This article originally appeared on artsHub.
All writers dream about it, but creative writing student Darrell Pitt was wide-awake when Text Publishing offered him an unprecedented eight-book deal.
This wakefulness is apparent upon meeting him. At 47 years old, draped in a leather jacket, the author might resemble one of the wiser characters from his Young Adult novels but he has the exuberance of their teenage protagonists.
Pitt’s Steampunk Detective series, which ‘has a Holmes and Watson flavour’, follows the adventures of orphan Jack Mason in a fantastical Victorian age, while his four book Teenage Superhero series is about a group of adolescents experimented on who are bestowed with super powers.
From February next year all these titles will start landing on bookshelves, followed by the eventual release of his eighth and latest book, A Toaster on Mars, a humorous sci-fi novel in the vein of Douglas Adams.
So why did he go the YA way?
‘My sense of humour hasn’t evolved since I was 12 years old,’ he answers enthusiastically. ‘I guess I’m a geek at heart, I love comics, I grew up watching Star Trek, all that sort of thing.’
That last year of childhood was an important age for Pitt. His teacher was so impressed by a story that he wrote for a school assignment that it was read aloud to his entire class. It was a defining moment. ‘From that point I knew I wanted to be a writer.’
If you paid attention during your own maths classes you’ll have noticed that three decades have passed since then. Publishing deals usually appear to have unearthed instant success for an author – it’s the nature of the beast – yesterday they’re anonymous and tomorrow they’re everywhere. Yet Pitt smiles as he considers that notion. ‘It took me 35 years to become an overnight success.’
During that time he’s had countless jobs, perhaps the foremost of which has been as a husband and father, yet he’s an incredibly prolific writer – hence the eight book deal, which are harder to come by than ambrosia.
So how do you get one? You write. Okay, so it’s not that simple, but it sort of is. Pitt writes like he’s possessed. During our conversation he reveals that he can put down 9000 words a day. Now that’s rare. ‘I start off with a general idea for a story, then I write a 1000 word chapter outline, then a scene break down and then I sit down and write,’ he reveals. Three months later, he’s got a book.
Still, plotting stories is complicated, so the fact that he can do it in such a short amount of time is staggering. According to Pitt, the key to that aspect is those 35 years between the decision to write and publication. ‘I’ve had the stories rattling around in my mind forever.’
Understanding this makes it easier to process the fact that Pitt penned his first book just two years ago. 2011 was a fateful year for him – he enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts (Creative Writing) at RMIT and began studying under Toni Jordan. Aside from being a celebrated author herself, Jordan is the Phil Spector of the writing world – she produces hits. The Rosie Project author Graeme Simsion credits her with a hand in his success, as does Pitt.
‘One of the keys to becoming a writer, or probably a success in anything, is that it’s important to have mentors and contacts. At RMIT, I’ve had both. I was fortunate to have Toni Jordan as one of my teachers. She read one of my books and recommended me to Text Publishing.’
That book was A Toaster on Mars, but before we get to his eighth book, let’s go back to his first – The Steampunk Detective. When Pitt was writing this ‘non-stop adventure story complete with airships, steam powered spaceships and enormous towers that stretch into orbit’, there was no book deal and the closest thing he had to an editor was his wife. Realising his computer could be a printing press, Pitt took the independent path and self-published.
‘There are so many factors against you when you take the traditional publishing route. Your book sits in a slush pile with a hundred other manuscripts. Then the editor may only glance at it for a minute before making a decision,’ he says. ‘I thought then, and I still do, that you had a better chance of being struck by lightning.’
Though he’s now been struck eight times over, Pitt was out there with five keys tied to his kite. Even before he enrolled at RMIT he had already self-published The Steampunk Detective, which was followed by the Teenage Superhero series.
‘Of course, there was a stigma against digital self-publishing because of that old expression ‘vanity press’. Someone mentioned that phrase to me the other day and I thought to myself, that’s so twentieth century. The whole world of publishing has been turned upside down over the last few years and there are still changes taking place every day. Digital e-book self-publishing is the biggest change to the world of books since Gutenburg invented the printing press. I think you can either catch the wave or be swallowed by it.’
Pitt shares numerous things in common with other successful self-published writers. He carefully edits and rewrites his books, understands the importance of the cover and pricing, as well as not harassing potential buyers on social networks. ‘It’s fine to tell them you’re a writer and your book is available,’ he explains, ‘but don’t spam people.’
The swiftness of the process is important to Pitt – probably because it aligns with his own mercurial writing method. ‘With self-publishing, you control the whole process; writing, editing, cover design and pricing. Then you can upload you work to a website like Amazon or Smashwords and be selling your book the next day,’ he says, which is exactly the process he took with The Steampunk Detective.
Of course, he was ‘very excited’ about the Text deal but probably not to the degree that people might suppose. ‘I think the biggest excitement I felt was when I uploaded my first book to the net and had sold a copy of it within three hours.’
Comparing Smashwords and Amazon, he proposes that 75% of his sales came through the latter. Like many indie titles, he priced The Steampunk Detective at 0.99 cents USD, while two of his Teenage Superheroes books are $3.85 USD, with the first, Diary of a Teenage Superhero going for free – not bad loss leading there.
‘The royalty scheme is quite good, for the 0.99 cent books you get 0.35 cents, but for books that are $3.85, you get $2.80, which may be similar to what you get for a full priced traditionally published book.’
While he eventually admits to making over a $1000 a month from his self-published books, the method does have its downsides.
‘My books are fairly international in flavour,’ he says. ‘I felt that readers would like reading them in non-English speaking countries. Getting them translated is quite expensive and this is the advantage of a traditional publisher. They have the network and contacts in place where they can get books translated and distributed in far off territories’.
If past publishing deals are anything to go by Text knows a thing or two about overseas rights. Simsion’s The Rosie Project has been sold to over 35 different countries, while Jordan’s debut Addition was published in 16 countries.
But while that part of the business is ironed out, he’s in another interesting situation. When his books make their way into bookstores, he’ll have written them many moons ago. But for a writer as prolific as Pitt, he’ll have no problem finding a way to spend his time. ‘I could sit down and write all day.’
Of course, the readers are also important to him. His amazing worlds and adventurous characters are created to ‘give people pleasure and take them away from the real world for a while’, yet there’s more than just escapism.
‘We live in an era of computer games, Internet and a million other diversions. If my books encourage people to read more and to search our other writers and others book, then I’ve done my job.’
Head to Darrell Pitt’s website to find out more.