The Two-Wheeled Writer covers writing and motorcycling but not in any specific order. I write about other things too, but all are connected in some way.

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November 2015


With one of the world’s best writers festivals only an hour’s ride from home, the Melbourne Writers Festival, I rode in on my Triumph Thruxton, parking right outside the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne’s CBD (you can legally park motorcycles on footpaths/pavements in Victoria).

I’d purchased tickets to attend three sessions to glean tips from five bestselling Australian authors on how they promote themselves and their books. The first was ‘So you’ve published a book’ with three bestselling Australian authors. I arrived 30 minutes early and was fortunate to meet the first speaker, Graeme Simsion (The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect), who came out front for a chat. We introduced and I came up a complete blank when he mentioned his name. The penny dropped when he told me the title of his books. Everyone has heard of the Rosie Project soon to be made into a Hollywood movie. I prattled on about my travel memoir and how it had just been accepted by Black Inc. Books. He seemed interested and advised I was one step ahead in sales as there are far less creative nonfiction books out there than fiction. ‘Everyone writes fiction so there’s a lot more competition. It’s good for you that your book in nonfiction,’ he said.

Graeme began his talk with the pitfalls of book promotion describing how he spends hours travelling on book tours organised by his publisher. ‘You’ll be accompanied by a publicist. They’ll do everything for you,’ he says including booking the earliest flights possible. He’s then ferried to book shops for signings and describes how he may sell only five books. ‘What is the point?’ he often asked himself in those early days of book promotion. The point, he says, is the buzz he gets out of speaking in person to his readers, and all this promotion has a cumulative effect on sales. During the month of August, he’ll be doing 19 appearances including several at the MWF.
His publisher is Text Media based in Melbourne. He doesn’t have an agent as he can’t see the point as his publisher does everything an agent does.

But don’t just leave all the promotion up to your publisher, he says, you need to promote your book from all angles and on the day The Rosie Project  was published, Graeme sent out 1000 emails to family and friends and everybody else in his contacts. He advises that the old adage ‘word of mouth sells’, still rings true for books. But a book also needs a good title and cover, he says and describes how the publisher controls this process entirely, but they will consult with you out of courtesy.

Graeme said authors need a good spiel ‘or talk’ for book tours, appearances and media interviews.
‘Broadcast works, online social media doesn’t. It’s that simple,’ he says and goes on to say that a radio or breakfast television interview always has an impact. An interview dramatically raises his Amazon ranking, while on Twitter, it would hardly register a blip. But he still tweets.

The second speaker was Damon Young, author of Distraction; Philosophy in the Garden; and How to Think About Exercise. He also wrote the popular children’s books: My Nanna is a Ninja and My Pop is a Pirate. Damon sees social media as king. He advises us 100 or so newbie and aspiring authors  eagerly scribbling notes, that we need to leverage social media to build our profile. This is done through three areas: your website, a blog, and Twitter. ‘Treat social media as an opportunity to write and share,’ he says.

In contrast to Graeme, Damon believes Twitter and blogging are vital to getting an unknown author’s name out there and hopefully generating ongoing sales. He tells us to check out the bloggers Karen Andrews and Clementine Ford as examples of how blogging and tweeting can work to build your brand. Damon advises to only tweet in the evenings at correct time zones. ‘People are on twitter in the evenings, not during the day. Stay off Twitter during the day. This is your time to write,’ he says.

When asked about why he didn’t mention Facebook, he feels it gives more space to the nasty ranters.
‘On Twitter, you can instantly share a current achievement. Twitter is all about sharing discoveries and conversations, not networking,’ he says. He sees Twitter and a blog as platforms to show his talent as a writer. ‘I put the same attention in my blog and Twitter as I do for my books,’ he says. ‘Use Twitter to promote your blog,’ he adds.

