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How do you know when an idea is a short story, a novella, or a full-length novel? How can you turn one story into multiple streams of income? Alan Baxter talks about a long-term craft-centered approach to the author career and how his short stories have won him multiple awards.
In the intro, State of Indie Authorship 2021 [Written Word Media]; Sessions from 20Books Vegas conference [YouTube]; $0 to $1K a month in book sales webinar [Nick Stephenson];
This episode is sponsored by my Black Friday Promotion. You can get 30% off my ebooks, audiobooks, and courses when you buy direct. Use coupon: 2021 at Payhip.com/thecreativepenn for ebooks and audiobooks (here's how to apply it), and TheCreativePenn.com/learn for my courses. Valid until end 31 Dec 2021.
Alan Baxter is the multi-award-winning author of horror, supernatural thrillers, and dark fantasy across more than 20 books as well as many more short stories. He's also a martial arts instructor and his latest book for writers is The Martial Art of Writing.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- Multiple streams of income from short stories, and tracking your intellectual property
- When is an idea a short story vs a novella or a novel?
- Does short fiction help to sell longer work?
- Award submissions and a long-term approach
- How writing is like martial arts
You can find AlanBaxter at AlanBaxterOnline.com and on Twitter @AlanBaxter
Transcript of Interview with Alan Baxter
Joanna: Alan Baxter is the multi-award-winning author of horror, supernatural thrillers, and dark fantasy across more than 20 books as well as many more short stories. He's also a martial arts instructor and his latest book for writers is The Martial Art of Writing. Welcome back to the show, Alan.
Alan: Thanks for having me again. It's good to chat with you.
Joanna: We've been doing this once every couple of years for a decade now.
Alan: I know, such a long time.
Joanna: It is. And of course, you were one of the first people I met on Twitter and we've talked over the years, but we've never met in person, which is kind of crazy.
Alan: I know.
Joanna: Give us a bit of an overview of your writing career because you've really combined traditional publishing, indie, co-writing your own book, short stories, novellas.
Give us a potted history of how your author career has unfolded.
Alan: This is sort of difficult to put into a snapshot, but the short version is I started indie back in the day. Well, I started trying to get a traditional deal on my first novel. And I got an agent, did all that stuff. Twice it went to acquisitions and twice it didn't quite make it.
This was right in the early days of Lulu for self-publishing and right in the early days of e-books. My first book is on Smashwords and the end of the Smashwords' URL for e-books is the number of the book it is and they're up into the multimillions now. My first book is number 378. So I was kind of there in the early days of that. That went okay.
Subsequently, I've been working with small press. I've got a trilogy with HarperCollins here in Australia. I've got novellas and short stories collected and published by various small press and indie publishers. And I still keep a hand in a little bit dabbling with some self-publishing bits and pieces here and there as well.
I'm a big believer in hybrid and having many threads to the bow.
I co-write with David Wood as well. We write cult thrillers and monster thrillers, he and I together. And the 3rd Eli Carver book is coming out in December and I think that's my 25th book.
Joanna: And people always say, ‘Why don't you know exactly how many books you've written?' And I'm like, ‘Well, you know, it gets difficult with reprints and new editions and things.'
Alan: Yeah, that's it. And then what do you count? There's a novella that was published in the U.K. that was a book that was published that was in the book count, but it was a limited edition hardcover that's now in a sort of a collected edition that sold out. Still available as an e-book, but do I count that or do I not count that?
At some point, that'll go into a future collection as well probably. It gets a bit muddy, but I like the way you put it, more than 20 books. That's usually an easy way to put it.
Joanna: You're also a really prolific short story writer. And that is a totally different kind of kettle of fish, I think, in terms of management of how many stories.
Do you know how many short stories you've written?
Alan: It's more than 80 that are published now. There's a variety. And again, some were published in magazines or in online journals that are no longer available that might have subsequently been republished.
I've got two short story collections out. ‘Crow Shine' and ‘Served Cold' are both collecting across the more than a decade that I've been writing short stories. And so I think overall in original publications, it's 80-something now. Most of those are available in most places. And if they're not in a collection, they're on my Patreon, or they're going to be in a future collection or something.
Joanna: So with short stories, in particular, but also with other projects, how do you track your intellectual property? I have some short stories, but very few. And I have a file structure, but I also don't submit to publications or publishers as you do.
