Ep 88 Why publishers give million dollar advances; should you write for love or money; book hotels, and why one female author wanted a male voice to narrate her books. Win a copy of The Man With the Golden Typewriter by Fergus Fleming. Check out these great books about writing and meet author of young adult books Ellie Marney. Also should you “split” your personal brand into two names?

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podcast-artwork In Episode 88 of So you want to be a writer: Why publishers are giving million dollar advances to debut novelists. Should you write for love or money? Book hotels are now a THING. Also: why a female author wanted a male voice actor to narrate her books. WIN a copy of The Man With the Golden Typewriter by Fergus Fleming. Plus: great books about writing, Writer in Residence Ellie Marney, vehicle log app, advice on splitting your personal brand, 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

Betting Big on Literary Newcomers

Writing for Love or Money

Book And Bed

I’m a Female Author, So Why Did I Want a Man to Narrate My Audiobook?

Ad Nauseum: A Miscellany of Latin Words and Phrases by Lorna Robinson

25 Books Guaranteed to Make You a Better Writer

2016 Premier’s Reading Challenge

Writer in Residence 

Ellie Marney

elliemarneyEllie’s short stories for adults have won awards and been published in various anthologies. Ellie Marney’s YA novel, Every Breath was one of only two Australian novels on the 2015 list of most borrowed YA library books. The second novel in the series, Every Word, won the 2015 Sisters in Crime Davitt Award for Best Young Adult Novel.

She writes, teaches, talks about kid’s literature at libraries and schools, and gardens when she can, while living in a country idyll (actually a very messy wooden house on ten acres with a dog and lots of chickens) near Castlemaine, in north-central Victoria. Her partner and four sons still love her, even though she often forgets things and lets the housework go.

 

Find Ellie on Twitter

Find Allen and Unwin on Twitter

Working Writer’s Tip

Should you split your personal brand under two names?

Answered in the podcast!

Competition

WIN The Man With the Golden Typewriter

Entries close 14th December 2015.

Allison Tait’s The Mapmaker Chronicles

Get Book 1 in Allison’s The Mapmaker Chronicles

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

Ellie Marney’s YA novel, Every Breath was one of only two Australian novels on the 2015 list of most borrowed YA library books. The second novel in the series, Every Word, won the 2015 Sisters in Crime Davitt Award for Best Young Adult Novel.

 

Ellie recently started a new online book club to help promote Australia YA fiction, and she’s here to talk to us today about that, about YA fiction and about all of the exciting things about life in general.

 

Hello, Ellie, welcome to our podcast.

 

Ellie

Hi Allison. Thanks for having me.

 

Allison

Let’s talk first about your Every Series, which is a trilogy, how did you come to write crime fiction in the first place?

 

Ellie

Well, I won The Sisters in Crime Australia 2010 Scarlett Stiletto Award, and that was an adult short story prize for women crime writers, which was fantastic.

 

And before that I experimented with other genres. So, I’ve written in science-fiction and literary fiction and horror, and a few other different things. But, I think me having a bit of success with crime, because I do pretty well in other category of the Scarlett Stiletto Award the previous year, so I thought, “OK, well, I’m doing OK in crime. I seem to have a bit of a knack for it.”

 

And also I had been into a lot of high school libraries around that time, because I’m a high school teacher, and I had a bit of a look on shelves and I realized there was a bit of gap on library shelves as far as YA crime goes. There’s a lot of adult fiction, crime fiction on high school library shelves, but not much in the way of YA crime.

 

So, I thought, “OK,” I just kind of made a little note of that in my brain. And then when it came to the point where I was thinking I might write a novel I knew I was going to write a YA novel, because it’s always been my first love.

 

So, then I thought, “OK, well, I could write YA crime, that seems to strike a chord,” so that’s what I did. It started with Every Breath.

 

Allison

And filled the gap on the library shelves, clearly.

 

Ellie

It seems to have worked OK.

 

Allison

Are there actually limitations for writing crime for YA audience? Like, do you have to bear the age of your readers in mind, and to what degree and in what areas?

 

Ellie

Look, I think you do to some extent. There’s varying opinions about how much you have to self-censor for a YA audience. I mean my feeling is that you have to be a bit more aware of your language and a bit more aware of how much is too much in terms of violence and gore and things like that. But, I think YA authors generally are fairly aware of their audience in that way.

