Ep 70 Will you read “Go Set a Watchman” (we’re divided)? The real writer behind Nancy Drew, a Lego storytelling app, comprises versus consists, and how to deal when you feel like an imposter. And we talk to brother-and-sister author duo Nicholas and Alison Lochel from the Zarkora series.

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podcast-artwork In Episode 70 of So you want to be a writer: The hotly debated “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee, the exciting life of the original Nancy Drew author, cool new Lego visual storytelling app, a 15 minute writing productivity hack, the difference between comprises and consists, Writers in Residence brother-and-sister author duo Nicholas and Alison Lochel from the Zarkora series, how to deal with feeling like an imposter, and more!

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

To Kill a Mockingbird’s Scout and Atticus 20 years on: Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman

The Original Ghostwriter Behind Nancy Drew Was One of The Most Interesting YA Writers of All Time

Lego Story Maker – A Great Digital Storytelling App for Kids

Be More Productive: The 15-Minute Routine Anthony Trollope Used to Write 40+ Books

Writers in Residence 
Nicholas and Alison LochelNicholas Lochel
Nicholas Lochel grew up in Brisbane, Australia, along with his two brothers and sister, Alison, with whom he is co-writing the ZARKORA series. It was the close bond he shared with his siblings that first inspired the story. He has held a wide variety of jobs over the years, including work as an actor, a bartender and a postie, but his love for stories, and the pursuit of a career as an author, has remained constant throughout. He devotes most of his time to writing, and when he is not seen with a pen and paper or a good book, he can usually be found riding his Triumph motorcycle about town or on some grand adventure.

Follow Nicholas on Twitter

Alison Lochel
Alison Lochel, for as long as she can remember, aspired to be an author. At the age of fourteen, she began writing the first book in the ZARKORA series, THE FYRELIT TRAGEDY, along with her brother, Nicholas. Her passion for writing continues to this day as the four-book series nears its completion. She has a cupboard full of dragons, and has been known to read for long periods of time – so long, in fact, that she is often coated by a thin layer of dust. Achoo!

Follow Alison on Twitter

Hachette Australia on Twitter

Zakora series on Twitter

Working Writer’s Tip

I feel like an imposter. How do I stop feeling this way?

Answered in the podcast!

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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Interview Transcript

 

Allison

Nicholas and Alison Lochel are the brother/sister team behind the Zarkora middle grade fiction series, which was initially indie published, but is now being re-released by Hachette Australia, with Book 1 of the four-book series out in June 2015, and Book 2 due on the 27th of October.

 

Hello, Nicholas. Welcome to the program.

 

Nicholas

Hi! Thank you for having me.

 

Allison

I think one of the most incredible things about your story is that you and Alison are a brother and sister, but you have co-authored a four-book series and that you have not killed each other. How did you actually come to write a novel together, let alone four books?

 

Nicholas

Well, I was studying a lot of acting when I was in high school and I studied script writing and story-telling. So, I ended up moving down to Sydney and when I came back up from Sydney I actually found Ali a huge bookworm, and she was doing a lot of short stories and I had this idea for this story, which I pitched to Ali, because we had a similar taste in books I thought that it might be a good idea to write the story together.

 

That was pretty much the start of it all. We really loosely based the story off of our brothers, yeah.

 

Allison

Off your bothers?

 

Nicholas

Yeah, off our brothers. Yeah, we grew up very close and so it was always a story that we wanted to tell.

 

Allison

OK, so you’ve got two brothers?

 

Nicholas

Yeah.

 

Allison

Why did you think that you’d get Alison to help you? Why not think, “I’m going to write this book myself?”

 

Nicholas

I think it’s more fun. When we first started writing together it was never meant to be a book. It was really just a bit of fun, to write a story. I guess it was a bit of company, I guess.

 

 

Allison

OK, yes.

 

Nicholas

It was never meant to be a like a big business or anything like that. Ali liked stories and I thought, “Oh, we’ll write a story together.”

 

Allison

“This will be fun…”

 

Nicholas

And then it kind of grew in and it became four books and then it was self-published and then it kind of went from there.

