Allison Tait: Sure. My name is Allison Tait, also known as A.L. Tait. I'm the bestselling author of two epic middle-grade fantasy/adventure series: The Mapmaker Chronicles, now four books, available in Australia, the US, the UK, Lithuania and Turkey, and The Ateban Cipher, the first book of which came out in September 2017. I'm also a freelance writer, blogger and podcaster.
GR: How long have you been writing as a serious pursuit?
AT: Writing fiction? About 15 years. I started out writing romance novels, then moved to longer contemporary fiction manuscripts. The first book in The Mapmaker Chronicles series was my fifth or sixth manuscript (details are hazy), and the first one published. As far as freelance writing and other forms of writing, I've worked in magazine publishing since I was 19 and got my first full-time writing job when I was 26, and I've been blogging for nearly nine years.
GR: Are any of those romance novels out in the world?
AT: No. Which is probably a very good thing for the world. One of my contemporary fiction manuscripts was taken up by a publisher but, for various reasons, never made it to the shelf. I was devastated, but, fortunately, I followed the very sound publishing advice to always be working on something else. So, at about the same time as I was told my adult fiction wasn't going to make it, I found out that The Mapmaker Chronicles WAS!
GR: That must have been exciting! With the first Mapmaker book, how many rejections did you go through before that magic “yes”?
AT: Honestly? None. I sent it to my agent, who loved it. She sent it out and we very quickly had a 'yes' from Hachette Australia. After the rejections I'd had for my earlier manuscripts, it felt almost too easy.
GR: That's awesome though! Speaks to what a polished manuscript it must have been.
AT: Hmmm, perhaps. I had certainly learnt a lot from writing all of those others, not to mention the structural edit I went through for the adult book that didn't make it (RIP).
GR: Do you still work with an agent, or directly with your publishers?
AT: I don't have an agent at present, but I'm considering my next move. Publishing is a very complex business at the moment and I do like to have someone in my corner.
GR: Speaking of which, do you think the Australian reading and publishing industry has changed much since your first release?
AT: That's difficult to say - partly because I learn something new about the industry every day, so I wonder if it's changed or if I just didn't 'know' before. Having said that, I've noticed that authors are needing to do a lot more of the promotion and marketing work for their books themselves. It's something I've always been aware of, and have worked hard on accordingly, but I'm noticing more and more authors joining the conversation around that. You can't just 'write the book' any more, and I think more authors are finally realising that. Being a children's author, the impact of ebooks has not been as obvious because, mostly, parents are still buying printed books for kids, but I do know more and more children with e-readers.
GR: Do you have the same editor/publishing rep for each book you release? How is the submission process different for a second or third book (especially when it's within a series)?
AT: I work directly with my publisher Suzanne O'Sullivan from Hachette Australia. I had a contract in place for the first three Mapmaker books from the start, after I submitted the first manuscript in full, plus an outline (which changed!) for the other two. With the fourth Mapmaker book, I submitted a full manuscript (the way I work means that I often have to write the whole book to know what's going to happen) after Suzanne indicated that Hachette would like to publish another Mapmaker book. The Ateban Cipher started as a three-paragraph overview, after which I wrote The Book of Secrets (book #1) in full, with an outline of book #2, which was completed soon after. I am currently working on three new (different) projects, all of which are at various stages of development.
AT: At this stage, just two. The current storyline wraps up in book #2, The Book of Answers. But there is scope for the series to expand should it work out that way.
GR: How long does it usually take you to get from first draft to on-the-shelf? Has that process sped up much since your first book?
AT: The first Mapmaker book took me six weeks to draft, and then six weeks to edit before it was sent out. From there, it was about a year. In the interim, however, I wrote the other two Mapmaker books, so that they were all done, at least to draft stage, before the first book came out. The first one came out in October 2014, then March 2015, October 2015. I spent most of 2016 writing manuscripts – I wrote the fourth Mapmaker book, the two Ateban Cipher books, and another manuscript (not yet submitted).
This year has seen the publication of Beyond The Edge of The Map (Mapmaker 4) in March and The Book of Secrets (Ateban Cipher #1) in September. The Book of Answers (Ateban Cipher #2) is out in March 2018. This year, I've also had the first three Mapmaker books come out in the US and the UK. So it's been a very busy year for promotion, which does eat into writing time.
Has the process sped up? Not really. If anything, the writing has been slower simply due to all the other duties like editing, promotion etc. But the deadlines, in my case, are still relatively close together.
GR: That does sound close together! How much of your time do you spend working on writing and promoting your fiction vs your other work (freelance writing or any other jobs you do)?
AT: It depends where I am in the publishing cycle. I work as an online tutor for the Australian Writers' Centre and I do social media work for two clients - that's my weekly bread and butter. As far as freelance writing goes, I do mostly corporate work now and it's quite sporadic. My fiction work has gradually made up more of my work day over the past two years - divided between writing, speaking and promotion.
GR: I notice the Mapmaker Chronicles has teacher’s notes available for download. Are they something you produced yourself?
AT: There are two sets of notes for The Mapmaker Chronicles - one for younger readers/students, which I organised, and one for readers/students from grades 5-8, organised by Hachette. Hachette also organised the Teachers' Notes for The Ateban Cipher. As an author, I love reading teachers' notes. Hachette uses the most amazing people to create the notes, and it allows me to see my books in a whole different way. The notes for both series have proved very popular.
GR: Well, as a former teacher, I know that any additional resources we can get are always very appreciated ;-) And I've always wondered if we're getting the author's own perspective on their book or someone else's!
Do you think being Australian has influenced your writing and the stories you tell much?
AT: Of course! Even though my stories are not set in Australia, they carry a very Australian sensibility I think. The humour, the perspective, the voice. The best writing is the writing that comes from the heart, with your own voice at the forefront, and my voice can't help but be Australian.
GR: You mentioned UK and US releases of the first three Mapmaker books, did you have to change anything for those markets?
AT: Fortunately, no. The Australian edition of the books is available in the UK, so that was simple, and my US publisher, Kane Miller, didn't ask for any changes. I think because Verdania is a fantasy world, we had no prawn/shrimp problems ;-)
GR: What sorts of things do you enjoy reading? Do you seek out other Aussie authors in your own reading, or is it more of a lucky bonus when you come across a great one?
AT: I like to read ALL the things. At the moment, I'm on a bit of a historical fiction bent, so I just finished The Last Hours by Minette Walters, and I'm about to start The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory. I read a lot of crime fiction and, obviously, a lot of children's/YA fiction. But really, I'm just always on the lookout for a great book. I have a Facebook group with the author Anna Spargo-Ryan called 'Your Own Next Read', which has about 1000 members all recommending books for each other. And I co-host a different Facebook group called 'Your Kid's Next Read' with fab teacher-librarian/blogger Megan Daley - that one has nearly 3000 members and it's very busy with people looking for great books for their kids. SO many recommendations there.
I do my best to support Australian authors of all kinds, by buying their books, reading their books, borrowing their books, sharing information about them on social media, having them on my blog to guest post. It's really important that we look after each other and help to get the word out about the great Aussie books out there - because there ARE so many great ones!
GR: Thanks so much for chatting with me today. It’s really interesting to compare the experiences of people in all different aspects of the industry.
You can find out more about Allison online at her website, follow her on twitter or Facebook. Her books are available at all good retailers.