Patty Jansen lives in Sydney, where she spends most of her time writing science fiction and fantasy. She publishes in both traditional and indie venues. Her storyThis Peaceful State of War placed first in the second quarter of the Writers of the Future contest. Her futuristic space travel story Survival in Shades of Orange will appear in Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Her space opera novel Ambassador will be published in 2013 by Ticonderoga Publications.
Her novels (available at ebook venues, such as the Kindle store) include Watcher’s Web (soft SF),The Far Horizon (SF for younger readers), Charlotte’s Army (military SF) and the Icefire Trilogy Fire & Ice (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005TF1B9K) Dust & Rain and Blood & Tears (post-apocalyptic steampunk fantasy). Patty is on Twitter (@pattyjansen), and blogs at Must Use Bigger Elephants (http://pattyjansen.wordpress.com/)
1. Last year you attended the Writers of the Future Workshop and Awards Ceremony in LA, as winner of the second quarter of the competition. How important has that win been to your writing career, and what value did you derive from attending the event?
The most important part of the win was validation. It goes back to the quarter before I won when I had a finalist story. The email that my story was a finalist came to me out of the blue, after having participated in the contest a number of times and never having rated more than an honourable mention. It also came at a time I felt down about my writing. Writers live for validation.
The workshop itself… where do I start? It was full of awesome from beginning to end. Talking to seriously successful writers about writing and the writing business. Talking to them socially. Meeting friends. The Hollywood crazy.
Career-wise, a number of important things came out of it.
A very direct result: As part of the workshop, we had 24 hours to write a story using techniques discussed in previous days, and three writing prompts. There were thirteen of us (one published finalist) and three stories were chosen to be critted by the group. My story was one of those. When I came home, I made some changes (actually, I think I did most of them on the plane next to fellow Aussie participant Ben Mann, who was snoring loudly), and sent the story off to Analog. Where it sold.
But most of the benefits are indirect. A variety of seriously successful authors talked about how their careers developed. From this, I came away with a feeling that there is no one way of obtaining success, and that it is probably a good idea to branch out into opportunities that mesh with your interests and other skills. I was quite amazed by the huge variety in career paths and opinions. Kevin Anderson’s “I can do that” talk was awe-inspiring.
Talks by a couple of quite militant self-publishing authors cemented my tentative decision to try it (I already had a few things up by the time I went to the workshop).
Other than that, the friendships.
2. Your enthusiasm for self-publishing is evident from your blog and website, and you have recently self-published the 300k word ‘Icefire’ trilogy. How long did it take you to complete the project, and what are your hopes for the trilogy? Has it been a different experience to self-publish a very large work, compared to short stories or novellas?
The most important reason for my self-publishing ventures is that it’s a heap of fun. It also ties back to the “I can do that” mantra. I could do it. In a past life, I edited, formatted and prepared for commercial print various projects including newsletters and full-colour books. So I could, literally, format fiction.
The trilogy: I wrote book 1 in five weeks for the Orbit/Hachette manuscript development program in 2008. Those five weeks were hell when I realised that there was no way I’d fit the amount of story and all seven POV characters into a regular-sized book, that it needed to be cut up, and that book 1 ends in a cliffhanger.
Anyway, I didn’t get into the program, and decided I might as well query some agents. I sent five queries, from which I received three requests for material, two of which for the full manuscript. At that point, I thought, wow, I might actually sell this thing. And that was a scary moment.
Cue in nail biting. One agent rejected after about two months. Then the GFC hit. I never heard back from the others. I sent more queries. I never heard back from any of them either. Rinse and repeat. At the end of 2009, the agent who did get back to me wrote in her blog that she didn’t sign any new clients that year. No one was taking any risks. The industry was sitting on its collective hands. And here was I with a mammoth manuscript in three books that didn’t even pretend to be standalones.
Meanwhile, I’d had an offer for another book, and that contract fell through. I couldn’t face taking that book to market again, so decided to try out the relatively new option of Kindle Direct Publishing. It was fun.
Then I happened across my poor abandoned trilogy. Material was still outstanding with agents, although it had been more than a year and I would probably never hear back from any of them. I had been reluctant to complete the last two books, and it occurred to me that if I persisted with trying to find an agent, I probably wouldn’t complete it for a number of years, if ever.
That was a defining thought: do I want to have a hard disk full of incomplete series I might or might not sell, or did I want to finish the books.
3. How important is social media and blogging to your activities as an independent author, particularly in relation to promoting your work? How do you navigate the delicate balance between promotion and spam?
The best promotion for my work is the stories I publish in regular venues. I don’t use Twitter and Facebook much to promote my material. Oh, I may post an update or two when a book is new or on special, but that’s pretty much it. As frequent user of Facebook and Twitter, I don’t mind if authors do the same. I do mind people using retweet-bots to repeat the same message over and over, or if people retweet every damn other author’s promotional messages in the hope those authors will do the same for them.
Seriously, people, your Twitter and Facebook followers don’t change that much. If you say something to them once or twice, there is no reason to repeat it. They know you’re an author. If they’re interested in the sort of thing you write, they will try your fiction, on their terms. For the other people, the ones who don’t read what you write, you’ll just annoy the crap out of them.
So where do I promote?
- I don’t
- By writing more material
- By direct-targeting places where promoting is allowed, such as the Kindleboards forum and certain Twitter accounts that retweet promotions and freebies to people who have actually signed up to receive such promotion
- By having information about where people can find my fiction up on my blog, where people can look at it on their own terms, if they’re interested.
The best use of social media? To be social.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
Recently is going to be a very fluid concept, because I have to admit that I haven’t read much Australian published work in the past twelve months. I’ve been reading a lot of hard SF. There is none published in Australia. Australian writers I enjoy reading are Glenda Larke, Sean Williams and—uhm—Tim Winton. Yeah, I know he doesn’t write SFF 😉 In the short story category I want Simon Petrie to get off his backside and publish more. I loved his short story collection.
5. Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think have been the biggest changes to the Australian SpecFic scene?
Another hard question, because I don’t think I’ll be able to detach developments in the Australian SFF scene from my personal experience with the scene. Aussiecon4 was the second ever con I attended, and I don’t want to claim any sort of authority on the local SFF scene. Hey, I attended a Ditmar Awards ceremony without a clue in the world what the Ditmars were, and that there was supposed to be an annual controversy attached to them. So between me growing into the scene and finding out the what’s what and who’s who, and the Aussie specific scene actually changing… I’m not sure where things have changed because they’ve changed or where they look changed to me because I know more.
One thing I would dearly love: to have more SF published in Australia.