wanted to exaggerate that and have a lot of fun with it. So, it was a good place to start, but it was encouraging to know that there’s other ideas beyond that that they’re interested in as well. Yeah, it was a very exciting process.
People are often interested in the actual process, so can you take us through when did that conversation occur, like when you pitched the story ideas to the publisher they said, “Look, we like these ones,” and then how long did it take for you to write the sample chapters? And then once they said, “Yes,” how long did it take to write the book? And then, you know, when did it come out? Can you actually just kind of take us through the journey?
I don’t want to scare anyone of how long the process is. It’s definitely not for the
faint-hearted, if you’re inpatient like me.
This all began in 2011, however, I had met the publisher that began this years before that, we just stayed in touch. So, 2011, I think it was about September or August that I pitched them some ideas — really, briefly, like a paragraph each. Then they were, like, happy to hear about The Intern. I wrote some sample chapters, they loved those. The next minute I knew I was having to write more.
How long did you take to write the sample chapters?
I’m a bit of an all or nothing writer at times, so I bashed them out pretty quickly, I must admit. Probably it was within a month, there was four chapters. There’s lots and lots of formulas you can follow, because everyone’s chapters are different lengths, but I just aimed for four, which from the top of my head I think it was like 7,000 or 8,000 words, and I edited them a lot before I sent them through. Having worked as a writer and a
sub-editor I knew that self-editing before showing them was really important. So, I got that sent off.
Once they were happy to see more I suddenly started self-sabotaging. I was completely terrified by the process, and needed them to set me a deadline. Like they were happy for me to just send in chapters whenever I was comfortable, but I’m so used to working to a deadline I actually begged them to give me one. So, the next minute I knew they were like, “Let’s get it through to us really soon,” so I found myself pumping out an entire manuscript, which ended up being 80,000 words within about five months, which is crazy because I was working full time, which is what I mean about not always — perhaps don’t follow exactly what I do, because it can be a bit all or nothing and all-consuming.
Then I spent about a year before showing them, self-editing, maybe under a year, maybe more like 8-9 months self-editing, then I showed them and I had to send it to them —
Why did you take a year — sorry to interrupt — but, why did you take a year to go through that self-editing process, especially when it took you five months to pump it out?
Because the reason it took me five months to bash out 80,000 is because I follow the mentality of write — because you can’t — just write it, because you can’t edit a blank page, so the writing was very raw and it needed a lot of work before it was ready to show anyone, but it’s kind of like I needed to — that was me just getting my story out.
All up with just like writing it and putting it together was probably like just over a year in total. Then I sent the manuscript to them in about June, 2012. I’m trying to get my timeline straight, I think I’ve done something wrong here.
2013, I think. 2013 makes sense.
I must not have taken a year to edit then, because in August 2012 I found out that they were going to buy it, and then they offered me a two-book deal, and the rest, as they say, is history. So, I must not have taken quite as long as I’ve imagined, pumping out the editing. It maybe just feels longer because the process has been going on, and considering that it’s been going since 2011, it’s all become a bit of a blur.
It’s now 2014, when did the book come out?
The book came out at the beginning of this year.
Officially February 1st, but it started appearing on bookshelves in January.
What happened in 2013?
That was editing with them. This is the part of the process that I suppose you don’t even think about before this whole journey begins is you write the book, you self-edit it, you put it all together and then it’s almost like once they’ve read it, it’s almost like the process begins again. I actually really enjoyed it, because you’re working with wonderful experienced editors who I had the wonderful Nicola O’Shea, who’s just a name in the industry, so I was very lucky to work with her.
Basically, they then do a structural edit, and that’s when they mark up your book and it comes back to you covered in little pencil markings with suggestions, which you’re allowed to decline or accept as well. Basically your book is turned into a million puzzle pieces and shuffled around until it fits perfectly. So, 2013 was the year of the “epic edit”. It was intense — it was intense! I won’t lie, there were some tough moments in there, but what an experience.
Once the structural edit is down, then there’s another edit with proofreaders, and then that goes on and on, this is what I mean about for one book — I just had no idea, absolutely no idea how many people were involved, how many stages are involved per person. It ends up being a cast of thousands. I might get my name on the front, but there’s a lot of names inside, for good reason I think.
Did you think it was going to take that long to edit?
I didn’t even know, the whole thing caught me unawares, to be honest. Like, I think I was in shock for perhaps the first year of the writing process.
I’m working on the sequel at the moment, and that’s been an entirely different process as well, like with a much shorter turnaround and timeline. But, I think they were just comfortable, like I think they were taking a chance on me, they didn’t have anything to — if it worked out it was good for them, if it didn’t work out then they didn’t have to worry. So, I think we had the luxury of time, and that’s why despite being able to hand in my manuscript to them in 2012, they were happy to sign it, because I wasn’t on the cards for coming out until 2014, we had this luxurious year of editing and I get kind of more time to perhaps do my turnarounds for proofing than I’ll probably get for the second book. I think it’s safe to say books are — it’s very much a case by case basis.
