Q. You have a new book coming out – Rogue Gadda, the third book in the Dream of Asarlai trilogy. Can you talk about the moment you realised you had a full-blown trilogy on your hands?
A. Originally, it was written as a series because the focus was on the romance.
In the romance genre, it’s quite common to see series with the same world, and recurring characters but a new couple to focus on in each book. No continuing storyline.
The moment I developed the world, and saw how interesting it was, I knew I wanted to write more than one book.
Then I put the first book (called Love in Control, later to become Secret Ones) through the CSFG novel crit group, and I’m pretty sure it was Gillian Polack who suggested an overarching storyline to bring the three of them together.
The idea really struck me, and so I developed Asarlai and her simple but bold plan to announce the gadda to humanity so they could take their rightful place as rulers of planet earth.
It meant a whole lotta rewriting and adjusting to the storyline, but by the third book it knit together really naturally and ended up making it all mega-fun.
The Dream of Asarlai trilogy: Asarlai believes the secret existence of the gadda is holding them back, and she’s stolen the Forbidden Texts to change that. It’s up to the six guardians of the gadda to stop her.
Book one, Secret Ones: Maggie Shaunessy revels in being a trouble-maker, while Lucas Valeroso is determined to put his bad past behind him. When they meet and sparks fly, both have to reconcile their past in order to move forward in new roles they never dreamed they would have.
Book two, Power Unbound: Ione Gorton’s happy being a rare gadda with no power, while Stephen O’Malley is obsessed with becoming one of the most powerful gadda ever. However, Asarlai’s plans are ramping up and both of them find their lives irrevocably changed thanks to Asarlai’s actions. Can they help each other through it?
Book three, Rogue Gadda: Hampton Rourke is struggling with the responsibilities of being Sabhamir, the protector of the gadda. When he meets Charlotte Haraldson, who hates everything and everyone gadda, he has to find a way to make her his in order to find Asarlai and end her dastardly plans once and for all.
Q. Breaking in – can you talk about your experience of breaking into the publishing industry and how you sold the Dream of Asarlai trilogy to HarperCollins?
A. At the end of 2007, I came to a realisation that if I was ever going to live a happy life, then I needed to give my dream of being published everything I had.
So I re-arranged my life, went to work part-time at a local supermarket and picked the project I was going to work on.I chose my fantasy romance novel because it not only was one I enjoyed working on, but it was also the one I considered most commercially viable out of all my projects.
I started working on it in earnest in February 2008 and by November, it was ready for submission. For reasons that to this day I don’t understand, I decided to submit myself and not get an agent. I targeted three markets – America, Australia and electronic (note – nowadays you’d be fighting an up hill battle to get a major publisher to sign you if you’ve sold erights elsewhere – take note). America I submitted to Baen (which you can do without needing and agent, but it takes a long time for them to get back) and then I forgot about it. Electronically, I chose three or four romance-based epublishers (romance has REALLY embraced electronic publishing, more than speculative fiction) and started subbing there.
In Australia, I started with Allen and Unwin, who were running the Friday Pitch. Every Friday, you could submit a completed manuscript and it would be considered. I didn’t think I’d get picked up by them (A&U are known for a more literary style than I write) but I wanted to get my first rejection out of the way quickly. It was a good rejection – not for us but one of the better manuscripts we’ve seen.
That encouraged me to keep going. Next was Orbit – I knew they were chasing Australian authors for the global imprint. The response I got from them was not for us – but they’d passed it to their romance department as well. They too passed on it but still I was encouraged – books don’t get passed around a publisher unless the first editor sees something in it. Orbit’s thought – too much romance for them.
At the same time, I got my second electronic rejection and it said – too much fantasy. I was confused – which was right? In the end, I decided to back my own thoughts and I submitted a query to Stephanie Smith at HarperVoyager.
Stephanie said she’d see the manuscript, so I sent it to her. By now it was May, 2009. I saw Stephanie at the Natcon in Adelaide in June and she told me that she had it, but it would probably take her a while to read it. So I went on with other things and didn’t pay no mind to what was happening with my novel.
A month later, Stephanie emailed me saying she loved the book. That was a Friday. I spent the weekend doing up the trilogy synopsis (I’d only sent her the first book synopsis with the query) and sent that to her. Thursday, she contacted me saying they would take it to acquisitions and checking on possible publication dates. Friday, she called to talk me through the whole process. The following Tuesday, HarperCollins decided to buy the trilogy.
It happened RIDICULOUSLY quickly. Honestly, it doesn’t normally happen this fast. There’s lots of people out there that can tell you they waited months, even years from when the manuscript was submitted until it was purchased. Six weeks doesn’t happen.
The publishing happened fast too. That was all July 2009. Secret Ones (the first book) came out July 2010, Power Unbound in January 2011 and Rogue Gadda hits the shelves July 1. Fast, fast, fast.
Q. Did you have your own personal ’darkest hour’ in the process of getting your novels written and published (for example, a moment you thought it would never happen), and how did you get through it to achieve success?
