Ep 202 Big freelance pitching mistakes. And meet Torre DeRoche, author of ‘The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World’.

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In Episode 202 of So you want to be a writer: Tips for avoiding information dumping in dialogue and strategies for researching your historical novel. One editor reveals big freelance pitching mistakes she sees every day. And meet Torre DeRoche, author of ‘The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World’.

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

podcast-artwork

Links 

How to avoid info dumping in dialogue

Historical Novels—Your Research To-Do List

The 3 Biggest Pitch Mistakes This Editor Sees Every Day

 

 

Writer in Residence

Torre DeRoche

Torre DeRoche is the author of two books: Love with a Chance of Drowning, which she self-published in 2011 as Swept: Love with a Chance of Drowning, and was then traditionally published in 2013 and optioned for film.

Her new book, The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World, is about what happened after the love in question did in fact drown.

(If you click the links in this bio and then purchase from Booktopia, we get a small commission. This amount is donated to Doggie Rescue to support their valuable work with unwanted and abandoned dogs.)

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Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

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Interview Transcript 

Allison:

Torre de Roche is the author of two books: Love with a Chance of Drowning, which she self-published in 2011 as Swept: Love with a Chance of Drowning, and was then traditionally published in 2013 and optioned for film. Her new book, The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World, is about what happened after the love in question did in fact drown. So welcome to the program, Torre.

Torre:

Hi Allison. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Allison:

All right. So let’s go back to the beginning. Because you and I actually technically met in an online-y way back in the day, 2011, when you first self-published Swept: Love with a Chance of Drowning. So can you sum up for us the story of how that book came to be self-published and then traditionally published?

Torre:

So I wrote that book having never written anything before, I’d never published anything before. And I wrote this manuscript and I knew it would be very difficult to try to get it published, but I started by trying to get an agent. And I gave myself a deadline of six months to try to get an agent. And I pitched all around Australia, and all in the US and just had no luck with it.

So I just hit the button on self-publishing. But in that process, I had also built up a platform online, a blog, and social media and stuff like that. So when I did self-publish, it got a little bit of buzz and it got out there. And within two weeks, I think it was, I started to get offers. The first was actually from a Hollywood film producer who wanted to buy the option. Straight to the top with that one, which was awesome.

Allison:

As you do.

Torre:

It was a Twitter direct message. Somebody sends me a message, like, I’m a Hollywood producer, can you send me a copy of your book. I’m like, this sounds really weird. But it was all legit. And I also got an interest from a UK publisher. And so when I had those two offers in hand, I was able to go straight to my agent of choice and sign with her. And then we pitched to the US and it sold in a pre-emptive offer and then it went to auction here in Australia. And sold to Penguin. We ended up with five different deals and translations.

Allison:

So pretty much the dream run, as far as… Did you know much about self-publishing when you hit the button, as you said?

Torre:

I had done a lot of online research. I come from a background in visual communications. I studied graphic design and illustration and photography, and that all really came in handy. So I made a little book trailer, for example, that just told the story really simply. And I think that those sorts of little marketing devices just helped get it out there. So I didn’t know about self-publishing, but I taught myself and just sort of intuitively felt my way through it. And tested what was working and what wasn’t working and stuff like that.

Allison:

So were the results of that more than you expected? In the sense of hello Hollywood producer, auctions, fights over the rights. You know, that’s kind of an unusual outcome, just quietly.

Torre:

Yeah. I mean it’s pretty weird. Even to this day, when I talk about it, it sounds like I’m telling somebody else’s story. I feel a little bit guilty telling the story because I feel like it’s not my story and I’ve just appropriated it from somebody else. So it’s totally weird. Even when the book launched, and I was like, Penguin put billboards, big backlit billboards of my book cover in airport lounges all around the country, and it was just like, I felt like, I had massive imposter syndrome. Someone’s going to find out that I just self-published this book and I tricked my way into this whole thing.

