Ep 89 Do you mourn the loss of a character? How to write a killer elevator pitch for your book, 10 over-writing traps to avoid, what’s your 2016 writing goal? Win in our “12 Days of Christmas” giveaway; how to pitch to bloggers; and Amazon’s new screenwriting app. And meet epic fantasy novelist Mitch Hogan, author of Blood of Innocents.

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podcast-artwork In Episode 89 of So you want to be a writer: Do you mourn the loss of a character? How to write a killer elevator pitch for your book, 10 over-writing traps to avoid, tell us your 2016 writing goal, and how to enter our “12 Days of Christmas” giveaway. Also: tips on pitching to a blogger, and meet Writer in Residence epic fantasy novelist Mitchell Hogan, author of Blood of Innocents. Plus: a free screenwriting app from Amazon, what to do when agents aren’t taking on new authors, and more.

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

The loss of a character can be as real as the loss of a live person

5 Steps to Writing a Killer Elevator Pitch for Your Book

Writing Fiction? 10 Sneaky Overwriting Traps to Avoid

What’s YOUR 2016 writing goal? Tell us!

8 Tips for Pitching a Blogger

Writer in Residence 

Mitchell Hogan
Mitchell_Hogan-1024x822Mitchell Hogan’s first attempt at writing fantasy was an abysmal failure and abandoned after only one page. But ideas for characters and scenes continued to come to him and he kept detailed notes of his thoughts, on the off chance that one day he might have time to write a novel. For a decade he put off his dream of writing until he couldn’t stand it anymore. Mitchell quit his job and lived off dwindling savings, and the support of his fiancé, until he finished the first draft of A Crucible of Souls.

He now writes full time and is eternally grateful to the readers who took a chance on an unknown author.

A Crucible of Souls won the 2013 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel. His forthcoming book is Blood of Innocents.

Find Mitch on Twitter

App Pick

Amazon debuts Storywriter: A Free Screenwriting Tool for Writing Film & TV Scripts

Working Writer’s Tip

What to do when agents aren’t taking on new authors?

Answered in the podcast!

88 Australian authors to follow on Twitter

Zanni Louise

Competition

12 Days of Christmas giveaway

Entries close 4th January 2016.

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 

Valerie

Thanks for joining us today, Mitch.

 

Mitchell

Thanks for having me.

 

Valerie

We’re very excited about your book that’s coming out this January, the first of January, Blood of Innocence. Now for those readers who haven’t read your book yet, well, they won’t have had a chance to yet, because it’s just about to come out, tell us what they can expect. What’s it about?

 

Mitchell

It’s epic fantasy. When I was growing up I always liked the epic fantasy stories about the young sorcerer with talent who comes into their own I guess you could say in the world at large, and they develop their talents and are thrown into different situations that they have to cope with and to see a lot of growth of the character. So, my epic fantasy series is based along those lines, which some people might think is as a bit tropey, but I really enjoy reading those books, and so that’s the type of series I wanted to write.

 

Valerie

And so this is the second book in the series?

 

Mitchell

That’s correct, yeah.

 

Valerie
Because the first is Crucible of Souls, which won the 2013 Aurealis Award for best fantasy novel. Tell us how that started, like what made you think, “I’m going to write this massive, epic fantasy series now.”

 

Mitchell

Yeah, I’ve always read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I think when I was 11. And, I had actually already written about 100 pages of the book and had gotten some good feedback from Harper Voyager Australia fantasy editor at the time, Stephanie Smith. And I’ve always wanted to finish it, but, you know, real life got in the way and my job had so much overtime. And I got to a stage where I needed a change and so I thought, “I’m going to finish this book I’ve always wanted to write.” And so I actually quit my job and had a few months’ break and then decided to finish off the book.

 

In the end I decided to self-publish it, which I did in July of 2013. And, yeah, it just seemed to take off, through some mysterious coming together of the cover and the title and the blurb and the sample and it sold really well and then won the Aurealis Award and then I had conversations with Harper Voyager, who I ended up signing with, and also was approached by Audible as well for audio books.

 

Valerie
Wonderful.

 

Tell me, how did the idea come about though? I know that you’ve been obsessed with fantasy novels since you were little, but this particular story, was this a story that was brewing in your head for a long time or did it come to you in a flash of lightning? How did it come about?

 

Mitchell

I had a lot of ideas for different scenes, actually. I didn’t have an overall inter-arching plot to cover at first. I had a lot of different characters I thought were interesting and different scenes they were in and so I wrote those first and then I decided upon a main character and wrote more scenes from their point of view. I’m essentially a discovery writer, so all of the books so far have pretty much been discovery written. So, a lot of ideas have come to me while I’ve been writing and the characters have sort of taken me in directions I didn’t think of, or didn’t anticipate at the time.

