Smart People Talking: Kylie Chan

Kylie Chan is a best-selling Aussie author well known for her Dark Heavens, Journey to Wudang, and Celestial Battle trilogies. Known for her captivating ability to blend fantasy, action, and mythology, Kylie has won a legion of loyal fans with her adventure-filled works. While at Brisbane’s Oz Comic-Con this year, Kylie joined forces with Queenie Chan for the ‘Written, Drawn, Edited, and Published’ panel, where they talked about the art and science of writing.

‘Write every day’ is nonsense. The idea has to be ripe and ready to go onto the paper.

Just because you’ve got an idea doesn’t mean it’s ready to be written. Forcing a story onto the page before it’s ready is painful, and generally ends with a bunch of words you’re not too thrilled with. Give it time to percolate and evolve in your mind. The more time you give yourself to understand the story, the more depth you’ll find in the idea.

Sit in a cafe. It’s scientifically proven to really help the words to flow. Go to a place where people are moving around you but not interacting with you.

When the writing isn’t going well, get out of the rut by physically moving to a new space. If you always write in a particular place at a particular time, try changing it up. The new sounds and vibes will help break through the blocks in place, and help get the story flowing again.

As much as we talk about writing as a solitary pursuit, for some people, the best writing space has other people moving freely within it, making noise.

The best way to get your name out is to write short stories. If you get your short stories out enough, your name will start to appear in more places. If they haven’t heard your name before, it’s unlikely you’ll get anywhere.

Write. That’s how to get your writing career started. Write, and submit your work. Find places that are reputable, and that fit the stories you’re writing, and try getting published. Enter competitions as often as you can. Keep writing, and keep sending out your work. Make it a habit. And when the only answer you’re getting is no, write something new and start again. Don’t quit. Keep trying until you’re published, and then keep trying to get more publishing credits under your belt.

If you’ve got just one beautifully crafted novel, they’ll think twice about accepting it. But if they think you’ll be a cash cow, they’ll say yes.

Being prolific isn’t a bad thing. If you can come to a publisher with a series, rather than a stand alone novel, they’re often more likely to say yes because there’s likely not going to be a massive lag between finished projects. You’re only marketable when you have something to market- and while nostalgia and cult fandom can help, the best way to create a sustainable career in writing is to write and publish as often as possible.

Don’t verbal all over people. Use an elevator pitch.

It’s easy to get nervous before you pitch your work, and it’s just as easy to babble when you’re talking to new people about what you’re working on. So write yourself an elevator pitch, and learn it by heart. Stand in front of a mirror and recite it, say it morning or night- whatever it takes for you to get as familiar with the words as possible. Then, whenever someone asks you what you’re writing, or wanting to have published, you have a polished, professional sounding answer rather than a verbal vomit.

It’s also important to remember to ditch the negative terminology. They’re not gatekeepers preventing you from moving forward in your career, they’re people doing their jobs. If someone says no, don’t take it as a personal insult and don’t throw a tantrum. It’s a small industry in Australia, too small for your career to survive making people want to avoid you.

The only real way to sell books is word of mouth.

All the slick social media presences and advertising campaigns in the world can’t trump word of mouth. This ties into the ‘don’t be a dick’ rule- Google ‘authors behaving badly’ and you’ll see that readers have just as long a memory as booksellers, publishers, editors, and agents. Maybe once upon a time authors were able to be egotistical assholes and be forgiven because of their talent. Today, though, there are millions of authors out there, and we’re not so starved for stories that we’ll accept verbal abuse. Be kind, be professional, and be polite. Be generous with your time as much as possible when people want a book signed- but always have limits to what you’ll do and how much time you’ll give. Remember, you’re not owed an audience of readers. Respect them, and they’ll respect you and your work.

Publishers are often looking for self published success stories.

Don’t be afraid to go your own way and self publish. You don’t need one of the big five publishers behind you to make it as an author. Sometimes the best way to get the backing of one of the big publishing houses is to have gone off on your own and proved your mettle without them. It’s more effort in a lot of ways, but it’s certainly something to consider.

