Ep 221 How to find your fiction writer’s voice and meet Jack Heath, bestselling author of ‘The Hangman’.

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In Episode 221 of So you want to be a writer: How to find your fiction writer’s voice when you’ve been working as a journalist. Allison Tait’s tips for author blogging and how one writer won $125,000 in a literary prize. A budget airline is running a rather quirky poetry competition. Plus: you’ll meet Jack Heath, bestselling author of The Hangman.

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

Shout out

 Zalisma from Australia:

I’ve been listening for the last 3 months and all I can is… Wow! I have never been drawn to a single podcast like this. It’s taken me from a mere listener to participating in NaNoWrimo and signed up for two online courses to further develop my own passion in writing. I actually have in my hand a draft Manuscript.. What??? All I can say is, thank you ladies!!!! looking forward to what’s in store for 2018. Happy holidays.

Links Mentioned

My top 3 tips from 9 years of author blogging

Sarah Krasnostein wins $125,000 at Australia’s richest literary prize

EasyJet asks customers to write poems on sick bags

Writer in Residence

Jack Heath

Jack Heath is the pen name of a bestselling and award-winning author.

He has written twenty action-packed books for kids and one disturbing crime novel for adults. His books have been translated into several languages and optioned for film and television.

Hangman is Jack Heath’s adult debut. It is already a bestseller in Australia and will be published in French, German, Russian and audiobook format. The television rights have been optioned by the ABC network in the USA.

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

Follow Jack on Twitter

Competition

WIN: ‘The Vanity Fair Diaries’

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

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Interview Transcript

Allison

Jack Heath is the best-selling author of more than 20 action-packed books for children and young adults. He wrote his first novel in high school and it was published while he was still a teenager – not that we’re jealous. Since then his work has been translated into several languages, shortlisted for many awards and optioned for film and television. His latest book, a disturbing crime novel called The Hangman, is his first for adults. So welcome to the program, Jack.

Jack

Thank you very much for having me.

Allison

All right. We’re going to go all the way back to the beginning, to the mists of time, which is actually not that long ago for you really. But how did your first novel come to be published?

Jack

So I started writing it when I was about 13, largely as a reaction against what I was being given to read in high school. I felt the set texts were extremely dull. And at the time – so the books we were reading were probably excellent books, but I certainly wasn’t ready for them and they weren’t the kind of thing I was interested in reading.

So like most… I suspect a lot of people get started in their job by seeing someone else do it and go, right, I could do better than that, how hard could it be? And it turns out, it’s really hard to write a novel. But I started that day and picked away at it after school and on weekends and in school holidays over the course of several years.

And then I sent it to a publisher when I was 17. I didn’t have an agent or anything. I got picked out of a slush pile by Pan Macmillan. And then I really learned to write during the editorial process. So I probably wasn’t a very good writer when I submitted the novel, but by the time it came out two years later, after we’d exchanged drafts back and forth over and over and over again, I’d learned a little bit about how to tell an exciting story.

So after that I knew I loved it, I knew I wanted to do it for a living. I couldn’t imagine ever not writing, even if no one was paying me to do it. So I’ve kind of built my whole life around that since then.

Allison

Okay. So what was that first novel? And what did it feel like? You’re 17 years old and you get this call saying, we’re going to publish your book.

Jack

There was some dancing involved. I believe there was cackling, insane cackling, as my younger brother described it at the time, I think. It was hugely, hugely exciting.

But again when you’re a teenager, no disrespect to teenagers, but you don’t know what’s normal, really. So it all seemed a bit surreal, but at that age everything seems a bit strange and surreal. It was only really later in my life, in my mid-20s, when Borders and Angus & Robertson collapsed and there weren’t as many distribution chains for novels, suddenly I started finding it difficult to find publishers for manuscripts. And it was only when I got to that stage that I started to truly appreciate just how special my big break had been when I was 17 to 19. Life got much harder after that. It’s gotten easier again since then, but I don’t allow myself to forget how lucky I was.

