- Tips for helping writers promote their work.
- Performing research for our stories and how our life experiences inspire our writing.
- Specific tools that read our writing to us to assist writers in the editing process.
I rewrote my first novel five times before it was good enough to be published.
Welcome to the twenty sixth episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process, discussing the mechanics and physicality of the craft.
In this episode, I chat with thriller writer Dave Wickenden about his writing and how his life experiences influence his stories.
Arthur: Tell me about your writing journey. When did you first start writing?
Dave: I had tried numerous times during my life to write a novel, but life always took over. In 2014, I was on vacation at camp and started writing a story that had been on the burner for a couple years. After returning to work, I realized what I really wanted to do and very soon after that, put in for my retirement. I’ve been writing full time since.
Arthur: You have a great variety of life experiences. How do these experiences integrate with your stories?
Dave: Having been a first responder, I have experienced PTSD and this is reflected in my first novel. I also have some investigation training which also helped; at least pointed me in the right direction for the information I needed to create authentic stories. During the latter years of my career, I ended doing a lot of research and this has paid huge dividends.
Dream big! No one else is ever going to do it for you.
Arthur: What was your publishing experience like? Did you try to self-publish any of your work prior to your first book release? What important lessons did you learn during the traditional publishing process?
Dave: I have not tried self-publishing although I know a number of authors who have done well with the process. I wanted more time to write, so aimed at the traditional publishing route. However, I’ll point out that the marketing of your book is mainly the responsibility of the writer. Both my books are with Crave Press, a small press, which allows more interaction and input and I have enjoyed learning the process. They were good enough to allow me to play a huge part on the cover design and have helped calm my nerves and held my hand throughout the process. This is important to a newbie.
Arthur: What do you know now that you wish you knew prior to writing your first book?
Dave: Basically, I wish I knew how to write in a creative style. Most of my writing previously was technical or procedural. This was huge learning curve for me. Through critiques by a number of fantastic and helpful writers online I rewrote my first novel five times, before it was good enough to be published. The first drafts had huge info dumps and read like a non-fiction.
It is something we can all relate to, so it makes the story that much more personal.
Arthur: You’re a thriller writer. Are there other genres which you hope to attempt to write in the future?
Dave: I have always been a huge fan of historical fiction and history in general. I hope one day to jump into a historical setting some day. I do have a short story that is in the process of being edited for Toronto Prose Mill which is a historical thriller of a train wreck in the 1930s that took place just north of my home town. I had a ton of information to use and the story jumped onto the pages. Of course, the editors at TPM have helped make it better. I really enjoyed writing in this genre and hope to do so again.
Arthur: What was your outlining process for your book, IN DEFENSE OF INNOCENCE?
Dave: I’m a pantser, so I usually have an idea of the story with a vague ending, but nothing is set. I do a lot of research. For my first novel, I investigated police tactics that are used to track and hunt child abusers as well as historical cases of child abuse within Canada. I am working on a sequel to this story currently and the research has been extended into human trafficking around the world. The story takes place in Paris, France so I have spend weeks on Google Earth, touring Paris for potential settings.
The first line – or even the first paragraph – should not be written until the book is complete.
Arthur: Writing involves a lot of planning for our stories. One critical task for writers is deciding “when” in the story to start our books. How did you decide on your starting “scenes” for your books? What made them important for grabbing the readers’ attention?
Dave: The starting spot is a hard one. For both books, I have had to rewrite the beginning a few times to get that ‘hook’. I cannot remember who said it, but it was suggested that the first line or even the first paragraph not be written until the book is complete. This way, you can create an extremely strong first impression, especially knowing the entirety of the story.
Arthur: What is your target market for writing? What kind of experience are you hoping to create for your readers?
Dave: The definite target is the thriller reader. However, I have had a number of people read the story who do not normally read this genre and kept their interest because of the high intensity scenes, suspense and believability of the story. One reporter who I was interviewed by suggested that I pulled the story right out of the headlines. I try to make it so realistic, that it could conceivably happen. This adds realism but also gives it the “What if” factor which a lot of people are attracted to.
We all have seen the headlines about child abuse and each of us at some time or another wish more can be done to protect children. In my story, IN DEFENSE OF INNOCENCE, I have a vigilante do those things that our morality and the law does not afford us.
