The journey to my debut novel has thrown up a few lessons – some surprising, some expected as I work through a process. Even though I’ve been a professional writer for two decades (as a music journalist, and in digital content) writing a novel was something quite different within the same discipline.
I’m sure there are many more lessons to learn as I go on as an author, but for now here are five things I learnt from writing my debut (The Winter Passing – details at the bottom).
Five Lessons on Writing and Publishing
Just keep writing
From Stephen King to my good self (and we’re at opposite ends of the professional writer scale) offer this advice: just keep writing. Get a first draft out – it doesn’t have to perfect, it just has to be written.
Lots of people start writing a book but few commit to the discipline of writing – write when you don’t feel like it, write when it feels like you’re clawing the words out not just when they flow with abundance, write when the set up is all wrong, write when you’re tired, write when you’re in the creative dip of ‘this is rubbish, I can’t do this’.
You can critique the words as much as you want after they are written, you will of course take time to carve out the painstaking detail later, but the important thing is to start, stick with it, and finish a first draft.
Trust your instinct, seek advice, find support from other writers
There are an awful lot of ‘how to…’ guides on writing a book from your voice to the typography. It is definitely worth familiarising yourself with the advice out there from publishers and established authors – not least because you’re then making an informed choice if you ignore it, rather than making an unwitting mistake.
The Winter Passing has a poetic style, incredibly detailed passages – I knew this was right for this story and to support the character’s traits, and as advice will tell you ‘show don’t tell’ I had to work at maintaining my voice and the right style for my book, while also leaving something to the writer’s imagination.
Finding a support network of other writers – both published and aspiring, formal and not – helped me with this as well as other parts of the process of writing and (crucially) production and marketing. Find your tribe, listen to their experience, and hold their wisdom close as you forge your own path.
Always proofread on paper, not screen
I didn’t do this: I am Jack’s Bloated Regret. No matter how many times you proofread, no matter how many others proofread for you, there will be mistakes that jump out at you on paper which had become invisible to you on screen.
Always get a proof copy, go through it and mark it up, then go through the amended copy with as much fastidiousness. I speak from a position of lesson learnt, rather than perfect example here. Even if readers are forgiving of an extra space here and there, or a misshapen speech mark, you will know those mistakes are in there and they will haunt you.
Take extra time, and the upmost care, in getting the proofreading and the type design as close to perfect as possible.
Production takes longer than you think it will
When self-publishing build in enough time for all of the rounds of literary edits, copy edits, and formatting.
Even with help from others this process will take a long time, longer than you think. If you’ve got a publication date set make sure you count back from it to give yourself time for all the tasks needing doing, and add in contingency. Writing may be art, but production is business and you need to approach it with a plan, dependencies, resource, and risk.
There will be frustrations in the process, and you’ll likely question whether you really really want to publish more than once. Accept it, knuckle down and try again to get your indents right. I’ve found setting aside a short session once a week to try and learn something, or practice something, about production has started to help.
Marketing your own work is an awkwardness you must own
Maybe some people enjoy this bit of the process but I suspect it won’t come easy to a lot of writers (or creatives in other fields).
Despite many years of promoting other creatives work as a PR and marketer doing it for my own work was a whole different game, and it’s taken a while to accept the awkwardness around it. Like me, I’m sure many will be about the writing not the selling, but if you want to get your story read it’s a necessary task.
From pricing strategies, to product design, from PR to inbound marketing – just like production there is a whole bushel of stuff to get your arms around in this area. Get to know your market (Who are you potential readers? What else are they reading?), find your focus, and measure the success and return you get for your efforts.
Most of all…accept it’s a job that needs doing, it can be uncomfortable pushing your own work, but you’ve done something pretty special in completing a novel and getting this far so help it along to find its reader any way you can.
Get the 5 Star rated contemporary fantasy The Winter Passing
The Winter Passing is out now as an eBook – always free on KindleUnlimited – you can find it here.
The limited first edition paperback version is also available for order – get yours here.