Allison

Excellent. Now, Jack Heath is actually a pen name. So why did you go with a pen name rather than your real name?

Jack

Can I tell you a secret? It’s actually my real name.

Allison

It says on your website it’s a pen name, Jack!

Jack

I know. One of my few regrets in my career is not having written under a pen name. I’ve met a lot of authors who write under a pseudonym. And they seem, firstly they seem to have a really good work life balance. From nine to five I’m Jeff Lindsay. After hours and on weekends I’m whatever Jeff Lindsay’s real name is. They seem to… I don’t know. I feel like it helps the writer be separate from the person in a way that I’ve always kind of envied.

But it’s too late for me to start writing under a pen name now because that’s like starting again. I’d have to build up my audience all over again. So instead I do the next best thing and just tell people that Jack Heath is my pen name.

Allison

And I fell for it! Oh no, the poor journalist fell for it.

Jack

It does also help… I mean, sorry, I apologise. It’s not designed to trick journalists. But it does also mean that, because I write primarily for children, I have a lot of young readers, and it means that they don’t go looking for me on Facebook or whatever, on my private Facebook page. It means, it sort of puts a wall between myself and the reader which keeps a professional boundary there, that I like.

Allison

Which you kind of need when you’re writing for children, too, don’t you? Because there is that element of if they love you, they really love you, don’t they?

Jack

Yeah, that’s exactly right. Particularly teenagers. I found pre-teens a little bit easier to handle from that angle. But teenage fans can be intense.

Allison

Okay. Let’s leave that there. Now, your books for kids and young adults are, like as you said, you were looking for more exciting books when you were younger yourself. So you write a lot of fast-paced thrillers. You have the choose-your-own-ending thing going with some of them. What is it about the genre, what is about thrillers that attracted you in the first place?

Jack

I think I spent… When you look at classic novels, this is what I tell kids sometimes, when you look at classic novels you can tell that, if it was written 100 years ago, if it was a rainy day and the reader was literate, they had a choice between either reading that book or just staring out the window watching the rain drops on the pane. That’s not the case anymore. These days, on a rainy day you have limitless options for ways to fill your time, which means that in order to win a reader over, things do need to be thrilling and exciting and intense. A book these days shouldn’t be just a time killer. Because people have endless ways to kill time. It’s got to be a story that keeps them eager and hooked.

So writing for kids has taught me to respect the reader’s time. This is something that was helpful when I was writing for adults too. So I grew up in an environment where I didn’t… I loved books. I’d had a terrible ear infection when I was in about year five and missed a lot of school and consequently read a lot of books. But all my friends were into video games and movies and TV shows and these other fast-paced, high action, limited attention span type things. And I didn’t see any reason that a book couldn’t be equally exciting. In fact, a book could be more exciting because you don’t have budgetary constraints, you don’t have producers, you don’t have to deal with insurance or stunt people, or clean up the mess after you’ve made one. You can do whatever you want.

So I guess I gravitated towards thrillers just because it seemed like there was – I didn’t put it in these terms at the time – but it seemed like there was a gap in the market. It seemed like books could be more exciting than they were. And so I resolved to right that particular wrong

Of course I wasn’t the only one with the same idea. Matthew Riley, at about that time, also hit Australian shelves. And so he kind of paved the way for me in a sense, because his publisher… So it was a right place, right time thing. Matthew Riley’s books had been very, very successful. And then the publisher was looking for someone who was writing similarly high octane, high action stuff, but maybe without all the coarse language. So it appealed to a younger demographic. And then I just happened to submit my manuscript at exactly the right moment.

Allison

So what do you think are some of the things that aspiring writers need to keep in mind to write successful thrillers? Are there rules or is it just do what makes you happy?

Jack

I think you should always follow your instincts when it’s working. But when it’s not working, there are a few different ways you could look at trying to fix it.

Firstly, I always try to do more than one thing at a time. Like, if there’s a single sentence in the manuscript which is only performing one function then it should probably be removed. Everything has to… If I’m describing the layout of a room, for instance, I’m not just doing that so that the reader can picture it, I’m also planting clues about the things that will happen in the room later on. Or if I’m describing a character’s outfit, that’s not just for visual flavour, it’s also for giving the reader the impression of the kind of character that they are.

