February will mark the 1 year anniversary of The Game Begins being published and the beginning of my struggle to write the sequel, and I’ve learned a lot in the last year. Since I planned on making my aesthetics board public on Pinterest, making the ebook version free for a week and giving you a short preview of the first chapter, I decided to share the things I’ve learned now instead of waiting.
There’s another reason for that decision, and it was made after I read this post about the belief that indie writers don’t have any respect for the written word.
The post made me take a few minutes to think about my experiences since I published The Game Begins in February, and I realised that I’ve experienced this belief firsthand, because when I first considered writing as a career, I was told that self-published books weren’t up to the same standard as traditionally published ones, and the ease of self-publishing meant that anybody could do it (this implying that not everybody who self-published had any kind of talent, which is completely false and horribly misleading).
I never gave that opinion much thought at the time, because I believed that getting the attention of a publishing house would be too difficult for me and I didn’t have enough talent to earn a contract, so I pushed the idea of being a writer to the back of my mind and spent the next few years trying to find a job I liked enough to feasibly work at for the rest of my life.
Fast forward to 2017, and I’ve published my first book, gained 50 followers on this blog (thank you so much to all of you for your support and patience with my lack of schedule and updates) and am (still) working on a sequel.
But I’ve learned so much, because eleven months is a long time to stick with something which tests your patience, sanity, and ability to put up with a lot of people telling you that self-publishing doesn’t require any skill (it’s been over six months since I heard that and I can still remember it word for word) so here are the things I’ve learned since I made the decision to publish a novel.
- You need a blog or a website
This wasn’t something I knew about until I’d already published TGB and had moved on to the sequel (well, the first version, at least) and when I started Googling ways to promote it, I discovered WordPress and the writing community and realised that it would be far more beneficial to get involved than to continue to struggle along.
I’ve had a year of blogging and reading and talking to other indie writers (and traditionally published ones) and picked up a lot of advice, so I’d definitely recommend getting a blog or a website if you’re planning on publishing a book.
The writing community is bigger and far more helpful than I expected it would be, and being able to read about other people’s experiences and progress and advice might just help you find that motivation you were needing to keep writing. And you’ll make a few friends along the way, too, so that’s an added bonus.
2. Explaining to people that you self-published your book is an invitation for them to tell you their opinions (and it won’t be pleasant)
2016 involved quite a lot of changes for me and my family, and that meant that I didn’t do a lot of face-to-face promoting for my book. And to be quite honest, I’m relieved that I’ve managed to avoid the indie vs. traditional publishing debate because right now I’m fed up of seeing blog posts and magazine articles telling everybody that traditionally published books are better than indie ones, and of superior quality.
It’s caused a few discussions (and that’s the nice way of putting it) in my house, and regardless of how much explaining I do, nobody seems to understand that even if I were with a publishing house, I still wouldn’t be earning millions in royalties and would still have to do all of the marketing and the promoting myself.
That’s what made my choice to self-publish even easier; I want to choose what I write, and I don’t want to be restricted in my choices.
3. Your stories ARE original
There’s been a lot of debate around fanfictions and published books ‘inspired’ by others which already exist, and yet fairy tale rewrites are becoming incredibly popular and a genre in their own right.
A famous example of a story ‘inspired’ by another is Fifty Shades of Grey, which was a Twilight fanfiction before it became a bestseller and a movie, and cases like this one are why some writers are put off creating a novel.
So here’s what you should keep in mind: Nobody writes in the exact same way as anybody else.
Knowing there’s a similar idea to the one you’re writing isn’t a reason to not write it. Your version will be original because it will be written by you.
Rewrite Snow White and the Seven Dwarves if you want to, but make it different. Make the dwarves giants and Snow White the regular-sized one. Change Cinderella to a story about a spoiled rich girl who falls in love with a pauper, or make Sleeping Beauty save herself.
But DON’T write out your favourite book and change the names around because you’re stuck for inspiration.
4. Make Time For Writing
It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in the marketing of your book and forget about writing another one. I spent a whole month trying to find ways to market TGB and didn’t write a single word, but luckily for me when I asked one of the many writers on Twitter for help, he told that one thing which can help sell books is if you’ve written more than one and people can see that you’re serious about your writing.
5. Advice Is Only Advice
After I published TGB and started to get involved with the writing community, I came across a plethora of articles and blog posts with writing advice. Only they weren’t labelled as advice- they had titles which implied that you absolutely had to follow every word and if you didn’t, your writing would be rubbish and nobody would care about it.