 

But, look, to be honest I think high school students, or teenagers in general are not as afraid of delving into crime as most people might think. I mean they’re actually kind of a bit fascinated with murder and death and all of those kind of mysteries of why people do the things that they do, you know? Why people make bad choices.

 

I mean teenagers are at that stage in their life where they’re figuring out their own life choices. So, for them it’s kind of very intriguing anyway.

 

So, yeah, you do have to be aware of it. But, I wouldn’t sit down and sort of think, “Oh, I have to limit myself too much, because I’m only writing for teens.” I’d write it first and then I would go back and sort of thing, “Oh, that might be a bit too much,” or…

 

Allison

 

Ellie

Maybe later in edits I might sort of… I might pull back a little. But, you know, most of the people that I’ve had response from have said that they enjoy having something that’s a bit more realistic, a bit more gritty. And, let’s face it, I mean there’s a lot of teenagers out there watching Sherlock or watching Elementary and CSI and all of those things are fairly engaged with violent crime and gore and autopsies. So, I don’t think teenagers back away from that stuff all that much really.

 

Allison

All right. So, you mentioned Sherlock and Elementary, because of course they are very heavy Sherlock-y overtones in the Every series…

 

Ellie

Yes, there are.

 

Allison

… in the case of the characters. Did you actually begin with the characters, or with the plot when it came to writing the series?

 

Ellie

Absolutely the characters. I always start with the characters.

 

So, I think when I decided I was going to write YA crime, I thought I wanted to write something that I found deeply effecting, or deeply intriguing for myself, because, you know, writing anything in long form, writing any kind of long work you have to really commit to it. To kind of push through to the end of a long project like that you need to find something that you’re really in love with. So, I mean Sherlock Holmes is a character that has intrigued lots of people, but I’ve read all of the Conan-Doyle canon when I was in my early teens and never really stopped being a bit infatuated, I think, with Sherlock. So, when I came to write crime I thought, “Yeah, that’s something that I could… I could happily bang on about for 335 pages.”

 

Allison

Fair enough.

 

So, do you tie yourself up in knots plotting out your novels, or are you like… we spoke to Michael Robotham for an earlier episode of our podcast he revealed that he has no idea who’s done it before he gets to the end, which I just found so fascinating, because he writes these intricacy interwoven stories and I thought, “How is that even possible?”

 

But, what do you do? What’s your process as far as it goes?

 

Ellie

I’m sorry, I’m also in the Robotham camp. I don’t plot very much at all.

 

Allison

Oh, wow.

 

Ellie

I mean I… I kind of have a bit of an idea, look, I really get deeply into the characters and I really know them inside and out by the time I start writing generally. Or, I mean they develop too, as you go along obviously. But, I try to know the characters as well as I possibly can so that they’re… so, I have a really good idea of how they’re going to jump if I put them in any kind of situation.

 

And, then I just kind of make it up as I go along.

 

Allison

Oh, wow.

 

Ellie

I’m a bit of a pantser.

 

Allison

Do you write yourself into corners? Like, do you find yourself… I ask you this question…

 

Ellie

Oh, absolutely.

 

Allison

Oh, good.

 

Ellie

All the time.

 

Allison

Good, because I’ve wrote myself into a corner last night and I’m still sitting here thinking about, “How am I going to get out of it?”

 

Ellie

Yes, that does happen to me quite frequently.

 

Allison

So, what do you do in that sense?

 

Ellie

I do a lot of backtracking and retrofitting. It’s like, “Oh, now I’ve written this… oh, gee. I’m going to have to go back 30 pages now and insert ‘X’…”

 

Allison

Yeah. OK.

 

Ellie

To make it all work.

 

Allison

That makes sense. Yeah.

 

Ellie

I mean quite often I get to somewhere about the two-thirds or the three-quarters of the way mark and think, “Yeah, I really still even at this stage don’t know how the story is going to end.” I had that problem with all of the books, “How am I going to end this novel?” Or rather how is the character is going to find their way out. I mean that for me is more the question, not so much how can I direct things. But, you know, what would the characters do in this situation? What would they really do?

 

And so, for me, yeah, I’m kind of a bit character-led, so I… it’s as much of a surprise to me as it to the reader, I think to figure out what which way they’re actually going to go at the end.

 

Allison

You must have moments of humongous relief when it all comes together?

