Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My 100th Blog Post

So it turns out that this is my 100th Blog Post. As a writer it is something to be celebrated. As an Author, well.... it seems I've got a little sidetracked blogging about my travels, riding on trains and sharing some advice on writing. All of these have taken away from time I could have otherwise spent writing my next book. So what else can I do except acknowledge the occasion, and take a walk back through some of my highs and lows of the past 4 years.

Why did I need to write a blog when I had just signed my third novel with a publisher in the United States?

I read somewhere that a blog was a necessary tool as a writer to engage with his or her audience. I think the premise went something like this; a blog is a means of directly conversing with your readers, whereas a website is more of a shopfront window for your books. I didn't care much for the idea of blogging at the time. I already had a website for my books with my publisher, and I'd already spent money having my book promoted at book fairs around the world. Success was going to come my way, it was just a matter of when. Nevertheless I started this blog, and since June 2011 I've been banging away on my laptop while trying to find that magical way of bringing myself to people's attention without inventing a hundred new ways of saying "please buy my book".

I started blogging about the places I visited while touring with my books, and it all got out of hand from there.

Shortly after signing with a US based publisher for my third novel Last Wish of Summer, I pulled the rights to my first two novels with my self-publishing company and spent the next year writing a sequel, The Rag Doll Cafe. Yet only two years after my signing, and with my sequel being prepared for release, I received the news that Last Wish of Summer was being pulled from their list due to a slump in sales. I then made the call to not proceed with a sequel to a book that was no longer going to be in print, and suddenly all I was left with was this blog.

My blog was soon documenting my every move while exploring the railways along Australia's east coast, and helped spawn my Train Tripping series of books which would go on to become Number 1 Bestsellers on Kobo.

So I suppose I owe everything to this blog. It was the one constant positive in what was a depressing time in trying to regain the rights to all my work. And my blog was there to enjoy each book's re-release, (including the first time release of The Rag Doll Cafe), after an extended period of outsourcing cover designs, formatting and publishing my work in eBook form through Smashwords. As my blog posts about my travels and railway adventures grew, so too did the idea for a book, and this year I will release the fourth installment of my Train Tripping adventure books. All three to date have become Number 1 Bestselling railroad books on Kobo and Smashwords. So for what is my 100th Blog Post, I say Happy Birthday. May the next 100 Posts be even better, and my next book not be too far away.

Now let's look at some of my highlights from the past 4 years.

My Top 5 most-read Blog Posts

  1. Other Side of 40 - Ouch! This still hurts.
  2. Adding Some Local Flavour - Popular post on sponsorship.
  3. Byron Bay: Australia's most easterly point - Still a huge favourite.
  4. Maydena: rail-track riding in Tasmania - Featured on Discover Tasmania.
  5. Coffs Harbour: fish, chips and trains - A surprisingly popular post.

My Top 5 least-read Blog Posts

  1. Why should I care? - I guess nobody did.
  2. Is social media working? - Does anybody really care?
  3. Beware of the snakes - Maybe there aren't any.
  4. The Christian Fiction conundrum - Apparently there's no conundrum.
  5. Start selling books somewhere - Couldn't sell this idea.

My Personal Top 5 Photographs

Moffat Beach, Queensland - I survived a brush with a six foot shark here while surfing one morning. You can read the story by clicking on the photo.

Casino, New South Wales - I retraced a 48 year old photograph of my mother to find the spot where she would have stood when working as a dining car attendant for the New South Wales Railways.

Rotorua, New Zealand - I was invited by Neil Oppatt to experience Rotorua's Railcruising experience when visiting New Zealand. You can read my first travel writing assignment by clicking on the photo.

Rotorua, New Zealand - My first trip outside of Australia, ever. This was a family holiday I will long remember. You can read about New Zealand's thermal wonderland by clicking on the photo.

Cairns, Queensland - Despite getting very few hits on this post, this photo was special in that I finally made the 1,681 km trip by train from Brisbane to Cairns only months before The Sunlander train was retired. It was a snap decision I'll never regret making.

What were your favourite posts?

Why not let me know what you enjoyed reading most by adding a comment below? After all, who knows what I'll be writing about another hundred posts from now.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Seymour: A Victorian Railway Town

Seymour Railway Station is located in central Victoria on the North East and Interstate railway corridor. First opened in 1872, it was a key railway depot for the Victorian Railways and at one time employed 245 men at the height of the railway era in 1950. Today, it still serves a busy role as the junction for the North East and Goulburn Valley Lines.

A Steamrail excursion train at Seymour Railway Station back in 23 July 1989.

My first visit to Seymour occurred back in the winter of 1989, while The Flying Scotsman was winding up on what had become an extended tour of Australia for our Bicentenary celebrations in 1988. Paralleling an R class Victorian Railways steam locomotive from Melbourne, the two trains arrived in Seymour and were turned in readiness for the return trip to Melbourne.

That's me back in 1989, the 17 year old train enthusiast in the acid-wash stretch denim jeans.

Back in those days, I was just 17 years old, and still in the early years of my railway photography skills. I had however advanced from a 110 mm pocket camera to a full size 35 mm automatic. Scanning these previously developed photos some 26 years later does not do anyway near enough of a good job compared to today's point-and-shoot digital cameras, but I'm glad I've kept them all just the same. It's just a pity I thought I'd never need the negatives again once my photos were printed.