 

So, really the ideas sort of came to me as I was writing.

 

Valerie

So, when you say that you had ideas for scenes and then later on decided on a main character, did you sort of build your world first in a sense? And can you describe to us what kind of world that is?

 

Mitchell

Yeah, I had an idea, I guess my world is a fairly standard epic fantasy world, with swords and magic and that sort of thing. But, I spent a lot of time on my magic system, which I really like different magic systems in epic fantasy novels. And, so I wanted to come up with my own, I guess unique, magic system. So that was a big part of my world-building, because the magic was going to be a big part of the story as well.

 

So, I spent a lot of time on it, and came up with a lot of ideas, and obviously discarded a lot of ideas, but I think it’s really worked out well. I get a lot of comments on the magic system and how that works. But, overall, I think world-building is quite difficult and it’s quite difficult to get across your world without a lot of exposition and that sort of thing.

 

I like to just put little details here and there all the way through my books so that the reader will end up getting an overall idea of what the world is like and what’s possible in terms of the magic system and other things.

 

Valerie

You say that you’re a discovery writer and you kind of discover what happens to your characters and your plot as it goes along, is that really hard? Because then you have to tie in a whole heap of stuff in Book 2 that you didn’t think of in Book 1, or whatever — is that hard?

 

Mitchell

Yeah, it is. It makes for a messy first draft. And I think discovery writers definitely revise a lot more than planners. But, the thing is once you have the first book out of the way there are things that have to happen in the second book, and once you get the second book out of the way there are definitely things that have to happen in the third book to finish off the story. So, you discovery write, but also the further into a book or a series you get the sort of more, you know the direction you’re going in as well. So, you can come up with ideas and throw them in as well, but you pretty much know by the time you start the third book where the story’s going.

 

Valerie

Sure, and as you are discovering things about the characters’ journeys and about the world itself, let’s get practical, in order to remember them what techniques do you have? Do you stick them up in pictures around your study? Or how do you keep track?

 

Mitchell

I just have some very basic character sheets, and some notes on different things about the world, and really that’s it. I know you can do a lot of world building that really doesn’t get shown in the book. I’ve heard that the world building that you see in the book, or the world that you see in an epic fantasy book is really just the tip of the iceberg and that there’s so much more underneath that an author’s thought of, and that’s fairly true.

 

But, for myself, I really just have some brief character sheets, what the character looks like, their likes and dislikes, and their family and habits and a few other things. And then I guess just some major points about the world and the magic system, of course, which is important for epic fantasy. But, yeah, really that’s it.

 

I don’t go overboard. But, it can be really enjoyable. I know a few epic fantasy authors who really enjoy world-building and they spend a lot of time on it.

 

Valerie

So does that mean that what the readers know about the world is pretty much what you know about the world and there isn’t a lot more that you haven’t revealed yet?

 

Mitchell

Well, there is. I mean you’re always thinking about it when you’re writing, and you obviously can’t put everything in the book. With the series I have created quite a massive world and there’s definitely a lot that I haven’t shown. But, I really just haven’t written it all down.

 

Valerie
Yeah.

 

Mitchell

Yeah.

 

Valerie

Now you said that when you were 11 you were given The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and that you got really into these kinds of books. What was the appeal? What was it that made you love them so much?

 

Mitchell

I think it was probably the scope of the story. Before reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings I read a lot of, I guess, younger fantasy like, I’m just guessing The Hardy Boys and
The Three Investigators, and epic fantasy just has such a larger scope to it, and the world is so much bigger. And, you know, in a lot of epic fantasy books the world is in danger and the characters are saving the world.

 

I guess it really appealed to me, as well as the fantasy setting and the use of magic as well, which was really intriguing to me as a young boy. So, that’s really what got me into them.

 

Valerie
It’s one thing to love reading them, but at some point you obviously decided that you wanted to be a writer. When was that point and what happened?

 

Mitchell

I think I was at university and I wrote a page, for the first time I actually sat down and actually wrote something, and I wrote a page of a fantasy story, but I knew it was really bad. It was terrible. It was about these old wizards with beards dressed in black in this tower, you know, sort of cackling over how evil they were, and I just sort of deleted it at the time. And I didn’t really go back to writing until quite a bit later, I mean maybe ten years later.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Mitchell

Yeah.

 

Valerie

What made you decide to do it then?