 

Ellie

Yes, I do. And also moments of sheer terror when I’m half way through the writing thinking, “I don’t know how they’re going to get out of this.”

 

Allison

Oh, great.

 

So, what do you do… like, I know that the characters lead you through it, but I find, for example, if I’m in that situation, like I’m sitting here today thinking about my poor corner, you know, captured person, like I tend to find that I need to walk a lot to sort of dislodge somehow the plot. What sorts of things do you do when you need to sort of try to push your way forward a bit?

 

Ellie

Look, you have to step back I think from it. I mean walking is good. I should do more walking really. I should get up and move around more often. But, quite often it’s more something like, “Now I’ve got to drive…” I mean you do a lot of driving in the country. I mean I live out in a rural area, so I spend a lot of time in the car, so I do tend to work out a lot of plot issues in the drive.

 

Allison

Yep.

 

Ellie

Also while I’m washing dishes.

 

Allison

Oh, yes.

 

Ellie

Doing housework. Or, working out in the garden.

 

Allison

Yep.

 

Ellie

You when you’re doing something kind of slightly boring and repetitive and you don’t have to put too much thought into it. Although that makes me sound like a really bad driver doesn’t it?

 

Allison

Well, yes, but we won’t go there. Yes.

 

Ellie

But, yeah, look I do tend to find something that I can do that’s not going to engage my brain too much, or I can just sit and listen to music or something like that and sometimes it will resolve itself. Other times I really just have to sit myself down with a piece of paper and a big text or a bit piece of cardboard or something and actually map it out, how it’s going to go.

 

And then at that point I often have to go back and do a lot of rewriting, because I might find a solution, but it will involve some reorganization of what came before.

 

Allison

So, that would probably be my next question, how many drafts do you think as a pantser…

 

Ellie

Yes, more.

 

Allison

How many drafts would you say you do of your…

 

Ellie

More… more, and more… endless drafts.

 

I probably do three or four initial drafts and then probably another three or four edited drafts. I mean I… the thing about it is even though I’m a punster I kind of edit as a I go.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Ellie

So, yeah, I would say I do seven or eight drafts on average. And a lot of rereading and fixer-uppering along the way. And, I was talking to some students the other day and I was saying my first book, Every Breath, I think I read that book somewhere in the vicinity of like 150 times before it went to print.

 

Allison

And you’ve never looked at it since have you?

 

Ellie

No, weirdly enough I had to read it again as soon as I got the copy in my hand, because it was like, “Oh, wow, it’s a real book, now I can read it like a book now.”

 

Allison

Oh, that’s hilarious.

 

All right, so speaking of books, let’s talk about your new online book club, which is the Love OZ YA book club.

 

Ellie

Yay.

 

Allison

And it stemmed from the #LoveOZYA hashtag, which is designed to promote Australian YA fiction. Now did the whole thing come about because of the proliferation of US voices on that most borrowed library books list, for you? Like, is that where it came from?

 

Ellie

You mean the inspiration for the book club, or for the…

 

Allison

For both, for the hashtag, for the whole sort of movement, because it really has become a bit of an online movement, and I’m interested to see it happening and I think it’s a fantastic thing Australian YA voices are being, you know, promoted.

 

Ellie

Yeah, promoted. And advocated for.

 

Allison

Yeah.
Ellie

Look, I think that was the initial impetus for getting together, you know, authors publishers, book sellers, librarians, all sort of saying, “Hey, you know what? Australian kids aren’t really reading local writing, local YA writing,” because there were other lists published by ALIA, that were predominantly Australian. You know, so like the adult fiction list, for instance, or the non-fiction lists. I mean there were a lot Adult titles that were Australian on the list.

 

But, with YA it was a whole different ballgame. It was two out of ten. So, yes, there’s obviously a huge marketing budget involved in titles that come from overseas, and I think… pointed out recently that for every one Australian YA title on the shelf there’s something like nine overseas buy-ins. So, we actually are kind of a very small voice in the market really, and considering that our publishing industry is that much smaller, marketing budgets are smaller, it’s just harder to get the dollars to promote.

 

So, we figured, look, it’s time to take matters into our own hands, and we better start putting our own books… also as a way of developing community of YA writers and readers and publishers and so on. So, people who love Australian YA got together to form that community, Love OZ YA, which has been fantastic.