Yes, definitely. Is it hard to sustain your interest over such a long, drawn out period, especially when you wrote it already in 2012?
I don’t find it hard to sustain my interest, I find it hard to sustain my energy. Interest though — no, like I genuinely do love the world that I’ve created, it’s a lot of fun. And, the same with the character, it’s quite a lot of fun to write. So, the interest hasn’t waned, you do get a little tired having to re-read the same sentences over and over again, and you lose perspective a little, which is why it can be good to then get that distance from it in between edits. But, I think I’m just lucky that I’ve enjoyed the world that I’ve created, although it’s the energy — maintaining that energy over a couple of years is exhausting. I still haven’t quite worked out that secret yet.
When you first started did you know what was going to happen to your character, as in did you know all the various plot points, this is what was going to happen then, and so on? Or, did you kind of just start writing and see what happens?
Oh, yes, point two, one hundred percent.
I’m what the lovely Allison Tait calls a pantser — probably not an extreme pantser. So, what my process is I get a notebook and I jot down as much as I — off the top of my head as much as I can think about the world, about the character, about scenes that I can imagine coming up, and usually my first few chapters are really cemented in my mind. So, I’m not a complete pantser, I don’t open up a Word document and just begin, I kind of have a beginning, but then once I’ve started writing then I switch into pantsing mode, and all kinds of marvelous, weird things start happening on the page.
Every now and then I seem to run out, I’ve got nothing left, then I get the notebook back out and go through that process again. That leads me in a direction, and what I’ve found, and who knows, my process could change over the years, but with both of these books it’s usually around halfway through that I start — I get a real sense in my gut about what I want to happen at the end and I just gently start steering it in that direction.
This process is good for me because as a former sub-editor I am prone to perfectionism and over-thinking, and self-sabotaging. So, wanting to perfect everything before you’ve even got the idea out. So, this kind of helps me just to, I don’t know, let it flow a little bit more, turn the tap on, as they say. But, what it does make difficult is there is a lot of rewriting at the end. Once that first part is done there is a lot rewriting to be done. So, I’m sure there’s some happy medium that I’ll learn as I get older, but all in good time.
You’re obviously doing something right because the book has done really well, and I understand it’s in reprint, tell us about how the book has gone so far.
It’s been a wonderful year. My head is up in the clouds, to be honest. I think you think past holding the book in your hands, like, I kind of forgot that other people would be reading it — that sounds so ridiculous. But, when you’ve wanted to do it for so long you kind of start thinking about it selfishly, like you just imagine yourself holding it, all of a sudden you’re getting tweets and emails and Facebook messages and selfies of people holding your book, and it’s really quite strange. The feedback has been really great. So, I wrote this primarily with teen girls in mind. I love that readership, I love that demographic, but I’ve been really excited to see that there’s people in their 20s, 30s, up to, like, their 60s reading it, and just having a laugh and unleashing their inner teen girl as well, which has been fun.
Yeah, it’s been wonderful, I’m still just trying to wrap my head around the whole process though, to be honest.
And it’s been released in other countries?
So, yeah, so far they’ve locked in the German world translation rights, which is really exciting. I was told that news last year. So, that was before it published, so a German version of The Intern will be on shelves early next year. So, it will come out the same time the sequel comes out in Australia and New Zealand. So, yeah, I can’t wait to see that cover as well, I imagine it will be a whole new thing.
Yes. Not only in German, it’s already gone into reprint, now that is not — at least because you’ve been quite clever in making sure that it gets out there, you’ve done some marketing for it. Can you tell us a little bit about that strategy, so that maybe some other authors can see what authors can do to get the kind of exposure, because you got a lot of press for it, which is great, tell us how you think you’ve gotten all of that press?
I’ll just start by saying that if you’re with a publishing house then you will have a publicist. Absolutely some of the things that have come for me have been through my publicist and my marketing team, they put together an amazing marketing campaign that helped me get a lot of press and a lot of interest from the blogging world, however, having worked in the media for so long I suppose I put my journalist hat on and thought, “What would I like to receive as a journalist, and what would I consider putting in a magazine?” So, I basically sat down and thought, “Well, first of all we need some nice photos,” so point one would be get some really nice professional photos taken, the kind that you can imagine running in a newspaper or a magazine, because even if you’ve got the best story ever written, if there’s not an image to run with it, that will really reduce your chances of being mentioned.
Get a great website going, like this is one of those things where you have to pay for it as the author. I just sucked it up, paid for it, got a professional to do it, I’m not a designer by any means. So, you want to be able to send people to your website to find out more about you. Include some kind of press kit on there as well, with all of the information, whether it’s down to the synopsis of your book to the price with more photos of you, pictures of your cover, just basically make it as easy for the media to write about you as possible, think of everything that you’d include and put it on there as one page.
