Ep 308 Meet K.M. Levis, author of ‘The Search for Adarna’.

In Episode 308 of So You Want To Be A Writer: Discover what to buy the other writers in your life. You’ll meet K.M. Levis, author of The Search for Adarna. We found a list of writing competitions you can still enter for 2019, and we have three copies of Magical Maths by Eddie Woo to giveaway.

Click play below to listen to the podcast. You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher Radio. Or add the podcast RSS feed manually to your favourite podcast app.

Show Notes

50 Gifts for Writers That Are Way Better Than a Boring Old Notebook

31 Writing competitions to enter before the end of the year 

Writer in Residence

Kristyn M. Levis

Kristyn M. Levis is a marketing specialist, author, ghostwriter and photographer with over 16 years experience. She worked as a TV reporter in the Philippines and a radio broadcaster with SBS in Sydney, where she still occasionally does voice-overs.

She also has experience as a journalist, sub-editor and editor for various print and online media, including such titles as Madison, Your Garden, Dolly, House and Garden, CNet, APC, Practical Parenting and more. Several of her stories have landed in the New York Times and Al Jazeera.

She self-published two children’s picture books in the last three years. Her young adult novels The Girl Between Two Worlds and The Girl Between Light and Dark were published by Anvil Publishing.

The third book in this series, The Search for Adarna, is out now.

Follow Kristyn on Twitter

Follow Anvil Publishing on Twitter

(If you click the link above 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.)

Competition

WIN ‘Magical Maths’ by Eddie Woo

This podcast is brought to you by the Australian Writers’ Centre

Find out more about your hosts here:

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo

Or get social with them here:

Twitter:

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Instagram:

@allisontaitwriter

@valeriekhoo

Connect with Valerie, Allison and listeners in the podcast community on Facebook

So you want to be a writer Facebook group

Share the love!

Interview Transcript

Allison

Kristyn M. Levis is an author, marketing specialist, ghost writer, and photographer. After indie publishing two picture books in Australia, Kristyn’s YA series, now comprising three books under the name K. M. Levis, was published by Anvil Publishing in the Philippines. The third novel in the series, The Search for Adarna, is out now. Welcome to the program, Kristyn.

Kristyn

Hello Al. I am so excited. You have no idea.

Allison

Excellent! I love it when people are excited to talk to me. That’s brilliant.

Kristyn

I listen to your podcast to and from work. It’s on my headphones all the time. You talk in my ear all the time.

Allison

That’s a weird… And my boys would probably say exactly the same thing, but they’re not quite as excited about it as you are. So that’s good. All right. So let’s go back to the beginning. You chose to indie publish your first two books, which were picture books. Can you tell us about that process? About how you came to indie publish those?

Kristyn

They were for myself. It wasn’t… I didn’t indie publish because I wanted to sell books. I know that’s weird. But I wanted something that my kids will remember, my nieces and my nephews will remember. Because the picture books are very personal. The first one that I created was my mother’s story.

When we were kids, because we couldn’t afford books, growing up in the Philippines we were quite poor. So I only had one book growing up, really. It was Alice in Wonderland. So my mum would tell us the story over and over again, every night. I mean, sometimes she’d forget what the characters were doing and we’d reminded her. We know it by heart.

So I thought, before we all forget it, I might as well write this down and actually create a picture book. I had to ask my sisters about this. And that was why it was released.

And the second one was also the story of us growing up in the Philippines with nothing. So it’s a true story. So it wasn’t like… I self-published it because I wanted something out there, not because I wanted to sell books. Does that make sense?

Allison

Yeah, that does. Did you illustrate those as well? Or did you get someone to do it for you?

Kristyn

I did. I got someone to do it for me. I gave them the picture books, the text, and they came up with the visuals. I was so lucky to have… Like the first one, my friend did it for me for free. Just he loves me. He’s actually a lawyer. So it’s really weird. He was trained as a lawyer.