How do you track your creation and where you send things and the licensing and all of that?
Alan: Generally speaking when selling short stories to magazines and anthologies, the general principle with the contract is that they'll buy the story and they'll have an exclusive publication period where you can't publish that same story anywhere else. That's usually 12 months. After that, they retain the right to continue publishing that anthology or whatever.
You could pull your rights at that point, but usually, obviously, you want publishers to keep their books available, you want your stories to be found by future readers and whatever else. So they continue to publish the story, but the rights revert.
At that point, I could include it in a collection, or I could put it on my Patreon page for Patreons to have a new story to read that they might not have seen in the original publication or anything like that.
I've got a file where I've got listed all the stories that I've sold and where they've sold to and the date and the contract so I know what date the rights revert to me.
So those stories will continue to exist in those original publications. But then if someone comes to me and asks for a reprint, or if someone comes and asks if they can do a podcast of one of those stories, or periodically I'll go through and see what has come back to me in terms of rights reversion and then I'll approach them, podcasters, because you can sell short stories multiple times.
This is one of the good things about it. You might sell it to a magazine, you might sell it as a reprint, you might sell it again to a podcast for an audio, then you could potentially put it on Patreon. Eventually, you might put it in a collection and then you can sell the collection.
So short stories tend to work well. One of my hardest working short stories has paid me probably six or seven times for the same story. And obviously, that's the stories that are popular and that you can resell like that. But that's the option that you have.
So really, it's a case of making sure that anyone who does reprint that story does so with the right to do it, that they pay for the privilege of it. But after that initial sale, once that rights reversion comes back, then you can do what you like with it. So that exclusive period is never usually more than a year.
Joanna: Yes, the opportunities with shorts are fascinating to me. But how do you find the right opportunities to submit either to magazines or anthologies and also for podcast fiction you mentioned? I always find it quite confusing and there are so many possibilities. It seems hard to weed them out.
Do you have a list of places to submit or is there a place where people can go to find the latest things?
Alan: It is a bit daunting at first. Same as anything, the more you do it, the more used to it you get. Once you know the genre that you write in and the kind of markets that are out there, there's always that top echelon of market where, always submit from the top down. You try to get the best pay rate, first of all.
When that gets rejected, you work your way down through the list because it's incredibly hard to crack the really pro markets. But there's various places.
There's a website called Submission Grinder where you can put searches in to see what publications, magazines, anthologies, whatever, accepting what sort of stories and what guidelines they might have. There's another one you can subscribe to called Duotrope, which is another one that you can track your submissions through it as well. They make it quite a good automated process now, but you can also see what's happening and who's looking for stories.
And you just become familiar with the good places that are publishing stories. Every once in a while, you'll see that ‘Nightmare Magazine' or ‘PseudoPod,' the podcast or whatever, have opened to submissions again. So if you've got original work that hasn't sold, you can take advantage of that submission window.
Of course, a lot of podcasts, they're happy if it's been in print because that's a different medium. They're audio, so they don't care if it's been in print. They'll reprint it as audio. Sometimes they're open all the time for that different podcast. Obviously, everyone's got different submission guidelines.
But after a while, you do get across who's doing what in your genre and things like keeping an eye on Twitter and stuff, keeping in touch with publishers and other writers. We're always really happy to share, ‘Hey, have you seen this is open for submissions?'
It's always good to keep an eye open and see what's coming up and if a new publisher crops up or a new anthology gets announced or stuff like that. But Duotrope and Submission Grinder, in particular, are really useful websites for finding out what's out there in the first place.
Joanna: I feel like in the indie community, in particular, there is a ‘feeling' that writing a book is always a better idea because it's longer. If you're in KU, you get more page reads. You can charge more if you're selling it.
But it feels like, to me, selling a short story on something like Kindle or Kobo as a single story is not the way to think about it. Obviously, you mentioned getting paid for the one-year license or whatever. It's not a massive amount of income, but do you find it also markets your longer work?
Do you feel like readers of your short fiction come into your novels?
Alan: Definitely. I've always loved short stories. I've always been a real fan of them. Roald Dahl short stories for adults when I was 12 years old did my head in and I discovered this amazing world of short fiction. But I never really thought of myself as a short fiction writer. I was always thinking as a novelist.