The third speaker was Monica Dux, feminist, columnist and author of Things I Didn’t Expect (when I was expecting), co-author of The Great Feminist Denial and editor of the anthology Mothermorphosis. With the mad feverish passion that only comes from writers, Monica rattles off the must do’s to promote your book.
‘Promotion must start six months before the book is released,’ she says. ‘You have to get your name out there, especially during the lead up to the launch.’
Write articles. Pester editors to get published and producers to get on air. Push yourself, she advises.
‘Follow up with editors as they are busy people and may have overlooked your work. Remember, your book is your calling card. It gives you credibility above other unknowns, so they are more likely to listen to you and publish your articles,’ she says.

But, she warns, you also need to know what editors want. ‘Study their publications. And don’t limit yourself to writing just about your book. Submit to a diversity of publications. Always mention your book at the end of your article, she says. ‘When I write an article about my book, I always ask what is my hook? Think laterally and write in different ways’. As an example, Monica mentions the success of her newspaper article on the benefits to women of peeing standing up.  She advises not to waste time writing pitches, just write the article then sell it to an editor. ‘Write truthfully, bravely and because you have something to say. Pull issues out of your book that you can speak on and write about. Write an opinion piece about your book’. Monica says this will then cross over as a radio interview. ‘Use social media. Tweet radio appearances, articles you’ve had published and your blog updates. Always mention your book on Twitter, on guest blogs, in opinion pieces and feature articles, she advises.

For print, Monica says you need to do the leg work, but radio interviews will be arranged by your publisher.
‘But always communicate with them on what you are doing and you can pitch to producers yourself if the publicist has not done so already.’ She says always opt to be interviewed in the studio where the audio is crystal clear. ‘Treat an interview like a conversation, but practise and prepare’.
‘Have five points you want to communicate. Sum up your book in one sentence. Then two, then three, then a paragraph,’ she says.’ Don’t forget to ask the presenter to mention your book on air.’ And community radio should not be discounted as it gives you experience. ‘Remember, publicity is work and you need to get out there,’ she says.

Her advice is intense, ‘as if our lives as writers depend on it’, but as audience, we dote on her every word.

I also attended Aussie Bestsellers with Liane Moriarty, author of five bestselling novels, and again listened to Graeme Simsion, who is both an entertaining and inspiring presenter. I wanted to hear their tips on how they tackle the writing process as a profession. How they keep turning out not one, but two or more books. I had already started on my second book, and the task ahead seemed daunting  on top of all the promotion now required for my first.

Liane describes how she sidles up to her writing, because writing is never easy to ‘just get into’. She speaks of how she must trick herself by doing emails and admin first and then she pounces and before her mind can find an excuse, she is writing. She writes for three hours each day to fit it in with caring for her young children.

While Graeme lays out scene cards, Liane does not plan. ‘I let the characters tell the story, she says. She also goes for long walks when she thinks about her characters. But she’s not concerned if in the early drafts, she gets their personalities wrong as she can always go back and update. ‘I think, so that is who you are. You would never have said that.’

Graeme advised he develops his characters based on the thirds concept: a third about himself; a third about someone he knows; and a third is made up.  He says he writes an average of 2000 words a day but his wife, Anne Buist author of Medea’s Curse, often writes up to 8000 words a day, although the words always need heavy editing, he says.

My last session was Ask a Memoirist with Maggie Mackellar author of the two memoirs, When It Rains and How To Get There, both give a chronological account of grief. Maggie advised her first step in writing a memoir is to choose a section of time, say two to five years. She sees the scenes of her story as laying out planks.
‘These are bits of information that lead the reader to walk out along, stop, look around and then walk to the next plank’.
Maggie also uses seasons to show the transition of time and flashbacks to condense time. She says in memoir, you must give the reader a break between intense heavy emotional scenes.
‘Try to give light moments of humour and use a conversational prose to move the story along. But to begin you need to write that shitty first draft to get the emotional stuff out first, she say.

I went to the Melbourne Writers Festival confused as a soon-to-be-published author, but I came away armed with proven tips from five bestsellers to make it in this brave new world. I'm working through this advice: I have a website, I've started this blog and I'm finally tweeting, hopefully the rest will follow.

Ubuntu: one woman's motorcycle odyssey across Africa, is published by Black Inc. Books,






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Graeme Simsion and Heather Ellis

With Graeme Simsion at the Melbourne Writers Festival, 20 to 30 August 2015.