Month: February 2018

Tips for First Time Authors

Tips for First Time Authors

With the vast experience (!) of eight months as a published author under my belt, here’s my list of things to make life easier for first time authors. Some of these are hard won knowledge and unspoken secrets that I’m going to share.

Celebrate everything!

Crack open the bubbles or chocolate when you get the email or phone call that says someone wants to publish your book. Wow! Then crack them open again when you get the proofs. It’s real. When you get the box of your books in the mail. How exciting is that! And again when publication day arrives. Congratulations, you have joined the ranks of published authors. And don’t forget to celebrate when you get your first five star review. Having a book published is a great achievement. Having readers who love what you do is fantastic. It’s worth celebrating.

Do NOT compare yourself to other published authors

Remember: life online is curated. What you see and what reality is may be two different things. No one shares their terrible reviews, only their great ones. Photos may have a different story behind them than the one you imagine. Here’s my book, cover out, right near George RR Martin and next to Garth Nix. Prime placement and multiple copies – makes it look like a best seller. I had a couple of authors ask me ‘how on earth did you achieve that?’, as though I had hit some magic jackpot. Partly it was luck – since my surname is Nightingale it fits nicely alphabetically. However, the reality is, right after I snapped the picture, I took a bunch of these books home because they were only on the shelf for a writers festival.

The other thing with comparing yourself is that first time authors – unless they are lucky enough to have a great marketing campaign behind them, which is rare – are never going to receive the same attention as authors who have been around for a while. I’ve been told the rule of thumb is it takes five years (or five books, depending who you talk to) to get noticed. So don’t be discouraged. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Get war stories and tips before signing up for paid promotions

As a first timer, if you’re lucky enough to have a full marketing department behind you, ignore this bit. However, the expectation tends to be that authors will play an active role in their own marketing. And, much like writers festivals and workshops and masterclasses, there is a whole industry around this, ready to take your hard earned royalties. There are so many possibilities, all promising massive increases in attention and sales. And in my experience, and the experience of others, they don’t necessarily achieve a fraction of what they’re promising. So talk to other authors and find out what has worked for them, but remember, different things will work for different books. Part of this side of things is finding the right audience. Readers of fantasy often tend to be different to readers of contemporary fiction. Choose your marketing approaches with this in mind.

Build community

As a writer, you spend a lot of time on your own, inside your head. Many writers have a natural inclination towards introversion so this isn’t necessarily difficult. But when you become an author, you need to engage with the world, promoting your work. This part can be hard. Writers aren’t natural born marketers. I’ve found this side of things is much easier if you have a community of fellow authors who understand what you’re going through, to share support and advice, and to help you out. I’ve had authors share my tweets, expanding my reach way beyond my followers, and I’ve done my best to share others’ posts as well. Surviving as a newbie author is much easier if others have your back, and if you find ways you can help others as well. It can feel isolating and competitive otherwise. There’s plenty of research to show that helping others is a great way to find emotional equilibrium, even to stave off depression, so finding ways to do this is a great antidote to the frustration of being one amongst many authors who are trying to be noticed.

Finally – don’t forget to keep writing

It is SO easy to get caught up in ‘being an author’, worrying about sales and statistics and promotions and what else you could or should be doing. But that’s not why you went into this in the first place is it? You wanted to tell your stories. I know that’s why I went into it. Being a published author is a long term commitment. It’s not just about the next three months, when your book is shiny and new and you need to jump up and down a lot and go ‘look at me!’ If people like your book (and they will!) they’ll want to read the next one. There are characters waiting for some attention, and worlds waiting to be explored and stories jostling for attention. So don’t get so caught up in being an author that you forget to be a writer.  Remind yourself of this on the tough days, and take pleasure in creating when you can.

An Interview with Steampunk author Felicity Banks

An Interview with Steampunk author Felicity Banks

Felicity Banks is an Australian author with a fascinating array of books, including interactive fiction (like ‘Choose your own adventure’ but in an app), an Australian steampunk trilogy set during the gold rush, and a brand new series beginning this week, set in the magical world of Rahana (think Narnia, but with pirates). She has boundless energy for exciting ideas – her next project is ‘Murder in the Mail‘, which will begin in June/July. Felicity also lives the steampunk dream – meet her in person to see her wonderful creations! Make sure you check out her website for trailers and preview pages of all these great books!

Which writer or writers opened your eyes to the magic of storytelling and why?

Childhood is a blur of stories, but I definitely remember CS Lewis’ Narnia stories (all seven). They were fun and exciting and the kind of story that has extra meaning for me as a Christian. Plus, like all my favourite stories, it makes me feel like a stronger, more hopeful person. Certain stories have a knock-on effect of real-world joy and that series was the first to make me feel like a better version of myself.

Why do you think people need stories in their lives?

This is a question that cuts very close to the bone, because I write full-time while also working from home. As the washing piles up and our bank balance dwindles, I have to question how I spend my time. It’s been established in numerous studies that reading increases empathy, and right now there are grave injustices happening around the world simply because humans are bad at caring for other humans who are not immediately in front of them, or who are different. I hope I can write stories that make the world kinder.

