In our second Q&A blog, Deana Luchia chats with Chris Paton about self-publishing, pen names and steampunk.
Q: In addition to other genres, you write steampunk stories and novels. For someone who’s never heard of that genre, how would you describe it and what is the appeal for you as a writer and reader? Is it your favourite genre as a writer?
A: Steampunk is many things to different people, but stories set in this sub-genre of science fiction are typically set in the 1800s. Steampunk is often characterised with steam-powered machines and technology that is big, bold, and has a lot of brass. However, the genre allows for a mash-up of magic, myth and monsters. So, it’s great fun.
Is it my favourite genre to write in? I am not sure it is. I actually started to write my Steampunk series almost in protest to the typically flowery language that a lot of Steampunk writers attribute to the genre. What interests me more is the setting and the period which included a lot of exploration.
Q: You are very much focused on self-publishing. Would you ever consider navigating the traditional publishing route? If not, why not?
A: Yes, I will and am definitely considering traditional publishing. I am aiming for a hybrid approach with a bit of both. The interesting thing is to see established and traditional authors choosing to publish their backlist and out-of-print books via self-publishing channels. My wish would be to be noticed by a traditional publisher once I was doing well on my own.
Q: How would you describe your experience of self-publishing so far?
A: It’s an exciting process with a huge learning curve. Luckily, there are other pathfinders – authors who have tried it, cracked it, and are sharing their experiences via blogs and websites. However, patience is a virtue and, no matter how many times I remind myself it is a marathon and not a sprint, I can’t help wanting things to go faster.
Self-publishing, or Indie Publishing – which sounds cooler, is still frowned on by many but fewer than before, and yet, there are lots of examples of authors who have been successful and been picked up by traditional publishers following the success of their self-published book, “The Martian” by Andy Weir and “The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet” by Becky Chambers, to name but a few.
The other interesting aspect of self-publishing is the idea that you don’t actually want to be noticed with book one, but with book ten. Getting traction around book ten allows readers to search for other books you have written. Plus, a lot of authors talk about not having time to write as many books as they would like due to the demands of publicising their book. So, if you have a break-out success with book one, there is a danger that you can’t initially find the time to continue with the series or write a second book. Of course, this is a fabulous problem to have.
Q: What are your five tips for anyone interested in self-publishing? And could you share with us anything you wish you’d known about self-publishing when you started out.
A: 1) Do your research – there are lots of successful authors out there who have written in-depth posts on the blogs and websites about everything you can imagine concerning self-publishing. You do not have to reinvent the wheel, and it pays to take the time to learn from others. Lindsay Buroker is a particular mine of information and she is very good at explaining everything using real examples from her own experiences.
2) Know your limits – self-publishing requires that you master everything to do with publishing, not just the skill of writing. But, if there are things you can’t do, find someone who can or at least learn from them. Marketing, for example, isn’t just about telling your Facebook friends that you have a book for sale – again. This is an area I know I need help with.
3) Do judge a book by its cover – seriously amateur book covers can be spotted a mile away, and the thought then is that the content is just as poor. The same can be said for covers that are professionally designed but use the same stock images. Do your research and find the artist/designer you like by checking the sample of the book on Amazon – nine times out of ten the author will have a link to the artist/designer’s website within the first few pages.
4) Set deadlines and stay on target – I use Amazon Pre-Order deadlines to give me a deadline with consequences by which time I must have finished my book, and everything about it, including the cover, editing, re-drafting, marketing etc. Other motivators that I make use of include Nanowrimo and Camp Nanowrimo – check them out online.
5) Write – yep, everyone says it, but only you can do it. Get that first draft finished – warts and all – and then let it sit for a while. Pick it up, revise it, send it to your beta readers and editor and then move on to the next project. The author CJ Lyons was asked in the Creative Penn’s podcast how to sell a million books, she said: write a good story, publish, repeat. She also said she believes in the ABC of writing: apply butt to chair. No one is going to write this for you. So, get it done.
Q: What part of the whole writing process do you enjoy the most/the least?
A: The least? That would be revising the draft(s). Again, and again.
The most? When an idea comes in from nowhere and allows me to solve a particular problem with the plot or a character’s motivation.
Q: I know you’ve talked about using pen names. Why do you think it’s important to have different names for different types of writing and how do you come up with your pen names/pseudonyms?
A: My approach to pen names, at the moment at least, is about casting the net wide to find out which genre – that I enjoy writing – has the most success. If I had been smart, and this is my advice to anyone beginning this route, I would have chosen a pen name in the beginning and kept my real name for when I “made it”.
As for why it is important – I believe that readers need to know what they are getting. With my real name: Chris Paton, readers can be sure there will be fantasy elements in the stories. But with my pen name: Christoffer Petersen, readers can expect a grittier story with plenty of strong language.
Q: When you write, who is your audience? Or are you writing for you?
A: I am writing for me, but I am growing increasingly aware of the need to write for a specific audience. I study the likes of Brandon Sanderson, an American fantasy author, and listen to what he says about how to write a great fantasy story, and then I look at the reviews readers have written about his books, and discover what they like about them. I do this for a lot of authors and genres to try to get to know their audience and my own.
Q: What are you reading right now? And does what you read influence what you’re writing.
A: I usually have several books on the go, everything from space opera, to middle grade, to fantasy and adventure writing – mountaineering and canoeing. But the books I come back to, time and again, include The Hobbit for fun and adventure, John le Carré for style and depth of character, China Miéville for plain weirdness, and Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series for guilty pleasures. However, the authors I take time with include William Horwood (Duncton Wood), Ursula le Guinn (Earthsea), Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials), and everything by Alan Garner and Ted Hughes. Oh, and Patrick Ness is a genius, by the way.
Q: What are you working on at the moment and if you are working on more than one project, is there one that particularly pulls you to finish it?
A: Oh, difficult question. Right now I am nearly done with “Djinn”, the fourth in my Steampunk series. I am also battering my way through the 7th or 8th draft of “The Ice Star”, and I have recently finished the first draft of “The Starlighter” – a middle grade story that developed as a direct result of my travels in Alaska.
However, since being encouraged to write stronger female characters into my stories, I have been working on lots and lots of notes for a Flintlock Fantasy book – think muskets and magic – with a witch called Valerie as the main character. The book is called “Gunpowder Witch” and it is eating away at me. I must start it and I can’t wait to get stuck in. I might be ready to begin sometime in February next year.