The Flying Scotsman hauled many trips between Melbourne and Seymour during it's visit Down Under in 1988-89.

The Flying Scotsman of course was a standard gauge 4' 8-1/2" engine, and before the full standardization of the former 5' 3" broad gauge line between Melbourne and Albury on the New South Wales border, the Scotsman was limited to hauling excursion trains on the standard gauge line out of Melbourne. The broad and standard gauge lines paralleled each other just north of Melbourne, and Seymour became the perfect destination for daytrippers to witness one of Great Britian's finest locomotives in action.

You have to love 1989 workplace health and safety concerns. Train enthusiasts were free to wander all over the railway yard at Seymour to photograph the Flying Scotsman on its visit to Australia, so long as they didn't get hit by a train.

Seymour has long been a railway town, and today the former locomotive depot and roundhouse is used by the Seymour Railway Heritage Centre. It was already at work as early as 1983 in preserving and restoring Victoria's railway heritage, and today has a number of restored steam and diesel locomotives in operation, some of which are even hired out to private freight operators on a short term basis.

The Flying Scotsman taking on water from a tanker provided by the Seymour Railway Heritage Centre during it's Australian visit in 1989.

Seymour's railway precinct still looks much the same as in years gone by. Following the standardization of the North East Line to Albury, a third platform was added to handle trains on the broad gauge Goulburn Valley Line. The former goods yard is now used to stable V/Line intercity services to Melbourne, such as the Sprinter railcars I photographed when I last visited Seymour in 2011.

A V/Line Sprinter railcar ready to depart for Melbourne, photo 2011.

Platforms 1 and 2 still ooze of that railway atmosphere of years gone by, and visiting Seymour again all those years later takes on a surreal feeling when you have two impatient teenagers waiting in the car.

Platform 1, Seymour Railway Station, Victoria, Australia 2011.

With trains still coming, going and being restored, its safe to say that Seymour will remain an important Victorian railway town for many years to come. Only I might be waiting a long while for The Flying Scotsman to return.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Does crowdfunding really work?

Ahead of writing the next book in my Train Tripping series, I turned to the idea of crowdfunding. It seems wherever you look on the internet, crowdfunding is being pushed as the 'in thing' for writers, musicians, artists and movie producers to raise some capital for their project. So could it also work for a railway adventurer who was busy making travel plans to head to Melbourne to write his next book? Why not? After all, even the crowdfunding sites were touting this as a way to get free money. So what was the result? Does crowdfunding really work?

I always planned to write my next book regardless of whether I reached the crowdfunding target I'd set or not. Living in Australia, I looked for an Australian based crowdfunding platform rather than simply choosing the biggest. I also wanted to find a crowdfunding platform that was more publishing-orientated rather than a free-for-all collaborative of anything goes. So I chose Publishizer.com.

Publishizer is a crowdfunding platform aimed solely at authors. It seemed the perfect place to pitch my proposal. With three Train Tripping eBooks already behind me, and my travel plans to Melbourne already booked to write the next one, I set about building a launch page, writing a book proposal and having a mock cover designed and uploaded for the book. With Publishizer sending the best of their successful campaigns directly to literary agents, there was even the odd chance that all of my books might come to the attention of an Australian publishing house. So I went one step further. I also sought out a professional puppeteer through Fiverr.com who produced a 30 second video for my Train Tripping book series, uploaded it to YouTube and embedded it on my campaign page. The idea was brilliant, or so I thought.

I think I spent the best part of two days putting the whole thing together. I set my crowdfunding target low, from memory it was $874 Australian which was what I calculated my air fares, train fares, accommodation and meals to amount to when flying to Melbourne and spending 3 days riding as many trains as I could for my next book. Next up, I blitzed social media through email, my blog, twitter and Facebook pages, followed by the local newspapers here in Australia over the next two weeks, and watched as my 45 day target campaign slowly ticked by.


I kid you not. 45 days later, I had raised exactly $0. Talk about a disappointment! While I'd received an amazing amount of positive feedback about my puppet video from friends and family, my crowdfunding page on Publishizer had been shared a grand total of 17 times, including 3 tweets and 1 like on Facebook. So was my crowdfunding campaign nothing but a waste of time?

Well.... uh, yes, and no. Apart from the few bucks it cost to create a puppet video, the whole campaign only cost me my time. I look at it this way, it was free advertising. During my campaign, my recently released book Train Tripping Around Sydney became a Number 1 Bestseller on Kobo, and the Kiama Independent ran a story on my wife and I visiting Kiama as part of my Train Tripping adventures. I guess when comparing the few crowdfunding projects that did reach their campaign targets during the same time that my rather unsuccessful effort was live, I did make one important observation. Most of the books that were successful in crowdfunding thousands of dollars were either technology, business or alternate self-awareness books, as opposed to fiction and travelogue books like my own.

From my own experience, you really have to decide first if you could be bothered putting all your ideas out there in the hope of raising some financial support ahead of working on your next book. Keep in mind that pledges of money normally come with one thing attached, the offer of something in return. That something in return is normally 'x' amount of copies of your book when it is released, and books cost money. A quick search on Google will reveal a myriad of crowdfunding sites, all of which promise free money for your ideas in a matter of minutes, and all of which survive by keeping a small percentage fee of the amount you raise. So if like me, you just like to do things your own way, then ignore the promise of free money, (which it isn't), and simply put all your time into writing. At the end of the day I'm aiming for a published book, not a successful crowdfunding campaign.