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Bill Arnott’s Travel Beat: Talking Writing and Viking with the UK’s Alex Pearl

(Bill) Hi Alex, thanks for the invitation to this great group of writers! I’m author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott, and I live on Canada’s west coast. I’ve been a full-time writer for a few years, my work ranging from suspense thrillers to poetry, indie folk music to all-ages fiction. But I may be best known for my nonfiction travel memoirs, Gone Viking: A Travel Saga and Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries, bestsellers that have won some literary awards. For this, I extend heartfelt thanks to my amazing friends, readers, and our #GoneVikingCommunity.

I grew up in British Columbia, next to a lake, and that connection with water and its inherent pull to drift, dive, and wander seems to have followed me through life and is probably evident in my writing. And while I still thrive on outdoor pursuits, something I love now is the connection I enjoy with our reading and writing community, knowing each of us is part of something more, the whole being much more than the sum of its parts.

Like most of us, I started writing as a kid, no doubt a transition from colouring. But I like to believe I started writing well in the last ten years or so, the result of a few decades of dedicated reading and the inspiration to create something a bit better than the time before. Now, one of my “soapbox lectures” to writers is to perpetually improve their craft and raise a bar no one else needs to see but that we’re inherently aware of with respect to our work.

(Alex) How would you describe your writing, and are there particular themes/stories that you like to explore?

(Bill) Something I feel strongly about (and say frequently) is that I take the writing seriously. I don’t take myself seriously. Which I suspect comes through in the work. I admire writers who write beautifully but aren’t afraid to “take the piss” or share something ludicrous if it’s genuinely funny and in keeping with the story. And when it comes to travel writing, I have no patience for writers who justify their travels with fabricated rationale. Don’t pretend you need to embark on a journey to a) save a relationship, b) recover from a relationship, or c) raise environmental awareness. If, for example, you want to cycle the continent and write about it, do it! But tell the truth, and don’t pretend what you’re doing is somehow part of something grander. And when you write, make the work exceptional.

That said, I like to push myself as a writer. There’s an old adage along the lines of, “if you’re not stretching, you’re not growing.” (Maybe that was a motivational speaker.) However. There’s truth in there. Like exercise. Breaking down muscles, for example (in moderation) makes you stronger, capable of greater accomplishment. The same goes for writing, honing the craft to create more engaging, sensory stories and deeper connections with readers. Which applies to fiction and nonfiction alike.

(Alex) How do you go about finding an interesting story and how do you sell it to a newspaper or magazine?

(Bill) I write what I like to read; simple as that. I remember reading an interview of a musician I admire, and he was embarrassed to be “caught” listening to his own music in his vehicle. Egos aside, for me, it spoke to artists creating the stuff they (we) genuinely enjoy seeing, hearing or reading. I cringe to think of someone creating something they don’t personally enjoy. So as I read, learn and escape through books, eventually, I catch glimpses of stories I feel have yet to be told. And that’s when I go to work: researching, writing and sharing.

I know I’m not alone in this but I write because I’m a fan of books and reading. My latest travelogue, Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries, a follow-up to Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, came about (partially) in response to the pandemic. While the world was on lockdown and travel wasn’t an option, I took it as a personal challenge to create a rich, engaging travelogue irrespective of limited (physical) movement between locales. Which provided a perfect opportunity to stretch my literary wings and share something unique with readers who appreciate the craft (and enjoy my adventures.)

I’m privileged to now enjoy a somewhat established readership, so finding outlets is less of a challenge than it was when I began as a writer. But with respect to selling my work, I’ve enjoyed wearing a range of hats, from entrepreneurial indie publisher to staff writer and editor for newspapers, magazines and literary journals, as well as being part of a stable of writers for a mid-sized publishing house. Each facet of the business has positive aspects as well as challenges, but I love being able to jump between roles, often every day.

(Alex) What was the first book you read?

(Bill) I think the first book I read (on my own) was a Hardy Boys detective story. But two titles that truly expanded my young mind and no doubt planted a writerly seed were Stephen King’s Different Seasons and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s work still strikes me as the ultimate travelogue – engagement, adventure, and human endeavour. While that particular book of King’s (four stories in fact) left me thinking, “You can say that in a book?!” It was quintessential literary empowerment, as though realizing we can, in fact, fly!

Now Available! Click the cover to order.

(Alex) How much research do you do and what does it usually entail?

(Bill) My first traditionally published travel memoir, Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, was an eight-year project (trekking the northern hemisphere). The follow-up travelogue, Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries was ten years in the making, between travel, writing and research. So I joke that at this rate, I should be able to bang out the next book in a mere twelve years! (But don’t tell my publisher.)

