Monday, November 30, 2015

Five-Q with Aiki Flinthart, Aussie Sci-Fi Author

If you've read any of my articles, listened to any of my podcast episodes, or sat down in any of my classes, the one thing you've learned about me is that I celebrate uniqueness. I love to hear stories about people becoming successful through extraordinary or non-traditional paths. To be honest, it's harder to come by unique stories about writers who become successful because no writer takes the exact same road. However, what makes my next guest truly unique is how she chooses to define success.

I am pleased to bring you Aiki Flinthart from Brisbane, Australia. I was introduced to Aiki via iBooks, where her book series 80AD was ranked in the Top 100 for downloaded books. Between iBooks, Amazon, and Smashwords, her book series has over 300,000 downloads. But her drive to write novels wasn't ignited by dreams of money or critical acclaim. She did it for her son.

I hope you enjoy today's Five-Q. It was a real treat to interview her. You can find Aiki on Facebook and her website at www.aikiflinthart.weebly.com



Aiki Flinthart lives and writes in Brisbane.
Aaron David Harris: Why did you decide to self-publish your work? Was it out of necessity? Or did you desire to have your work untouched by a publisher?

Aiki Flinthart: When I wrote the 80AD series, I did it purely for my son’s entertainment and interest – to get him reading more, because he’s dyslexic and found it difficult to wade through the big YA books.  It was only after he’d read it and loved it that I considered publication. I made three, very tentative, attempts to get publishers interested, but not knowing basic things like how to format it, or what to write in the cover letter, worked against me.

In the end, I realised I was less interested in being traditionally ‘published’ and more interested in helping kids learn a little about history and themselves.  After all, I’d written the books to engage kids, not to earn money.

To be honest, I was also very insecure about whether the books were ‘good enough’.  I’ve been thinking a lot more about this recently, because my next series is ready to go, and I’m still not very keen on going down the stressful, angst-ridden path of traditional publishing.   I’ve learned a lot about how to write over the last few years, so I have more confidence in my style and latest novels.  But, even though I do have publishers interested in my latest series, IRON, FIRE & STEEL, I still may not paper-publish. I just want to write and improve. I’m not in this to earn a living out of it, so I don’t want chasing publishers to become the focus.

ADH: Describe the kind of writing you do? What influences your work?

AF: My older brother was an avid sci-fi reader, so I inherited a lot of his books by default.  I loved them.  We both spent our spare time reading Tolkien, Asimov, Clarke and all the classic sci fi masters, as well Marvel & DC comics, plus darker writers like Bradbury.  In my teens I found more lighthearted storytellers like Robert Aspirin and Terry Pratchett, and fantasy writers like Christopher Stasheff.

I’ll confess that, as a teenage girl, I read romances but I found the ‘unrequited love angst/misunderstandings formula’ a bit trying after a few books.  I just wanted the heroine’s to get up and do something rather than waiting for the hero to fix things. In recent years I’ve read a lot of ‘self-help’ books, not only as  a way of improving my self-esteem and my relationship with my son and husband, but also as a great way of understanding how to write better, richer characters.

So I lean toward writing sci-fantasy more than anything.  Being a scientist, I like to blend as much fact in with my fiction as possible.  It’s amazing how much one can learn from reading decent fiction that’s well-researched.  I prefer stories that make me think about the world in some way; that teach me something about how the world works, how people think or how I think.  Hopefully I can create stories that do the same for other people.

ADH: Articles on self-publishing always talk about marketing your work? Do you “market” your work? Is that important to you?

I’ve never actually read any articles on self-publishing.  My decision to self-publish was impulsive.  I only set up a Facebook account as an afterthought, because the publishing website suggested it.  So I’m probably not the best authority on this one.  However one of the best suggestions I’ve heard is to send out a sample of your upcoming book to as many people as you can reach, and ask them to help by downloading & reviewing in Amazon, once it’s released.  Amazon’s review system means that the more positive reviews you get, the more exposure your book gets in the ‘people who bought this also bought…’ prompts.

Other than that, I actually get tired of seeing authors self-promote their upcoming books too much.  So I try and keep my FB postings to be 95% other things that might be interesting, and 5% or less book promotions. I am thrilled that 80AD took off so wonderfully on its own and I love the kind feedback people send me daily, but I’m not terribly good at ‘marketing’.  I’d rather spend the time writing.

ADH: How do you determine if your novels are successful? Downloads? Purchases? Facebook likes?

AF: When I first put up 80AD, I was ecstatic when the number of downloads/purchases on Smashwords passed the 100 mark.  That was more people than I could possibly count as supportive friends, so it was being read by complete strangers.  To me, that was success. After that first 100, I tried to stop watching.  It was affecting me too much. In reality, when my son and my husband read and enjoyed them, I’d achieved my goal.

The more I look outside myself for my definition of success, the less satisfied I am with my own work.  I can’t please everyone.  Watching downloads, likes and reviews is a recipe for a self-esteem crash. If I put my definition for success or failure in the hands of other people, I ride a very scary, very dangerous emotional rollercoaster. Storytelling is highly subjective.  If I like my story and I’ve done my absolute best to write it well and craft it into a compelling, readable work, then it’s a success.  If other people like it, that’s a bonus.

ADH: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

AF: Best advice I can give?  Be open to learning.  Learn to be a better person.  Learn new skills of all sorts.  Learn how to improve your writing. Our schooling and socialisation tends to be very competition-based, so we often get defensive if our work isn’t considered ‘perfect’ the first time, by everyone.  Accept that you have a lot to learn.  Set out to learn as much as you can about how to be a better writer.  Ignore the idiot reviewers who just like to vent their own insecurities, but every well-thought-out critique can be a useful pointer for how you can improve.

Read books by writers you love and work out why they appeal. Go to good writing ‘how to’ conferences;  find good ‘how to’ websites; connect with other writers and form a beta-reader group.  Learn and give support to each other as you all go through the trials of life and writing. Stay humble.  Enjoy being creative – don’t get so caught up in the hype of perceived success, chasing money, or the time consumed by marketing, reading reviews and watching your FB feed that you forget what you love: being creative and getting better at being creative.