A. Oh boy, did I It started around 2005/2006 – I’d not sold any short stories for a while, the novels were get knockbacks and I had started to get into editing, which I loved. I also moved from part-time to full-time journalism.
All these things said to me that maybe writing fiction wasn’t what I was meant to do. Journalism was relatively fun and easy. Editing was fun and I loved working with writers and helping them get their best work across. Maybe this was where my energies lay.
But the dream of having my own book wouldn’t go away. I’d first decided I wanted to be a writer when I was 11 years old and despite the years of not really trying, it was a part of me. The move back to writing actually started when Cat Sparks posted a blog on regrets, mulling over it all as she worked her way into a new decade alive.
It fired me up – I was a year and a half away from turning 40, and I thought I’d hate to reach that milestone and have regrets. So I made a list of things I wanted to do before I turned 40 and started working on it.
With the idea of no regrets on my mind, I had a sudden realisation that I needed to re-focus on my dream of being a published novellist. I had a vision of myself on my deathbed and I just knew that I’d be devastated if I got to that point and thought ‘Maybe if I’d tried harder…’
The rest is described in my answer to the previous question. I look back on that time now and I don’t regret it. I learned a lot from my time editing and being a journalist (and editing is something I hope to get back to) and it made me the writer I am today.
The important thing is to recognise what you dream is, and then do what you can to make it happen. Recognise that it might not – my aim was just to give it all I had, so that at the end I couldn’t blame myself for not being published.
So give it all you got, and know that that in itself is an incredible achievement.
Q. You edited the anthology The Outcast: An Anthology of Exiles and Strangers. Can you tell us about the experience and if you would jump into an editing role again if the opportunity came up?
A. I would love to edit again – I’ve got plans, but it just requires time and money. But I will definitely edit again.
Working on The Outcast was fabulous. I really do get as much joy from other people’s achievements as I do from my own, and it was fabulous to get the opportunity to work with other people to help them polish their stories. Some of those stories went through a lot of work – Rowena Cory Daniells and I passed her story back and forth several times in order to nail the ending and it really did work. Others, such as Kaaron Warren’s award nominated ‘Woman Train’ didn’t require any touch-up at all. I will never forget the moment I first read that story – it was EVERYTHING that I wanted for the anthology. I was so pleased that other people loved it as well.
I was really pleased with the anthology. One of the things I loved most was that every time someone posted a review or listed their favourite stories, it was a different list. I loved that I seemed to have found something for everyone. And I loved that it was gender balanced, and that there was a range of cultures represented and that it got to look at lots of different ideas of the term ‘outcast’. It’s not a perfect anthology – I doubt anyone’s first book of ANYTHING is perfect – but I’m still proud to stand up and say it’s mine.
Working on The Outcast coincided with me editing my one and only edition of Andromeda Spaceways as well – Issue 25. The fun with that one was getting the second Red Priest story from Dirk Flinthart – I’d worked on the first story as an assistant editor with Edwina Harvey and was so happy to publish the second.
The entire experience really did help me in my own writing – learning to break story down and work on it.
Even if you don’t want to edit, I’d really recommend getting into critiquing other people’s work. It trains your brain to consider things objectively and so you’re then better able to edit your own work.
Q. Like many other successful authors, you’ve began giving workshops on your craft. Do you see this as a natural part of a writers life, or do you have personal reasons to share your knowledge and experience?
A. Teaching workshops isn’t for everyone.
For me, it’s about:
- getting some value from that teaching degree
- diversifying my income streams.
You don’t get a lot of money from publishing, not at the beginning of the career (and a lot of authors don’t make enough money to make a career at all) and so you need to consider other things to do.
For me, teaching workshops is one issue. I get a lot from them – I love helping folks, and I’ve gained some good friends from workshops so all in all, it’s a win.
Q. What advice would you give to a budding writer about developing their craft, the business of publishing, and how they’re interrelated when it comes to creating a career as a writer?
A. I hope you’re all comfortable, because boy could I go on about this for ages!
When you’re a newbie, you’re so focused on the publishing dream – getting good enough that you can sell a novel, seeing it on a shelf with your name on it.
It is, my friends, a wonderful thing.
But you cannot see the joys inherent in being a newbie. For example – you can write anything you want. There are NO expectations of you, your voice is still developing so you can just fling yourself at any story idea that comes along.
This is DEFINITELY not the case early in your published career. Sure, once you become ‘a name’ you can write what you want, but up until then, both your publishers and your reading public are going to have certain expectations of you.
I’ve had a few ideas for novels, but the one I ended up developing to pitch to the publishers for my next contract is a sequel to the first trilogy.
Because the Nicole Murphy name is coming to mean something and right now, that something is light urban fantasy romance. If I deliver an epic fantasy or dystopian horror, then it’s going to be a hard sell for publisher and reader alike. Like starting all over again.
So I say to all you newbies – enjoy this moment. Try anything that comes to mind. Don’t get caught up in what you think you will sell.