 

Allison

Did you have it sort of scoped out as four books right from the start when you started writing? Or did you sort of write the first one and then think, “Oh, there needs to be more”?

 

Nicholas

No, we pretty much plotted out the four books straightaway. Obviously, it was one story. I went from being a trilogy then up to a five books and then we cut it back to four. But, it was always the same story, we just realized that the first book… it would have been like 100-something-thousand words. We knew that the word count… I guess the average word count for a middle grade book would be around 50,000 words. We ended up cutting it… the first book into two books.

 

Allison

OK, so it became four.

 

Nicholas

Yeah. But, it was always meant to be… it was one story that we plotted out together.

 

Allison

That’s an interesting question, how does the process of co-authoring work for you two? Like, it’s not an easy thing to necessarily keep the same voice all the way through. You said you plotted out the four books, did you have it, like, plotted out scene-by-scene, so you knew exactly what you were writing?

 

Nicholas

Yes. What we did at the very beginning was talk. We basically just had months of just talking and we plotted out the entire story. We went all the way from the beginning all the way to the end and we were talking about… we would get a lot of detail into the scenes and then we broke it down into chapters and then into books. But, then we would go off and we would write our version of each of the books. And then I would grab Ali’s manuscript and I would see what I liked with hers and she would obviously read mine and tell me what she liked. So, I would then merge the two manuscripts together in order to make the first draft.

 

Allison

Oh wow.

 

Nicholas

We’d obviously bring two different sides… things to the table. Sometimes I’ll overlook something and Ali will catch it and vice versa.

 

Allison

That’s really interesting.

 

Nicholas

Yeah, but a lot of work.

 

Allison

That’s a lot of work. So, you’ve both written your own version of all four books?

 

Nicholas

Yes.

 

Allison

And then you basically merged those. And you did the merging, so you had that consistency of voice all the way through?

 

Nicholas

Well, yeah. In order to kind of get the one voice you kind of need somebody to do the… but, I’m saying Ali is always there and we’re always discussing every single thing. I’ll always… if there’s something that I don’t feel is right I’ll mention it to Ali. Obviously she’ll always bring up all of these great ideas to the table, which I really like. I may not have hit, you know? Yeah, we just kind of discuss everything. But, there’s a lot of discussions and a lot of debate, and a lot of writing as well.

 

Allison

Wow, that’s amazing. You guys have written so many words between you.

 

Nicholas

I know, I know.

 

Allison

There’s a whole other series in what you’ve written between you.

 

Nicholas

Yeah, that’s it. It would be funny to release all of the different versions. There’s been chatter that we’ve rewritten 5, 6, 7 times.

 

Allison

Wow, OK.

 

Nicholas

And all completely different versions and then obviously there’s the one version that’s out.

 

Allison

OK, and have you kept all of those different versions in files? Are they all sort of like hanging around somewhere?

 

Nicholas

Yeah, like the first draft, after the first book, was pretty messy. But, yeah. I ended up shredding a lot of the stuff. Because he just had piles and piles of manuscripts.

 

Allison

Wow.

 

Nicholas

But, yeah. We’ve got the files still on the computer.

 

Allison

And what did the rest of the family think while you guys were doing this? Did they think you were mental?

 

Nicholas

Kind of yeah. Yeah, our mom has always been a huge, huge supporter of the books, of us writing together. And, she’s very proud that we’ve managed to not kill each other while writing the scenes.

 

Allison

Yeah, it’s fantastic.

 

Nicholas

But, yeah. Obviously, from the get-go when I suggested to Ali that we’re going to write a book series together I think she was a bit nervous, because obviously she knew money is not exactly great in the arts. But, yeah.

 

Allison

Oh well.

 

Nicholas

I think she’s easing up now.

 

Allison

Yeah, you’ve got to do it because you love it.

 

Nicholas

Now that we’ve got the publishing deal.

 

Allison

All right, so let’s talk about that, because you initially self-published the books — was it in 2011? Is that when they first —

 

Nicholas

Yeah, about 2012 we launched the first book.

