Kylie Chan – On Writing, Publishing and Marketing

From Taoist immortals to distant galaxies, Author Kylie Chan writes Fantasy based on Chinese mythology. She’s had 10 novels published by Harper-Collins, and 3 novellas self-published. In a hybrid mix, her manga/text combined novel ‘Small Shen’ (manga by Queenie Chan) was published in Australia by Harper-Collins and self-published in the US and UK with Ingram Spark. That’s a lot of experience all wrapped up in one author so of course I was quick to pick her brain for your benefit.

Who are your readers and why do they connect with your books?
I have readers from thirteen to ninety. I’m approached by children at conventions who I feel are far too young to be reading my stuff, but many of them are extremely mature for their age! One of the best things that happened was at a signing, and the bookstore manager, her mother, and her grandmother all came to get the books signed. Her grandmother was in her nineties and was a huge fan of the ‘White Tiger’.

What’s your professional background?
For most of my life I’ve been a specialist in information technology. I started out in the early eighties working on mainframes in the Bureau of Statistics in Canberra. PC’s hadn’t even been invented then, and when they appeared I raced to learn about this more portable and accessible technology. I’ve worked as a trainer, and in Hong Kong I was a consultant and expert in business intelligence systems. When I returned to Australia I had to start from the bottom again (for the third time) and just couldn’t face it. I decided to write a best-seller instead. I’m a full-time author now.

In terms of process, are you a plotter or do you wing it?
I do both: I have a big story arc idea in my head, and then release my characters into the world and gently steer them in the direction I want them to go. Sometimes they refuse.

What are the hardest lessons you’ve learned as a writer?
That the income isn’t nearly as much as I thought it would be. I would be making far more as an IT consultant. But writing gives me freedom and happiness that I wouldn’t give up for anything!

Do you enjoy the promotional side of being an author?
I love it! I love getting out and meeting the fans, and talking to everybody. Catching up with my peers at events is the best thing ever. Going to conventions is super fun, I adore the cosplay and because I have a nerdy background I can relate to my fellow nerds!

What marketing channels are worthwhile for authors, and what’s over-rated?
‘Building your author platform’ is seriously over-rated. It’s more important to produce quality stories. Having a terrific marketing effort and online presence will only work ONCE if your books aren’t fun to read or poorly edited; your readers will go to your work, see that it’s of poor quality, and never return. They’ll tell their friends, too. The biggest reason people buy books is because someone they trust has told them the book is good. No amount of the author telling them to buy their stuff will work (more than once).

What’s been the most extraordinary ‘meeting a fan’ experience you’ve had?
This happened at an Oz ComicCon last year.
Young woman: ‘You have thirty seconds to convince me why I should buy your books, with ten seconds to think about it. Starting… now.’
Me: ‘No.’
Her: (shocked)
Me: ‘They stand on their own merit. If you don’t want them, that’s fine.’
(She just went away.)

Another one:

Young man: ‘I don’t read books, I’ve never read a book, and I won’t read yours. If I did read, why should I read these ones?’

Oh! I have another one! This happened at Angus and Robertson in Post Office Square a few years ago, when I was just starting out. I was doing a signing with Marianne de Pierres.

Older woman: ‘Oh you’re signing your books? What are they about?’
Marianne: ‘Mine are space opera science fiction.’
Me: ‘Mine are fantasy based on Chinese mythology.’
Woman: ‘So they’re fiction?’
Us: ‘Yes.’
Woman: ‘Oh, I’m far to intelligent to read fiction.’ (Sticks her nose in the air and walks past us into the store.)
(Marianne and I still laugh at that one)

What’s next for Kylie Chan?
I’m busy working on the next ‘Dragon Empire’ book. I have a few workshops coming up that I’m presenting at the Queensland Writers Centre: one of them will be ‘self-publishing 101’ where I go through the basics. I’m appearing at Byron Writers Festival in August to talk about self-publishing with Ingram Spark. I’m giving a workshop at the Rainforest Writers Retreat. Oh, and I have an idea for a new story based in the ‘Dark Heavens’ universe!

Carolyn Martinez is an author, editor and speaker.

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