It’s tempting to look at what’s coming out at the moment, eg steampunk, and decide you’ll write that too cause that’s what the publishers want. No, that’s what the publishers wanted when they bought it two-three years ago and they didn’t want it cause they knew it was part of a trend – they wanted it cause it was a damn good story.
Also, you’re going to be writing in that genre for some time as you establish your career, so make sure it’s something you enjoy writing.
Challenge yourself. You never stop learning. NEVER.
I recommend that you:
- Attend courses.
- Find critique groups (be they face to face or online).
- Read writers you admire and then study how they did it.
- Take your rejections on the chin (they come, even when you’ve scored a big contract – I get new bruises every month) and keep submitting.
- Educate yourself on the industry.
My friends, this is one HELL of a time to be involved in the publication industry. Not since Guttenberg’s printing press have we seen a shake-up of these proportions. And the thing is – NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THE FINAL PICTURE WILL BE. No one. Anyone says they know – THEY ARE WRONG.
So educate yourself. Subscribe to industry publications. Attend conferences. Follow publishers, authors and agents blogs (a fabulous one is Kristine Kathryn Rusch http://www.kristinekathrynrusch.com/).
It’s changing so quickly. I only signed my first contract two years ago and I can tell you, my next contract (should I get one) is going to be REALLY different.
Over in the States, writer friends are now reporting ebook sales running at the same rate as print sales. Publishing companies are establishing global brands as the growth of electronic publishing crashes the old territorial rights that were once the mainstay of print publishing.
You know, it’s easy to look at all this and panic. Really, really easy. But at the end of the day, remember this – there’s no deadline on your dream. It doesn’t matter if you don’t achieve it this year, or next year, or the year after.
What matters is that you don’t give up cause if you do – then you’ll NEVER get published.
Q. How do you go about promoting your work, what has worked best so far, and what would you have done differently if you’d known what you know now?
A. Ah, promotion. The bugbear of every writer. Everytime you get published authors together, the topic of promotion inevitably comes up and with it the question – does it even work?
We all know the only thing that really sells books is Word of Mouth – buzz, people talking about it, people being excited. The question – how to make that happen? Does doing blogs, interviews like this, work? Does advertising? What about giveaways of the books? Reviews?
A couple of things that people agree do work to get your name out:
- giveaways (because if folks love the book, they will tell others or go buy your future books)
- targeted advertising (find the websites or magazines that are the focus of your genre and only advertise there)
- being available for all interview and blog writing requests
- being on social media
- attending conventions.
Things that people disagree on:
- blog tours (some folks say they see a definite spike, others say it’s too much work for too little return)
- book trailers (you can find mine on youtube: trailer 1, trailer 2, trailer 3).
- Things that people agree DON’T work – book tours.
But with all these things, no one’s sure if any of it actually means book sales. The only thing that does: when booksellers love your books they will hand sell, so you visit bookstores, talk to booksellers.
For Rogue Gadda, I’ve decided to do a blog tour. Not too big – I’m visiting about a dozen blogs around the place, blogging on different things. The thinking behind this is the old advertising maxim – the more people see your name, the more it becomes memorable and recognisable. So then hopefully next time they’re in a bookstore, they’ll see my books, remember me, think I sounded pretty cool and buy.
I’m also hosting a series of guest posts on my blog. I’ve called on some of my writing friends to give their thoughts on a topic and I’ll post them over a couple of weeks in early July. This not only makes it easy for me to have content on my blog when I’m busy writing blogs for others, but also I hope they might direct some traffic and potential readers my way.
I do the trailers because I enjoy doing them. I do all this promotional stuff not necessarily because I think it will work, but because it gives me a sense of some control over the fate of my books when in reality, I have none.
The other issue I’ve got is that my books are available electronically overseas. I want people to know that, because those sales help me. So I’m having to try not to keep my promotion to Australia but to spread it far and wide.
Generally, I try to do something promotional every day. It might not see the light of day for several days, or weeks, but I do something. I write in the morning, then do promotional stuff in the afternoon. It’s the only way to find the time to do everything.
I’m lucky – I’m not working at anything but this. Most writers have day jobs and find it hard enough to make time to write, let alone find EXTRA time to do promotion. But with so many books being released nowadays, you’ve got to work hard to make yourself heard.
So my advice:
- start building up a community now
- work out what social media works for you (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, LinkedIn, blogging) and start doing it now
- attend conventions, writers groups and get yourself known (because the community is INCREDIBLY supportive)
- write, submit and promote every publication you make
- and the moment you sign a big contract, plan how you’re going to promote.
Nicole Murphy has been a primary school teacher, bookstore owner, journalist and checkout chick.
She grew up reading Tolkien, Lewis and Le Guin; spent her twenties discovering Quick, Lindsey and Deveraux, and lives her love of science fiction and fantasy through her involvement with the Conflux science fiction conventions.
Her urban fantasy trilogy, Dream of Asarlai, is published in Australia/NZ by HarperVoyager. She lives with her husband in Queanbeyan, NSW.