The second one, I hired someone to do it. Like a young artist in the Philippines and she did it for me. It was… I had to get someone from the Philippines, because it was a story in the Philippines and only someone who grew up there would know what I meant when I said the house looked like this. Because they would know that the house would look like that. You know what I mean?

Allison

Yes, I do know exactly what you mean. So did you actually release those in a sense? Did you sell them? Or did you just give them to people that you loved? Or how did you… What did you do with those?

Kristyn

I printed a couple of copies for my family and friends. But the rest are online. They’re on Amazon. People can buy it if they want to. Some of my friends have bought it. And the second one, they actually don’t believe that that was my life growing up. It says there, “based on a true story.” And it’s like, is this for real? I’m like, yeah, we grow up like that.

So it’s quite a… I might actually end up writing a novel about that later on, more extensively, instead of a picture book. Because it was really a… It’s a really strange experience if you do grow up like that.

Allison

Okay. It does sound like it could be a good maybe middle grade or something down the track.

Kristyn

Yeah. Yeah. I’ll think of that when I’m finished with my other project.

Allison

So let’s talk about your first novel then, your first YA novel, which is The Girl Between Two Worlds. Was that the first longer manuscript that you’d ever written?

Kristyn

Yes. Ever in my entire life.

Allison

Okay.

Kristyn

Yeah. It was after the second picture book, I thought, okay, maybe I can do a longer one. Let’s see if I can. So I started writing that. It was a thing, it was an idea in my head that’s been around for a couple of years. I just didn’t know if I could write long, that long.

Allison

Yeah.

Kristyn

So I kind of like pushed it back. But then it didn’t go away. So I thought I might as well just write this down. Maybe it’ll go away after that.

Allison

So how did you know it was a YA novel?

Kristyn

Sorry, my dogs… They’re crazy.

Allison

It’s okay. We always have random dogs. That’s fine.

Kristyn

My idea was… Like the characters, I needed something that… I guess that can cross the line between what they say. Because my daughter didn’t look like four or six years old. I was thinking if I should be a four or six year old kid, but then I thought, no, the things I want her to say, a child can’t say that. So I thought, okay, let’s try YA.

I was actually thinking if it doesn’t work out YA I would make it more adult. But it was YA.

Allison

Okay.

Kristyn

Saved me a lot of editing.

Allison

What’s it about? What is the actual story about?

Kristyn

Okay, so The Girl Between Two Worlds is about this 16 year old girl who comes to her powers and didn’t realise her mother actually escaped from another world to avoid the responsibilities of being the next queen. And she had no idea, because her mother disappeared. So she had no idea that was going to be her life, because her mother didn’t tell her before she disappeared.

And then at sixteen suddenly she has these strange, she can do these strange things. And then her grandfather shows up saying, oh yeah, by the way, you’ll have to take over your mother’s throne otherwise there’s going to be a war.

Allison

So the book, this series if rooted in Filipino mythology? Is that right?

Kristyn

Mythology. Yes. All the creatures, all the creatures in this other world, they’re all mythological creatures in the Philippines that’s never been discussed around the world, really. So the moment you read it, it’s kind of bizarre and also quite scary.

One of my favourite ones is called Manananggal. Which basically is this gorgeous Victoria Secret woman during the day, and then at night her upper body rips from her lower body and she grows wings and fangs and then she flies around and sucks foetuses out of pregnant bellies.

Allison

What?! That’s horrible!! So that’s based in Filipino mythology?

Kristyn

Yes. I grew up with that. I watched that as a six year old.

Allison

Okay. As a six year old.

Kristyn

Yes. On Filipino TV. It was a normal thing to us. Like we were supposed to know these things. I don’t know.

Allison

So was it, when you sat down to write this novel, was it always going to be this? You were always going to draw on that Filipino mythology for the world that you were thinking? Or is that something that developed as you wrote the book?