But then the idea that writing short stories, getting short stories published helps to get your name out there and helps to draw attention to your longer works. And your novel works was something that I approached it from in the first place.
And then subsequently started to really enjoy the craft because a short story and a novel are not the same. The beginning, middle, and end, you need the conflict, blah, blah, blah. The basic principles of storytelling are there. But in terms of craft, they're quite different beasts.
I really enjoyed the process of getting good at short stories. And I began to really enjoy the thrill of selling stories and seeing my stories and my name on the cover of anthologies and stuff like that. And it does do really good work for just getting your name out there.
A number of people over the years have hit me up in one way or another and basically said, ‘I saw this story in this anthology. I loved it. What other work do you have?'
Or I've had emails saying, ‘I just found your website because I read so and so magazine and you've got so much great work. I can't wait to check out your novels.' So it does work like that. It's this kind of multi-pronged approach to building a readership, to building an audience.
Joanna: Do you think that might also help indie authors move into what I guess is more of readers who might read more traditionally because a lot of these short story anthologies are done by small press or things like that?
Have you found that it's a good crossover between the indie and traditional worlds?
Alan: Definitely. Editors, particularly independent press and small press editors, are always on the lookout for people, for new voices and stuff like that. And generally speaking, readers don't have much of an interest, whether you are traditionally published or indie published or whatever. The general readership in terms of the people who just see a book they like and read it and enjoy it, they don't really care how it got to them.
A lot of the time you're just building a readership where they recognize your name as an author, not necessarily your name as an indie author, or as a short fiction author, or as a tried published author or anything like that. They just see the name go, ‘Oh, I like that person's writing.'
The more places you can drop your work that might catch someone's eye, the better. And from an indie point of view, if you do sell to anthologies and magazines, there's nothing to stop you after that exclusivity period is over, 6 months or 12 months. There's nothing to stop you then putting that story out on Kindle or KU as a short story for 99 cents, or to put your stories together and independently release your own collection of short stories to just add to your catalog, if you like, and add to your opportunity to reach readers.
So the whole process crosses back and forth. There's no need to stay in one area or in one field.
Joanna: You mentioned they're very different crafts, the short stories and longer works.
How do you know when an idea will be a short story or how do you know when it will turn into something longer like a novella or a novel?
Alan: It's an interesting thing, isn't it? People quite often ask. Honestly, it's just kind of a feel having done it a lot.
In general, speaking for me, I tend to find that a novel idea will be when several, two, three, at least different ideas that are complementary, they kind of crash together in a certain way, and I realize how I can use several ideas together and I'm like, ‘Oh wow, that's a book.' And that may be a novella, may be a novel, but it's a bigger thing.
Whereas a short story will often be more of a single idea or exploring a single point. In some ways, a short story is a bit like really tightly focusing a lens down onto a story. So you don't have a lot of backstory, subplots, secondary characters. You're just really zooming in on this closer idea, even if you're telling a big story, which you can in short fiction, of course. But it tends to just be that more tightly focused lens.
And so usually, it comes from that, what sort of vibe of story I'm going to tell. But I don't always get it right. I mentioned the Eli Carver books earlier on. The first one of those, I was writing a short story for a particular submission call. I had this cool idea of basically this opening scene of how to start this short story.
I started writing it and by the time I was a couple of thousand words into it, I was like, ‘Oh, I've hardly begun. This is actually a really massive idea.' And it all grew in my mind and I was, ‘Oh, okay, this is actually going to be a novel. Oh, fantastic. I'll have to write something else for this anthology. I think I've got a novel idea here.'
As it turned out, it came in at about 38,000 words or whatever. It turned out to be a good size novella and had subsequently sold to Grey Matter Press. And now we are on the third novella in that ongoing novella series comes out in December. So that was when I got it totally wrong. I thought it was a short story. I decided actually this is a novel and it turned out to be a novella.
But that's unusual. Normally, I get it right because I have a feel for the sort of thing that I'm writing. When it comes to short stories, especially if you're writing for a submission call where there's a themed anthology or something like that, they tend to trigger these ideas and things that you want to explore with this tighter focus. And I tend to overwrite a lot and then edit back. It's not unusual for me to sell a 5,000-word story that was 8,000 or 9,000 words in first draft.