 

Allison

  1. So, tell us a bit about that journey. Like, why did you decide to self-publish at the time?

 

 

Nicholas

Well, when we started writing the manuscript together we were thinking — initially it just started as a story, but then once we hit about halfway in the book we were actually thinking, “OK, this actually isn’t a bad story.” We started thinking about maybe getting it published, submitting it to publishers or self-publishing.

 

I guess… Ali was 14 at the time. We figured, “Yeah, no one is going to take her seriously when Ali is 14,” and we have no writing experience. And so we figured self-publishing might be the way to go, to kind of grow a bit of a readership and prove to a publisher that the books are worth reading, I guess.

 

Yeah, that’s pretty much what got us started and that’s the reason why were are… we knew that there were a number of authors who have done it before, like Chris Paolini who wrote Eragon. And then there’s a Roderick Gordon who wrote Holes, which was eventually picked up by Barry Cunningham at Scholastic. He was working for Puffin and then he opened up his own publishing house called Chicken House, which is owned by Scholastic. And, obviously it’s a six-book series right now.

 

Allison

Right. So, you set up your own publishing company?

 

Nicholas

Yeah, yeah, we created our business name and registered it and created our bank account and did the whole… yeah, we pretty much created a business. Yeah.

 

Allison

So you originally published it as an eBook? Like, did you do a lot of research into how it was done and what you had to do? What was the process of actually getting it out there?

 

Nicholas

Obviously, back when we first decided, “I’ll self-publish the books,” eBooks weren’t even really a thing. It was like one of those things that everyone is kind of talking about, but it was never really a big thing, because it was so long ago.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Nicholas

And so I went into a number of — I did a lot of research just reading books on self-publishing. And, so I went into a lot of the self-publishing companies, which I found weren’t for us.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Nicholas

A lot of them were trying to convince us to kind of go with them, and they were racking up prices. They were trying to make the whole process sound very complicated when it really wasn’t. Everything… because I had done so much research beforehand I knew exactly what they were talking about, and I just realized that they were trying to rip us off pretty much.

 

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Nicholas

And trying to make the whole thing seem a lot more complicated than it actually was.

 

Allison

Right. You originally self-published, like, Book 1 as an eBook only?

 

Nicholas

That was for the first few months. So, what we did is we self-published the book one for a few months, but then within a few months we went to our first paperback print.

 

Allison

You went to a print, right.

 

Nicholas

Yeah.

 

Allison

What made you do that? What made you decide to print? Because a lot of people were just eBooking, weren’t they?

 

Nicholas

Yeah, yeah. A lot of people are eBooking and going through the Amazon and the Lulu and all of those sources.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Nicholas

Yeah, no, I think that we always wanted to have a paperback book. We always wanted to see the book on the shelf. And we always felt that a good quality book will be a lot better than having a bad quality book. And so we contacted all… we basically got all of the books that we loved and we just looked on the imprint pages and saw that Griffith Press would print the books and Midland Typesetting would do the typesetting. I just contacted them directly and just asked whether they would be interested in doing our book and they were and… yeah, that was pretty much that.

 

Allison

What was your initial print run? Did you just do Book 1 to start with as print?

 

Nicholas

Yeah, just Book 1. Yeah. Because Book 2 hadn’t been written, it had been plotted out, but Book 2 hadn’t actually been written when we first self-published the first book.

 

It was only 350 copies. We knew that we would lose money on the first print run, because I knew that the average self-published book sells 100 copies, paperback copies. So, we didn’t want to do a huge print run, but at the same time we knew we were going to lose money by doing only 350, because we paid a lot of money for typesetting and a lot of money for printing.

 

 

Allison

Right.

 

Nicholas

Obviously for the illustrator as well. So, there was a lot of set-up costs. But, obviously it worked out in the end when we started actually turning over a lot of books.

 

Allison

Yeah, because you did in the end, didn’t you? You were reprinting —

 

Nicholas

Yeah.

 

Allison

— like I was following the journey on your Zarkora website. You ended up doing several reprints, like you were doing really well with it.

 

Nicholas

Yeah. The 350 actually went… because we found so much support up here in Brisbane. A lot of the bookstores were quick to kind of pick us up and give us a shot at doing signings and things like that. That 350 copy print run only lasted a couple of weeks.

