Dionne Lister is an author, editor, co-host of Tweep nation podcast and lives in Sydney with her husband and two sons. She is almost finished a creative writing degree and is working on the second book in her epic fantasy series. Dionne loves sharing her stories but wishes they wouldn’t keep her awake at night.
She has recently published a humorous women’s fiction under the name of Eloise March. Close Call is the first in the series and is also a standalone novella.
Time to chat with Dionne!
What is your latest book?
Shadows of the Realm, an epic fantasy ideal for adults and teens.
I hear you have some very exciting news! Can you share it with us?
Yes, how did you know? I’ve been asked to sit on a panel at the NSW Writers Centre’s Speculative Fiction Festival on 16th March. I’ll be talking about my experiences with self-publishing. It’s an honour because all of the authors attending are some of the best traditionally published fantasy authors in Australia like Kate Forsyth (the festival’s organizer) and Ian Irvine. I was shocked to be invited and I can’t wait.
Is your recent book part of a series?
Yes. I’m working on the sequel and I am hoping (and by that I mean madly typing and praying) that it will be out by the end of March, 2013.
If you were to advertise your book on a bumper sticker, what would it say?
Psst, wanna buy some dragons?
What else have you written?
I’ve written a collection of short stories called Dark Spaces. They’re all suspenseful and involve intense emotions. There may even be a psycho or two in there as well.
What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions about indie authors are?
That we don’t take the business seriously. Unfortunately it’s true for a lot of us (there’s no smoke without fire) but I’m studying writing at university, have my books edited and I’ve had professional covers done for my fantasy series. I want to put out the best books I can and I plan to be doing this for a long time.
How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?
A lot. The worst is when you find out a character you love is going to die. I had tears in my eyes last time they dropped that on me.
What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?
I love writing the first draft and I hate it from the third edit onwards. I don’t enjoy it again until I get the cover and press ‘publish’.
Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?
I never know the title until the book is finished. I was racing to find one for my first book because the cover art was ready and they were waiting on me to give them the title. The one I’m currently half way through writing is nameless and I hope to think of a name before the cover is done lol. I don’t always know how the book will end, as I write as I go, but I do know the ending of the current book and the end of the series.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?
I’m an editor by profession so I sometimes edit as I go. It’s painful and slows the process so I have to remind myself to stop and keep writing. Before I was an editor I was more free to write and wait till the book was finished before I did any editing.
Do you have any advice for first-time authors?
Have patience, know that after the tenth rejection you’ll get used to it, learn the craft – good writers are ones who learn, practice and take legitimate criticism on board. Don’t ask someone for feedback then argue about it. Remember that reading is a subjective pastime and that not everyone will love your work so it’s best to get over it quickly and move on. And remember that you write because you love it.
Can you tell us about your road to publication?
I wrote Shadows of the Realm about nine years ago. I had it critiqued, worked on it a bit and sent it out to publishers (this is in a time before digital publishing was around). I finally realised, after a ton of rejections, that my writing needed work and I was not going to be the next squllionaire best-seller (surprise, surprise). Two years ago I started a creative writing degree and a year ago I had my book edited, went through it about eight times, employed an artist to do the cover and then self-published. I have no regrets.
Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?
I love that I’ve met so many awesome, encouraging writers who have helped me get where I am. If it weren’t for those people I would have no blog and wouldn’t be self-published. What I don’t like is that I love chatting and I get stuck on there too often. It’s like a giant magnet and I’m a helpless iron filing; I just can’t get away. If it weren’t for social media I wouldn’t be published, but I would have written three more books lol.
What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?
I love poetic prose that has me saying I wish I could write like that, and in-depth characters. I also like humour (when it’s called for) and writing that allows me to escape.
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
He, he, none. I chose to write epic fantasy not only because I loved it, but also because there is no research involved. It’s my world and you can’t tell me it’s wrong.
Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?
