I sometimes wonder what kind of advice would have helped me five years ago, before publishing my first book. Or if I would have heeded any of it. With that in mind, here’s a little checklist for anyone starting out on their writing journey…
Get a good chair.
I have done my best to ignore this advice over the years and on the plus side, I now have personal experience of the adage ‘buy cheap, buy twice.’ You will be spending quite a lot of time in your chair, so try to invest a decent amount in it. Having said that (cue adage number two) ‘sitting is the new smoking’. So the current wisdom is to have a standing desk, or better yet, switch between the two. Just try not to sit in the same spot for hours on end
wasting time on social mediawriting your book.
It won’t happen overnight.
We’d all like it to happen overnight, but chances are, it won’t. Even if it looks like authors are coming from out of nowhere with huge success, just Google them. You’ll see it’s probably their third book, or their first book after years of rejections and unpublished books. The same goes for writing income. It can take years to start seeing any kind of decent return on your books and it definitely takes more than one book to build a ‘brand’. Remember, people are buying into you, the writer, as much as they are your book. You’ve got to show them that you’re going to stick around, that this is your thing. I know it’s frustrating when you see other people signing deals, but be patient, your time will come. Really.
Rejection is the stone on which you will sharpen your skills.
Rejection tells you, in no uncertain terms, you have more work to do. It doesn’t mean you’re not good enough, but it might mean you’re not good enough yet. Boy am I glad my first book got rejected. There was a lot of good things in that novel, but in terms of my skills as a writer, it was unquestionably beginners level. I learned so much from writing it and I learned even more from all of the rejections it garnered. Rejection tells you whether or not you really want to become a writer, if you really have the commitment it takes to get better at it. For a while, I thought I didn’t. But the urge wouldn’t leave until I started a second novel (The Heirloom). And when that didn’t get published, I published it myself. It’s now in the top 20 bestseller list on Amazon US.
Keep your eyes peeled.
Everybody can list off the big publishing houses, but for new authors, it behooves you to become acquainted with the smaller publishers, the indies and digital imprints. They are the ones who are better placed to take chances on new authors. Off the top of my head, I can think of several writers who are getting deals right now with publishers like Bloodhound Books, Bookouture, Black and White, Orenda and of course my own publisher, Urbane. It’s an exciting time in publishing with new platforms popping up all the time, like the crowdfunding publisher Unbound. Keep in touch with the writing community online so you’ll be ready for opportunities when they come along. Sometimes it’s all about luck, being in the right place at the right time (with the right book!).
Write what you love.
It can take a year or more to write a novel, so it may as well be a subject you are passionate about. The research alone makes this worthwhile – I can’t imagine spending months reading up on a subject I’m not that interested in. You will be sharing your life with this story for quite some time, so make it about something you LOVE! Find your own voice and be authentic – you don’t need to imitate what’s already out there, create something new and original.
There is more than one road to getting published.
For some it’s self-publishing, for some it’s finding an agent, for others a traditional publisher. There are authors who credit their creative writing groups and MA’s for their success, still more who claim that writing courses merely delay the inevitable – actually writing the book. Everyone is different – I’m more of a lone wolf and that’s what suits me. We’re all susceptible to looking at what everyone else is doing and wondering if what we’re doing is right, but I don’t think there is a right or a wrong, just different choices. Find what works for you. Just keep writing, don’t compromise and remember, if you don’t tell this story, no-one else will.
So here I am, 2018 with my third novel due for release in June. Even typing those words is a bit surreal. I had no clue what I was getting into all those years ago and maybe it was just as well. Like most journeys in life, I think you need a healthy amount of blind faith starting out. And a stubborn refusal to give up. So that’s what I would tell my past self – keep being stubborn and don’t give up. And don’t buy that crap chair.
The Story Collector
Available to pre-order on Amazon