 

Allison

Wow.

 

Nicholas

So we went to a 2,000 copy print run and then that went. Yeah, it kept on going. So, we ended up selling, like, 6,000 copies by the end of it.

 

Allison

Fantastic.

 

Having said that then, you said the bookshops were really supportive, because a lot of self-published people say that they find it difficult to get the distribution for the books.

 

Nicholas

Yeah.

 

Allison

It sounds as though you’ve had a very supportive community up there.

 

Nicholas

Yes.

 

Allison

And the books are travelling pretty well. So, why have you now gone with a mainstream publisher to re-release the books? And how did that come about?

 

 

 

Nicholas

When we first started it was kind of our objective to get picked up by a major publishing house. But, then I think about in our second year we realized that we were making quite a bit of money, like the goal was really to write full time and write stories that were in bookstores. And we were actually in bookstores and we were making a fair bit of money from the books. And then I guess… yeah, obviously there was so much work involved and then all of a sudden we received the offer from Hachette. Obviously you don’t turn down Hachette.

 

Allison

No.

 

Nicholas

You obviously have to give it some thought. So, we figured it would be a good career move for us to get picked up. Yeah, to see how that goes.

 

Allison

They just came up out of the blue? Like, had they just seen you somewhere? How did that happen?

 

Nicholas

Yeah, will obviously we were in all of the bookstores up here and the account managers at Hachette… I think they had heard from the bookstores about the series, and they must have passed it along and gave it to Susanne O’Sullivan who’s now our publisher at Hachette.

 

Allison

And my publisher at Hachette.

 

Nicholas

I think that’s how it all kind of came about. But, yeah, obviously just word of mouth.

 

Allison

All right. So, let’s talk about that. I want to talk to you about the process of working with the publisher, but that word of mouth thing has been so important for you guys. And, you have worked so hard to get that.

 

Again, looking at your website and just different things that you guys have done, you’ve done lots of school visits, you’ve done a gazillion bookshop signs, like you have been on the ground, face-to-face doing your stuff, as well as obviously having your website. So, how important do you think those face-to-face presentations have been for creating that word of mouth?

 

Nicholas

It’s the best form of promotion you can do. I don’t think we would have been picked up had we not done all of those signs and all of those school talks. We do one school talk and then, obviously people hear about it and then other schools get you in. That was the same thing with the bookstores. We had a number of bookstores call us and ask to stock the book.

 

Yeah, it kind of just spread. And so as soon as they heard the books were selling well and they started to hear about us, yeah, things have kind of kept snowballing.

 

 

Allison

Because I think a lot of authors… maybe they’re shy and they’re not necessarily sort of like seeking out those opportunities, but you would say that they’re an essential part of the mix?

 

Nicholas

Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

 

Allison

 

Nicholas

I think it’s certainly a very important part. I think everyone gets nervous, like, whenever you put yourself out there, everyone is going to get nervous, but I think, you know, just by doing it you certainly… it opens up opportunities for sure.

 

Allison

What about social media and things like that — how important has that been in your mix as indie published? Because it’s something that people often talk about, that online author platform is important for self-publishing. Did you do a lot of that sort of stuff as well?

 

Nicholas

We obviously started our Facebook, we started our Twitter and we have all of this social media there, ready if people want to join, then obviously we’re there. But, I don’t think we’re huge… we don’t do a lot of social media sorts of stuff. But, we do have our Facebook and we do promote all of our events and we promote our… whenever we do an event we’ll post up the photos. So, yeah, it’s there, but I don’t think we do too much. I think we probably should do a little bit more.

 

But, yeah, obviously it certainly helps. Obviously, people always ask, “Are you on Facebook?” At least by having that platform there people can kind of go there and send their fan mail and send messages… yeah.

 

Allison

Have you set that up as Zarkora? Or have you set it up under your names?

 

Nicholas

Zarkora. We read about that, obviously there’s a lot of books that we want to write, and so we have this Facebook page that’s just Zarkora. And, so that may not have been the best choice, but at the same time, I think it’s the way that it’s worked out, and it’s working out quite well.

