AK Wrox: Creating a fantasy brand to end all fantasy brands

Writing duo A.K. Wrox were guest lecturers at RMIT University in Melbourne last week.

Evelyn Tsitas – journalist & blogger, PhD student & sessional tutor in Creative Writing – blogs for CDP about how the session with her Master of Creative Media students went down.

They came, they saw, they were amazing.

A.K. Wrox pulled no punches when talking about their rise from mums, who love to read and write fantasy and crime fiction, to published authors ready to take on the world. They instinctively realised that to be successful in the 21st century world of publishing, you have to hustle.

A.K. Wrox – the Melbourne writing team of Amanda Wrangles & Kylie Fox – whom I had the pleasure of meeting them through Sisters in Crime Australia are, like me, both are winners of Scarlet Stiletto Crime Writing Awards; and, also like me, are writer-mothers.

They are also serious Facebook junkies and have harnessed social media to their great advantage in both writing and promoting their book. So much so that this article could be subtitled, ‘How to write and promote your book on Facebook’.

In fact, my friendship with the writing team has been almost entirely through Facebook except for the Sisters in Crime writing events where we catch up face to face.  Online, I follow and ‘like’ as they share their lives and the trials and tribulations of the writing life, and mothering journey.

I was therefore amazed to meet a slender Kylie Fox in the corridor of Building 36 on Swanston Street as I arrived for the class. Why surprised? Because Kylie is half-way through her fifth pregnancy; so, even more amazing is Kylie’s enviable energy.

First up, even with four young children, Kylie has no time for writers who complain they have no time to write.

“A writer writes every day,” she said. “Sometimes however, I want to watch Sons of Anarchy – for research, you understand! That’s fine, but it’s a choice. I make that choice without deluding myself. I am watching TV not writing. I think we all have to be honest as writers about our time.”

Of course, the actual writing is only half the story. A.K. Wrox came to RMIT to share the other, often more difficult parts of becoming an author: getting published and promoting the published book.

From the moment the writing duo began speaking to students taking part in my 12 week Entrepreneurship for Writers course, A.K. Wrox had their audience eating out of their hands – almost literally.

The first thing they did was hand out copies of their gorgeously published fantasy spoof Arrabella Candellarbra & The Questy Thing to End all Questy Things.

Good marketing tip #1: get potential customers (and reviewers) to hold a copy of ‘the product’ in their hands. The session ended about two hours later with the authors signing their books and getting the group to pose with them (and their books) for photos. Oh, and a friendly request that if anyone wanted to post a review on facebook or goodreads it would be most appreciated!

Felix, John, Elizabeth and Inku (Amanda and Kyle in front)

Before that, the session turned to the business of writing. The who, what, where, why and how of getting it done, getting ideas and getting it out. Some words of advice: research – it’s easy to get sidetracked; promotion – start at least a year before your book is published; collaboration – with the right person, who is at the same writing stage as you, it can be fun. But collaborate with writing equals only; and write, write, and write more – work on your own work all the time, as well as collaborative work.

The first questions from the group, who’d all done their homework ‘drilling in’ to the A.K. Wrox website and blogs was: “How did you write the Arrabella Candellabra on Facebook?”

It turns out that what A.K. Wrox have done is replicate a part of the university writing process, albeit by themselves, at home and with many children running around. Instead of the e-learning tool Blackboard in which they could privately post blogs or writing material to each other, they created a private Facebook page and wrote installments to each other.

“We both use Facebook – a lot – and we were comfortable with doing it that way even though we both lived near each other,” Amanda said. “It was easier for us to write late at night when the kids were asleep.

“The book grew organically, we each pushed each other and then we took our work, cut and pasted from the bits on Facebook, to our Wednesday writing group.”