Before the book comes out you need to remember that media organizations, especially magazines and newspapers, but more magazines, have long lead times. Say, your book is coming out in January, you need to start thinking about this back in October of the previous year. Maybe just, like, write a list down of places that you think are relevant to your book, who are the kinds of people that are reading it, actually put together some kind of spreadsheet or document and the contacts, and make sure your publicist has that. If they are able to take care of all of this for you then that’s wonderful. If they’re not then there’s no harm in you putting together a little thing yourself and dropping them a line, or following up perhaps on a more personal level.
But, I think it’s really important to target places appropriately. So, there’s no point targeting a magazine like Girlfriend if your book is targeted at 50-year-old women, so just really thinking about your audience. That’s one thing that’s really helped me. I think it’s kind of — I’ve been declined by lots of places as well, you know, the same with my publicist. We’ve tried and people don’t always say ‘yes,’ but I suppose it’s just like don’t be afraid to hear ‘no’ as well, because you’ll never know what things will lead to. Someone over here might say ‘no,’ but then you might have done something else earlier and then someone else likes that, so they’re going to go, “We might cover her as well.” You have just go to put yourself out there, I suppose, and just be as professional as possible.
I know it’s hard. This marketing, self-promo side, it feels very strange, but I think these days as an author it is a hat that you have to wear to build a profile, as weird as it feels. Like, I’d love to be able to just close down all of my social media accounts and just, you know, hibernate, but I think it’s just your readers are online and they want to be able to talk to you as well, so you’ve got to maintain that kind of, like, social media presence as well. But, I will say, I know I’m giving lots of information here, but I think you need to remember to bring value to your social media as opposed to just promote, promote, promote.
Of course. I love how descriptive you are about this whole thing, which is great — and it’s so true. Writers can’t just sit in their garrets and write away, they need to actually be responsible for promoting themselves as well.
Tell us when can we expect The Intern II, and also what are you working on now?
The sequel to The Intern, which there actually isn’t a title yet, that will hopefully be able to be announced later this year, it will be out early next year — out on shelves early next year, which I’m still in the editing stage of that, with the publisher. So, that’s exciting, a lot of work to be done though.
I have another couple of ideas burning away in my mind, so I think I might be at that point that I was at back in 2011, where I send them off an email with about four ideas, and see what jumps out at them as well, because I’m equally passionate about them all, but I’m not quite sure which is the right one, so we’ll see if they can — yeah, so I’ve got a lot kind of going on, but having written one book and editing a book and worked full time all at the same time last year I’m a bit conscious about the timing now. It’s like you can’t do everything, you’ve got to try to learn the art of work/life balance as well.
Maybe we can end with your advice on that, because a lot of people say, “Look, I have a full time job, I can’t possibly write a book,” but, you did it. So, what are your tips on that? When did you fit in time to write and what’s your advice to people on how to be able to juggle that? Because that’s reality when you’re starting out.
It is, and it’s a tough reality, and I don’t think I quite knew what I was getting into, but it is worth it in the long run, so my first piece of advice would be you need a routine. As ideal as it would be able to just write whenever inspiration strikes that is not going to cut it if you want to meet your deadline for a publisher or for you to be able to hand in a manuscript. For me, it was in the mornings — this makes people sick, 5:30 AM I’d get up, put in about an hour or two before work and then I’d go and do a full day of work. And then I’d have my nights off, and then I’d work chunks of time on the weekends, but still have my breaks. So, that worked for me, the alarm would go off at the same time everyday. So, that was tough, but it got it done.
Other people might prefer to do it after work, if you’re working fulltime, but I just found that I was too wiped to be able to do that. So, that’s probably the main one. But, for me, I can look back and think of things that I wish I had done to make it easier as well. I think you still need to really look after yourself, like it’s easy just to throw your everything into this one project, but you need to remember that you’ve still look after yourself, you have to eat well, give yourself energy, that kind of thing, exercise — that kind of dropped off for me, but I think it would have actually helped me, give me more energy throughout the process.
And keep living your life. If you’ve got deadlines it can be hard and you can think, “Oh, I can’t do that, I don’t have time,” but, you need to make sure you’re getting new experiences and meeting new people and that kind of thing for future inspiration for stories and that.
The search for balance is hard, and it’s something that coming towards the end of writing my second book I think I’m still learning myself, I think it might take awhile. As long as I’m having to juggle the two lives I think it is a difficult one. But, don’t be afraid to ask for help as well. If there’s people in your life who love you don’t be afraid to let them know if you need an extra hand as well.
Sure. Well, it’s obviously working for you, Gab, because The Intern is doing really well. I can’t wait for the sequel. No doubt there will be many other story ideas and books to come. Thank you so much for your time today.
Thank you so much for having me, Val. It’s been a pleasure.