Allison:

It’s funny, isn’t it. So there you are with your imposter syndrome. Now when all this happened, were you still, because it’s about your story of basically setting sail into the sunset. Were you still on your boat and doing all this kind of stuff while all this publishing stuff was happening? Or where were you by this stage?

Torre:

No. I’d been living in Melbourne for, I think, three or four years at that point. So we’d returned to Melbourne after sailing, and settled down in a house. And I’d written the book over pretty much the three or four years just slowly. So settled in Melbourne. But the relationship was hitting a bit of trouble at that point because he was a sailor and an adventurer, and I was there writing my book and really very settled in that life. And so just as the book was launching, the relationship was sort of starting to hit trouble.

Allison:

Troubled waters, as they say.

Torre:

Indeed, troubled waters.

Allison:

Yes, I actually read a blog post you wrote recently about this. And I’m going to put that in the show notes because it was a terrific post. Because you’d written this memoir with a happy ending, and then real life wasn’t really matching up. And yet there you were promoting the book, the relationship was falling apart, you had some other stuff going on in your life, of course, which was difficult as well.

And so were you at that point thinking… I guess my question is this. Can you share with listeners some of your thoughts on the pros and cons of writing so closely about your life? Because you write the story and then it may not come out for a couple of years, and then you’re out there. And then obviously the idea is that you’re going to promote this book, which is not always an easy thing to do when it’s a story that maybe is not what you’re actually living any more.

Torre:

Yeah. That is the really difficult part about memoir. The book, by the time it actually came out in the traditionally published sense, it was close to a ten-year old story or a nine-year-old story. And that’s often the case for memoir. We’re writing about the past and there’s a very, very long delay in between the events themselves and the promotion.

For me, it works out because I’m a bit of a procrastinator. So I sort of think to myself, oh, I’ll just write this thing now and I’ll deal with the consequences later, which serves me quite well in the writing process. But it does come back to haunt me later. And it was hard. And I’m not going to tell you that it wasn’t hard, or that I didn’t doubt whether or not it was the right decision. But ultimately, I think that stories need to be told.

And I get so many people coming to me, as I’m sure you do too, as a writer saying, oh I’ve got this story that I really want to tell. And there are so many people who have lived these experiences or have these ideas that never tell them, and they never put them out there. And you deal with a bit of short term awkwardness at publicity time, in situations like this. But I like to think that when I’m an old lady looking back on my life I will be proud of the fact that I got the stories out of me, and I put them out in to the world. And I try to take a bigger, wider lens approach to it all of, like, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t really matter. I’m going to die one day, I may as well tell the stories.

Allison:

Get the story out there.

Torre:

Yeah. Just do it.

Allison:

When you start writing a memoir, where do you start? With regards to say, have you approached the two books – because obviously you’ve got a new book out now which is called The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World. Did you approach the writing of those two memoirs in the same way? Or has your process changed and developed?

Torre:

Very, very different. Because the first one, I really didn’t know how to write. I had to teach myself how to write a book. And so I’ve actually got a photo of me with my pile of printed drafts. And it’s kind of chest high. Just printing it out and trying to figure out how to do it. And I wrote that manuscript, I finished the whole manuscript and got it to as close to perfect before I submitted that one.

Whereas the second book, I submitted off proposal. So I wrote the chapter outlines and figured out the whole, I plotted the whole thing, where it would all fall in the actual layout of the book. And wrote it to that format. So it felt a lot easier the second time around. I had obviously a lot more experience, and I had a road map. So very different.

Allison:

And when the first book was traditionally published, so it had gone out as a self-published book, did you have to then rework it at all for the traditional publishing process? Was there more editing to do? Or did they pretty much run it as it was?

Torre:

There was a little bit of editing. Penguin wanted to run it as-is. But my editor in the US, which was Hyperion, they wanted to just add a few little bits and pieces. It was light edits, really. I had worked with, my sister’s an editor, so I had worked with her the whole way through. And then I’d also hired a proof reader. So it was to a pretty polished stage when I self-published out of a lot of effort on my part.