When I write travel lit, I need it to be engaging and sincere, but I also want to ensure that readers know they’re getting my very best work. Proper research, I feel, is part of the equation. Something I tell writers is, “Don’t bore me with details or backstory. But do put your back into it, and make sure you know those details.” That comes through in the end result, which may include seemingly simple, concise references, but the whole will be significantly better because of the effort that’s gone into thorough research.

(Alex) How do you market your books?

(Bill) I’ve incorporated a range of marketing efforts for book sales. Some of my past titles were of a genre that made companies want to hire me to speak to staff, and they’d purchase books for a meeting or seminar attendees. So that was more about speaking gigs with books being distributed or sold “at the back of the room.” I also enjoy the intimacy of signing events at bookstores, which creates great engagement with readers and subsequent sales. More recently I’ve utilized social media and cross-promotion, nurturing relationships with booksellers and partnering in our promotional efforts, which consistently results in ongoing, win-win experiences.

One of my indie-published titles, Bill Arnott’s Beat: Road Stories & Writers’ Tips (a #1 Bestseller) is a blend of travel memoir and author reference material, and outlines a range of ways in which I’ve generated successful sales. So rather than sharing all my secrets here, I’ll let you find them (as often as you like) in the pages of Bill Arnott’s Beat. Maybe that’s another marketing advice nugget; answer questions in a forthright manner, but expand on it in another book!

(Alex) What are your interests aside from writing? And what do you do to unwind?

(Bill) My social media handle, @billarnott_aps, is a reference to my being an author, poet, and songwriter, which pretty much answers the question, “What do I do to unwind?” Then again, maybe it winds me up as well! But I do love reading, writing, and playing music – usually indie folk on acoustic guitar. And while I do each of these things professionally, they’re actually how I spend my downtime as well. One of the best lessons I received from a mentor (who happens to be a composer) was to hop between creative outlets to stimulate respective activities. I think most writers are aware of this. Even alternating genres for a while can generate great new stuff. It’s the same premise as going for a walk if you feel stumped, or simply doing something different for a while, effectively shifting focus between the hemispheres of your brain to tap into different sensory stimuli. In addition to the creative stuff, I love being outside, going hiking, irrespective of the terrain – beach, desert, forest, mountains – you name it, I enjoy it.

(Alex) Which authors do you particularly admire and why?

(Bill) Some of my favourite authors are Robert Macfarlane, Anna Badkhen, Michael Palin, Monisha Rajesh, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Tim Winton. I consider each in their way a fellow Viking, mentor and friend, contributing to my love of the written word and making me want to consistently create better work.

Thanks, Alex, for this fun opportunity and all that you do for our writing community!
Bill.



This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Bill Arnott’s Artist Showcase: Vin Maskell and Stereo Stories

G’day Vin, and welcome to the Showcase! Let’s kick things off, please and thanks, by introducing you with your bio:

(Vin) I live in Melbourne, Australia. I’m somewhere between a writer and a journalist, with some editing inevitably in the mix. Only two books to my name: a textbook about professional writing I co-wrote 20 years ago (with my good friend Gina Perry, now a world expert on the psychologist Stanley Milgram); and a self-published collection of vignettes, Jacaranda Avenue, about 15 or so years ago. Editors used to find spaces for my gentle stories in the softer parts of newspapers. For the past ten years, I’ve been contributing to the Australian edition of The Big Issue. Day jobs have been writing for organizations that support worthy causes.

Q. (Bill: I genuinely enjoy your writing and musical collaboration.) Tell us what you feel you’re best known for?

A. Nothing especially. Initially, quiet stories about life and family and suburbia and grief and sport and the beach. More recently – the past eight years – I’ve gone from writer/journo working alone at a desk to founding editor and stage director of a project called Stereo Stories. It started as a website for people to write personal stories about favourite songs. Then it became a tightly scripted concert in which writers narrate their stories, backed by the ever-versatile Stereo Stories band. Audiences at writers’ festivals seem to connect with it pretty well. They’re not used to seeing a band up on the stage!

Q. (I love the multimedia.) What would you say brought you here?

A. Cyberspace. Serendipity. Fate. My parents Margaret and Ron. A bicycle, a 10 speed Soma Wolverine that includes parts from my previous bike, a 27 speed Kona Sutra. (Yes, that was the brand name of the bike and, no, I never needed all 27 gears. Melbourne’s pretty flat.)

Q. (And I thought my elementary school classmate with a 3 speed was a showoff!) Setting aside every Kona Sutra joke I could think of, which funnily enough was 27, who’s been a role model or mentor to you?

A. How far back do you want to go? In high school, I studied the Australian poet Bruce Dawe. His work still resonates. Lately, I’ve been re-reading Garrison Keillor: Radio Romance, Liberty, The Book Of Guys.

Q. (The Book of Guys was my intro to Keillor – timeless insights and humour.) And what’s your advice to others?

A. Look left, right and left again before crossing the road. (I have a part-time job as a school crossing supervisor.) Oh, in terms of writing? Put the right words in the right places. Get the rhythm right. And if you’re sending a story to an editor send it to the right person at the right time.

