First, a little back-story. A few years ago I was diagnosed with a medical issue that forced me to quit my job and seek other means of employment.
My previous job involved vigorous walking, and the illness would no longer allow me to continue walking as far on a day to day basis. Suddenly, deluged with a plethora of time, I decided to do something I have often daydreamed of: I decided to write a novel. A little over a year later, I am self published and recording an audio book.
Writing a book can be a rewarding and fascinating process, and I would like to share a few things I learned and experienced along the way. Who knows, maybe it will encourage you to do the same. If you have read this far, I know you have thought about it, am I right?
I am an avid reader, and a huge fan of novelist and professor Toni Morrison. In my opinion she is one of the great storytellers of our time. She once quipped: “If there is a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” So, that is how I went about writing my first book, Riding The Apocalypse.
Write the book you want to read.
I simply thought about a story that I had always had bouncing around in my brain, and did what Toni said — I wrote a book I always wanted to read. I was simply following directions, and who better to follow than Toni Morrison? I would like offer a few bits of wisdom I learned along the way and also to dispel a few common misconceptions that tend to cause anxiety about writing/finishing a novel.
It is estimated that less than three percent of people who start a book complete the first rough draft, let alone publish a book. The following tips helped me fight that statistic, and may help you on your odyssey if you decide at some point to write a book.
One fall evening in September of 2012, after everyone went to bed, a tumbler of Buffalo Trace bourbon in tow, I started banging away on my keyboard. I was typing so furiously, my wife had to tell me to quiet down or I would wake our daughter. I started the writing process with no ending to the story, and just the basic plotline in my head. Honestly, I had no idea how far I would take this.
So, the first piece of advice I would give is to not put too many expectations on yourself early on. I did not place any goal, i.e. number of pages per night, finish date, etc. on my work, I just wrote. As my mother in law often says, steady wins the race. Putting pressure to write a certain amount of work adds stress in my opinion. Just let it flow, and if you are suffering from writers block, just stop for a while. If there is no quota to hit, there should be less pressure.
Contrary to popular belief, writing a book does not require a private room upstairs, dead silence, and an old typewriter. For example, the majority of my book was written with my full family around, constant interruptions, as well as many nights of video games and movies in the background. I had a habit of playing an online version of a game entitled Axis and Allies, which is sort of a super-sized version of Risk set in WWII. There were often thirty to forty minutes between my turn, so while the other players online (who were spread all over the World Wide Web) were playing their turns, I wrote. I would just write a little, then a “beep” from my computer would let me know when it was my turn again.
I am not sure if forced to sit for hours on end at my computer with no other stimulus, I could have written a whole book. I often had music, or an old movie on in the background, i.e. The Godfather, Part I & II (but never The Godfather, Part III). I say write whenever and however you want to. Do not feel you need to be a slave to the grind, unless that is what you want to do, of course. In addition, with the advent of Google Docs, you can write from any computer, tablet, or even cell phone at any time, and your work is stored online, so it can be accessed from anywhere you have a device handy.
After I finished writing the rough draft, which took about twelve months of video games, bourbon, and rewriting, I had three hundred pages of unedited, miscellaneous stuff. I realize that three hundred pages may seem like quite a bit, but spread out over a year or more, it is not that many pages per day. We don’t do that quota stuff though, that is just an approximation. Some days you may do twenty, and then others, none. No quotas though!
I strongly recommend having some sort of medium available during your whole process. When something happens in your life that you think is profound or funny, write it down on your electronic device of choice, or use pad and pen. I could probably sue myself for all of my true life stories I used in my book; I still may, depending on how well the book does. Don’t be afraid to pull from your personal experiences to make your story more alive. This is your intellectual property, use it! When you get stuck, just try pulling from your own experience, it often worked for me.
Many writers suggest having an outline, with a beginning middle and end all mapped out before you start your first draft. I beg to differ with this protocol. I started writing my book without an ending, or even middle, and the story unfolded organically. I am not suggesting you do this, but not having the perfect ending, should not discourage you from starting. If you have a story you want to tell, and it is not quite complete, just start writing, and the rest will come. I truly believe that.
Hire an editor.
My next suggestion is critical; make sure you have your book edited by a quality editor. You can cut corners on formatting, as Amazon.com has an option whereby you can just submit your finished draft to their site and they will format to eBook and/or paperback for free. So, take that money you save on formatting and have the book edited professionally. Nothing turns off a potential buyer more than typos and/or bad grammar. I am not a good typist, and I knew if left to my own skills, my book would be difficult to read. You can pay anywhere from $400 to $2,000 for a quality editor for a three-hundred page book. I paid right in the middle of that range.
For $400 you will get a technical edit, but that is it. When you pay more, you get tense corrections, sentence suggestions, and editors will also look for plot holes and continuity issues. Cut corners financially anywhere you need to, but not when it comes to a good editor. Of course, if you are a Literature major, you may not feel the need. The rest of us should hire a qualified editor. Online forums, and Google search are good places to start when looking for a good editor. Perhaps looking for the editors of your favorite books may yield a good suggestion or two.
Another very important part of your book is the cover art. We have all heard the phrase, “you can’t judge a book by its cover” at some point in our lives. Well, that is a misnomer, especially with the advent of eBooks. People will look at the icon on Amazon.com, and make a snap decision many times before they even read your blurb that you post online with your title.
My suggestion would be to look at other books in your genre, and try to emulate those cover styles. You can use your own pictures, and even others if you pay a small royalty; just attach them to Amazon online. Most book publishing sites contain free generic cover layouts, i.e. Createspace.com. This site is connected with Amazon.com, so you can publish both your paperback novel and your eBook together using AmazonKindleDirect.com for your eBook, and Createspace.com for your paperback. Amazon.com is also is linked to ACX.com, where you can self publish an audio book as well.
Get feedback and help with marketing.
Don’t be afraid to get your friends and family involved in the process as well. I used Facebook and Twitter to promote the book, and get feedback. If you search for Riding the Apocalypse on Facebook, you can see where I used online help and opinions to pick the best version of the book covers I created. I sent the Prologue I wrote the first night to friends and family via email for advice and support. I received both, as well as some constructive (and not so constructive) criticism. I welcomed all forms of feedback, and so should you. Get used to positive and negative opinions, it comes with the territory; you will get plenty of both. Personally, I would not have it any other way.
With the materialization of online self publishing using Amazon.com, rival Smashwords, Createspace, ACX.com and the like, there is no better time to write your story and get it out there for people to read. It has never been easier to publish that book you have always dreamed of writing. For example, through the aforementioned Createspace.com, you can print books on demand, and there is no need to have your car trunk full of books you are trying to sell. They are simply printed as they are ordered, individually.
Speaking of web sites, I highly recommend absolutewrite.com. This site is a writing forum and blog posting resource. It helps guide you through the self publishing tricks, advice, and options. Create a membership, surf and then post your questions or comments. Writers and critics are often eager to share their experiences, and help on your way to self publishing.
The process of writing a book has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I accomplished a lifelong goal, and set a good example for my children by showing them when life hands you a bad break you good can still accomplish your dreams.
Maya Angelou once said “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” This is food for thought, if you have a story inside you. Listen to Maya, share it with everyone. Just start writing anytime, anyplace, and use the newest technology and resources available to make it happen. You will be pleasantly surprised how achievable and rewarding the process is.
Riding the Apocalypse is available online on Amazon.com via eBook, and paperback. You can also purchase it at Branches Books & Gifts in Oakhurst. The audio book will be available by January 2015.