Luck was on their side. Despite being well outside the usual writing haunts of the inner suburbs of Melbourne, A.K. Wrox were blessed to find a local writing group with clout. Run by crime writer and publisher Lindy Cameron, who has 17 years of crime fiction writing under her belt, Amanda and Kylie flourished. Oh, I should mention that another writers’ group that all three belong to, also includes New York Times best selling author Alison Goodman (Eon & Eona).

“Lindy would read our installments to the rest of the group and the response was great; we realised we had a book,” said Amanda. “It gave us confidence.”

Kylie added: “As the publisher of Clan Destine Press, Lindy wanted to publish our book, but decided to show it to fellow author Kerry Greenwood first, in case her friendship with us was clouding her judgment.”

Kerry is a household name since her 20-book Phryne Fisher series is now also the popular Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries currently screening on Australian television.

A.K.  Wrox agree that being published by a small, independent publisher such as genre fiction specialist Clan Destine Press enabled them to have a lot more input into both the editing and promotional side of the business than if they’d been with a big, commercial publisher.

So, how did they tackle marketing? A.K. Wrox were adamant that a website was the way to go. They set up a free WordPress site and enlisted help from YouTube tutorials. “If we can do it, anyone can,” they agreed.

Amanda added: “We wrote our book on Facebook, so that seemed the logical place to start the marketing campaign. So along with a website and our blogs, we had a Facebook page for our book. While we don’t have a large number of people signed up, we know it has a wide reach.”

A.K.  Wrox even got their collaborative writing name via Facebook, fielding suggestions from other writers as to what to call themselves as a writing team. The clever suggestion melds their names into a sassy, unforgettable moniker.  

“One of the best things about sharing posts on Facebook and Twitter is that it’s gradual,” said Amanda. “It’s that ‘long tail’ of marketing you hear about. And it works!”

Self-confessed Facebook junkies they may be, but A.K. Wrox treat their marketing like professionals, avidly monitoring the number of hits they get each week and keeping a close eye on how far their stories travel.

The duo also put themselves ‘out there’ on the web to review other people’s books, both as a profile raising exercise and to support other writers. Kylie focuses on true crime and Amanda on young adult fiction.

“It’s up to you as an author to get behind your own work and promote it,” said Amanda. “You need to create that initial buzz and you can’t rely on anyone else to do it.”

Their tips: think outside the box and look at every opportunity for marketing; and don’t be afraid to ask people!  For instance, A.K. Wrox plan to make a YouTube trailer for the next book in their series, and it will feature a local hip hop band they know. They’d want it to have the feel of the Beatles’ movie A Hard Day's Night. They have also done conventions such as Supernova; and had life-size cardboard cutouts made of their characters.

“It turned out they weren’t too expensive as we got a deal from someone who was so excited to be making them instead of something corporate”, said Kylie.

The authors are also making cameo brooches for promotion, a little different than the usual bookmarks, and again featuring the book’s characters from the fabulous fantasy cover artwork by Ran Valerhon.

A.K.  Wrox have an instinctive feel for social marketing, knowing how to give a bit of themselves but not too much. Amanda has been sharing her husband’s battle with a rare auto immune disease via Facebook; and writes unflinchingly and with love and no self pity. Kylie posted the scan of her latest pregnancy. They do writing appearances wide and far, wearing their trademark black. So it’s hard to believe them when they say they are both naturally shy.

“Facebook gives us time to find that witty retort or create the perfect comment,” said Kylie.

Finally, the last bit of advice A.K. Wrox gave the class is that Australian authors should realise that the industry in this country is very, very small, and you can’t afford to burn bridges or not reach out to people. You also have to have a good web presence because the first thing any potential publisher will do when they have your manuscript in their hands is google you!

It is perhaps not surprising that like the authors themselves, they left urging the students to be generous and be involved. Amanda is now a convener of Sisters In Crime Australia, and both manage to support to other writers and the publishing industry by reviewing other writer’s work. Anyone seeking an answer to how they have come so far in a relatively short space of time need only look at how much they have given back to the writing world they love.