Novellas sell well at Cons.

If you’re thinking about scoring some space in writer land at the next Con, think about what will sell, and what you’ll need. Novellas sell well at cons, because they’re a bit lighter and easier to carry around when you’re trying to lug your new merch buys around the area. But novels are always popular, too.

Have a really good plot with interesting characters in an engaging landscape.

That’s it. That’s storytelling. Each element is important. Don’t assume that your characters can hold up a story when there’s no landscape for them to move in, or that characters wandering a beautiful landscape aimlessly will resonate well with readers. You need all three.

Authors are not special little snowflakes.

Writers write, and that’s wonderful and all, but we’re not curing cancer. We’re not building affordable accommodation for the homeless. We’re putting words on the page. It’s important, and at times the words we write have a lot of power to empower or bring change. But get over the idea that we’re special. We’re not.

I have a Moffat list of open threads.When I write a new book, I re-read what I’ve already done.

When you’re working on a series, there’s going to be a lot of plot threads and character arcs for you to keep track of. The quickest way to avoid forgetting an important part of the story is to keep track of the open threads in each successive story. That way, you can go back and see what you’ve resolved, and what still needs to be resolved, and you can add the new elements as they arise.

I’ve written out plot lines, but it’s never been more than half a page. They’re there to remind me.

The best way to plot is whatever way works for you. That’s it. If it’s massively detailed, that’s great. If it’s not, that’s great, too. Whatever works for you.

I am the writer. I am the creator, and they still do things that surprise me. That’s good. If it surprises me, it’ll surprise the reader.

Stories grow and evolve, and characters tend to develop a life of their own as their personalities become more fully formed. Don’t stress when your stories move away from the original idea- they’re meant to.

Sometimes you write a scene or place and you make it really authentic but it doesn’t ring true- it feels like a stereotype. Often, you have to go a bit out there.

The way we think reality is and the way reality is aren’t always the same thing. You can research the hell out of a subject, event, or location, and people who were there may not even see that it’s accurate. Our idea of these things is shaped by our perspective- whether we were in a good mood or not, what was happening in our lives at that point- not just what happened. Sometimes the most out there, factually inaccurate representation is the one that rings true for readers.

Don’t cluster bomb your work. If you don’t follow submission guidelines, it’ll be binned. Do it again and you’ll be blacklisted. Give them what they want- not just what you want to give them. And if you don’t deliver, it’s bad.

There’s only so many times people will give you their time and attention when you’re dismissing their boundaries and making them work harder then they need to. Agents and publishers don’t owe you their time, and doing things that make their job harder is the quickest way to make sure they’re not going to be interested in working with you. First timer exuberance only buys you so much lenience here- so be professional and courteous, and abide by the submission guides.

It should go without saying that if you promise to deliver a manuscript by a set date, you need to have it there by that date. From time to time, things will crop up, but for the most part, no one is going to chase you up for your work into perpetuity. They’ll just give up on it and move on. Don’t give them the chance to do that.

Our books are our babies. Anything less than a glowing review can make us cry for half a day.

Writers can be rather precious about their work. You’ve put your heart and soul into it, it’s only natural that criticism (constructive or otherwise) can be an incredibly emotional experience. If it’s going to destroy you to read the reviews, don’t read them. If you really want to know, consider asking someone you trust (and who won’t flame negative reviewers) to read them for you, and pass on any relevant information.Relevant being the constructive feedback that can help you be a better writer (and compliments, too, because let’s be honest, it’s nice to hear people appreciate your efforts).

Don’t flame negative reviewers. Don’t troll, or buy into trolling. Be professional. If you’re tempted to go on the defensive, Google ‘authors behaving badly’ and have a look at how it’s gone for others (spoiler: it’s gone badly, and cost them a hell of a lot of potential readers). There’s no take-backs on the internet, and no way to buy back reader goodwill once it’s gone.

 

 

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