I have a friend who offered to beta read and she is always waiting for the next installment so I’m letting her read it and I’ve told some of my secrets to another author friend too (I just can’t help myself). I get so excited when I’m writing that I just want everyone to see it.
Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?
Every time someone loves it and has great things to say, I get excited as if it were the first time. I’m surprised because even though I love my book, it doesn’t mean anyone else will and it’s such a thrill when I know someone has enjoyed something I’ve done.
Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?
I write short stories and flash fiction. I find with flash fiction I can get emotions out in a hurry and it tends to be intense
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
I was born to write. As a child in primary school, one of my teachers wrote, “Dionne is a daydreamer,” on my report card. It was meant as a negative criticism but now I look back and laugh and think, “Yay, I’m a daydreamer.”
Do you dread writing a synopsis for your novel as much as most writers do? Do you think writing a synopsis is inherently evil? Why?
Oh my God yes! Synopsiseseses (oops) suck (can I say suck, here?). I hate them and they are evil. How do you squish a whole novel into a paragraph or even a page? You’re supposed to write the relative exciting bits, but to an author, all their book is exciting and of course, it never sounds as good as you know the book is ;).
If you were to write a non-fiction book, what might it be about?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. Maybe my dad’s life because he was born in a village in Cyprus (he’s Greek) and his mother used to get angry at him and he’d have to sleep up a tree to avoid getting a beating, and of course he always complains how he never had shoes.
Do you have any advice to a new author if they asked you whether to pursue the traditional route to publishing or to start out as an independent writer?
I’d say do both at the same time. There is no penalty for being self-published nowadays. When I started (9 years ago) it was the kiss of death and was called ‘vanity publishing’. Now you have the opportunity to have people actually read your book, which is really all we writers want (not to say that fame and fortune isn’t desirable). At the same time, if you do it right, you can attract the attention of publishers and agents. Harper Voyager is a prime example of the industry taking notice of self-published writers. They had an open submission for writers without agents and although not everyone who submitted had self-published, it shows they know there is potential out there. If I hadn’t self-published, Kate Forsyth would never have asked me to sit on the panel and who knows what will come out of that? At the very least, more people will know who I am and that I have a book out there.
What have you done to market your novel and what did you find the most effective? The least effective?
Hmm, now where to start? Hours and hours every day on social media—Twitter, Facebook and to a lesser extent Goodreads and Google+. You have to build relationships and respect so people know you are producing a good product. Your friends are the ones who help spread the word on their blogs when your book comes out or if you have a sale (you, of course, will do the same for them). I also gave out maybe six or seven free copies in exchange for HONEST reviews at the beginning. I figured I needed to know the truth and if it happened to be that people liked the book I could keep going, and if not, I would have to look at trying to improve it.
I’ve tried Facebook ads, which did NOT work—they got me plenty of page likes but no sales. I ran an ad on Bookbub for my latest sale and it was a massive success. Shadows of the Realm reached #610 paid overall on Amazon and #1 in two categories. It worked because I already had some good reviews and the cover was well done. If you don’t have a good cover or a certain amount of 4 and 5 star reviews, a lot of the places who advertise won’t approve the ad (again it comes down to being professional).
Do you feel your latest book is your personal favorite or one of your previous novels?
My latest one is my baby and I love it.
Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?
Lol! I’m smiling (I think I must be cruel). The first few criticisms will sting like you’ve been slapped across the face with a wet fish and the pain might last for a few days, but then you toughen up and go about your day. Everyone has an opinion and their own taste so you have to respect that and not get offended. I think the bad reviews hurt less if you have confidence in your work. The reverse is when everyone is saying the same thing. Maybe they’re saying the book has too many typos or grammar errors—take that seriously because if you haven’t put out the best product you are ripping off your customers and they have every right to get snarky. You are also helping to give indie authors a bad name.
Many authors do giveaways; have you found them a successful way to promote your book?
I did a couple of small giveaways and I received reviews from every winner so yes, it is a great way to promote your book.
