Sunday, 19 October 2014

Putting the novel out: What I've Learned

So, my debut full length novel came out on October the 6th. A Stolen Fate began life in 1998 as a screenplay outline and some storyboards, and then over the years it became something I would toy with here and there whenever I wasn't writing something else. In 2007 I went legit and became a writer for a national music magazine, which I'm still with to this day, but that (along with a lot of other writing gigs, day jobs and life stuff) meant I never got around to writing much of the novel.

That changed when I started taking part in NaNoWriMo, and suddenly I had 50,000 words of the novel done and ready to be completed. The other stuff continued to hod the novel back, but I did finally finish it a little while back and decided to publish it myself as an experiment. I'd already put seven books out, but never a novel. I wanted to see what the experience was like, and what I could learn from it.

I actually learned a fair few things, and I'd like to share some with you that might possibly help you with your own projects.

With A Stolen Fate, the story was part of my life for so long that a lot of it was set in stone, but I found that breaking out of that set concept now and again was very liberating and made for a better experience for both myself and the readers who have checked it out so far. I wrote a number of the scenes out of sequence, which helped me direct the flow of the action towards later scenes and also allow me to add some foreshadowing of events during the climax.

I wasn't sure if I would ever write another book (long story) and thus I also wanted to have this one be as complete as I could make it, but allowing for enough loose ends for there to be a sequel if the demand was there (right now it seems there is, but we shall have to wait a little longer for the final decision). Your novel, even if part of a series, still needs to be able to offer a complete and satisfying story to readers, as not all of them will pick up the other volumes which might follow.

The main thing I learned though, which I learned through my own mistakes, is to make the book as professional as you possibly can, and not just visually. The cover is a hugely important thing. If it looks amateurish and unable to stand next to professionally published books, then a lot of readers will just scroll past it. I tried to make A Stolen Fate look great, even though all of the tools I used (Pixabay, Pixlr and Cooltext) were all free.

However, the cover and blurb aren't the only thing to do to a high standard, which is where I made my mistake. Despite several passes through the book, hours upon hours of editing and reworking it, there seem to still be errors that I missed. I didn't get it checked over by a fresh set of eyes, and as such while the book looks brilliant, there are typos in it which I missed. I'm saddened by this and annoyed at myself, as I could have easily sorted those out. The book is getting a great response, but those typos are a downer for me.

Thats the thing though – the book really needed to be looked at by another reader. I am doing this now, and will put out a new edition of the book with corrections in the near future. If people are going to keep buying it, then they deserve the best version that it can possibly be. I've let myself down with this and will ensure it won't happen again. My wife (an incredible writer whose columns and fiction are far more widely appreciated than mine so far) is now proofing the book again so I can put things right. However, I really should have done that I the first place.

Also, make sure you read it in print as well as digitally, as you'll always spot things you need t change in a print copy that you may miss digitally.

Another thing I learned is that the book will take you to unexpected places that will dictate changes to your plans for the future. When I finished A Stolen Fate, I had already written 43,000 words of a possible sequel, but those 43,000 words are now being almost entirely scrapped. Why? Because once I'd completed the 83,000 words of the first book, a lot had changed with the characters and what they had to do. Still, it's a starting point.

So to recap, write well, write what the story needs you to write, and make sure you get it checked over before publishing it. Good luck with your own projects. I'll see you next month for this year's NaNoWriMo adventure, where I'll be starting the sequel from scratch.

Next time, I'll do things much better, for myself and my readers. Thanks for being there.

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