 

And the book club was… well, you know, you gave me a great tip, people love to read when they’re given the opportunity to get together in group, people love to read in and then talk about the books afterwards. So, that’s why I set up the Love OZ YA book club, because I thought, well… I didn’t think we had anything else like that going, and I thought it might be popular and it was. It was… I think we got something like 160 members in the first 24 hours.

 

Allison

Wow, that’s brilliant.

 

Ellie

So, yeah… yeah. It was fantastic. It was a bit overwhelming, actually.

 

Allison

And you’re now at, as of today, you’re at 268 members, which is great. And I will put the link in the show notes to that Facebook group for people to join, if you’re interested in having a look at that.

 

But, the thing I really love about it, and it’s something that Valerie and I talk about regularly is this notion of authors collaborating to help promote their industry, their genre, you know? Like, I think it’s important to realize that there’s not… yes, like your book is competing with the next book or whatever, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a competitive industry.

 

Ellie

No.

 

Allison

Because readers like the next thing. You know? They’re always looking for what’s the next thing I’m going to read? “What am I going to read?” “What am I going to read?”

 

Ellie

Exactly.

 

Allison

If you get together with a group of authors and cross-promote it helps everybody, which I think is brilliant. So, I think your book club is amazing.

 

Ellie

Thank you.

 

Allison

As a YA author you’re obviously and you’re a high school teacher, so you’re definitely a regular visitor in schools.

 

Ellie

Yes.

 

Allison

Do you think it’s challenging to engage teen audiences? Like, first of all, just on obviously a reading level, but also on a school visit level? Like, if you’re an author who has to go out and promote to teen audiences, are they a difficult group to get ahold of? Is it difficult to kind of get a teen audience involved in what you’re saying?

 

Ellie

Look, I mean there’s two parts, OK? So, there’s the teen reading thing, which everyone sort of says, “Oh, it’s really hard to get teenagers to read.” Look, I tend to think that’s true to a certain extent, because, you know, as you’re getting older and you’re growing towards adulthood you start to become interested in wide variety of things, you know, like phones and games and extracurricular sports and suddenly you’ve got a whole lot more homework. There’s other things like dating and, you know, household responsibilities. There’s a million things that’s got to take up your time as you get older.

 

So, I can sort of see where people are coming from when they sort of say teenagers are hard to engage in reading. But, I do think that kids who start quite young as strong readers that even if their level of reading drops off as teenagers it’s something that they come back to. So, if you can continue to encourage and provide motivation, you know, for teenagers to read, if you keep throwing books at them, basically, and saying, “Oh, read this, you’ll love this.”

 

And give them a recommendation from a whole heap of different genres and particularly target their interest, you know, because I think a lot of people say, “Oh, you know, my kid really loved reading when he was little, but now he’s older and he’s stopped reading.” I think, “Well, maybe you’re just throwing the same books at them that you were throwing at them when they were nine.” You know? But, now that they’re 15 their tastes might have changed and their interests have broaden or changed. So, you really need to try a whole lot of different things to find out what’s really grabbing their attention.

 

I think if you can do that they will continue to read. After they’ve kind of gotten through their teenage years they’ll maintain that reading habit. It’s not something that goes away, if you fall in love with books as a small child, then I really think that’s something that will stay with you forever.

 

And as far as engaging teen audiences, I mean I actually love to talk to teenagers, because I think they’re funny and they’re engaging and they always say something surprising.

 

And I work with teenagers, you know, day to day. I often read with teenagers, because I’ve got a couple of teenagers living in my house right now, my sons, my two older sons. So, I actually really like teenagers a lot.

 

And I think when going out to speak to them if you really like them and it’s kind of obvious that you like chatting to them and getting on with them, and if you’re not too scared of teenagers, as a good, then I think they’re actually… they’re a fantastic audience, you know, they really, really, like I said, they’ve got wide ranging interests, so they will ask you loads of different curious questions, and I find them… yeah, really pretty connected, generally, and really fun to talk to.

 

So, I don’t seem to have too many problems when I go out to schools and talk to teenagers in schools. Yeah, and I guess, you know, being a teacher does help, knowing what it’s like to interact with teenagers on a daily basis does give you a bit of a leg up when it comes to preventing…

 

Allison

Because I know a lot of people do find the whole notion of going to speak to a group of teenagers quite scary. So, it’s good to know that…

 

Ellie

Yeah.

 

Allison

… you’re telling us they’re still people, so that’s nice to know.