So ultimately, writing thrillers is no different from writing anything else. Editing thrillers, though, involves a whole heap of the delete key. You are looking for anything that can be removed. Basically, if you can remove anything without it changing the story in some major way then you should. Because everything that is there has to be important. I think that’s the main thing.

Allison

Do you then… So from that perspective, are your first drafts longer? Because the way I write, my first drafts are essentially almost an outline of the story, and then I have to go back and add stuff in. Whereas do you have to overwrite and then cut stuff back? Or how does it work? In a sense of making sure you’re hitting a word count that you need to hit?

Jack

Again, I’ve learned this as I go along. So my first novel, The Lab, it was 95,000 words and eventually it came down to 70. So maybe it was 90 and then it came down to 70. Actually, I submitted it to the publisher when it was about 40,000 words long and then they told me that a book was typically at least 80. Because I didn’t realise I was writing teenage fiction. So I expanded it out to 90, and then they said, oh, this looks more like teen fiction, maybe you could strip it back down to 70, so I did.

But these days… Jackie French wrote a book that I read when I was a kid called, now hang on, let me get this right – How the Aliens From Alpha Centauri Invaded My Maths Class and Turned Me Into a Writer…and How You Can Be One Too – which made a strong impression on me. And one of the things that it talked about was the fat/thin method. So basically you write your story and you include everything you possibly can. You make the book as fat as it can possibly be. And then you do another draft where you strip out everything you possibly can and make it as thin as it can possibly be. And then you do another fat one and then another thin one and then another fat one. And it becomes a kind of filtration process. And so I think that’s a good method.

But most recently I’ve learned that you can actually be doing both things at the same time. So every draft I do, until we get to the final copyediting stage, as I’m writing, whenever I think of something that I could put in, I put it in. And then whenever I see something that I could take out, I take it out. But because I do that with every draft, so things are constantly getting put in and taken out, and put in and taken out, and that does make it a bit easier to meet suitable word counts.

With children’s fiction, word counts are really important. So for example, my big series for kids is probably the one that I’ve done for Scholastic. 300 Minutes of Danger was the breakout one. So I’ve done several books in that franchise now. And each of them is supposed to be exactly 38,000 words long. So not 40, not 35, 38 is the right number of thousands of words to have in those books.

So that means that because I’ve got the little wordcount ticker at the bottom, as I’m adding things in, taking them out, adding things in, taking them out, I’m always keeping an eye on that wordcount thingy down the bottom so as I know, I get a feel for whether I should be looking for more things to include or looking for things to take out based on that wordcount.

Allison

You actually have a couple of different series for children and young adults. Do you have a favourite to write among the options you have?

Jack

I’m very easily swayed by public opinion. So whenever a book is getting good sales and good reviews –

Allison

That’s your favourite.

Jack

I go, that was a great book. I’m really pleased. And whenever something underperforms in some way, I go oh well, it probably wasn’t very good anyway.

But I really enjoyed writing the Danger series, 300 Minutes of Danger and its sequels, and its choose-your-own-adventure style spinoffs. Mostly because there’s just so much… So they’re difficult to write. Because the choose-your-own-ending ones have 30 different endings per book. So that’s a lot of words that I have to burn through. And the Minutes of Danger ones are books of short stories. The stories are connected, there’s a conspiracy to unravel, but each one has to stand on its own as well. And so that has been… It’s my favourite series probably just because it’s been so challenging. I’ve had really on my toes all the time about coming up with new things that I haven’t used, new dangerous situations that I can put kids in and clever ways to get them out again. And it does mean that…

Writing short stories is a really great way to hone your craft as a writer. I’m very grateful that I spent so much of my teenage years writing short stories in addition to writing my first novel, because I learn something from each one. So I think the Danger series has made me… So it’s my favourite series not just because it’s been selling so well, but because it actually made me a better writer. Because it took me back to my short story roots and taught me a whole bunch of things about how to quickly establish a character and a setting without slowing the plot down, all that stuff.