 

Allison

You’ve created that around your brand at the moment?

 

Nicholas

Yeah. If we create another series obviously we will promote it on Zarkora’s wall and try to get them to kind of jump across as well.

 

Allison

Fair enough.

 

All right, so let’s just go back a little bit to the process of working with Hachette, which is obviously going to be slightly different to publishing the books yourself in the first place. Was there anything that really surprised you about that process?

 

Nicholas

The editing, obviously there was a lot more editing, because we already had the first two books written and out on the bookshelves, and obviously they were selling well and there was a lot of good feedback. I don’t think that we thought that we would be editing Books 1 and 2 as much as we did.

 

Allison

Right. From a structural perspective or a copy-editing perspective?

 

Nicholas

Just copy-editing, really. Like, we had a lot of… because obviously our books had been out for three years at that point. And so there were things that we wanted to change ourselves.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Nicholas

Before we actually handed it to Hachette. Then, yeah, it was mainly just a copy-edit, but we are kind of juggling four books at one time. There’s a lot of back and forth, and yeah, it just a lot of juggling with the editing.

 

Allison

Did you have them edited in the first place? Did you send them to a professional editor each time.

 

Nicholas

With the first book we paid an editor about $2,000 to edit the books. But, we feel like we were a little bit ripped off, because in the first few pages it kind of… it was money well-spent, but as the manuscript went on the editor was finding less and less stuff. It felt very, very rushed. It felt like it was a little bit of a waste of money, to be honest.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Nicholas

For the second book, because we had a lot of support from bookstores, we had a few of the store managers kind of read through the manuscripts first. And they obviously gave us their opinion. It went from being… I think that one actually worked out better because they obviously know what they’re talking about, they’ve read a lot of books and they have fairly strong opinions. So, yeah, that actually worked out pretty well for us.

 

It’s a very different sort of process when you actually go through Hachette.

 

Allison

And you bring Susanne into the equation.

 

 

Nicholas

Yeah.

 

Allison

With her hard questions.

 

Nicholas

It was good though. The editors that we’ve been working with have been fantastic and they do bring up… they find everything.

 

Allison

They do. I know. All that stuff you kind of think…

 

Nicholas

Obviously it’s a blessing in disguise I think. Obviously when you kind of get all of the red marks and you’re like, “Oh no…” But, yeah, you work your way through it. The book ends up reading better than ever. We’re really grateful.

 

Allison

Yeah, that’s great.

 

Self-publishing, knowing what you know now and having done what you’ve done now, is self-publishing something that you’d do again?

 

Nicholas

Oh absolutely, yeah. We have a few book series that we want to write and sell. Obviously, hopefully Susanne will like what we’ve got coming up. I don’t think I would even… if Hachette were not interested I don’t think I would even pitch to anyone else, because we know that we can make a lot of money through self-publishing.

 

I’d certainly probably go straight to a 2,000-3,000 copy print run on the next series.

 

Allison

Oh, you would? OK. You wouldn’t sort of get an agent and try to sort of pitch it out all over the place?

 

Nicholas

No, I don’t think so. No, had we gone for a few more months we would have crossed the $100,000 mark. We were making a lot of money and we were writing full time. It was exactly what we were after.

 

Allison

Living the dream.

 

Nicholas

And, obviously, you have a lot of control there as well.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

 

Nicholas

Definitely, I would self-publish again. But, obviously, it would be fantastic to kind of keep working with Hachette.

 

Allison

Was that control thing… because that’s something that self-publishers or indie publishers talk about a lot is that control aspect, was that difficult to give up when you went with Hachette?

 

Nicholas

Yeah. It is pretty tricky. After three years and you had control over promotion, you had control over publicity. You had control over pretty much everything. I kind of love that control, because I’ve loved books ever since I was in high school and I love everything about the whole industry. So, it was not just writing that I love, it’s kind of everything.

 

When you kind of have to just focus on just the writing, I found that a little bit tricky. I kind of love cover design, I love artwork, I love everything about books. And so that was pretty tricky. But, no, Hachette has done a great job with the books.

