A rotary phone


“The best author visit we’ve ever had!” —Flynn, age 10, Canberra

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Q: Where do you get your ideas?

A: Lots of places. I read a lot of non-fiction. Often I imitate novels that I’ve enjoyed. Sometimes I’m watching bad movies and imagining how I might fix them. The most important ingredient is boredom. The ideas need room to grow.

Q: How old were you when you wrote your first book?

A: I started it at age 13 – I was bored with the books we were being given in school, and thought I could do better – and I submitted it to Pan Macmillan Australia at 17. They published it when I was 19.

Q: What are your favourite books?

A: I have hundreds, but most recently I’ve enjoyed Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes, The Midnight Promise by Zane Lovitt, The Engagement by Chloe Hooper, Unwind by Neal Shusterman and Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt. Longer ago I liked The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, Ice Station by Matthew Reilly and The Sands of Time by Robert Silverberg.

Q: Do you do anything other than write?

A: I enjoy Dungeons & Dragons, and I play a few musical instruments.

Q: You play D&D? What race/class?

A: Halfling rogue. Chaotic neutral.

Q: How do I become a published writer?

A: Step one is to read everything you can, even things you don’t think you’ll like. Work out what you do like, and why you like it.

Step two is to write every day, even when you don’t feel like it. Try writing in unfamiliar styles, settings, genres.

Step three is to get in the habit of showing your work to people and rewriting it based on their feedback. (If you don’t know anyone suitable, join your local non-profit writing organisation. I’m with Marion. Posting your work online is also a good option—try Wattpad.)

Step four is to start submitting your work to literary agents (your local writing organisation can help you work out which ones are good). I’m with Curtis Brown. Your agent will try to find a publisher for you. Self-publishing also provides valuable experience, but don’t expect to make much money out of it. (The people who do are statistically irrelevant.) I’ve used Smashwords before and liked it.

If you have a manuscript already, I’d be happy to provide you with some feedback.

Q: How much money do you make?

A: Don’t listen to anyone who tells you it’s rude to ask about money. That’s just the man, keeping you down. Aspiring writers have a right to know what the pay is like. I get about a dollar (Australian) for each book I sell, and after more than 17 years in this business, I now sell between sixty and eighty thousand books per year. (My experience is not typical. Australian authors earn an average of only $18,200 from their writing.) I also get between $500 and $1,000 per day when I’m speaking at festivals or teaching creative writing. This sounds like a lot—and it is!—but I can’t do it all the time, since there’s a lot of admin and travel involved, and people would stop inviting me if I stopped writing books (which I wouldn’t want to do in any case). I also earn some money whenever someone buys the film or TV rights to my books, but bonuses like that are rare.

Being self-employed, I don’t get superannuation or sick days. But writing doesn’t require expensive equipment or a university degree, so I also don’t have huge debts to pay off. Basically, I wouldn’t recommend novel-writing as a get-rich-quick scheme. I would recommend it as a way to challenge yourself, to learn interesting things, and to make yourself and other people happy.

If you’re a reader and you’re horrified that your favourite author might be earning only $18,200 per year, here are some things you can do:

  • Talk about books more. Reading is a fairly solitary activity. If you enjoyed a book, you should tell someone. They might enjoy it too, but not if they never hear about it.
  • Look beyond the bestseller lists. Lee Child is great, but does he really need your support? Go to a bookshop and pick up something you’ve never heard of. Read the first chapter. You might just love it.
  • Buy books from real bookshops at sensible prices. Deep discounts have a flow-on effect which hurts authors, agents, publishers, copy-editors, type-setters, proofreaders and ultimately readers. If you buy a book for $5 instead of $20, that author’s next book may never be published (and there may be nowhere to sell it). It’s a general rule of life: pay for the things you care about, or else they might disappear.

Q: Will you speak at my event for free/cheap?

A: I know this makes me look like a jerk, but no. I have an exclusive contract with Booked Out, and I respect the excellent work they do—it would be inconsiderate of me to undermine them by working for free. There are plenty of equally experienced, hard-working, talented writers out there who need the exposure more than I do and may be willing to appear pro bono. (But you saw the stats above about how little they earn, right? Throw them a bone.)

Q: Will you ever write another book in [insert series here]?

A: There are many books I would like to write, but because of time constraints I can only afford to work on things which publishers will actually buy. This means no sequels to books which sold fewer than, say, three billion copies. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to finish a series before readers stop buying it (Six of Hearts), but often I plan out sequels and never get the chance to write them (Replica 2, Ashley Arthur 3).

This isn’t always a bad thing. I like to experiment, and long series limit those opportunities. For example, if the Ashley Arthur books had been more successful I would have written more of them. This might have meant that I never got around to writing The Cut Out, or Replica.

If you love a series and you want more installments to be written, there’s not much point putting pressure on the author. What you can do is recommend it to everyone you know, write reviews—and buy copies as gifts. (It helps to get them from a proper bookstore.)