In HOMEGROWN, we see a young teen being radicalized to fight for ISIS. This has happened. My premise is; as a parent what would you do to save your child. It is something we can all relate to, so it makes the story that much more personal.
I try to make it so realistic that it could conceivably happen.
Arthur: With your second book out now, how are you promoting your work? Do you have advice on promotion that would be useful for other writers?
Dave: You have to put yourself out there. Most writers are introverts, but we all have to go out and promote and sell out books. Social media is all well and good, but book signings at local bookshops, Graphic Cons, Festivals and even Farmers Markets get you where your readers, thus customers are. They are interested talking to you and getting into your head and this is your greatest chance at selling your stories.
Arthur: What is your editing process? Do you have access to an editor? What are editing resources a writer could pursue if they don’t have the funds for a good editor?
Dave: I have an editor through my publisher, but they would never accept something that wasn’t 99% clean. The first tool I use is software that reads your story out loud. There is a number of free, text to audio software out there. I use Natural Reader. The free version allows for three different voices, but the paid version allows more. By hearing your writing out loud, you pick up on grammar, spelling, poor sentence structure, and poor word choices immediately. You can cut and paste directly into this platform so it is easy to fix your original with both screens open.
The other software that I use is ProWritingAid. I have purchased the lifetime package which does come on sale a couple times a year. I paid $100 Canadian. It is usually around $150 US. This looks at sentence structure, repetitive wording, grammar, smoothness of the writing, spelling, etc. I have tried another product that is advertised heavily (I can’t mention the product) but found it was nowhere as good.
After all this is done, I send it to my beta readers for a complete overview.
Once I get back all the feedback, I make the changes that make sense to me. If one person out of five have an issue, I make the decision to make the change, but if two or more suggest the same or similar issue, I listen. I have changed significant amounts of my story and even deleted multiple chapters due to the advice of my readers.
After these changes, I send the MS to a different group of Beta readers.
Once I hear back and make the necessary changes; usually few second time around, I do my own last review before submitting.
I’m doing what I love, so I have already “made it.”
Arthur: Are you part of a writing group? How do you get feedback on your stories? Do you have “beta” readers and how did you connect with them?
Dave: I am a member of the Sudbury Writers Guild here at home. When I first started out, I joined Scribophile and learned a ton of stuff. This is where I really learned what was lacking from my stories. There are a tremendous group of writers of all caliber that helped me out with both books.
As a full time writer though, I found the process too slow and left the group, although I am still in contact with quite a few of the friends I made there.
I do book reviews for both traditional and indi writers and the majority of my beta readers come from this group. There are many small presses that are looking for reviewers and these contacts are gold. Not only are you interacting with authors, you are also meeting and getting to know publishers and what they are looking for. I read about a book a week, so helping other authors goes both ways.
New Writers: The biggest help you can get to sell you books are reviews. Reviews can be put up on Amazon (new rules insist on $50/yr spending on Amazon to leave a review), Goodreads, and all social media. This drives sales, interest and hopefully a fan base. The magic number of reviews for Amazon is 50. You need this before they start actively promoting your book through emails. In other words, if you read a book, submit a review.
Arthur: Do you think writers need to adapt how we “produce” our craft (such as creating more audio books, for example) to keep up with the changing methods of how our readers “consume” and get exposed to our work?
Dave: Definitely. I listen to audio books when I walk the dog. It took a full year to get through Stephen King’s “IT”, but I looked forward to every chance I could to listen in. It’s the old retail story about payment. The store that allows any kind of transaction; cash, credit, debit, e-transfer will never lose a sale.
As writers, can we afford not to do the same?
The store that allows any kind of transaction: cash credit, debit, e-transfer will never lose a sale. As writers, can we afford not to do the same?
Arthur: What are your future goals as a writer? How do you plan to accomplish them?
Dave: Like most authors, I want to ‘make it big’, become a household name and sell the movie rights to my stories. Dream Big! No one else is going to do it for you.
What’s it going to take is a lot of work on my part to keep putting exciting stories that people love and look forward to. My writing is improving with each and every book, so hopefully I will find representation by an agent who has the contacts to make the rest happen.
However, I am doing what I love, so I have already ‘made it.’
Thank you, Dave, for all the specific insight on book marketing, sales, and what it takes to publish and promote our work as writers. Be sure to check out Dave’s website for more of his writing and work.