 

Mitchell

I just had all of these ideas in my head with these different characters and different scenes and I just wanted to get them down on paper before I forgot them. And that’s when I thought, “Well, you know, I may as well start writing a book,” and so I did and it took a long time from when I started writing to when I actually finished, it took over ten years because, you know, you just don’t have time when you’re working crazy overtime at work.

 

Valerie
Yes.

 

Mitchell

So, yeah.

 

Valerie

I understand that you committed to it though, because you decided, “OK, I’ve got this novel that I want to write now,” or, “… this story that I want to write now,” and you quit your job and got the support of your fiancé, which was very nice.

 

Mitchell

Yes.

 

Valerie

And that ended up in Crucible of Souls, is that how it goes?

 

Mitchell

Yeah, that’s how it happened. I finished the book and that’s really all I wanted to do. And, then once I had it I thought, “Well, hang on, now I have this novel written, shouldn’t I try and publish it?” So, I did start querying agents and publishers and I did get some feedback from Rochelle Fernandez at Harper Voyager, and I ended up deciding to self-publish. I had an agent interested at the time, actually, but I decided to self-publish any way.

 

Valerie
Why?

 

Mitchell

It really came down to I really just wanted to get it out there honestly.

 

Valerie
Yeah.

 

Mitchell

I realized that if I sat down and tried to query more agents or publishers or whatever, that it’s very rare that a book actually gets accepted by an agent, and then even if you are you may not even get a publishing contract. So, I had done a lot of research into self-publishing and there are authors that aren’t doing well at it, there are authors that are making a living and there are authors that are doing really, really well at it.

 

But, ultimately I just thought I wanted to get my book out there and I wanted the readers to decide whether it was any good or not.

 

And I guess that was my main motivation, just to see whether it was any good or not.

 

Valerie

So how successful was it? What can you tell us about, you know, you don’t necessarily have to reveal figures or anything. But, how successful was it?

 

Mitchell

It was surprisingly successful. It sold over 4,000 copies in the first month. And, from both the books, sold over 40,000 copies from the self-published version, before I had to take them down from Harper Voyager’s versions to come out.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Mitchell

And the audio books have sold over 40,000 as well, audio books.

 

Valerie

Great. So reverse time, go back in time, and you’re at that point now you’ve finished writing, you’ve sent it to some agents, if you had your time again would you do things differently?

 

Mitchell

I don’t think I would because it’s worked out so well. Really, it’s worked out so well for me. So, I wouldn’t do anything differently, to be honest.

 

My chances of getting an agent, at the time, you know, a few years ago, were no better than anyone else’s. So, it’s just worked out well for me. I wouldn’t change anything, no.

 

Valerie

What job were you in that you quit and decided to throw yourself into writing? What kind of role was it?

 

Mitchell

It was in the finance industry, I was working in a US bank in the CBD of Sydney in fund accounting, which probably doesn’t mean much to most people.

 

But, yeah, it was a good job, for a good company. But, it was just time for a change. I had been with them for almost ten years and, yeah, I just wanted to write this book, so I took a chance.

 

Valerie

That’s a totally different world.

 

Mitchell

Yeah, it is. It is, it’s crazily different.

 

Valerie

And what did your friends… I can relate because I’m a former accountant and I used to audit those fund managers and deal with the fund accountants. Having said that, I have a very different life now. What did your friends and colleagues and peers think about this? About the part you decided to take?

 

Mitchell

Everyone was very supportive and everyone thought it was great. But, then even myself at that stage, I really had no idea about the publishing industry and what it was like. I think most of my friends probably thought that you write a book and that’s a huge achievement and you should have no problems getting a publisher’s contract or something like that, which is obviously not the reality.

 

So, yeah, it’s been a steep learning curve the last few years, because I was terribly naïve about publishing and self-publishing and what was going on in the industry. So, yeah, I think some of the authors even now they focus on writing rather than the business of writing as well.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Mitchell

I think you have to be good at both.

 

Valerie

Yeah, definitely. And you were obviously successful with your self-publishing efforts. What did you think you did right that made it work? Apart from obviously writing a great book, or a great two books.

 

Mitchell

Yeah, I tried to make my book indistinguishable from a traditionally published epic fantasy book, so I paid for a professional cover. I had professional editing, copy editing, proofreading, formatting, which I paid for myself, it was a fair bit. So, tried to make my product indistinguishable from traditionally published epic fantasy books, and I priced it at what I thought was a reasonable price for a professional product, which was a lot higher than most self-published authors had out there.

 

 

Valerie

Especially if you want to make it indistinguishable from the other professional books.

 

Mitchell

Right, and I think price got some eyes on it that wouldn’t otherwise have had looked at it. I think, so, yeah.