Allison

Given that you’re writing 30 different endings for a choose-you-own-adventure style book, and given that you’re doing all these short stories, I have to assume you’re a writer who does a lot of plotting before you write. Would that be correct?

Jack

Yes and no. I generally have… Sorry.

Allison

I knew you were going to say that.

Jack

Yeah. So for example, at the moment I’m writing another series for Scholastic that I can’t talk about very much. But I wrote a pitch which came complete with a chapter by chapter synopsis of what was going to happen in each of the books. And then kind of at the last minute when I was about due to start writing, someone at the publishing end said that because of sales of a different series we’re looking for something a bit different now. Instead of these five books being an ongoing story, we want each one to be a standalone. And instead of each of them being about a different main character, we want them all to be about the same kid. So they wanted the through line to be the character rather than the plot.

So that meant that I had to completely chuck out the synopsis that I’d written and start again. But I didn’t start again in terms of writing a new synopsis. I just went, well, I’ll just start writing and see how I go. So I’m not unfamiliar with that form of exploratory writing, the kind of make it up as you go along, the pantsing method. Isn’t that what it’s called? Pantsing?

Allison

Pantsing, yeah.

Jack

But I find it does work better if I do some fairly careful plotting at the beginning. But to be clear, my plot is always a safety net. It’s more like a safety net than it is a map. Because the best ideas are always the ones that come to me as I’m writing the story. So if I have a plot, that means I don’t get stuck, but I don’t let it determine what I’m actually going to write. I just lean on it a bit more on the days when I’m not feeling inspired.

And typically I start with, I have a beginning in mind, I have an ending in mind, and I have a crucial scene in the middle. And then I write the beginning, I write the middle, and then I realise that the ending I planned out isn’t going to work. So I write a different ending, and then I realise that the beginning I wrote doesn’t fit with the ending that I now have. So I rewrite the beginning. So typically the middle is the only bit that stays the same.

Allison

Fantastic. So how many projects… Because I know you’re working on something new, and your email auto-response told me that. So I’m hoping that’s true and not disinformation like your website. But how many projects do you actually work on at a time?

Jack

I do just want to say that it’s a good idea to get an out of office autoreply and leave it switched on all the time. That increases your productivity so much. Good tip for writers.

So as far as how many projects I’m working on at a given time go, I usually have… Well, right now I’m working on a five-book series for Scholastic. So it’s middle-grade action adventure for kids. And I’m also co-writing a four-book series with Cosentino the magician. So it’s an illustrated series for slightly younger kids.

But all four of those are written – sorry, I’m counting my fingers as I’m talking to you – all four of those are written but two of them still need some editing before they come out.

Also I have to write the sequel to Hangman, so that’s an adult novel. And Scholastic has said that they’re interested in more Danger books. At least one more. And there’s also a sci-fi young adult teen novel which I’ve written, but still needs some editing, which I need to find the time to do somewhere along the way.

So I’ve basically got 12 books on the go, minus the two that I’ve already written but haven’t come out yet. And everything else is at some various stage of either written but not edited, or plotted but not written, or something like that. But yeah, about ten books.

Allison

And what’s the timeframe on those projects? Is that all to be done for 2018?

Jack

It all needs to be done by June, I think.

Allison

Hey!

Jack

Yeah.

Allison

Okay.

Jack

It’s a lot of work. And I don’t want to pretend that I’m some kind of amazing productive machine and oh yeah, it’s all got to be done by June, but that’s nothing. It’s not nothing. It’s a lot of work.

Allison

So is there a typical day for Jack then? I mean, that’s a lot of writing/editing/tearing your hair out.

Jack

Yeah, I’m certainly going grey. I still have all my hair, but the stress is doing things to the colour.

So a typical day will be that I’ll drag myself out of bed, I’ll make breakfast for my son, I’ll take him to school, I’ll try to get back to my desk by 9am. And then I write until lunch time and then after lunch I write some more. And I usually call it quits at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, because I get to the point where I’m just staring at the screen and thinking about other things. Your concentration does eventually get sapped.

