16 July 2010 - 6:55 pm

Kylie Chan and being published

As I mentioned recently, Kylie Chan came to talk to my writing group this month. I’ve been lax in updating here when this stuff happens, but I’m trying to get better at posting this kind of thing!

First, it might be useful to have a little bit about Kylie Chan. She’s a bestselling author in the Australian fantasy market, with four books published in her Dark Heavens series so far and the fifth one out later this year. She’s published with Harper Collins’ Voyager imprint, who are dragging their feet about publishing her overseas (in the US and UK markets), but she hopes to be released in at least one of those markets by early next year.

She writes modern fantasy (or contemporary fantasy, if you prefer) based in Chinese mythology and set in Hong Kong. It’s interesting stuff – I’ll review the first book of the series if I get the chance.

The meeting was a relaxed affair – we asked her questions and she chatted to us in a very open, honest way. I love it when guests feel comfortable enough to do that, as I generally try to foster a relaxed atmosphere in the group. We wound up running way over time, partly because traffic delayed people getting there and because it was really hard to stop talking! (Eventually, we got hungry enough to break for dinner, and that was it.)

We got lots of interesting and useful information out of the talk. We talked about the different ways to approach writing – ‘planners vs pantsers’, and the middle ground. Personally, I tend towards a ‘stepping stone’ approach, but the group is made up of a variety of planners and discovery writers. Everyone has their own way! It was nice to have a writer encourage us to write however it was best for us.

Kylie also talked about what it’s like to be edited, and was very frank about her experiences with getting and being published, which is better than hedging and trying not to put people off. (To be clear: this is talking about the traditional paper publishing industry, not self- or e-publishing.)

Let’s face it: getting published is hard. And once you’ve crested that hurdle, being published is not all it’s cracked up to be (unless you’re a rare shiny thing like JK Rowling or, heaven forfend, Stephanie Meyer). Startling worldwide success aside, when someone tells you ‘don’t give up your day job’, they are not necessarily insulting your talent; they might just be aware of how hard it is for a writer to earn a living from traditional publication.

Royalties are small and are only paid after they have covered your advance. From what I understand, it’s not uncommon for a book not to earn back its advance, and royalties tend to return little to the author.

There are ways to maximise what you earn from your work. Being published in as many territories as possible is one way, though you won’t get the same percentage from foreign market sales as you do from the book’s home market (which is, I believe, the first market it is published in, not necessarily where the author is). There are other ways, but this topic is what a lot of the talk revolved around.

For an unpublished author, negotiating that first contract can be a losing battle; you don’t have any cards to play, being an unproven risk for the publisher, and you usually don’t know what pitfalls to look for. You’re asked to sign away a lot of your publishing rights. On the plus side, you’re being published and on your way to being a known, successful writer. Future contracts will be easier to negotiate.

For writers in Australia, it’s tricky because while the Australian market is good, it’s not that big, especially when compared to countries like the UK and US. If your Australian publisher has the international rights to your book and chooses not to publish you overseas, then you can’t take advantage of those markets. That’s a lot of revenue to miss out on.

So what can we do about this? The most direct way is to go through an American or UK agent/publisher (there is no reason why you can’t do this) and be published in one of those countries first. It’s quite common for authors to do this, particularly genre or niche writers – I know a British horror writer who got published in the US, because it was so difficult to get horror published in the UK.

Another hurdle for Aussie writers selling overseas is writing about Aussie things. Kylie’s series involves an Australian main character, which is seen as a barrier to publishing in other markets (particularly the US). On the plus side, her books are set in Hong Kong and you don’t have to be Australian to read them (the Australian flavour to the book is subtle and unobtrusive, in my opinion), so hopefully this won’t be a big problem for her. I just hope the publishers agree and take the chance to find out!

Kylie also recommended a couple of books that helped her to prepare her books for publication. They were:

  • Self Editing for Fiction Writers – Browne & King
  • The First Five Pages – Noah Lukeman

I think I’ve babbled on enough. That doesn’t cover everything we talked about, but no-one wants a blow-by-blow. Right?

Hope you all find it helpful. I know I did!

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