Joanna: I've got to come to your awards because you have like a whole shelf of awards at this point.
Alan: I don't have that many.
Joanna: You do have quite a few!
Alan: I've got a few.
Joanna: You have a few. And what are those for? Are they for short stories or for novels?
Have you noticed anything different about your award-winning work than your other work, or is it just a matter of that was the taste of the judges at that time?
Alan: The latter, I think. The taste of the judges, it does tend to change a lot.
There's three main national awards in Australia, the Aurealis Awards, the Australian Shadows Awards, and the Ditmar Awards. I've been a finalist in all three of those awards quite a few times each. And in all three of those awards, I've been a finalist for novel and for long fiction, which tends to be novella length stuff, and for short fiction, and for collection. I've been very fortunate to have had my work recognized like that and been nominated on all lengths.
The awards that I've actually won are for novella short stories and collections. So despite the several nominations, I haven't actually won an award for a novel yet, and this is the nature of being a writer because like you said, I've got a few awards sitting on the shelf there and I'm still sitting here going, ‘Yeah, but I haven't got one for a novel yet,' which it kind of bugs me, it's kind of annoying.
Even though I've had several that have been shortlisted, I just haven't won, which is honestly just making a shortlist, say, like five or six works from everything that year and your book's on that shortlist, that's amazing. To win is something special, but just getting shortlisted is fantastic.
But it really does seem to be kind of a taste thing. The Ditmar Awards are fan-voted awards. So that can be as much how well-known you are, a bit of a popularity contest rather than genuinely quality work. And some awards do operate a bit like that.
The Aurealis Awards and the Shadows Awards are both judged. So that's a judging panel, reading everything and deciding what they think is best. That's a different vibe, a different kind of award. And I've got four of those now, the Australian Shadows Award, which is pretty exciting. They're the awards specifically for horror and dark fiction in Australia. So that seems to be where I get most recognized at this point.
Joanna: And I think the whole award thing, I feel like it's something I consider important and I haven't won for anything for my fiction. I've been in the shortlist and everything, but it's one of my goals.
It's actually submitting to things there as well, isn't it? It's not just waiting for something to happen.
Alan: That's right. There are some people whose work goes a bit ballistic and we all want that kind of breakout book or that breakout recognition. And some people, they write this great book and it just goes super popular and you're like, ‘Well, that's going to sweep awards.' You just know it's going to get noticed sort of regardless because it's caught the zeitgeist or whatever.
Generally speaking, there's that much work out there that for the vast majority of us, if you don't, or if your publishers don't send your work in for consideration in the awards, then you're definitely not going to win or get shortlisted.
So it is a case of sort of being across them and because I write horror and dark fiction, there's two awards that are very much for me, they're sort of the ultimate.
There's the World Fantasy Award and the Bram Stoker Award. I've been long-listed for the Stoker before, but I haven't won it yet. And that's one that I'm sort of really like, ‘Man, I'd love to win a Stoker one day'. But again, it's a case of they need to be aware of the work.
The more your profile rises and the more people are reading your work, then the more possibility there is that the general reading public is going to do the job for you, but you also just need to push your own self as well. And with the Stokers, you can submit work to the jury for consideration.
So rather than rely on hoping that they see it, you can actually send work in so that they definitely see it. That gives you a better chance because at least you know the jury's going to read it that way. There's no guarantee they'll read it. They might do. They'll probably read everything by Stephen King, but that's not the vast majority of us.
So, yeah, you do have to play the game. And it is a great validation of work and it's a great recognition and it definitely does help to get more readers because I know several times it's been said to me that a lot of people, they love when the award shortlists are announced. They don't really care who wins.
When the shortlists are announced, they go out shopping because they're like, ‘Oh, this is the quality stuff from last year.' So if they're really into horror and the Aurealis Award shortlist is announced and there's six novels on the best horror novel category, they'll go out and buy those six books because they're like, ‘I want to read the stuff that's really good right now.' So it's just that kind of marketing, if you like. You can't buy it.
Joanna: Oh, totally. I shop from the Bram Stoker list as well.
Alan: Yeah, me too.
Joanna: It's kind of like because I also feel like horror as a genre is…I don't want to say superior, but it has some incredible art as well, I guess, speculative fiction. It often has some really interesting ideas. I think people who don't read horror think it's all just like slasher stuff, which it's not.
