In 2012, I started to get serious about my writing (well, it started in 2011, but I dragged my heels a bit). I’ve written, on and off (mostly off), for some time. I actually completed a novel over the course of about ten years. I’d also written some screenplays.
Learning about self-publishing provided the spur I think, although it may also have been me reaching a point in my life where I needed to stop dreaming about writing and start doing it, or I never would.
So, I read a lot of articles by successful self-published authors (this was around the time Amanda Hocking was hitting the headlines) and tried to figure out my approach. The advice seemed to be that you needed to write in a popular genre to attain success (definition: large sales).
You’re going to spend a long time with any work you write, so you better like it. For that reason, I didn’t think I would be able to write a romance, or the paranormal fiction (vampires, werewolves, etc) despite them being very popular. Plus, having spent a lot of time reading writing advice over the years, I remembered that you shouldn’t write for the current market, because tastes will have changed by the time you publish.
That advice may not hold true, certainly in the age of instant publication, but I still believe the best way to achieve success is to write a good story, regardless of genre or current trends.
Looking at the other popular genres, I figured I could write a crime novel. I keep a list of ideas, gleaned from a variety of places, so I started to look through it. Then I turned to the web to try and flesh out some of those random thoughts, to make a story, and slowly my research coalesced into an idea and a vague outline.
I hammered my way through the novel, all the while reading more and more information and suggestions by the megastars of self-publishing. Getting your voice heard was a common problem, but one man had a bit of advice that chimed: the best way to sell more books was to write more books, so said Hugh Howey (and others).
That sounded good to me, I didn’t want to become a Twitter/Facebook/whatever expert, and there didn’t seem to be any guarantee it would help anyway (as with all promotion, once someone finds something that works, everyone else jumps on it and it no longer works). I knew that if I liked a book by an author, I was likely to buy more of their work. If it was part of a series, I was more than likely to continue it. So it made sense.
Coming up with The Plan
Writing novels isn’t a fast process though. I didn’t have a stack of them in a drawer somewhere, rejected by publishers or otherwise, as some authors did. Nor do I churn them out like some other authors can. So how could I create multiple works?
Well, I also happened to stumble across a post by J.A. Konrath about Monetizing Your Intellectual Property. It talks about re-publishing your work in a variety of ways to extend its reach and get the most out of each piece of content.
I figured I could write five stories, all around a (vaguely) similar theme, then package them up so I’d end up with six works from five, all for less than half the length of a novel. I’d also be able to write and publish them much faster than novels and so have more listings on Amazon and elsewhere for people to stumble across. And so The Plan was hatched.
The idea was to write five 5,000 word stories. Easy, I thought. I aim to write 500 words a day, so that’s ten days a story. I raided my ideas pile and began (with Riders of the Wind). I didn’t succeed particularly well.
The problem was, I was too verbose. The closest I got to that 5,000 target was A Nation of Addicts, which comes in at about 8,500. The longest, (part one of) Holdfast, is more than four times the target length. I wrote them one after another and finished in October 2012. Then I began redrafting and editing.
I’d never really done it before. I figured a couple of passes and we’re all good. Then I read one of Hugh Howey’s posts and found he was doing five. Five! So I figured I better do at least that many (I usually do more like six or seven, and then I give up rather than being 100% happy).
I will say that doing quite a few drafts definitely helps, my stories definitely get better with each one (just imagine how bad they are to start with). It’s not a fast process though.
In fact, it took me about 12 months to redraft and publish them all. Holdfast marks the last of that batch (though it wasn’t the last written). I’ve certainly learnt a lot along the way – patience if nothing else. (I’m hoping my first drafts get better in future, so I can get through each subsequent one faster.)
I have still got a novel to polish too, which I haven’t even started. Not to mention new works to write (there’s at least two more parts to Holdfast).
So there you go, there’s a summary of my past 12-18 (or so) months, and hopefully an eye-opener for anyone looking to try their hand at writing. Sure, most people can probably write and edit faster than I did, but it’s still going to be a long, slow process that involves a lot of hard work. And at the end of it, readers won’t necessarily come flocking. So you better enjoy the process.