So guess what I did? I followed them, and I believed them, and I stressed myself out so much that I couldn’t bear the thought of anybody reading my book because those posts had led me to believe that my writing wasn’t any good since I hadn’t followed the guidelines.
What’s important to remember is that they contain advice and nothing else. You don’t need to use deep POV in your writing, and you don’t need to have a set number of characters with a selection of personality traits.
Write what you feel comfortable with, and don’t believe that you need to do everything you read- even if the articles were written by successful writers.
Everybody has their own unique style, and you won’t find that by following every single piece of advice.
6. Following Templates Is Boring
This point follows on from the last one, and can be just as detrimental to your writing career. It’s one I can rant on about for ages, but I’ll keep it short because this post has already gone on for longer than I thought it would.
It’s another problem I have with ‘help’ sites, because again, like the advice, it can be intimidating. You see those posts by successful writers and your first thought is that if they do the things they’re telling you, you need to do it too or else you won’t be any good.
That’s not true.
If everybody followed a formula to write their story, nothing would be original or unique; you’d be able to predict the ending before the first page finished.
That’s not to say you can write the ending first and the middle at the end, but if you stick to the beginning, middle and end structure, you can’t really go wrong. The order your story progresses within that structure is what will make you unique, and your story shocking.
Don’t feel like you need to have a hero and a traitor and a sidekick or an advisor. Have whatever characters are necessary to get your story told.
7. Research Is Important But Don’t Get Bogged Down In Details
The subject of research is something of an inside joke with writers. There are countless posts on Tumblr which question whether the users asking the questions are writers or serial-killers, and then there’s this:
Sometimes our internet search history is a bit strange and questionable, but the important thing to remember with any research you carry out is that not all of it needs to be included in your book.
My family know at this stage not to be surprised by some of the things I can tell them, like what information the police database holds, that I’ve read Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, and that there was a rich landowner who used to pay families for their children and then set them loose on the moors and hunted them with his friends because fox hunting was illegal.
The reason I do this research is not to scare my family and make them question my sanity, but so I can write about the subject with confidence. If I understand it fully, my characters can discuss it and form opinions and I won’t have to keep stopping to look stuff up.
All I need to do then is ensure I don’t turn my book into a lesson in police procedure or what human beings are really capable of.
8. Know Your Characters
This one might seem a bit obvious, but spending time developing my characters before I started Book 2 has made it easier for me to know how they would react to different situations and what they’d do. Something which has been a problem for me this time around is the changes I’ve gone through since writing
Something which has been a problem for me this time around is the changes I’ve gone through since writing TGB, because those changes have made it difficult for me to write Sam in the same way I did before. It took me a few months before I could accept that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, since the things Sam went through would have changed her, and even if I hadn’t grown since last year, I would’ve had to in order to write Sam’s story in the same tone as the first one.
9. Local Is Key
The idea of telling complete strangers about your baby (and by that I mean your book, not your actual baby) is a daunting one, and can make you want to stay in your bedroom and use the internet as the only way to promote your book.
That might work for the social media-savvy writers, but not for those of us who find it difficult to talk about our writing and our books without cringing or feeling like shams, and then you’re left wondering if you’ll ever sell your book.
I wondered that a lot in the months after I published TGB, and couldn’t find a way of marketing I could manage and which wouldn’t take up a huge amount of time, but then while talking to one of my parents’ friends, who works at a local paper, we got talking about my book. She’d heard about it from my parents (and because word travels fast in a small town like ours) and when I asked her if there was any way she could help me, she got me in contact with a reporter.
That led to an article in the paper, and an increase in book sales for the following week, so instead of wondering how you can promote your book to complete strangers, remember that you have a whole town (or city) behind you, and they’ll be just as good at spreading the word as Facebook.
When I thought about writing this post, I had a huge list of lessons I’ve learned since last February, but that surge of inspiration happened at 2 in the morning when I was in bed and too comfortable to get out and go in search of a pen and a piece of paper.
If I think of any more, I’ll add them to the list, but for now, I’m going to say thank you to everybody who’s read my book, everybody who has reviewed it and told me they liked it, everybody who reads my blog, everybody who told me writing is a waste of time, and my family for being patient.
I wouldn’t still be writing if it weren’t for all of you.