And of course, it is a difficult genre and many people try and avoid saying that they write horror. I've read quite a lot of your work and you range across all kinds of different things.
Do you think horror is a specific genre or is it a thread in many other genres?
Alan: This is such an ongoing debate. I've leaned more into calling myself a horror writer these days partly because there was a period, as you said, a lot of people would hear horror and they'd be like, ‘Ooh, no, I don't do horror,' because they think of the slasher movies, especially of the '80s and buckets of blood and knives and gore. But that's just one small aspect of horror.
Horror is such a broad church. And like the vast majority of the stuff that I write, there is some kind of horror that leans into the body horror and violence and stuff like that definitely in what I do. But there's also a lot of cosmic horror and supernatural and quiet, weird horror and all sorts of stuff like that in what I do as well, which is across the board.
If people say, ‘I don't read horror,' I can just say to people like, ‘Okay, so what do you like?' And if they tell me what stuff they're into, I can go, ‘Right, read this, this and this.' And I can give 'em three horror books that will appeal to the same things because it is like that.
To me, horror and comedy are both spices that you can add to any story. So while there is definitely horror as a genre, where the horror or the dark aspects of the fiction are prevalent, you can have a science fiction story, and if you look at alien, that's science fiction horror. So you can have a romance, if there's a ghost, that's gothic horror.
It's the sort of thing that intertwines that much that you can't really say that it's definitely a genre or it's definitely not because it becomes so intertwined with things, which is true for a lot of genres.
There are certain genres where there are certain conventions that you need to have. If you've got fantasy, then it needs to have some kind of fantastical elements. If you've got science fiction, it needs to have some kind of future science element because that's kind of by definition what it does.
If it's horror, it's got to have some sort of dark element, horror and dark fiction is like that. But it can apply to any other genre. I've never met a genre I didn't like. I tend to cram as many as I can into any given book and story. There's elements of fantasy and supernatural and horror and crime and mystery and in most of my books. So, yeah, it's a very difficult question to really answer, I think.
Joanna: And I guess it's not so much for us as writers because we do tend to range across different things, especially, like you, I write across different genres, subgenres. But readers will stay with one genre that they love this type of book. And if it's not that type of book, they might not try it.
I feel like that's the challenge for cross-genre writers, is not so much what we write, but more finding readers. Marketing is a fun thing.
Alan: Oh, is it?
Joanna: Yeah, and I know that you primarily concentrate on craft and you've always done that.
What do you do for marketing and what might have changed over the last decade in terms of marketing?
Alan: Honestly, it's a weird thing. Part of it is recognizing what you do and where things might appeal. For example, if I know someone is really into crime and thrillers, then I'll suggest that they read Devouring Dark or the Eli Carver books.
If I know that they're into fantasy, I'll suggest they read Hidden City or the Alex Kane books because I'm aware of where the genres lean a bit more one way or the other in the books that I do. So at the first level of marketing, that's always a good thing to do and as well being able to say, ‘Well, if you like this, you'll like that,' is another kind of thing.
Who you write a bit like, even if…I quite often get comparisons to Clive Barker, which is a massive boost to my ego. But it's also really useful to say to people, ‘Well, if you like Clive Barker, you'll like this.' Everybody who says they write dark fiction, they get, ‘Is this the next Stephen King?'
Let's stop comparing people to Stephen King because King is the King, but we can't all be the next Stephen King. A lot of it is finding that comparative market that you can put yourself in.
But as well, I think, especially as a career develops, there's the old cliche that the best marketing is to write the next book because it's hard as hell to promote one book. It gets much easier to promote 10. But it starts to build a vibe around you as a writer.
I've been at this long enough now that it seems a lot of people are into Alan Baxter books when they read my work rather than necessarily being sold the book itself. So I get that base level of readership that then hopefully keeps talking about it and recommending it.
Every time you bring a new book out, then you hopefully get a few new readers that come along, ‘Oh, what's this? This looks interesting.' And then there are other people around going, ‘Oh yeah, you've gotta check this out.' And it's that snowball effect.
I've found that otherwise it really is down to being out there and being genuine and being yourself and choosing the platforms that work for you because it's very easy. There's just so many people now embracing TikTok, for example. I've had a little noodle around on there because there's some books that are just going viral. They're going ballistic because they get sudden attention on TikTok. And it is definitely the new thing, especially among younger readers, people that are doing more work to promote through TikTok.