Kristyn

No, I was always going to do that. Because the main reason why I wrote The Girl Between Two Worlds was for my daughter. I grew up watching all these creatures on TV, reading about them in our comic books, reading about them in our books. But then my daughter will never see that. She’ll see the Aussie side, my husband’s side. But she will never see my side, because that’s not on TV, that’s not in our books here. She won’t see it in comic books unless I take her to the Philippines and show it all to her.

So I thought why not write something that she can read later on, not when she was six. And then it will show her, this is your other half. And so the whole goal for that book was for her.

Allison

Okay. So you’ve written this manuscript. And then what happened next? Did you consider at the time of writing that you might take it to a publisher in the Philippines? Or were you looking originally at having it published in Australia?

Kristyn

I did start here. It was just more convenient. I was already here. I went to the Australian Writers’ Centre, the NSW Writers’ Centre. So I went to all the festivals and how to do that. So I started here.

There were some publishers that actually ended up talking to me about it. They didn’t really know how to market it, because it’s so violent. The monsters, yeah, the monsters are quite graphic. And they weren’t sure whether it’s a YA genre. When I took it to the publisher in the Philippines they were like, yeah, sure.

Allison

So there was no question for them? They saw what you had written and were like, yeah, let’s get that out there? And Anvil Publishing is quite a large publisher in the Philippines, correct?

Kristyn

Yeah. They are. They also own the biggest bookstore chain in the Philippines.

Allison

Okay. So how did it work for you? Was it just an unsolicited thing in the sense that you just sent it off? Or did you have an agent? Because I’m thinking to myself, I’m sitting here and I’m thinking, okay, so what if I wanted to take my manuscript and have it published in the Philippines. I would have no idea how to even go about that. So what was the process of that for you?

Kristyn

Actually when I was thinking of sending it through, I looked at their website and that was a time when they weren’t taking in electronic copies. So I’m like, oh my god. There’s 200 pages of printed thing to send from here to Manila. That’s going to cost me millions in post, you know?

Allison

Yeah, yeah.

Kristyn

So I rang my sister who’s working in Manila and I said, can you please print this for me? And can you please send it to… And she was like, are you going to pay me back for this? And it was like, please, I love you, I’ll bring you so many chocolates! That’s all she wants. Chocolates.

So she did it for me. She printed it out. She posted it. And then I gave her chocolates.

Allison

So you had to send in the hard copy, basically? You had to print the manuscript and send it off?

Kristyn

Yeah.

Allison

Okay. And so what, then it went to their slush pile and they’ve read it and gone, yeah, we’ll take this?

Kristyn

The thing is, it took them like six months to get back to me. Which I guess is normal. But in that six months, I was like, that’s not going to happen. So I was actually preparing to self-publish it.

Allison

Okay.

Kristyn

Yeah. I had contacted an artist. I started looking at professional indie publishing companies who can help you with the marketing and all that sort of stuff. So I started talking to people here. And then I got the email. And I was like, okay. It was six months, so I’d already written it off.

Allison

So does having a publisher based there cause any challenges for you being based in Australia? Like in the sense of do you have to go over there to promote your books? Are the books also available in Australia? Have you sold the rights here as well?

Kristyn

Yeah, that’s a very… It’s more complicated because they’re there. Actually it took me a year and a half to finally meet my publishers.

Allison

Right.

Kristyn

So we were emailing all the time but I never actually physically met them. So when I went there and met them there was all screaming, like, oh my god, you’re blah blah blah!

Allison

Right.

Kristyn

I worked with so many of them but I’d never seen them. So it was quite complicated. I go there because I visit my family. So when I go visit, I put in time for marketing as well. Meeting readers, signing stuff. So it’s all, instead of just going for a holiday, I go and include all the other marketing stuff as well.

Allison

So is that important, do you think? Putting aside that time to actually do book signings, meet readers? I’m assuming, are you doing school visits, it being YA, and stuff like that? Is there a culture of that there as well?

Kristyn

Yeah, yeah. I try to. The problem with… It gets really tricky, because I go during the holidays, so that means there’s no classes. So I have to actually go ahead and then my family, my husband and my daughter, will just go a week or two later so that I can actually do that.