 

I think I do miss the control, I think, a little bit.

 

Allison

Have they done anything that, like, surprise you where you felt like, “I wouldn’t have thought of that.” And now you’d know it if you do self-publish again you’ve sort of got more of an insight into maybe a team approach?

 

Nicholas

Yeah, that’s a good question. We did a lot of the same things, but I think the advanced reading copies we didn’t do, that’s for sure.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Nicholas

It kind of created word of mouth before the books came out. Obviously, that would have cost a fair bit of money and I don’t think that would be suitable for self-publishing. We went through so many avenues, because we went through Griffith Press, the same publishers that Hachette go through. And we almost went through the same channels.

 

Allison

Interesting.

 

Nicholas

A lot of it was the same.

 

Allison

Yeah. That’s interesting.

 

Nicholas

Yeah.

 

Allison

Cool. All right. So, what then would be your top three tips for writers?

 

Nicholas

Certainly perseverance. Perseverance is probably the biggest thing that made… obviously you have to go three years and there’s a lot of ups and downs. But, yeah, I think perseverance is the big one.

 

Allison

Did you ever have days where you thought, “This is ridiculous? I don’t need to do this anymore.”?

 

Nicholas

Yeah, all the time.

 

Allison

Did you?

 

Nicholas

It was like every single week you were just like, “What are we doing?”

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Nicholas

We were rolling over so much money, there was so much money involved that it started to kind of get a little bit crazy.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Nicholas

But, yeah. Obviously the amount of signings that we were doing was kind of getting crazy and then you had so much work on your plate you had to kind of quit your job to kind of keep up with it all.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Nicholas

And it all kind of felt a little bit crazy, but it all worked out.

 

Allison

Yes, right. So, perseverance.

 

Nicholas

Perseverance.

 

Allison

What’s number two?

 

Nicholas

Just putting yourself out there. You have to do the book signings, you have to do school talks. Obviously word of mouth is pretty much everything, it’s the reason why we were eventually picked up and why we did so well.

 

Yeah, if you are self-publishing I think the biggest thing is just produce the best book you possibly can.

 

Allison

 

Nicholas

The fact that we produced a good book, a high quality book, bookstores instantly got us in and they were promoting the book and obviously people kind of came back for the second one.

 

I think producing a book of high quality is super-important.

 

Allison

Yeah, because that support from the bookstores is so incredibly important, isn’t it? And it’s not always easy to get if you are an indie published book.

 

Nicholas

That’s it. I think that a lot of people that self-publish through the other channels, I think they stumble because they can’t see why they can’t get into the book stores, and it’s because the book quality — it’s OK, but it’s not to the level that the big publishers produce.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Nicholas

So, yeah, by doing that… by going through the good typesetters and the good printers, you produce a good quality book and then obviously the bookstores will then support the author and support the book.

 

Allison

That cover that you had, like, the cover of the current series, the new release series is fantastic. But, you had amazing illustrations on your indie-published versions as well.

 

Nicholas

Yeah.

 

Allison

They were incredible.

 

Nicholas

Minna Sundberg, like she has millions of fans. She’s a big artist over in Finland.

 

Allison

Wow.

 

 

Nicholas

Yeah, we’ve had fans — we go to the Supernova Conventions here and we have hundreds of readers recognize her artwork and buy the book because of it.

 

Allison

Because of her artwork? Isn’t that amazing?

 

Nicholas

Yeah, she was massive in sales. It was a little bit of a shame to lose that artwork, but obviously we knew that was going to be the case.

 

Allison

Yeah, but the new covers are also fantastic.

 

Nicholas

Oh, they’re fantastic. Laura Tolton’s a great artist and it’s pretty cool.

 

Allison

Fantastic.

 

Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your experiences, which are really, really interesting. I think that there’s a lot of people… that cross over from indie to — what do you call it? It’s hybrid publishing, isn’t it these days? The cross over there is a really interesting one for a lot of people. I think it’s great to get some insight into that.

 

Thank you so much for joining us today.

 

Nicholas

Thank you, Allison.

 


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