Allison:

Okay. And you’ve gone with, the publishing route with the new book, is also traditionally published. Is that correct?

Torre:

I have traditionally published it in the US, but in the rest of the world I’ve self-published the digital book. So I’ve gone hybrid.

Allison:

Okay. And why did you take that route?

Torre:

Partly because we’ve only sold the US rights. And launch time has come around and because so much of my effort goes into the digital platform, I just wanted to make sure that I’m capitalising off the efforts that I’m putting in online. So we could sit around waiting for the rest of the countries to sell. But I thought I’d just give this a try. A hybrid option. It’s something that I’ve been curious about. Selling it in the US, that’s the biggest market, and I’m going to get a lot of publicity out of that centre point. And what happens if I then self-publish elsewhere? It’s an experiment.

Allison:

So you’ve retained at this stage then, I’m just thinking of the logistics of this, the digital rights outside of the US?

Torre:

Yes.

Allison:

Because that’s the kind of thing you’ve got to keep an eye on if you’re going to do that, don’t you? You have to look at what rights you’ve sold into what territories and how you can best use those rights to your own advantage. Would that be fair to say?

Torre:

Absolutely. You don’t want to be double publishing, because you’ll get into trouble if you publish it. But a lot of people will sell the worldwide rights to one publisher. And in which case you don’t have that option. But my agents tend to negotiate district specific rights, just because you end up with better deals that way.

Allison:

And more options.

Torre:

More options.

Allison:

All right, so tell us about your new book. Tell us what it’s about and where it came from and how long it took you to write, and all of that fun detail stuff that we love so much.

Torre:

So The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World is my story of how I walked through Italy and then India. At that time of my life, after I had gone through this breakup that was really, I was launching the book, and my father was passing away, and I was going through this terrible break up. And I hit this absolute rock bottom with it.

And so I was wandering around Europe, not really knowing what to do with myself, and sort of feeling like all hope was lost, when I crossed paths with this woman named Masha, who was in the process of walking around the world in a series of pilgrimages. And she was alone, and she said to me, why don’t you come join me just for a day, just come and walk with me for a day. So I put on some really bad shoes, that’s all I had in my bag, and I just started walking with her. And one day turned to two days and three days. And then I got really terrible tendonitis and had to buy a bike to keep going for a little while.

And we walked through Tuscany together, just drinking wine and eating fruit and it was all really magical. And I just through the process of that I found this way to unravel my grief and unravel this catastrophising that I’ve always done in just imagining worst case scenarios. And I’d found this way to be really deeply present, just through this communion with my own body and the world around me.

And so from Italy we went to India and spent 23 days walking through India in the footsteps of Gandhi. And that was a very different experience, of course. Because it was dusty and difficult and dangerous. And so it gave me this opportunity to test this sanctuary that I’d found inside of myself through that rhythm of walking. This kind of mindfulness through walking.

So that’s really the story. Despite its heavy themes it is a pretty light-hearted story and just a bit of a fun adventure. At its heart it’s a road map out of dark places that we all inevitably find ourselves in at some point in life.

Allison:

At what point did you think to yourself, this could be another book? And also, do you keep a journal or diary as you are going? I’m just wondering how you keep track of the feelings and the thoughts and the day to day experiences, so that you can then bring them together into a memoir.

Torre:

I kept a diary through India, because it was so surreal that I felt like I wanted to document it. But ordinarily, no. I write emails to people and they tend to be my way of tracking events. So when it comes time to writing a book, if I do decide I want to write a book about this time in my life, then I can do a bit of investigation through a collection of the photography that I’ve taken with my phone, or emails that I’ve sent to my mother, or stuff I’ve put on Facebook. It’s like being a bit of a detective of your own life.

But I didn’t know it was going to be another book. And I think that… With memoir it’s hard. Because you don’t really know if there’s a story in anything, and where something’s going to emerge. But I felt after we finished this India pilgrimage, it’s like I could just see the picture of it all in my head from where I’d come from to where I’d got to, through this process. And it just felt like a full story to tell. So it was at that point at the end of the journey where I thought, hm, I think this could probably be a book.