But I’m pretty good about managing to write 2000 words a day. That’s generally what I can do. I did Nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month, a few years ago. In 2012 I wrote a book called The Cut Out, which later became pretty successful. Which is lucky, because most Nanowrimo books don’t end up getting published or doing anything. But the value of Nanowrimo to me wasn’t doing that, it was forcing myself to write 1,667 words a day, every day, for 30 days.

Once you’ve had an experience like that, suddenly… I was doing one book a year for most of my 20s. Now that seems unaccountably lazy. No disrespect to anyone who is still writing that way. But it’s a good idea to challenge yourself to be able to work faster and faster.

Anyway, about 2000 words a day is pretty typical for me. Editing is a little bit more difficult to measure. The metrics are harder. Because I go, this book is 200 pages long, I have five days to edit it, so yes I can edit 40 pages a day, but you don’t know exactly how much… I do a lot of jumping around when I’m editing, as well. I’ll be reading a scene, and I’ll go, ooh, hang on, this would work much better if I had planted a clue several chapters ago. So I jump back and do that and then jump forward again to change the ending now that it doesn’t need as much explanation as it used to. So yeah, editing is hard to measure. But the writing, I try to do 2000 words a day. And that usually takes me about five hours.

Allison

Okay. All right, so speaking of challenges, you’ve now established yourself very successfully in children’s and YA, why have you now branched into adult fiction? Is that a challenge for yourself as a writer? And has it been difficult to do? In the sense of, here’s Jack Heath going, well I’m going to write for adults now.

Jack

Yes. The book itself was a challenge for all sorts of reasons, primarily to do with the main character, but we’ll talk about that in a second, I guess.

Allison

We will, yes. We will.

Jack

So I actually started writing my first book for adults in 2008, and it was this book. So I had this idea, I couldn’t let it go, it kept going round and round and round in my head, and I thought, look, I’ve got to write this thing. And crime fiction… I think it’s always a good idea for writers to write the kind of book that they would like to read. And I’ve always been an avid crime reader. So I always wanted to go in this direction.

So I started writing the draft in 2008, I finished it in 2010, or maybe 2011. And then I presented it to my publisher and they wanted nothing to do with it. And I didn’t want to move away from that publisher, so I kind of just put it in the drawer as a failed experiment.

Allison

Can I just interrupt briefly? Did they want nothing to do with it because it was not your usual thing? Or because of that particular book?

Jack

I think it would have been a variety of factors. So one would have been that it would have been easier at that point to sell another Jack Heath children’s book than it would have been to sell a Jack Heath adult book, because I wasn’t as well established then as I am now. Now, there’s a whole bunch of kids who read my first book back in 2006 who have grown up to become adults, and so they’re kind of ready for an adult book. But that market wasn’t there back in 2010.

And also there was also industry-wide shocks. Amazon was strangling booksellers, and Borders and Angus & Robertson collapsed, and all that. It was hard to sell anything, much less something that was going to be controversial.

And yes, the book was controversial. It wasn’t just a crime novel, it was a fairly grisly crime novel with a main character who could have been deemed not especially likeable.

And in addition to all that, the fact is that the book – I’m very, very proud of Hangman now, but back in 2010, it was more ambitious than I could do as a writer at that time. So it helped that I wrote the book, and then I wrote more than ten other books for kids, and learned a whole heap of writing techniques, and then came back to edit Hangman. And so the concept is the same, but I’m a better writer now. I can make the reader like this in a way that I just didn’t know how to do back then.

Allison

All right. So let’s talk about Timothy Blake, shall we?

Jack

Yes.

Allison

As a reader of crime fiction, which our listenership knows that I really enjoy, I’m really interested in the premise of this book. And I love the… You know, I’ve read the blurb, I’ve read the reviews, but I am somewhat put off by Timothy Blake. And as you say he is unlikeable to a degree. He has a particular predilection. Tell us about how you came up with this guy? How?

