By Evangeline Jennings
Like every Australian I’ve ever met, author Ian Walkley has traveled a lot. It’s something that comes through in his writing and makes it difficult to pin him down for an interview. But we’re nothing if not persistent here at Club P, and I eventually tracked Ian down to learn about his experiences and adventures in self-publishing.
How the hell – and where the hell – are you?
I’m back in Brisbane, Australia where I work from home. Feeling frustrated at the moment, because I am trying to discipline myself to develop an outline for my story rather than just writing it. Because I took three years to write my first novel No Remorse, I’d like to get that down to about three months. Life’s too short to stuff around. Lee Child says he just sits and writes. Maybe I should too. But my problem is I like complex plots, and I tend to get sidetracked easily.
I understand you’ve just got back from a trip to America – mixing business with pleasure and air traffic delays? Tell us what you did on your holidays.
I went over with my wife to collect my daughter who had spent six months finishing high school in Iowa. We drove up to London, Ontario where I met my book editor Jodie Renner, and then went to Montreal which was one of the settings in my novel No Remorse, but I hadn’t been there. All good.
After that we traveled down New England to Boston and trained it to NY so I could attend Thrillerfest. My other daughter flew from London to be with us (and go shopping in NY). At Thrillerfest I met Lee Child, along with lots of other famous thriller authors. So exciting!
Interesting. Tell me more?
Thrillerfest is the annual writing conference for thriller writers. It’s always held in New York in early July and I’ve been the last three years. This year Lee Child gave a session called “Tell Don’t Show: Why Writing Rules are Mostly Wrong”.
I gave Lee a signed copy of my book too, so I hope he reads it! He was cross-examined about Tom Cruise being Jack Reacher in the movie, and was very diplomatic about it. I suspect he had little choice in the matter.
There are three parts to Thrillerfest – Craftfest, which is concentrated sessions run by experienced authors; Agentfest, which is like speed dating for debut authors looking for an agent; and Thrillerfest itself, which is mainly panel sessions of writers.
There are cocktail parties and a dinner at the end where awards are given for best thriller books, and a distinguished author is designated as ThrillerMaster of the Year. This year it was Jack Higgins, who unfortunately wasn’t well enough to make it over from the UK.
Are you a member of the ITW?
I’m an associate member. You need to be published by an accredited publisher to be a full member.
Did you attend Agentfest?
Yes. I have five agents interested, and one publisher. Some want me to send them my first novel, others want me to send the second, unpublished one.
So I guess we’ll see what happens. I would like to have a large publisher one day.
Now, I know you have self-published and we’ll talk about that in a moment, but did you pursue traditional publishing first? What were the factors that persuaded you to go it alone?
I never actually submitted the final MS to an agent or publisher. I submitted earlier drafts.
In Australia, there are about 12 literary agents, and all of them rejected my work for various reasons. It was a bad time for the book industry, because ebooks were causing chaos and everyone was trying to figure out if they’d survive.
I had four US agents considering my work too, but they were slow getting back to me. In the end I thought it would take me another two-three years to get published if I waited (assuming I would eventually be accepted). Being a DIY man from way back, I decided to take life into my own hands and self-publish.
I hired an editor in Australia for a structural edit, and then I found Jodie Renner, who ended up doing the full copy edit plus helping me on structure, plot, character and so on.
At the end of it, I had a good piece of work, and I ebook’d in January 2012, then developed POD through Create Space (US) and Lightning Source in UK.
And how has it worked out for you?
I had 2,000 copies printed for Australian distribution, where I can have some control, and so far I’ve sold around 400 of those. I’ve sold around 2,000 ebooks, mostly through Amazon. Sales are steady but not huge. Indie publishing is a little different from a traditional launch which is with a big fanfare. Indie-publishing is about ongoing promotion, and gradual discovery.
Even getting the book into bookstores is difficult. I have a growing number in Australian stores, but I can’t really influence those in the US or UK. I need to get my second and third books out in the next 12 months.
Meanwhile, at Thrillerfest, I received some interest in No Remorse (and my second book) from a publisher, and several agents. I am following up these opportunities, because ultimately, I’d like to have a publisher and agent, and be seen to be a professional novelist. Regardless of how good your work is, self-published authors are not considered to have “made it”. Unless of course they elected to become indie after having a publisher.