Allison:

Okay. And so then did you put together a proposal for your agent at that point? Of what you thought it might be?

Torre:

I did. So my agent, who is no longer my agent, she left the industry, but I absolutely loved her so it was a very sad loss. But she was going to meet with, she had a meeting with Hachette. And it was in, at the time, it was like two weeks away or maybe three weeks away. And she said to me, I’ve got this meeting with this editor, can you put a proposal together for me for a new story in three weeks? And that’s a ridiculously short deadline for a 50-page document. I think it was actually 80 pages. But I just decided to do it.

And I went through this manic stage of writing. And it was quite intense, actually. I got this full-on, I don’t know, just burst of inspiration where I just wrote. And there was one day where I wrote 7,000 words of outline. So writing 7,000 words of just straight up prose is pretty full-on. Like that’s a full-on day. But outlining – it’s like big picture stuff. So I just pumped it out. And I wrote the outline for it. And it all just came together. And all the puzzle pieces slotted in. And I got the proposal done and sent it off and then my agent left the industry and I had to start again with a new agent. It took a while, but we got there in the end.

Allison:

There’s always a good publishing story like that in the background, isn’t there? Always. Fantastic. What about your blog? You have a blog called The Fearful Adventurer, which you’ve more or less maintained. Although, I think we discussed earlier before the podcast – but I don’t like to let people know that we have conversations before the podcast. But anyway – that you had a bit of a break from it and now you’re back. And it’s called The Fearful Adventurer. Do you use your blog as a way of documenting your thoughts? How do you use your blog?

Torre:

Not so much documenting my thoughts. Because I… So when for example I was going through the break-up, it was a really, really personal time, obviously, and I was in a terrible place. And I went and met with my editor at Penguin and I think my eyes were all puffy from crying. I was just in this terrible place in my life. And I’m saying to her, like, I don’t know what to do because I’m promoting this book but I’m going through this terrible time in life. And she said to me, why don’t you blog about it? She says, it’ll be really interesting. And I said I don’t want to talk about my relationship that way and throw somebody in the fire. And she said, Torre, throw him in the fire. She was really encouraging me to just go for it.

And I can’t do that. I just can’t do that. I need that retrospective time to look back on the past and make sense of it. I feel like if I were to blog my thoughts real time, it would just be quite awful to read.

So I tend to, on my blog, I tend to try to put together pieces that have had a lot of thought in them. And I spend, each post is probably at least eight hours it will take me to write a piece. And then when I feel like I’ve got something that’s worth sharing, then I put it out there. But I don’t publish very often. I tend to publish once every two weeks or even once a month. On the last post that I just put out, I’ve got an illustrator working with me now, and that took us, I can’t even tell you actually. I would say that last post took us a week each.

Allison:

Wow. Okay. So it’s not like the just publish or perish kind of style of blogging? You’re really looking at crafting additions to your body of work, almost, yeah?

Torre:

Yeah, pretty much. And I find that that’s a technique that works well. Because I end up getting offers from, sometimes publications want to republish a piece that I’ve written. Or I’ll get companies who want to work with me in some form or another. So I try to put pieces out there that best represent my writing, rather than just the diary style of platform building.

Allison:

Okay. So that was going to be my next question. In that we discussed earlier that even when you self-published in 2011, you already had a platform that you’d been working on. You had social media, you had different things in place. Is that something that you’ve thought about right from the beginning? Or has it evolved over time? Or how has that worked for you?

Torre:

I’d actually, with the first book I had finished my manuscript by the time I actually started my platform building. So I got to the very end of writing a book and thought, okay, what now? How do I actually get this published? And I start reading articles and they say, like, publishers like it when you have a platform. So I’m like, okay, what is a platform? Like, I had a dummy’s guide.

Allison:

But seriously, that information is all there and it’s exactly what you need to do isn’t it? It’s like, okay, that’s what they say I need, how do I do that? Oh, there’s the information I need, and you basically do it step by step that way, don’t you?

