As a thriller writer, I am always keen to experience new physical adventures! I have done tandem and static line parachute jumps so I was fascinated to hear what Chris Allen had to say about paratrooping in this guest post.
As a kid growing up in Western Australia in the 70’s, I knew I wanted to be a writer of action stories from the moment I picked up my first Ian Fleming (The Man with the Golden Gun, a dark blue, dusty old hardcover borrowed from the school library).
I devoured Fleming’s descriptions of dastardly villains – devoid of scruples and resplendent in physical malformation, his exotic women – subtly flawed but incredibly beautiful in their own way, the locales, the action, the adventure, and of course, the ultimate action hero… James Bond. What boy wouldn’t be hooked!
Of course, not everyone needs to see action to write about it, but I wanted to – fuelled by the belief that I was ten tall and bullet-proof.
So, joining the Australian Army at the tender age of 18, the next fifteen years I spent ‘in’ as an Officer gave me all the fodder necessary to recreate action scenes in my writing. But what I didn’t expect was the similarities between publishing books and those exciting days as a Paratrooper, when I’d launch from a plane, sometimes by night, into less than hospitable parts of the world.
Back then, I remember what would flash across my consciousness whenever we’d force ourselves to depart from a perfectly good aircraft into black, starless skies…
To the brave belong all things
Sometimes we needed encouragement to launch out into the unknown, and when it came to me, it worked every time.
The stoic Celtic adage applies equally to those of us who are part of the current publishing revolution – blazing a trail (or perhaps, hot on the heels of those doing so) into the world of eBooks, online communities, and technologies that allow readers to find and enjoy stories from a diverse new range of voices.
There are other ways that being a Paratrooper is similar to being in the writing and publishing game, so if you’re conscious and still reading this, thank you, and here they are.
(1) Trust your peers
My mates in the Army always double-checked my gear before I jumped, and even today they still have my back. Similarly, as writers we’re lucky to have friends, family, colleagues, fellow authors and online fans who will tell us first-hand about their reading experience as we press the green light. We are no longer totally reliant on the big publishing houses to send their versions of our stories out into the world. Listen to honest feedback from your own network and use it – it’s your lifeline to connect with your fans and give them what they want.
Real-life outcome: We chose our book cover via an online vote using SurveyMonkey.com. It gave us amazing feedback direct from our fans, and a classic cover!
(2) It’s a long way down
It can be overwhelming, overseeing the editing and design of your book, researching and choosing providers, building your author platform, planning events, negotiating with distributors, bookstores and libraries… all at the same time. I recall peering over the ramps of Hercs many times and being so weighed down by the gear I was carrying (usually 90kg) that I just wanted out of the aircraft, if only to take a load off. Once you get on your way with your publishing project, adrenaline and pig-headedness will keep you going. Stay the course, even when it seems like it’ll never end, and resist the urge to hurl your computer out of the nearest window.
Real-life outcome: We drew on the energy and enthusiasm from our network of friends, family and online communities when it seemed like we’d never get there.
(3) Believe in yourself
If you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect others to? All writers have a vision for their work and their story, so whenever decisions need to be made – from the editing style you go with, to choosing the font and the cover – try to recall in your mind’s eye your vision of the finished product, and trust your instinct. Extra points if you can take direction from the experts to help you realise this vision in the most appropriate way.
Real-life outcome: Rather than succumbing to a publisher who wanted my writing to emulate popular blockbuster authors, we worked with an editor who understood that mine was – very deliberately – a return to the old-school style of action writing… i.e. my book, not a blatant copy of somebody else’s.
(4) Have some balls
Be YOU – no one else can – authentic and different and ballsy, and you’ll find people who enjoy your work and engage with it. Once the book is ready, you’ll need to find your readership and the more niche your writing, the easier it will be for you to connect with your market. After all, isn’t it the biggest kick when you find people who really get your stories?
Real-life outcome: Fans identified elements of my main character, Alex Morgan, that remind them of the very TV, cinema & literary heroes I have built into his background, such as the rough ‘n ready character ‘Bodie’ from the UK TV series The Professionals – without me needing to spell it out.
(5) Outsmart, outwit, outmanoeuvre
Did you know that obstacles are designed to deliberately manoeuvre us in a direction someone else wants us to go? This is what happens when military obstacles are deployed in times of conflict. On your publishing journey you’ll find people and organisations who want to put up roadblocks to your progress. The trick is to know how to get around obstructers, and bring your best game so that you can regroup and find another way to achieve your objective.
Real-life outcome: Bookstores are overstocked and time-poor. As well as my author platform online, we’re focussed on connecting with readers face-to-face via markets, book clubs, library chats and emerging writer festivals.
And finally, enjoy the ride
Just as exhilarating as parachuting – by day or night – is the feeling that you’re part of the groundswell that is changing the publishing industry, taking our books to market and connecting with readers on our own terms. Yes, it can feel scary, overwhelming, incredibly exciting, and frustrating – but take a risk and get out amongst it!
Chris Allen wrote Defender of the Faith in the decade after he left the Australian Army. Publishing it through Bright Sea Publishing, the Indie Micropublishing company he established with his wife Sarah, he’s now penning a full Alex Morgan INTREPID Adventure Series.
Defender of the Faith is available to buy as an eBook or paperback from Amazon.
Join the Facebook page for the chance to win a character name after you in the next book – competition coming in November!
Top image: Flickr Creative Commons US Army