9 Things I Learnt Self-Publishing my First Novel
Not sure if I’ve mentioned it, but What Happens in New York is officially out now!
It’s been almost a year of endless writing, editing, rewriting, more editing, proofreading, designing, marketing, and stress, but it’s finally
over just beginning!
I learnt so much throughout the course of this journey, not just about writing, but also about marketing, graphic design, typesetting, and myself. I knew it would be a learning curve, but I didn’t realise just quite how much I’d learn in such a short space of time. It was amazing! I love learning but despise studying/exams/coursework, so it was great fun for me 🙂
That doesn’t mean it was easy, though. Hell no. It was stressful, and there were times when I considered giving up. I didn’t, because I realised I’d gotten that far, and by giving up I’d let myself, and those that had put their faith into me, down. I couldn’t do that. I didn’t want to do that. Not when I’d already overcome the self-inflicted barrier of self-doubt. That, for me, was the biggest thing that I overcame in the whole journey: going from thinking I couldn’t do it and that I was wasting my time, to ignoring that voice and getting on with it anyway.
This whole journey to self-publication has been exciting, terrifying, exhilarating, nerve-wracking, exhausting, educational, and rewarding. And you can’t go on a journey like that without learning a thing or two…
Point of view is IMPORTANT, and adult fiction jumps way too much
When I first started What Happens in New York, I didn’t plan on writing it in close third person. I planned on writing it in distant third person, from the joint points of view of Hollie and Fayth. It was suggested early on I change this to close third and switch between Hollie and Fayth. I was reluctant and first, but I’m glad I did it now, as it’s made the novel SO much stronger.
However, since I’ve been working on my points of view in my writing, I’ve found that jumping from one character to the next when writing in close third person in adult fiction is INCREDIBLY common. Here’s an example from J.K.Rowling’s The Silkworm:
[Strike] had been among the ranks of the engaged himself until a few months ago. He did not know how his ex-fiancee’s new engagement was proceeding, nor did he enjoy wondering when it was going to end…
Robin judged it safe to break the moody silence only once Strike had had half a mug of tea.
I cut a little bit from the end of Strike’s paragraph for the sake of shortening it, but there’s a clear jump from the inside of Strike’s mind, to the inside of his assistant, Robin’s. This happens quite a lot in The Silkworm, and it can be quite jarring.
(For anyone who’s interested, it’s on page 52.)
I’ve also spotted the same problem in Tess Gerritsen and James Patterson novels. It’s not something that’s exclusive to crime novels, it’s just that most of what I’ve read lately has been adult crime, or YA fantasy, the latter of which is usually in first person, making POV issues a lot less likely.
Once it’s been pointed out to you, it’s one of those things you just can’t let go of. Kind of like Oxford commas.
Your character must ARC, DAMN IT
Despite having studied Creative Writing, we were never taught about character arcs (I didn’t do fiction in my MA).
The point of any piece is fiction is to take your character on a journey. What that journey is will depend on what kind of character they are, what kind of writer you are, and what the plot of your story is. That journey will cause the character to change either for better or for worse, or, if they’re a truly awful character, they won’t learn a thing at all (but you must justify this!).
In Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, the characters didn’t change that much. In What Happens in New York, I didn’t consciously make them arc (not in the first draft, anyway), but there was no way I could put them through the story without them changing.
[MINOR SPOILER ALERT FOR NEXT PARAGRAPH]
Fayth enjoys being invisible, but soon becomes the attention of the media thanks to her friendship with Liam York. There’s no way that wouldn’t change her. Hollie, meanwhile, gets offered the opportunity of a lifetime thanks to Tate Gardener. How could that not affect her? It wouldn’t be a believable(ish — let’s remember most of us are never going to meet our Hollywood idols or a model-turned-stunt-performer) story if those events didn’t affect the characters in some way.
The more characters you have, the harder it becomes to write
I dug myself into a hole when I created the world that is What Happens in New York, because I have two protagonists. They each then have their own families and friends, as well as the people that they meet in New York. Altogether I have nine characters (not all are in the first book) in this world that I have to make three-dimensional and that will be a protagonist/narrator at some point within the series. That is a lot of work, as is weaving them altogether. I did seriously consider trying to find ways to reduce that down, but the stories were already too tangled up for me to be able to: it would’ve required changing the entire plot of the series, not just one book. So I sucked it up, I did a lot of character interviews, and I reduced some of the characters’ parts in What Happens in New York to make life easier. The sequel will have all nine of those prospective narrators in it at some point (but not all of their POVs). For obvious reasons, it’s going to be a much longer novel. I’m currently about 60,000 words in, and am estimating the first draft to be about 70,000 words, with the final version well over 100,000.