 

Valerie
Now Harper Voyager comes calling, they’ve released the books, but as you’ve referred to it as the Harper Voyager version of the books, because obviously they’ve provided some feedback and you’ve done some edits.

 

Mitchell

Yeah.

 

Valerie

How different is the Harper Voyager version to the original version?

 

Mitchell

The story is the same, and it’s obviously been polished a lot, a lot better than the version I had that came out.

 

I guess Harper Voyager’s task, I guess you could say, was not to change the book or the change the story, but just to polish it and to, you know, look in the closets and clean out all of the bits and pieces and really just make it a much better book and more readable and appeal to more readers than it did originally.

 

So, the story is the same. It’s been… some of the point of view characters I had in there we’ve removed, so the story focuses more on the main character. But, essentially that’s it. So, it’s definitely a far more polished version, but, yeah.

 

Valerie

You were so successful with the self-published version, why go with Harper Voyager? What was the appeal?

 

Mitchell

The appeal for me is that I wanted to try and turn my tens of thousands of readers into a hundred thousand readers or two hundred thousand readers, if possible. I felt that was a good goal for me to aim for. I wanted to… my goal after having published and after the book took off, I had to reassess my goals as an author, like, “What do I want? What am I doing with this? I can now turn this into a career.” And my goal was to make a living out of my writing and that’s what I want to keep doing.

 

A good way to do that is to get a traditional publishing contract under your belt and get their marketing and support, and try and reach a lot more readers than you can own your own as a self-published author.

 

So, obviously if you self-publish the print market is really something that’s hard to get into and really tough to crack, and you can’t even get a decently priced copy of your own book if you go through print on demand as well.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Mitchell

So, that’s a big problem. So, getting a more polished version out there, reaching a lot more readers, and hopefully that will set me up for future releases going forward.

 

Valerie

So when you are writing, so particularly say when you were writing the second on, because you’ve some runs on the board, you know what you’re doing, when you’re writing what’s your typical day like? Do you have a writing routine? Do you focus entirely on the book, or do you do other projects?

 

Mitchell

Obviously I’ve got a young daughter as well and I’ve had to look after her on and off, so there’s a bit of disruption there. But, I try and get as much writing done as I can in the morning. I’m not a fast writer. So, if I get 1,000 words or 1,500 words done before lunch, I think that’s fantastic for me.

 

So, I like to get my writing done in the morning, if I need to do more writing in the afternoon I can, but then I can focus on other things about writing, or authors’ groups and forums, and chatting with other authors, and also editing as well. I usually have two books on the go. I’m writing a book while I’m revising or editing another book, so I can do that in the afternoon as well.

 

Valerie

You obviously haven’t lost the taste for self-publishing because you have recently self-published Inquisitor, which is another one of your novels, is that right?

 

Mitchell

That’s right. I wrote a science fiction sort of space opera novel called Inquisitor as a fun side project while I was writing this fantasy trilogy.

 

Valerie

Because you didn’t have enough to do.

 

Mitchell

Yeah, that’s right. So, you know, I just thought I’d do that.

 

So, I didn’t write much on it every week, but at the end of it I think it was 75,000 words, something like that. So, it was a decent amount. And I thought I would just get it out there and see how it went. So, I did the same thing I did with the Crucible of Souls, and I got a professional cover, professional editing and formatting.

 

Valerie

And how has it gone?

 

Mitchell

It’s done OK. I was expecting it to do OK. But, there’s a little bit of crossover between fantasy and science fiction readers, not a huge amount. But, at the moment I’m really focusing on my fantasy trilogy with Harper Voyager and getting that right and getting it out there.

 

Valerie
Sure.

 

Mitchell

And then after that I can focus on, say, promoting any other books I have.

 

Valerie

There’s a lot of discussion these days about building an author platform, and that is particularly important for self-publishers who don’t necessarily have access to publicists or that sort of thing. How important do you think it is to build your author platform?

 

Mitchell

I think it’s hugely important, and it’s right up there… or even a mailing list is probably part of your author platform. I think that’s hugely important. Having a good platform, readers that you know are waiting for your next books and you’ve got ways of interacting with them and letting them know when your next book is out can really give you a huge boost in the beginning, once the book is released, and that leads to a great deal of visibility and a lot more sales. And, reviews coming a lot quicker as well. So, having a professional author platform is essential, really.

 

Valerie
What do you think are the key steps in building one?

 

Mitchell

It can be hard. I’m probably not the best person to talk to about that, because my book took off and I haven’t had to really do the hard slog that a lot of self-published authors have had to do.