It’s a lot of scheduling things. But having said that, the Philippines is very big on social media. I think everyone’s on Facebook. So being a marketing specialist, I’m able to tap into digital marketing to actually spread the word about my books, which is not that hard for me to do.

And at the same time, they’re very big on DMing, private messages, emailing. So I get a lot of that.

Allison

Do you? You get a lot of direct messages and emails and things like that?

Kristyn

Yes. I just reply through that. And they send me… Like a couple of the teachers actually use my book in their class and send me a group selfie of the whole class reading the book. And I’m like, oh yeah!

Allison

So how do you tap into – just with marketing – how do you tap into the… Like was there anything in particular that you had to learn particular to the book industry to really be able to push your books out there in the Philippines via social media and stuff? How do you apply your marketing knowledge to actually using that to promote your books?

Kristyn

I had to look at what others were doing, the big publishers, what they were doing with this, the scheduling they do when something, when a book comes out. I mean, my marketing skills is more business, not really books. But looking at what the authors and what the publishers are doing, I can then connect that to my marketing skills and just figure it out myself.

And also, going into classes for digital marketing for books and for authors. That’s really taught me a lot. So it saved me fumbling around trying to figure this out. But without the marketing and social media background, I wouldn’t be able to…

Allison

What do you find works best for you? As far as for your market and for your books. What have you find has worked best for you?

Kristyn

Facebook and Instagram. They’re the ones where my audience are very active. Super, super active.

Allison

Facebook and Instagram?

Kristyn

Yeah. That’s where I get a lot of messages.

Allison

And do you have a Facebook page? Or do you just use your profile?

Kristyn

No, I have a Facebook page. I put up a Facebook page ages ago. So I have that. And then Instagram.

Twitter, I’m not very much into Twitter. Just because I know where my people are, you know? That’s where I hang out.

Allison

Okay. So tell us about the third book. Because it’s out now. Is it the final book in a series? Is this a trilogy? Or are there more books to come?

Kristyn

There’s one last book to come. I didn’t plan it that way.

Allison

Oh you didn’t plan it? I was going to say, did you plan to have four books in the series? No? How many did you plan?

 

Kristyn

No. Oh god, it was supposed to be just three. And then I thought, no, it’s two. And then I joined Nanowrimo and then I said, no, it’s three. And then after Nanowrimo I was like, no, it’s four. And then that’s it.

Allison

Okay. So it’s kind of organically grown over time?

Kristyn

Yes. Yes.

Allison

Okay. All right. And so when will the fourth… So the third one is out now. The Search for Adarna is out now. Will the fourth one be next year? Are they coming out once a year? Or how has the timing worked?

Kristyn

Yes. Yes, the fourth one will be out next year.

Allison

Okay, fine. And that’s the final book?

Kristyn

Yes. That’s the final book.

Allison

Okay. Fine. So as far as it goes, your publisher is happy for you just to extend the series? For you just to go, oh there’s another book? Or how does that work? Is that something that you discussed with them as you went?

Kristyn

Actually they gave me quite free rein over this. They just read the manuscript and said, okay, that makes sense. And then… I have a lot of freedom, really, with this one.

Allison

Right. And was that good or bad? As far as too much freedom can sometimes be a little bit terrifying.

Kristyn

No, it’s good for me. Because I quite know where my limits are. I know… And I always have. I’m already writing another novel right now. I’m halfway through another one. Which is a different project altogether. So I know this is it. And I’ve told them that.

Allison

Right, okay. And do you make an effort to participate in the writing community in Australia? Or do you concentrate your efforts in the Philippines? Or what do you do with that? As far as networking with other industry people.

Kristyn

Oh, I’m in every festival every year. I go to everything that I can go to. If I’m not working, I go. Yeah. I’m always there.

Allison

Okay. Fine. Okay, so you wear several different hats. You’ve got marketing, freelance writing, editing, author, photography. You even do some voice over work. How do you balance all of that stuff with working on your fiction?