Click the image to read Bill Arnott’s latest book.

Q. (Speaking of timeless insights and humour, well said!) What are you currently working on?

A. The next Stereo Stories concert will be at the Bendigo Writers Festival in May, so I’ve been working with half a dozen guest writers on turning their stories about their favourite songs into performance pieces, and then working with the band on the cues within the stories. It’s all about creating audience anticipation because when I’m MC-ing I never tell the audience the name of each song. And contributions are still trickling into the Stereo Stories website after all these years: we’re nearly up to 600 stories.

Q. (I love that engagement with your audiences, and kudos on the success of Stereo Stories.) And for a radical shift, tell us, what are your favourite: book, album/s, and food dish?

A. Book? Along with those by Garrison Keillor and Bruce Dawe? Australian author Steven Carroll is terrific. And I’ve only just read My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Crikey! What a writer.

Album/s? How much time have you got, Bill? The latest Bob Dylan album. Any Rickie Lee Jones album. Jackson Browne, The Blackeyed Susans, The Mercurials, Paul Kelly, Springsteen, Goanna, Garland Jeffreys, kd lang, The Gotan Project …

Food dish? Middle eastern: falafel.

Q. (Ah yes, the album question may’ve been unfair.) So let’s leap to a trademark Quirky Question. Make a choice: Finding Nemo or Finding Dory?

A. I prefer finding stingrays when I go snorkelling though it can sometimes be a case of “Careful what you pray for.”

(Bill) Crikey indeed! Thank you, Vin, this has been great fun. Wishing you a safe and successful festival event in May and many more Stereo Stories for the rest of us to enjoy around the globe.

Find Vin at stereostories.com and on YouTube. And thanks again for joining our Showcase and supporting writers and creativity!

Bill.


This Cleaving and This Burning by J.A. Wainwright

This Cleaving and This Burning by J.A. Wainwright is a novel I will never forget.

While overwhelmed with final essays and preparing for my final exam, I could always rely on Wainwright to instantly teleport me away from my worries and into the lives of Hal and Miller, two boys so perfectly developed and well written that I experienced their lives alongside them rather than just reading about them. I felt every emotion our two main characters felt; I grew up with them as they discovered the world around them and themselves, trying to understand their own feelings. Their constant underlying search for the next thing to write, their stumbling across moments too right not to write about, their confusing emotions as they discovered themselves and rewrote who they were. The person on the outside vs the complex and emotionally vulnerable creature on the inside. I saw myself in Hal and Miller as they explored everything the world had to offer them, living out their self-discovery, hidden identities, and intense feelings.

“I saw myself in Hal and Miller as they explored everything the world had to offer them, living out their self-discovery, hidden identities, and intense feelings.”

The imagery in this novel, too, is never lacking. Sections of this novel were more vivid than that of a movie, transporting you into the middle of everything happening, allowing you to easily imagine everything you need while simultaneously so fully enveloping you emotionally into each scene, each moment, each interaction and thought Hal and Miller have.

This beautiful novel isn’t just a story. It’s not just another book to enjoy when you want just anything to read. It is a piece of writing that successfully does justice to the authors’ whose lives it is inspired by. As a reader of both Earnest Hemingway and Hart Crane, I was nervous of being disappointed by this novel. Instead I found a haven depicting Miller and Hal so genuinely and so flawlessly I could understand where the influences were from without feeling as though I was reading a glorified fan fiction piece. With or without previous experience reading Hemingway or Crane, the different writing styles of Hal and Miller are wonderfully established, true to their personalities and ways of description. Those who love the authors, I believe, will be extra invested in this novel in the beginning, but by the end, anyone who was fortunate enough to pick up this book will be so fully and entirely engaged they will be sad it is over.

Putting this book down for the last time, having finishing the final few pages I had been saving for myself as a reward for finishing the semester, I was left feeling empty and lost, as though part of me had come to an end. This is the type of novel you cannot wait to finish while simultaneously wishing it will never end. One I instantly flipped back through and reread my favourite parts of.

J.A. Wainwright wrote a novel worth everyone’s free-time to read. This Cleaving and This Burning will be my go-to for historical fiction recommendations for ages to come.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

About the author: J.A. Wainwright lives in Halifax where he is McCulloch Emeritus Professor in English at Dalhousie University. Since 1970 he has published five books of poetry, five novels, and two critical biographies.

  • Publisher : Guernica Editions; 1st edition (Oct. 1 2020)
  • Language: : English
  • Paperback : 350 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1771835664
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1771835664

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/2X9Ulv7 Thanks!

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Writers’ Primer: Ratios, the Sure-Fire Way to Get Published

Ever heard of ratios? I mean, outside of middle school math.