Torre:

You do, you do. Exactly. So I really just figured it out from the ground up. And started a Twitter account. What’s Twitter? And how do you do this? And just figured it all out from the inside out. And it happened quite quickly. I guess if you dedicate yourself a lot of time to it, and time to figuring out what’s working and what’s not working, and if you have the luxury of that time, then you can build it from scratch pretty quickly. So I think that it took me, February, it took me about eight months between when I opened all my accounts and my blog and everything, to when I self-published and sold the rights. So eight months of blogging. It wasn’t a huge, it wasn’t like I had to do seven years of platform building.

Allison:

Yep. It’s pretty extraordinary still, though. Your story is very fairy tale-y from that perspective. Because I think a lot of people do work a lot harder for a lot longer to get anything near the results that you got with that particular book. Which just goes to show you that the right book at the right time is always going to be – as long as you’re in the right place – is always going to be there, isn’t it?

Torre:

That’s right.

Allison:

Do you actually enjoy, like when you did the self-publishing and now that you’ve got the digital form of your new memoir out there, do you enjoy the work that goes into indie publishing? Beyond the writing? Do you actually enjoy the promotion and getting the look right, and all that sort of stuff?

Torre:

It’s kind of a yes and no answer. On one hand, it really motivates me. Because I’m not sitting around waiting for anybody else to make decisions. I know that I am the driver. And that independence really is quite motivating. And I found that when I sold the book traditionally, I was sitting around in this void of what-do-I-do-now? I’m just sort of waiting for phone calls and stuff. It’s quite a powerless position to be in when you’re traditionally published, because you don’t know what your sales look like or what your publicity schedule is going to look like. Or whether people are working hard for you, or not working hard for you. You’re in the dark.

So I quite like with indie publishing, you’re not in the dark at all. If you want to make this thing happen, you can make that thing happen. You can make those phone calls and send those emails and you can really just drive it fiercely forward. But god, it is a lot of work. It’s a drag. And it’s like it never ends. It’s so easy to get into this pattern of obsession. Of just lying there in bed at 2am thinking, oh I should email this person because maybe they’ll put me in touch with that person and then I can sell three more copies of my book.

Allison:

Oh dear. Is there such a thing as a typical day for you? If you’re looking at a day, how much of your day is involved in writing? How much of it is involved in book promotion? How much of it is involved in whatever else you’re doing?

Torre:

I wish I had a good answer to that. But I make it up as I go along. And I improvise in a way that I wouldn’t pass on or recommend to anybody. Because I think that it’s probably better to actually set boundaries around time. And to give dedicated blocks. But I end up just letting it all bleed in together and eventually it all somehow gets done. But I think this time, the second time around with this book, I have been very careful to not form that obsessive relationship that I had with the first one, where I do set boundaries, I do set time. Pretty much, five or six o’clock, unless I have an interview later at night, I try to just shut the computer and be done with it and not think about who I can be emailing and stuff like that. But my days are a bit scattered. And go with the flow.

Allison:

Fair enough. Now, I read another blog post you wrote which I will also put in the show notes, which is called “On funding a creative life” and it’s pretty much about how you fund your writing by renting out a room/couch on Airbnb. Which I feel is the basis of a new memoir, and I’m looking forward to it. Is the reality of a writing life much less glamorous than you imagined it would be?

Torre:

I don’t think I ever really imagined it for myself. My dad was a writer. He was a film and television writer. Nothing about it was glamorous.

Allison:

You were there. You were well-versed in it then.

Torre:

A very stressed man.

Allison:

Oh really? Oh dear.

Torre:

Oh yeah. And our family income would go up and down. It just wasn’t something I looked up to and thought, that’s what I want from my life.

Allison:

And yet here you are!

Torre:

I know. I feel like I just accidentally fell into it now. It’s like, oh, I guess I’m going to be a writer now. But no. I don’t know. Like I said, I hadn’t really imagined anything for myself. But I’ve got to say that it is a nice, for me it’s a really nice thing to have more than one income source.