Kristyn

I show up. I think my background as a journalist helps with that. I know that this might not happen if I don’t do something about it, and I want this to happen. So I guess really if I really want something done, I will find the time to do it. And just prioritise things around it.

Allison

So if you’re writing a manuscript, are you turning up every day to write a set number of words? Do you write for a certain amount of time? How do you actually get the words written?

Kristyn

I do 30 minutes a day if I can. If not, even just 20 minutes a day. So because my schedule changes so much, I have to just figure out, I just have to put in the calendar and say, ‘write 30 minutes.’ Put a timer on and it’s done.

And I’m not constrained as well to my laptop. Because I have a day job and I’m a marketing specialist. So I go three days a week. So that train ride, which I have an hour’s commute, I bring pen and notebook and write on there while I’m waiting to get to work or I’m waiting to get home.

So that time, I’ve actually written so much on the train. And I can’t carry my laptop. My laptop is super heavy. It’s like three kilos. So I just carry a notebook and a pen. And then when I get home and it’s my free day, I put it in the laptop.

Allison

Wow. Okay. All right. Well, that’s incredibly busy and incredibly productive. And good luck with your latest book. I hope it goes gangbusters. So can people buy them in Australia? Can you get them here?

Kristyn

Yes. We’re in the process of getting distribution in Australia. So I will announce it on my website once it’s done. But yeah, it’s a long process, but it’s getting there.

Allison

And what’s the address for your website, Kristyn?

Kristyn

It’s KristynMLevis.com.

Allison

Kristyn, correct? KristynMLevis.com.

Okay, now let’s finish up with your three top tips for writers.

Kristyn

Okay. So the first one, don’t be so precious. I have heard this, I can’t even remember who said this. Oh, there’s my dog again. Don’t be so precious. Like, I can’t write because I don’t have my laptop. I can’t write because it’s raining. Or I can’t write because… You know? It’s never going to happen.

I heard this conversation one time, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but somebody saying that her office is not coloured right or something. And I just rolled my eyes and thought, no, if you want to write you will find a way to write. So yeah, don’t be so precious. And I’ve learned that the hard way. But it’s one of the biggest things that I’ve learned from other authors as well.

The second one, choose who to listen to. I’m not a part of a writing group. I’m one of those people who’s literally on my own. I don’t let others read my work. I just send it directly to my editor. Having said that, before I started the publishing thing, I sent it to everyone, really. Like, the beta reader, and a friend, a family member. And they all had different feedback. And it was so confusing. I was like, what am I going to do? Somebody said this, somebody said that. And so it was just so… It made the process even harder, more difficult for me.

So yeah, just choose who to listen to. And I hired an editor after that and basically did a one on one with the editor and that really helped. So it was just knowing who to listen to.

Okay. So the third one, run your own race. And this is a lot of stuff that I hear when I go to festivals and stuff, oh, she’s so successful, he’s published this, or she’s done that. If you keep looking at what other people are doing you’ll never get anything done. And I’ve had that. I went through that. There was a time when I thought, why did she get published? Why did he get published? And I was focusing so much on what other people were doing, it was taking time away from what I was supposed to be doing.

So I kind of just put blinders on and said, okay, good on them, but I’m just going to focus on this. So yeah, that’s it.

Allison

Fantastic. Well, they’re excellent. That’s a very good three top tips for writers. Something that we haven’t heard too much of before. So well done on that. I love it when you surprise me with a couple of great tips. Well done.

Okay, well, thank you very much for your time today, Kristyn. It’s been really interesting talking to you. I’m going to struggle with the vision of that particular mythological creature for a little while, but that’s okay.

Kristyn

I’m sorry.

Allison

You can counsel me through that at another time. Best of luck with The Search for Adarna which of course is out now in the Philippines. And we’ll look forward to seeing where your writing takes you next.

Kristyn

Thank you so much.


Comments