Ratios are a simple, effective way to quantify your effort as a writer. And if your primary goal is getting published, knowing your ratios is essential. It’s been said, “It’s all a numbers game.” Don’t let an expression’s overuse dilute its merit. It’s cliché in part because it’s accurate. There’s a reason people cite the effectiveness of numbers.

I used to be in sales. It paid the bills while I wrote. One of the best tools I took from that career was knowing and understanding how to track activity. It applies to writing as well. We simply can’t afford to ignore numbers. The best writers know this. They’re disciplined. They write consistently. It’s exercise. The most active – the healthiest – are the fittest. 

Some writers write a daily minimum word count. For others it’s ensuring a story, article, poem or song gets completed. They may not care about labeling their activity, but it’s a form of maintaining ratios.

Are you submitting your work? Putting it off? Sick of rejections? (All of the above?) Most of the prep’s already been done for us with itemized online lists of where best to publish and when. The digital version of having your own personal trainer – a coach who’s already done the heavy lifting – planning your program, tailoring it to your goals, arranging the equipment needed. All you have to do is show up and put in the effort.

If getting published is your primary goal, pull the list that fits your objectives and go to work. Here’s where your ratios come in. If your list of suitable publishers accept five percent of the work submitted, assuming you’re submitting your best work, twenty submissions should result in you having a submission accepted. Not five. Not ten. Twenty.

Subjectivity aside, the odds are in your favour. Numbers work. And rejection’s part of the equation. If you’re not getting rejections, you’re not submitting. And without submissions, you’re not getting published. A co-worker once said, “I make a sale at every meeting I book.” To which I said, “Then you’re not booking enough meetings!”

Life isn’t a series of yeses. Nos are part of the deal. If someone hears nothing but yes they’re surrounded by liars. Using our five percent acceptance example, every nineteen rejections should result in you having an accepted publication. If you’re not getting rejections, you’re not submitting enough. Simple as that.

Still, choose a rifle over a shotgun. That’s where your trainer comes in. In our case, targeted lists – isolating for best results – efficiency along with effectiveness. Identify magazines, journals or manuscript publishers congruent with your writing, your genre and style, then go to work. As much as we might hate it, queries and submissions are essential. You can’t stay healthy without hard work and some sweat. Consistency creates results. Keep improving your craft. But never underestimate the importance of repetition, perseverance and the power of ratios.

(To my delight this article was rejected by Authors Publish Magazine.)

***

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Marketing for Writers

You may not know it but if you’re a writer, you’re an entrepreneur. Whether you publish traditionally or self-publish you’re a business owner, and every business-owning entrepreneur needs to create and promote their brand along with knowing their market. Marketing can be a complex field from finding a local seo agency to possibly help with attracting attention to your book, to social media traffic, which might reach prospective readers, marketing is arguably a key process. Here are the essentials of marketing every writer should know with actionable items you can implement now.

Key Elements of a Marketing Plan:

Do a SWOT Analysis – know your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Apply this to your personal situation, as a writer and a going business concern. Identify your market, including competition and prospective customers. Understanding your voice as a writer is critical. Don’t be tempted to chase trends. If it’s hot, it’s probably past.

Create a Strategic Vision Statement – from big picture, long term to tactical, short term objectives. Dream big then implement with precision. Knowing why you do what you do will serve you better than knowing every how. The how can be learned. Only you know your why.

Design SMART Goals – your forecasts and objectives need to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable (with effort), Relevant and Timely (with deadlines). It’s imperative you be able to qualify and quantify your goals. Intangible goals are unattainable. If you opt for email marketing to showcase your work and other relevant goals, you are going to need to make sure you are reaching the correct people, for example, you may have gathered a few spam accounts on the way which can harm your marketing technique so it might be wise to check out this verification tool that can help with filtering that out to help you reach those goals.

Make a Budget – recognize costs associated with your business. Of course, you might have already formed a budget for your publishing and print equipment (like those made available by Duplo DC range). Besides the inventory cost, knowing all the numbers sets you apart from a scrambling entrepreneur wanna-be. Your revenue and expense records can be simple but identify and understand your cost components – software subscriptions, hardware upgrades, courses, research material, travelling to and from reading events and writing groups, and the promotional pieces you finance, with or without a publisher.

In addition to all the marketing strategies mentioned above, don’t forget to incorporate social media promotional benefits. That is something worth looking into, if you want to create a loyal fan base. Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn can be utilised to curate the readers, specifically interested in particular genres. You might have to employ additional tools like LinkedIn automation software to analyse data to discover your prospects.

These elements are a primer, the essentials required to ensure you as a writer are a thriving business entity. Even if you have a publishing and distribution team, understanding what you need to do and how to do it will only improve your writing career. Your success is up to you.


A version of Bill’s Marketing for Writers appears in WordWorks Magazine.

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