But if it doesn't work for you, don't do it because it's going to come across as just lame and not genuine. So you need to find the sort of few platforms that do work for you and just be there and be yourself and be genuine and, as far as I'm concerned, promote everything else so that people just are aware of you and what you do.
It gets to a point where they're like, ‘This person promoted that book and I liked it and he promoted that book and I liked it. I might read one of his books.' And that feedback loop also works.
Joanna: I haven't bothered with TikTok. I really decided a couple of years ago that I prefer audio. Audio is my primary marketing medium, I guess. I'd rather not do any kind of video platform. You have to choose, as you say.
What do you choose in terms of your marketing?
Alan: I've settled really well with Twitter. I don't know why, but it just really vibes for me. I think there's a really strong writing and reading community there, which is good, especially in genre fiction. There's really strong communities of readers and reviewers as well as writers.
And like with any social media, you just have to curate your feed aggressively. The mutant block buttons get a lot of work because there's a lot of idiots out there and it's best just to shut 'em down. The block is very useful for that.
I find that Twitter is a really good medium for sharing information, finding out about things, and promoting stuff that's going on. I do have a Facebook page still, but I'm really no fan of Facebook. I have ethical issues around Facebook in the first instance, but I also find it just kind of frustrating as a platform because so little of what you potentially put out there gets in front of other people's eyes.
I do like Instagram as well. I find that works well for sharing stuff around and having something visual as well that works. And then I've recently been just focusing a little bit more on my email list and my Patreon because you know that what you've got there is a dedicated fan base that are genuinely interested in what you're doing.
If they're subscribing to your newsletter, or they're paying at some level of your Patreon, then you know that they're engaged and that they want information. And so you hope that if you cater well to them, then that propagates out as well and that feeds out. So that's what seems to work.
I'm fairly new to Patreon, but that's sort of what's working for me. I make a point of having a very strong personal website as well. My website is well-developed. That's the one place I control.
Twitter could disappear one day overnight potentially or anything else. So you've got to have a place that's your own. I keep my website strong and I can sell direct through there as well. And otherwise, those are the platforms that seem to work best for me.
Joanna: I think website, email lists have to be the fundamentals. We've always focused on that. And then one or two other places that you might reach out to. And of course, we met on Twitter, I think because we got on there early. I think it was 2009 or something, 2010.
Alan: 2009. Yes. I had a course to check relatively recently. November 2009, it was when I started on Twitter.
Joanna: I would've met you probably around then because I was also in Australia and early indie community. It's funny that those of us who started on Twitter early still love Twitter.
Alan: It's interesting, isn't it? And quite longevity, really.
Joanna: Yes. Well, on longevity, we're almost out of time. Possibly my final question.
You've been writing a long time, over a decade now, and you've done all these different things. What are your tips for writers who want to maintain a career for the long term?
Because both of us, again, we've seen people blaze into the community and then disappear because of trying to go too hard too soon, or whatever, or be disappointed by writing something that they thought was going to change the world and then doesn't.
How do you maintain this writing career for the long term?
Alan: It's a good question, isn't it? Honestly, I think the most important attribute is just to be bloody-minded because it's a thankless gig. You don't make much money at it, especially early on. And some people just land and hit the ground running.
Generally speaking, you have to plug away for a long time, you have to develop your craft, you have to build a readership, you have to build people's awareness of what's going on out there, you have to keep putting work out.
And a lot of the time along the way, you're going to get negative feedback, you're going to get a lot of rejection and all that sort of stuff.
So it really is, in the first instance, just being bloody-minded and I'm the determinator. So you're just determined enough to just push on regardless because if you've got the passion to do it and you've got the stories that you want to tell and you're like, ‘Okay, I'm going to keep writing these stories. I'm going to keep doing the best job I can of it. And I'm going to keep working to get better and better at it if I can. And I'm just going to be too stubborn basically to quit.'
Really when it comes down to it, the only difference between published and unpublished writers or people who are still writing after X years and people who aren't is the ones who are still doing it are the ones who just didn't quit and they just kept doing it.
It's having that discipline to improve and then that focus on wanting to get good at craft and to just take every little positive uptick as good motivation and to grit your teeth every time you get kicked and carry on anyway, which is not an easy thing.
