In the name of writing

Friday, December 20, 2013
Interview with Euan Mitchell

Photo of Euan Mitchell
Euan Mitchell

In the lead-up to Digital Makeover for Writers, we asked Euan Mitchell what he's had to do in the name of writing.

How did you get your start in writing?

In January 1993 I landed a job as a staff writer for an independent educational publisher in South Melbourne. My job was to research and write music education books for TAFE and secondary schools. Eventually I became the commissioning editor at Ausmusic, then moved to Reed Publishing as a senior editor in June 1997.

What is a usual day for you?

There are two types of usual days for me: a writing day and a teaching day. Some people might assume the writing day is a peaceful day in my office, sailing away at the computer. Physically it might look like that, but I exhaust my mental and emotional energies by the end of a writing day, and am pleased to spend the following day teaching at uni where my hours and tasks are more clearly defined and full of lively interactions with students and staff.

What are your social media pet peeves?

The number of people who crow how busy they are, yet somehow find plenty of time for social media. Last year I missed a former girlfriend’s visit to Australia from London because I was too busy to check my Facebook page for six weeks. At least my wife was pleased.

What is the worst job you’ve ever done?

Painting a vast factory roof by myself for peanuts. There was no safety scaffolding and I sweated in the summer sun, breathing chrome-based paint fumes (no mask), while my pudden-arsed boss sat in his ute, listening to the radio and reading the paper, in between his trips to various sandwich shops around Moorabbin’s industrial area. But I needed the peanuts at the time.

What’s the most embarrassing/awkward/difficult thing you’ve ever had to do in the name of writing?

A book signing on the main street of Wangaratta where I didn’t sign any books but got bailed up by a passing drunk. We chatted. Sort of. There was some dribbling involved. Fortunately, a journo from the local paper turned up and snapped a close-up photo of me at the signing table. The photo didn’t reveal that I was sitting by myself. When the story made the Wangaratta Chronicle – minus any mention of my new-found intoxicated friend – the bookstore was pleased with the resulting sales, but by that time I was back in Melbourne.

What exactly is an indie author?

An indie author is someone who could have their writing published but chooses to release at least some of their work themselves for reasons of ease and/or economics. This is because negotiating a book through a company’s publishing processes is not always easy, and the royalties not always great. Mark Coker of Smashwords has been one of many who have promulgated the term ‘indie author’ to describe the rising number of published authors who are bypassing their publishers and engaging directly with readers. In the indie spirit, I am releasing Your Book Publishing Options from my own imprint, OverDog Press, even though the Australian Society of Authors originally offered to publish it through their imprint, Keesing Press. I thought it preferable to demonstrate the commercial application of the know-how in Your Book Publishing Options by releasing it myself with the help of a book distribution company.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for indie authors is how to market their book. What advice do you have for authors on the subject of marketing?

The starting point for marketing is the book’s front cover. The proverb that says not to judge a book by its cover is there for a reason. At least initially, people can’t help but judge a book by its appearance. So don’t settle for a mediocre cover. If you are releasing a print book, being listed on the TitlePage catalogue will help bookstores find your book. If you are releasing an ebook, then your best friends are bloggers who can help with a book blitz or (virtual) book tour. If you are not well connected you can hire online companies who will promote your book to their networks of contacts.

What’s the single-most important piece of advice you would like to give an indie author before they set out?

Stay motivated, despite the doubts, because your book can see the light of day through your own efforts.

What’s the number one question people ask you about writing?

Where do you get your ideas from?

Why do you think it’s important for a writer to get a digital makeover?

To regain a sense of control over what they can do with their writing. To overcome frustrations with the new publishing technologies. To relieve anxieties about which book publishing options to choose. To not merely talk about ebooks, but actually make one on the day. It’s easier and quicker than many writers think – I enjoyed trialling these practical exercises at uni and TAFE before offering them publicly.

What are you reading at the moment and how are you finding it?

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. I’ve meant to read this for years, but after recently visiting New York for the first time, I wanted a novel to help me savour the after-taste of such a high-powered and contradictory city. Not surprisingly, I’m enjoying the novel more than the movie, mainly because Wolfe’s ‘status details’ of the characters are so surgically and humorously observed.

About Euan Mitchell

Dr Euan Mitchell is a former senior editor for a major publisher. He has written three novels and has a range of non-fiction books to his credit. He has also successfully published other writers in severalgenres. Euan has taught writing, editing and publishing at Monash University, Victoria University and Box Hill TAFE. His latest book is Your Publishing Options.

Update: Euan will be running a one-day Summer School workshop on ePublishing called Your Digital Publishing Options at Writers Victoria in January 2017.