So I have, like I said, my background is in visual communication. So I still do a bit of design work. Because it pays really well, and it gives me a little mental break from the intellectual process of writing. And then the Airbnb-ing was just this way to earn like big chunks of money and know that my rent was going to be taken care of. And it’s entirely possible that I could have made it, I could make it work just off writing alone. But I just don’t like, I like to spread it around a little bit and know that I’ve got safety nets in other areas. And that’s just a thing that works for me.

Allison:

Okay. And are you actually working on a new project at the moment?

Torre:

At the moment I am working on a blog series that could lead to another book. But it’s a bit of an experiment. It’s what I mentioned before, it’s called The Illustrated Guide to Calming the F Down.

Allison:

Lovely.

Torre:

It’s made in collaboration with an illustrator who does these wonderful cartoons. And we just make this, I feel like it’s this wonderful creative marriage between minds. So I’m writing the pieces, and she’s doing the cartooning for them. And it centres around fear and anxiety. I’m experimenting with the medium, just blogging as a medium, and putting the cartoons in there and making it sort of this therapy meets entertainment. I don’t know where it will lead, but we’ll see.

Allison:

Therapy as entertainment, I like it. So we’ll just finish up today by asking for your top three tips for writers.

Torre:

Okay. Look, I think the first one, you know the Binders, the Facebook group Binders for women. That’s an amazing group. So if you’re a woman, I would definitely recommend joining Binders. It’s a huge community of female writers and there’s just tonnes of resources in there and tonnes of support. I didn’t actually know about it until probably eight months ago. So I’d highly recommend that.

But there’s one thing that I see people talk about in there a lot and it’s about the anxiety of limbo states, of waiting to find out if an agent will pick you up, or getting replies from agents, or waiting to see if editors are going to pick up your book, or waiting to see what readers think of your book. And I think it’s worth knowing from the beginning that writing is a very potentially anxiety-inducing life.

Allison:

That’s so true.

Torre:

And so people come into this group saying, oh, help me I’m in this terrible state of waiting to see if agents want to work with me. And it’s like, god, get used to that feeling because it does not end. It really does not end. You’re always waiting for the next round of approval from someone somewhere. So you just have to find a way to kind of be okay in limbo land all the time.

Allison:

So true.

Torre:

I don’t know. I don’t think I have a third thing.

Allison:

There must be one, come on. Let’s talk about your actual writing process. Do you just sit down and blurt it all out in a draft and then go back and edit? How do you do that? Let’s look at Torre’s tips for getting the writing done.

Torre:

I’m very, very unstructured. And I don’t know, I feel like I’m in the minority with that. So I mean, you see a lot of writing tips around for people saying, just show up and do the work and sit down at 9:00 and write until 5 and get it done. And I think that that’s awesome. But for me, it’s really aspirational. It’s just not how it works for me. I am a bit fluid in my approach, and a bit unpredictable. And there are days where if I were to force myself to try and write, I feel like it would almost be damaging. Because I’m just not in the mental space for it.

And so for me, I do try to go with the flow a little bit more. And I think it’s a different personality type. I think that messier people, people who maybe live life on more of a whim or who are impulsive, probably perhaps would prefer that unstructured approach. And I think if you try to apply typical structured writing advice to that type of personality, that it’s just not the best advice.

Allison:

No. I think you have to learn how you write and go with that.

Torre:

Yeah. I agree.

Allison:

See, you did have a third one. Right there.

Torre:

There you go.

Allison:

Well, thank you so much for your time today, Torre. And best of luck with the new memoir. I will put the links to your website, and also to The Fearful Adventurer, and also to your blog posts that we’ve mentioned in the show in the show notes. So have a look for those, because they are actually terrific posts and really worth having a look at. And we will wait to see what happens next. It’s bound to be interesting.

Torre:

Thank you so much Allison, it’s been really nice chatting.

 


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