It has never been easier to self-publish your own writing, and yet the cliche of “working on your novel” is still alive and well. Even with the gatekeepers of traditional publishing removed, a writer’s worst enemy (themselves) is still omnipresent. I’ve recently learned quite a bit after co-authoring and publishing my debut novella, DETROIT 2020. I’d like to share some advice for aspiring authors on turning your ideas into books that you can pester your friends and relatives to purchase.
I’m not what you’d call a “pantser” in writer’s lingo. I can’t execute on complex ideas unless I write them down and let them percolate. So when co-author Jeff Conolly approached me about writing together, one of my stipulations was that we outline. Some claim outlining kills creativity, but that’s nonsense. Writing down your ideas puts them into a space where you can walk away, and return after they’ve germinated for a while. Likely when you look back, there will be things you want to change or evolve. If they are always tumbling around in your brain or you’re just making things up as you go, you’re far more likely to write yourself into a corner.
Outlines aren’t stone tablets. They can evolve as the characters and story do. In the original outline of DETROIT 2020 one of the heroes, Julia Blaze, was a vampire. Now, she’s not. If you’ve never written an outline for a book, there are plenty of resources out there to show you how. I used Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker, but there are plenty of alternatives. Outlining is a great strategy that only gets easier with practice.
Your First Draft is Garbage
Believe me, it’s true. Your second draft probably is too. Ernest Hemingway wasn’t kidding.
I learned to accept this hard truth back in college, and it was reinforced in a big way all these years later when Jeff and I finished our first draft. Writers get touchy when it comes to their precious works, and the only thing more difficult than convincing an author their book needs edits is convincing TWO authors their book needs re-work. Do yourself a favor, and while you’re investing all that time and energy into completing the first draft, in the back of your mind know that while it’s a huge accomplishment, it’s not nearly the end of the journey.
Work Hard, Treat Yourself
Hard work should be rewarded.
Jeff and I set up schedules and deadlines for writing and other tasks, knowing that our lives would constantly interrupt the process (and they did) but we still needed goals. Did we always meet them? Absolutely not, but when we didn’t, we moved them forward to a new realistic date in the calendar and worked twice as hard to hit them.
When we accomplished a major milestone, we treated ourselves. Ordered pizza, or cracked beers on our weekly Skype call. It’s important to celebrate the little victories that come as part of the journey, since that’s what writing a book is really all about.
Get Honest Feedback
This one is tough.
The best advice I can give is only ask for feedback on your final draft (because you’ve re-written your book three times by now, right?) from people you trust. I mean, REALLY trust. Hopefully they are also an author or editor.
I’m not going to say “don’t show it to friends and family” because occasionally you have someone close who can deliver strong constructive criticism. However, you need to be selective, because once that book is on the internet, strangers will have no problem telling you exactly how they feel. Better to hear it now while you can fix it.
On a related note. Don’t tell people you’re “working on your novel”, or at least keep it to a minimum, because it really is a cliche. Plus, I can tell you from experience people are far more impressed when you say “I just published my first book”.
Learn The Technical Details
Familiarize yourself with the technical details of how self-publishing works. There are numerous blog posts and forums on the subject, and many are specific to particular platforms like Amazon and iTunes. Once you finish your book, give yourself an extra week to really understand these details before you jump on and hit that “publish” button. There’s all sorts of wacky things like metadata you might not know about, but should. Many tasks are in the “learning by doing” category, but it never hurts to have a leg up on what you’re getting into before you jump into the deep end. Self-publishing is far more accessible than it was even a few years ago, but there is still a learning curve.
As we’re currently writing the sequel to Detroit 2020 I periodically reflect on the process. Looking back, I’m still blown away that a random conversation with a friend has spawned a completed work. It was a big effort and not without frustration, but I’m really proud of what we accomplished. I hope this advice will help anyone who may be stuck or contemplating whether they should move forward. I’ll end on a up note since positive words run in short supply on the internet.
Even when the going gets tough, know there is a solution that can overcome almost any problem by practicing your craft and applying knowledge.
Do you have any tips or advice to help aspiring authors, or have you experienced any of these issues yourself? Talk about it in the comments below!