What is your greatest magical power as a writer?

I love being all-knowing and all-powerful. It’s a real rush to pull stories and characters out of thin air and make them real. It’s even crazier when the stories become real to others.

Which mythic archetype or magical character most resonates with you and why?

I love heroic journeys. When I was younger I travelled a lot in Indonesia (the inspiration for my fantasy world of Rahana—my middle grade pirate trilogy begins release in February 2018) and I still love the feeling of leaving home behind and being that lighter, braver person. So any archetype about physical and emotional journeys resonates for me. You’ll notice that a lot in my books.

What themes or ideas do you find keep arising in your writing?

I usually write for young adults because it’s such an interesting time of figuring out who you are. But the process doesn’t end there. Everyone has the power to create and recreate who they are regardless of age.

My Australian steampunk fantasy young adult/crossover trilogy will be completed in 2018. The first two books are already out, and there’s excerpts and more info on my blog at


Living with a Creative Mind

Living with a Creative Mind

Recently I did a workshop called “Living with a Creative Mind”, with Julie and Jeff Crabtree, and I found it really valuable so I thought I’d share a couple of the insights from the day. Julie is a psychologist who has undertaken research into mental health and creativity, and Jeff is a professional musician. Through their work they aim to “help creative people to lead a long and productive creative life while avoiding the pitfalls and the perils” (from their website).

By the way, I’m not getting any sort of payment or benefit from this post – I just want to share what I think are some valuable things to understand about your creative mind.  Sometimes it’s a hard slog. The drive to create can feel like a burden as well as a blessing. These ideas really helped me. I’m only going to touch on two concepts but there were so many great ideas in the workshop it’s definitely worth exploring their work further. For more information I’d recommend you go to their website, try to get along to one of their workshops (they are based in Sydney but they travel) or buy their book.

The Creative Ecosystem of the Mind

I found the term ‘ecosystem’ a bit strange, but it’s basically the ecosystem that exists in the creative mind. However, I love cycles as a conceptual tool. I’ve spent many years using and teaching Action Research, which is a cyclical process. So I found the notion of the Creative Ecosystem, which is cyclical, really easy to grasp. The idea is that there are four stages to the creative process: seeing, thinking, making and curiosity. Like the action research cycle, these can happen in any order, but they are all necessary. I know in my writing a lot of ideas are triggered by asking ‘what if?’ For the Tales of Tarya, it all began when I asked, what if you did enter another world when you took on a character onstage? The seeing part, for me, is when you watch the world, or do research, and take in what you are discovering. Years of doing theatre meant I knew how a show comes together and what it takes to perform. The thinking part is that stage in the process where you tease your ideas out, make links, ask further questions to develop your story. I think this is the hardest part for me. I can feel like I’m trudging through quicksand. Finally, comes the making, the stage we tend to think of as our creative practice. Yet as this cycle shows, this is only one stage in the process.

I think this is very freeing, as it means it’s okay (and in fact vital) not only to spend time on research, but also on daydreaming and questioning and playing with ideas. And watching people! Curiosity is a core part of the process. The cycle also offers a solution to creative blocks. As Julie and Jeff said, if your creativity is not working, you can ask yourself which part of the cycle has fallen down. It also means it’s really important to keep your curiosity engaged – go out and experience new things. A great excuse to travel (not that I need an excuse)!

Nine Aspects of the Mind

Much of the focus of this workshop was looking at the nine core aspects of the mind: sense, focus, emotion, ego, energy, attitude, space, action, and thought. These aspects are based on the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who is best known for his work on flow. Flow occurs when someone is so immersed in what they doing that they achieve a state of energised focus. There’s a great post about what flow means for writers by author Isobel Blackthorn, here (click to follow the link).  You can find out a lot more about the nine aspects of mind on the Crabtree’s website and in their book, but for now the important idea is that each of these is a continuum. For example, the aspect of sense (how we connect to the world through our senses) can be insulated (ie not feeling very much at all, protected from input) or skinless (feeling everything).

What I found revelatory was that creative people tend to live at both ends of the continuum, sometimes swinging between them and sometimes feeling both at the same time. For example, in terms of ego, they can feel incredibly confident, almost arrogant, in their creative abilities, but also feel an incredible level of self-doubt. I’ve recognised these sorts of dualities in myself across the different aspects of mind, and I’ve always felt like I should be trying to find balance and stability. But this workshop pointed out that when you are going through your creative cycle, you need the different extremes at different times in the cycle – you may not want to feel emotionally raw while you’re doing your thinking and planning, but it can be very useful during the making. The solution is to recognise that a creative life is a tidal life, and to accept the tides as part of your creative practice. This is very freeing. Becoming aware of your tides, you can start to recognise what tidal phase you are in, and plan your creative practice to suit.

For me these ideas are really valuable. They take the pressure off – I don’t have to try to be a particular way in order to create. I can recognise where I’m at in terms of my cycles and tides and use that energy. If you’re curious to know more, follow the links in the post to learn more about how to live with your creative mind.