If you are working on your first novel, and it is the first thing you’re going to see through to the very, very end of the writing process, I would HIGHLY recommend having as few characters and POVs as possible. It makes it a lot easier to juggle what’s going on and where.
The only time I would say not to do this is if you really and truly cannot get the characters out of your head and you need to write about them. If your heart is telling you to do so, do it, but be warned: you are creating a lot more work for yourself.
Don’t forget your five point plot structure!
Despite having a BA and an MA in Creative Writing, plot wasn’t my strong point. At least one of my lecturers tried to teach it to us at one point, but it never stuck in my head. I’m not sure why. It wasn’t until I went to a workshop at Nottingham Writers’ Studio last year that it started to sink in. Since then, I map out at least a couple of points from my characters’ arcs before I start writing, that way I know roughly where they — and I — am headed. If I can’t figure out all five points, I’ll fill in the gaps as I’m writing and the story evolves. Likewise if something changes or doesn’t work anymore, the plot structure will change accordingly.
The difference between designing a cover for print and digital is greater than the difference between typesetting for print and digital
I decided to design the cover for What Happens in New York because I enjoy graphic design, have a little experience with it, and am friends with several graphic designers who could offer their insight. In most cases, I wouldn’t recommend it. It is a lot of work.
I won’t go into too much detail here — I’ve already done a blog post on designing a book cover — but there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on, and just because something looks good in digital, that doesn’t mean it’ll look good in print.
I’m really, REALLY sick of looking at the book cover
Designing the ebook cover. Designing the print book cover. Designing the launch poster. Designing the mailing list header. Designing social media graphics.
I’ve looked at that bloody shoe so much now I can’t stand the sight of it, and I’m starting to question whether I actually like the design or not. It’s too late to change it — and I’ve had a lot of people comment that they do like it — but when I started the design process I didn’t realise just how much I’d have to stare at those pink tights.
CreateSpace doesn’t do preorders
This is something that really bugs me. I’m not sure why they don’t do it, but they don’t. In order to get my copy sooner, I decided to put the copy of What Happens in New York up for sale early anyway, meaning that those who were interested in a print copy could get theirs a week or two earlier.
Sometimes you need to take a break
I worked harder on What Happens in New York than I have on anything else I’ve ever done. It left me stressed, exhausted, and eating even more than I already do to try and keep my body going. A couple of weeks after the launch, I’m still recovering. I’m sleeping a lot. A few people have told me to take a break from working on What Happens in London, but I can’t. My brain wants to write. It doesn’t want to do anything else. Except sleep. Not only that, but working on first drafts is my way of recharging. For me, that’s the fun part.
However, I am going to take it slower this time, taking a break from What Happens in London once I’ve got a first draft, and moving on to an early draft of one of the spin-offs before I go into editing. That gives me a clearer head to edit with whilst still doing to first draft phase that I love.
Don’t run before you can walk
I made this mistake several times, and it’s something I really need to learn from.
I should not have set a publication date when I hadn’t finished the manuscript. I knew it was achievable to reach it, but even now, there are things I’d like to change and I’m having to stop myself. They’re minor, but they’re there (although they’d probably be there regardless of the process). If I’d have abandoned the book any later, it wouldn’t have arrived in time.
I used marketing as an excuse to get away from the manuscript when I really couldn’t stand to look at it any longer. When you work hard and fast on something for a year, this happens often. I did have a side project too, but that didn’t help me to get a break from writing when I really needed it.
In future, I’ll at least have What Happens in New York to advertise/market when I need a break from writing What Happens in London, that way I won’t be advertising something that doesn’t exist/isn’t finished yet.
Also, I have dates in mind for the sequel(s), but I’m not going to announce it so publicly for book two. That way, I won’t let anyone down but myself (and some close friends) if I don’t make that date.
What have you learnt publishing your book(s)? If you aren’t yet publishing, what have you learnt on your writing journey so far? I’d love to hear your stories!