 

I think the key is probably getting your mailing list set up as quickly as possible. Getting a social media presence out there. But, I wouldn’t really say that’s… I guess that probably depends on genre as well. I think a lot of romance authors have fantastic social media platforms and that works really well for them, but I think with epic fantasy the social media is really more for readers of a way of sort of interacting with the author rather than a way of selling books as well, so it can be different for different genres, so it is a bit tricky.

 

Valerie

What’s next for you? What are you working on now? Apart from promoting this book, what are you writing now?

 

Mitchell

I’m in the middle of the structural edit of the third book in the series, which is actually due to Harper Voyager tomorrow, but it won’t be sent tomorrow. So, it will probably be sent this weekend, but I’m also writing another big fantasy novel, which I’ve written about 75 words on.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Mitchell

So, yeah, that’s my next project.

 

 

 

Valerie

It almost doesn’t add up, because you know how you said you’re a slow writer, it doesn’t sound like you’re a slow writer. It sounds like these stories are just coming.

 

Mitchell

Well, I think the key is I try and write consistently and that way if you just write, say, 1,000 words a day on just weekdays, then you’re going to get, say, 250,000 words written in a year, and that’s a lot. So, I think just writing consistently can really be a big help. So, it just adds up, like any task that seems mountainous, you do a little bit at a time and before you know it’s all added up and you’re halfway there. And, it’s all downhill from there.

 

Valerie

What do you enjoy most about writing? What is it that you love the best?

 

Mitchell

I think finishing a book.

 

Valerie

Finishing?

 

Mitchell

Yeah. Yeah, it can be hard for me and when you’re in the middle of writing a novel, especially with discovery writing, because it can seem like such a big mess, and come up with ideas and you know you’ve got to go back and revise the first 80,000 words of the book.

 

Valerie

Oh, god.

 

Mitchell

So, it can be a nightmare, but I really like having written and having the story finished. And, I actually enjoy working with editors as well, because they focus on taking your story and making it better and improving it, and you also learn from them as well.

 

I’ve worked with a lot of good editors already. Derek Prior, who I worked with for my self-published work, and now Rochelle Fernandez at Harper Voyager and David Pomerico at Harper Voyager US, and it’s really great working with editors and really getting the best out of your work. And they can see things that you just can’t see, because you’re just too close to it.

 

Valerie

Do you take everything that they say onboard typically?

 

Mitchell

Yeah, there’s been a few occasions where I’ve just said, “No.” For example, in The Crucible of Souls one of the point of view characters they suggested to cut out, and I thought they’re an essential point of view character, so I said ‘no.’ But, generally the feedback is spot on and it’s good to have a back and forth as well. You don’t just say, “No, I’m not going to do that,” you say, “Well, I don’t think I should do that because of these reasons,” and they’ll come back with their reasons and you’ll either persuade them or they’ll persuade you and you’ll get to the right point eventually.

 

 

Valerie

So, Blood of Innocence is out the first of January. What do you want people to feel after they’ve read it?

 

Mitchell

I want them to feel that the journey that they’ve taken on the first book or the beginnings of the journey is really reaching a crucial point in the story. IN the first book I left a lot of things intentionally sort of mysterious and a lot more things come out in the second book. And, I really wanted readers to realize that the third book is going to be even better and the direction I’ve pointed them in with all of these different characters and different plot points is really going to be a great finale in the third book.

 

Valerie

Now, of course people are going to appreciate it a lot more if they start with the first book, but is it a stand-alone story? Can people read the second book?

 

Mitchell

No, it’s not standalone at all. It’s an epic fantasy trilogy, so, yeah, you’d have to read the
Crucible of Souls first, because otherwise you’d be quite lost if you…

 

Valerie

You’d have to go back? OK, fantastic.

 

Well, it’s an award-winning book, so I have no doubt people are going to love both of them.

 

Finally, what’s your advice for aspiring writers who maybe they’re fund accountants at a bank or something and they would like to be in a position like you one day, being a full time writer?

 

Mitchell

I think know what your goals are, why you want to write, what you want to get out of it at the end. Do you just want your print book on the shelf of a book store? Or do you want to make a living or do you want to win awards? You really need to know what you want to get out of it, what your goals are.

 

And I think also as well is, as I said earlier, there’s writing and then there’s the business of writing. You really need to understand both and I think if you don’t then you’re doing yourself a disservice because as an author you’re essentially a small business, and you’re trying to make money and trying to make a living out of your writing, at least that’s my goal, it might not be your goal as an author, but, yeah, you really need to understand the business of writing as well.

 

Valerie

That’s great advice and on that note thank you so much for your time today, Mitch.

 

Mitchell

Thanks for having me.

 

 

 

 


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