Jack

Like any good idea, there were a few different sources of it. One, was that I really liked 24. Which kind of negates the creativity a little bit. But what I really liked about 24 was that almost always the interesting part of the story was Jack Bauer doing evil things in order to create good results. For the greater good.

And 24, people remember it as an action show, but there wasn’t really that much action in it. Mostly it was just arguments about ethics. And my mum taught philosophy at the University of Wollongong, so ethics and philosophy is a big part of, certainly it was a big part of dinner table conversation, and it’s something that I’m endlessly fascinated by.

So I wanted to write a book where the main character was a terrible person but where the results of all his actions were good. But he didn’t have good intentions, necessarily. I’m interested in what makes a person’s value. Is it their intentions? Is it their actions? Or is it the results of their actions? Because his actions are bad, his intentions are bad, but he feels guilt and shame and the net result of society…

Anyway, I started thinking about a cannibal detective, basically. What if there was a person who was good at solving crimes, so good that the police department had come to depend on him, but that his price would be that any time he solved a crime which resulted in saving someone’s life, so he’s not just a detective, he rescues kidnapped children. So that’s very noble. But his price is for every life he saves, he is given a death row inmate to eat. So I was also interested in capital punishment, too. So it played into a lot of my own weird fascinations. And like I said, I couldn’t get it out of my head.

[silence]

Allison

Hello?

Jack

You’re a bit taken aback.

Allison

Well, no. When you said, I couldn’t get it out of my head, I’m just wondering what it’s like in your head sometimes.

Jack

Yeah. Well, I don’t know if this will come out sounding defensive. But I actually am not a strong-stomached person. I basically faint at the sight of blood. If you come at me with a needle… Like, I’m okay with vaccinations. They’re fine. But I used to be… I was once a regular blood donor. I thought that was a good thing to do. But eventually I developed some kind of mental problem where as soon as the needle went in, even before I’d lost any blood, I would just immediately lose consciousness. And I’ve been known to read other people’s crime novels and faint while reading the novel. And in one case I actually vomited. I’m very…

Allison

That is so hilarious. And yet you’re sitting there with it all coming out of your own head.

Jack

Well, that’s right. I’m kind of facing my fears. I find my novels often come from a thing that scares me. And usually, once I’ve written a book about something, I don’t worry about it so much anymore.

So Hangman was kind of a challenge to myself to make something as gruesome as I possibly could. Because I was a big fan of The Cleaner by Paul Clee and Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates. And American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis. And a bunch of other really confronting crime novels. But it was also a challenge to myself as a writer to use all the techniques I knew how to do to get the reader to sympathise with someone who otherwise wouldn’t be at all sympathetic.

Allison

Which is really a challenge, isn’t it? To create a character with enough complexity and dimensions for people to actually go there with you, take the journey, read the book, etc. How did you create the character? Did he come to you over many, many years? In the sense of, I know you said you started the process back in 2010, but has he changed and evolved as that has gone along?

Jack

This is going to sound pretentious, but it doesn’t feel like he has changed at all, but it feels like I understand him better. As though he has been revealed to me rather than created by me.

And I am not the sort of writer who normally has… Generally, I consider my characters to be puppets. They do what I tell them to do and they perform their function in the plot. And I try to make them as convincing to the reader as possible, but they never convince me.

But every once in a while, a character comes along who just feels so real to me, that I never need to think about it for more than a fraction of a second as to what would they do in this situation. I just know. And Timothy Blake was one of those. He came to me fully formed.

But I think his very, very early development came from the fact that I knew that I wanted him to do terrible things, but I also knew that I didn’t want him to be especially… I could have made him a rapist or a paedophile or something. But those people actually exist and they’re actually out there. Whereas cannibalism is so far removed from anyone’s actual experience that I didn’t think the reader would feel too guilty for sympathising with him. So that was a part of it.

I also knew that to make an unlikeable character likeable, they have to suffer for their sins quite a lot. Not only after the fact, but also beforehand. So I gave him an incredibly grim past, but also a fairly grim future. Because the reader won’t like him if they feel like he’s really getting away with it.