 

Ellie

A lot of parents find their teenagers, you know, like, “Oh my god, this is this whole new person.”

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Ellie

But, yeah, no they’re pretty good, once you get to know them. They’re really nice.

 

Allison

They go alright, do they? OK.

 

Ellie

Yeah, they go alright.

 

Allison

All right. So, are you conscious of trying to build a platform to help promote your books, like have you been encouraged by your publisher to do that?

 

Ellie

Yes, of course. I think it’s something that every author has to do now. I don’t think it’s something that you can sort of dip into or just sort of say, “Look, that’s a kind of commercial gain, you know, I’m not going to get involved in it.” I mean that’s really an integral part of being a writer now, is learning to engage with the readership that’s out there.

 

And, also, I mean it’s kind of fun doing that.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Ellie

And, it’s also something that… the tools are all there, it’s very accessible now, to communicate with readers, to communicate with booksellers and librarians, you know? Librarians are great to talk to.

 

And, yeah, I think you’re kind of missing out, actually, if you’re not getting engaged and you’re not building a platform.

 

Allison

And so what are some of the things that you do? Like, where do you tend to put your time, as far as that stuff goes?

 

Ellie

I have a website, which is kind of like a hub, but then I also do regular blog updates on my blog. I’m on Facebook, I’m on Twitter. I spend a lot of time on Twitter, I have to confess. I mean Twitter is a real word medium, and there are a lot of writers on Twitter.

 

Allison

Yeah, it’s really fun, isn’t it?

 

Ellie

It is, it’s really good fun. You know, I’ve gotten actually… particularly because I’m a rural writer and I live a long way out of town, so for me Twitter has been a real lifeline, because it’s connected me with the larger writing community in a way that I would never had access to otherwise.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Ellie

Do you know what I mean?

 

Allison

I agree with that.

 

Ellie

I don’t get to so many events and things like that. So, it’s really important to have that access to the larger writing community.

 

I’m also on Instagram and Pinterest, they’re kind of platforms that I’m just starting to branch into. But, that’s a lot, you know?

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Ellie

I like taking photos, so Instagram’s fun. And Pinterest, Pinterest is something that I think I could spend an awful lot of time on if I let myself.

 

Allison

I know, that’s the trouble.

 

Ellie

I’m just limiting myself to a certain amount of time each day, otherwise it could turn into an obsession.

 

Allison

I think that’s probably the key to the whole thing.

 

All right. Just to finish up for today, we always ask our interviewees for their top three tips for writers. So, what would you say are your top three tips for YA writers?

 

Ellie

Top three tips for YA writers?

 

OK, well, my first tip would be read in YA. I mean that sounds really obvious, but a lot of people try writing in the category, I should say, before they have had a really good chance to get stuck into what’s already existing in the category. And, so it’s really important for people to be a little bit up with what’s going on in the category and, you know, get to know a few of the people who are writing in the different genres within the category.

 

So, yeah, look, that’s really important, read lots of YA if you want to write in YA.

 

I would also say get a platform so you can communicate with your readers. You know, whether that platform is on Twitter, whether it’s on Facebook or, you know, something else, whether it’s Instagram, find something that makes you feel comfortable, and then you can branch out from there.

 

Allison

Yep.

 

Ellie

And the other thing is, like, I mean this is just a tip for people who are already getting into writing, but you have to take a kind of working-like approach. I mean this is a general writing tip, I guess. I’m of the Stephen King school of writing, you know, which is just bum on seat, just work, and don’t get up until you’re finished, and finish what you start. You know?

 

Like, a bricklayer or a plumber, you know?

 

Allison

Yep.

 

Ellie

I’ve started a job and now I’ve got to complete it.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Ellie

Because, yeah, I’m just not one of those people that kind of waits for the muse to strike or something, I think you have to be a bit more professional in that. I think you have to just knuckle down and work your way through that crappy first draft and then once you’ve got it all out, then you can go back and edit and make it pretty. Yeah.

 

 

 

 

Allison

Fantastic. Well, all right, thank you so much for joining us today, Ellie. It’s been really interesting and I’m sure our listeners have probably got a lot of fantastic tips and things like that to take away with them this week. So, thank you very much, and good luck with the next thing.

 

Ellie

Thank you very much for having me, Allison. Yeah, have a great day.

 

Allison

Thanks.

 

Ellie

Cheers, bye.

 

 

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