It seems like you have taken a very structured and professional approach to self-publication. Would you say that was true?
Definitely. Partly out of naivety, not understanding the complexity of the publishing industry distribution system, and partly because I am a strong believer in quality control and attention to detail. I do not agree with writers who self-publish without using a professional editor. I had copies printed because I wanted to have the book in stores. I know people like the book, they just have to be made aware of it. I also have different US and UK editions and a different Aussie edition. Many self-pubbers only produce one version.
I went green when I saw that lovely picture of a pallet load of proper dead tree books. How important was that to you? Why?
Green with envy? LOL. I was on the one hand proud that the book was printed so nicely, and on the other scared of the challenge of selling 2,000 copies in Australia. But seeing that pallet of books made it somehow real. I had a product, after three years effort. If I was to do it over again, I’d probably only self-pub an e-book and continue to pitch to agents and publishers. Still, it is nice to hold a copy of the final printed book.
Can you take us through some of the self-publishing process? Did you use an editor? A cover design artist? Proof-readers?
My wonderful editor is Jodie Renner from Canada, who helped me with the US lingo among other things. Jodie likes to focus on thrillers. Before Jodie, I had used Deonie Fiford in Sydney for advice on plot and scene structure. I had no idea there were so many different types of editing that could be done. For the cover, I ran a competition among graphic design students, and found Nicole Wong’s design fitted with my ideas. I have a friend who is good at picking up errors, but not of the standard an editor does. With my second book, I have some readers who are keen to help read drafts.
How did you approach marketing? I know you have previous marketing and consumer research experience, was that helpful or did you have to relearn some of the things you thought you knew when you began marketing your book?
Good question. I’ve always known that distribution is one of the keys to successful marketing. I don’t mind the marketing side, but I get frustrated when bookstores won’t stock the book because they don’t use my distributor for one reason or another. And it took me a while to realize that there are millions of books that could be stocked, so how does a bookstore choose? When I do book signings, I can sell more than 20 books in a couple of hours, but if my book is occupying one space on the shelves, how do you think it sells if nobody knows who I am, or hasn’t had someone tell them No Remorse is a great read? Add to this the fact only about 1% of the population reads novels. It is an incredibly difficult and complex market. I have a great respect for successful book retailers.
What’s the single most important lesson you’ve learned so far – as a writer?
Don’t give up your day job, write because you love it, and be prepared for a long journey.
And as a human?
Wow, that’s a tough one, there’s so much to learn isn’t there? I would say, pursue your dreams while you’re young.
What next for Ian, the writer?
I want to finish my Aussie crime thriller by Christmas, and have the sequel to No Remorse finished by end of June 2013. And improve my tennis game.
Three authors you’d love to have a beer with?
Beer – do authors drink beer? I reckon I’d like to have a beer with you Evie, and we’ll invite Don Winslow and Harlan Coben along.
If you could change one thing about the country you live in, what would it be?
Are we talking Gods here, or humans? Australia is very dry. I’d like a mountain range across the Simpson Desert, and some large lakes like those in the US/Canada.
At the human end, we’ve been squandering our inheritance as a country. In a few years the mining boom will be over and we will be not as well positioned as we might be. We need to direct our spending more towards infrastructure and city designs that conserve energy.
Karaoke is mandatory. Once a year. On your birthday. What song would you sing? And how well?
Anyone can do a good “I Will Survive”. But I’m a sucker for sentimental, so I’d go with “Masquerade”. I love these questions!
Let’s try my favourite question out on you now then. You inherit five million dollars the same day aliens land on the earth and say they’re going to blow it up in two days. What do you do?
Have sex with as many women as… hey, come on, what sort of a question is that? Really, I’d probably email Oprah and tell her not to worry about putting No Remorse on next month’s bookclub list.
They’re casting for the movie of your book – who would you like to see in the leading roles?
Lee McCloud: Maybe Aaron Eckhart, Paul Walker, Ryan Reynolds. NOT Tom Cruise, please!
Khalid: Eric Bana
Tally: Michelle Williams, Natalie Portman, Kate Beckinsdale, Rhona Mitra?
Ebook – http://amzn.com/B006D30IBE