Have you been involved with the Kindle Direct Program? If yes, do you believe it’s worthwhile?
No I haven’t and I don’t believe in giving books away for free or exclusivity. The disliking of the free thing is not because I think my work is so precious, but so many people give away free books that readers have e-readers stuffed with 500 free books that they may never read. In my opinion, if the reader has paid for the book they are more likely to read it because they have invested something in it already. I understand it can get an author more readers but it’s not something I’m interested in doing.
Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?
Music is a must, although I can write without it, but I like that it creates a mood. I start writing at about 10.30 am (after I’ve had 2 coffees) and write on and off until about 10 pm. I have to fit writing in with looking after two kids, a university degree and editing work.
We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?
My book cover is just as important as what’s inside. When I grew up I loved to see what the covers would be in my favourite series and I know I was disappointed with some of the covers done for Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. I think especially with fantasy there is an expectation of dramatic covers that capture the spirit and feel of the world you’ve created. I employed Sydney artist Robert Baird to do my first cover, and soon I’ll be working with him on the cover of my next book. It’s the best money I ever spent.
Every day brings forth new changes and shifts in the world of publishing. Any predictions about the future?
I wish I knew. I’m hoping there is some middle ground where professional indie authors are more easily found by the buying public. I would like to see the big publishers stay around because most of the time they set a standard we should all be following in terms of editing and putting out good material. I would hate for readers to read so much bad writing that it becomes the expected and accepted norm. I do think publishers are recruiting books from the ranks of indie authors and I think we may be taken more seriously in the future.
How would you define your style of writing?
I actually write in different styles for fantasy as opposed to my short stories. My writing is more descriptive in my fantasy novels and more economical with the short stories because of the settings and subject matter. I like to use evocative words and create an intense mood as well as in-depth characters. I don’t use a lot of big words and hope it’s writing that anyone can enjoy.
Do you miss spending time with your characters when you finish writing them?
Not yet. I may change my mind when my fantasy series is finished, but I still get to spend every day with them.
Have you ever wished that you could bring a character to life? If so, which one and why?
Sinjenasta is a giant panther in Shadows of the Realm. He is strong, cynical and loving and of course very cuddly with big floppy paws. I’d definitely love to have him around.
A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?
They are very important because it gives other readers an idea of what to expect from your book. It also matters for your Amazon ranking which, if you rank highly enough, helps boost sales. But I understand that some people don’t feel confident to write a review, or maybe they feel they don’t have time. I guess if it’s something you’ve never done you might feel shy about doing it. But readers, if you love a book (or hate it enough to warn others), please consider doing a review, even something simple. I had one of the most wonderful reviews the other day and it was two sentences. A lady just wrote that she really enjoyed reading it with her son and they thought it was great and a lot of fun.
Have you ever started out to write one book and ended up with something completely different?
No, but I have with short stories. I’ll have a character and a setting and nothing else and start writing. The stories write themselves sometimes. When that happens it’s always a great feeling.
If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?
I’d stand next to people and whisper, “Shadows of the Realm by Dionne Lister. It’s the best book ever. Go and buy it.”
What’s the coolest surprise you’ve ever had?
My husband used to make surfboards when he was young, and even after he had moved on to other work, he made one for me for my birthday and it was a total surprise. Surfing is something I did before kids lol.
If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?
I’d be a better artist. I love to draw and paint but it doesn’t come as naturally as writing.
What makes you angry?
Oh wow, there are so many things *snickers*. I get angry when people walk behind my car when I’m reversing out of a parking spot (those little white lights aren’t there for decoration) and I also get angry when people dent my car with their doors at the shops and don’t leave a note (you know who you are, and karma is gonna get you).
What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?
Stick up for what you believe is right and support those asking for equality, try not to judge people because you don’t know where they’ve been or how they got to where they are, do something nice for someone because it not only makes you feel good, but spreads happiness and goodwill.
CONNECT WITH DIONNE