And I also gave him a number of selfless acts throughout the story. So he’s a terrible person who has done terrible things, but here is him doing this one good thing at great cost to himself but benefits someone else. So I was basically… He was a composite of all the tricks I knew about how to make a character likeable. And then that made him feel very real in my head. But all that was back in 2008. So I’ve been living with him in my head for a long time now. So he feels very real to me.

Allison

Okay. So it’s one thing to write that book, and it’s one thing to create that character. But then you have to convince people to read it. So as far as your… How do you promote your books? What kind of methods do you use to get your work out there, to get people talking about it, that kind of stuff?

Jack

Okay. Until very recently I worked in a bookshop. I started out there working three days a week and then my writing took off a bit more, so I moved down to two days a week. And then I sold a few more books and then moved down to one day a week and now I’ve finally quit.

But what I got pretty good at was quickly pitching my novels to people. So I would always reveal who I was. I wasn’t saying, “oh Margaret Atwood? No, I think you mean Jack Heath. Right this way.” But whenever I came across a potential reader for one of my books, they seemed to about the right age and looking for the right sort of thing, I would say, “well, I have actually written this book right here. Here’s a quick pitch of the plot, here’s a quick synopsis of the other things that it’s similar to.”

So what I’m getting at is that I actually think in-person interactions with readers are the best possible way to sell books. I’ve done some stuff online, but I don’t have a huge marketing budget or anything like that. I used to try to make book trailers myself, and I would spend money on Facebook ads and stuff like that. I don’t do much of that stuff anymore except for fun.

I’ve found that by far the best way is to visit bookstores in person and talk to the booksellers. It’s a good idea to give them an idea that I’m coming. I send an email ahead of time, just, “hey I will be in town on this date, would you like me to come in and sign some stock and have a chat?” Because having booksellers who actually know about you and know about your books really does improve sales, I think.

But I take every opportunity to do a reading, or do a signing, or to visit a school when it comes to selling kids books. I have a speaking agency, Booked Out, who gets me into a lot of schools. And I think that’s well worth doing.

And as far as online promotion stuff goes, I still do it, but now I focus on responding to the people who actually contact me. So the difference between broadcasting and engagement, I guess. So I don’t spend much time posting things anymore. But whenever someone posts a comment on something that I do post, I always thank them and reply and get in touch and all those things.

So yeah, I think the only tip I really have for selling books is to try to win over readers one at a time. If you try to do hundreds at once, chances are you won’t get through to anybody.

Allison

All right. Well, let’s wrap up now that we’re getting into tips, which is always a good thing. Our last question for our author interviews is always what are your top three tips for aspiring authors? So Jack, over to you.

Jack

Number one, read everything you possibly can. I know everyone knows that. But I really do need to reiterate it because that’s by far the most important thing. It will give you good instincts.

Two, I think it’s a good idea to join your local writers’ centre. If you have a local not-for-profit writers’ centre, because they can give you advice on, well, you can do actual workshops. To get better at any skill, you need training and you need… Sorry, you need practice and you need feedback. And for writing, practice is easy to get, feedback is very, very difficult. And the writers’ centre can be helpful with that.

And tip number three, try to get a good agent. I never got anywhere until I got a good agent.

So just to bring back to – I know we’re at the tips bit and I know you’ve got to go – but to bring it back to Hangman for a second, I told you that I wrote the book, my publisher didn’t want it. I put it in a drawer and completely gave up on it. But my agent did not give up on it. So she was submitting it to other people and collecting rejections. And not just rejections, but getting feedback that I could usefully use to transform the book. And she was the one who eventually found a publisher for this thing that in the past no one had wanted to touch.

So yeah. Read everything, join your writers’ centre, and get an agent if you can.

Allison

Fantastic. All right, well thank you so much for your time today, Jack. We really appreciate it. Best of luck with all those many, many projects that you’re working on. And I will read Hangman. You’ve convinced me that I need to get in there and engage with Timothy Blake. So I’ll look forward to the read.

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