It marries up with that whole martial arts philosophy really. You've gotta have the discipline to train every day and to practice every day. And every once in a while, you're going to get your ass kicked, but you just keep going. That's the principle. That becomes the lifestyle.
Joanna: I think the thing with martial arts as well, you don't win straight off in your first bout or whatever, and you don't get good at something within your first year. I feel like so much of the frustration amongst authors is, “My first novel or my first book didn't do anything”.
As you said, it does get easier as you've been doing this for years and you build up your body of work and it definitely does get easier over time in some way, right?
Alan: Yes. You get better at it as well and you get more used to how it goes. And you get better doing a good job of it sooner so it doesn't take you so long to do a good job each time.
All this does marry with the martial arts. They're both very similar. That's why The Martial Art of Writing is published. That parallel of the principles involved of the two lives are basically the same. I frequently have people who turn up to classes, at least non-COVID times when there are classes, and they'll show up. I've been doing martial arts for longer than I've been writing, 40 years, I've been involved in martial arts.
You very quickly get to recognize that it's one of those people. They turn up to a class and they look around and they expect that you're going to tell them a bunch of secrets. And within a few weeks, they're just going to be like Bruce Lee bouncing off the walls.
And it's like, ‘Well, I can absolutely tell you a whole bunch of stuff. That is not a secret, it's just that's the knowledge.' And you can know that intellectually as much as you like. But until you've put in 10,000 hours of practice, you're not going to be Bruce Lee.
I can teach you how to throw a punch and a kick and I can teach you all the principles of good mechanics that are involved, but you've gotta do it again and again and again to get good at it. And that's what it always boils down to. You've gotta do the hard work. So if you've got a good teacher or a good mentor or whatever, fantastic, because they can help you do smart work, but you've still gotta do the hard work.
That's the same with the writing. Just because you wrote a book, good on you, that's brilliant. A lot of people want to write a book and don't, or a lot of people think they're going to, never do. The fact that you finished a book is fantastic. It's a great achievement.
But it's your first book, might not be any good. Might be really great, but still, nobody knows about you. So you've still got to put in the work. You've still gotta keep going.
Joanna: And it helps if you enjoy the journey. I think that's important too.
Alan: You have to. If you don't like what you're doing, find something else because there is a great deal of satisfaction and pride to slowly building a readership and an audience and getting whatever publishing credits or scoring an award shortlist or whatever; this stuff is all absolutely fantastic.
In the general scheme of things, it comes along incredibly infrequently, even when you've been doing it for like more than a decade like 15 years or so, close to that I have, the wins are still very few and far between. So they're great when they start coming, but you've got to love the process because you'll lose your motivation quickly otherwise.
Joanna: Absolutely. That's what it always comes back to that a lot of authors get so obsessed with marketing that they forget this is primarily a craft, this is about the craft, for the long term, it has to be because otherwise, as you say, you'll go completely nuts. So I will look forward to another decade of reading your work and catching up with you every now and then.
Where can people find you and your books online?
Alan: The two best places to catch up with me, my website is easy to find, it's just my name, alanbaxter.com.au. So you can find that easy enough, alanbaxter.com.au. And I'm on Twitter @AlanBaxter. If you just kind of want to say hi, swing by.
Every once in a while, I say something stupid on Twitter and my notifications go bananas and I miss a lot. But otherwise, yeah, I usually spend a lot of time on Twitter. It's always fun to catch up with people and stuff. So, to find out about me and the books, go to the website and you'll find everything you need there, and all the various other social media links are on the website too.
Joanna: Great. Well, thanks so much for your time, Alan. That was brilliant.
Alan: No worries. Thanks for having me. It's always great to chat to you. And one day, we will get to meet in person. One day.
Joanna: We will. One day.
Sometimes it feels like Jo has a new episode every week for the exact information I was just Googling lool. Every time I attempt a short story it ends up becoming a much larger story because I can’t help developing all of the characters and the world-building. So I’ve been looking for tips on sticking to the short story formula. Based on this episode, it seems I have to focus on just a single point or idea and suppress all of the other ideas that pop up along the way.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Gary, glad you found it useful!
You can do it, Gary! Editing is your friend too – strip out everything unnecessary!