Darkhaven came out at the beginning of July. It’s now the beginning of October. In publishing terms, that means it’s no longer a ‘new release’ but an established book – so this is the perfect time to take stock. Here are just a few of the many things I’ve learned about being a writer.
Things are getting real, folks. Friday was Darkhaven's official cover reveal day! I'm sure anyone who reads my blog has already seen the cover (I have posted/linked to it approximately 1000000 times on Facebook and Twitter, after all) but just in case you unaccountably tuned all that out, here it is again!
A short one this week, and mainly to say that I'm not going to be able to post much in the way of blog content over the next couple of months. This is partly because it's now less than three months until Darkhaven's release (!) and so I'm busy with editing, writing guest posts, answering interview questions, etcetera. And also partly because if I have any wonderful ideas for new blog posts, I'm going to have to keep them for the blog tour or I'll run out of stuff to talk about. However, the upcoming weeks are full of people clamouring to be exiled to the Barren Islands – sometimes two a week – so it's not as if I'm turning the lights out or anything.
Back in the distant past, when I was a teenager starting to (attempt to) write fantasy novels, I assumed that finishing a book would be the hard part. After that, I'd simply find a publisher and my work would be done.
Even setting aside the idiocy of 'simply find a publisher', it turns out I was wrong.
This is one of an occasional series of posts in which I squee about my childhood dream coming true. Feel free to skip past it if you hate that kind of thing. Conversely, if you're curious, you can read vol. 1 here and vol. 2 here.
As you may already be aware, I've been tracking each stage in my publishing journey with the fervid enthusiasm of a starving literary wolf scenting a book-flavoured deer. And I hit another of those milestone moments the other day, because I received cover art.
Not only that, I received choices.
Did you ever study the fire triangle in school? You know, it's just a triangle with three sides – oxygen, heat and fuel – and if you take away any one of them, you no longer have a fire.
I got quite excited earlier this week. I was browsing Amazon, and decided to search for my book title (which, let's be honest, I've done sporadically ever since it was first picked up by Voyager) ... and lo and behold, there it was! No cover art as yet, but all the same: my book is now a real book. You can preorder it on Amazon.* I'm not just dreaming this whole thing.
Here's a question for you: what makes you decide to buy a particular book? For me as a reader, it could be one or more of a number of factors:
1. I’ve heard good things about it from someone I trust, be that a review site or a friend.
2. I’ve interacted with the author in some way that didn’t involve them trying to sell me their book.
3. It’s by an author I know I like, and/or it’s been released by a publisher whose other books I’ve enjoyed.
4. It’s on sale so I figure it’s worth giving it a shot.
5. I needed something to read in a hurry and this one caught my eye in the bookstore (physical or virtual).
If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you’re probably already aware that my first novel is being released this summer by Harper Voyager Digital. There’s more information about Darkhaven elsewhere on this website, but in brief, it’s … well, a murder mystery. Except I'm a fantasy writer, so this is a murder mystery that includes shapeshifters, swordfights, carriage chases and a rampaging Wyvern. Be warned.
I was in two minds over whether to write this post, because it does feel a little self-indulgent. OK, a lot self-indulgent. OK, like standing in the street with a megaphone and shouting “Yay, me!” But there are a few pieces of advice I've extracted from my journey up to this point that are probably worth sharing. And I think they’re relevant whatever your publishing dreams and whatever stage of your own journey you’re at. So here goes.
You're pretty amazing, aren't you? You've written a book. You've spent your valuable time on it, pushed other things aside for it, dedicated weeks or months or years of your life to the story in your head that wouldn't go away. You've made sacrifices, and you haven't given up, and somehow you've brought a whole world to life from nothing. Anyone who has the staying power to do that should be proud.
So now you're ready to send your precious book out into the world, and you've decided to self-publish. You love your story and your characters, and you can't wait to find other people who'll love them too. I understand that. I do. Writing is such a solitary pursuit that it's always wonderful to find an audience. To share what you've been doing all this time with people who get it. Without readers, after all, we writers are like chefs cooking endless banquets that no-one ever gets to eat.
But before you hit the button to submit your baby to CreateSpace or Lulu or Smashwords, I beg you, stop. Just for a moment.
And give yourself an honest answer to this question: are you absolutely, positively, one hundred percent sure your book – this thing you've spent so much energy on already – is error-free? That you haven't mixed up rung and wrung or born and borne or bizarre and bazaar? That your sentences all make sense even after that last-minute edit you did in Chapter 12? That your apostrophes are in their proper places? Have you run it past at least two people who you know have a better grasp of grammar than you do?
If the answer to any of these questions is no then you really should reconsider. You owe it to those among the reading public who know the difference between its and it's, and who develop an uncontrollable twitch each time they encounter the wrong one. You owe it to those among the reading public who don't know the difference and will only start to learn it if they see things done properly in the books they enjoy. Most of all, you owe it to yourself: to make your magnum opus, your pride and your pain, the best it possibly can be. To earn a loyal following through professionalism and polish and knowing your craft. To never settle for second best.
Because the thing is, it's all on you. The buck stops here. It may feel like I'm picking on you right now, but that's because I am. I'm picking on you because there's no-one else. Of course self-published books aren't the only ones to suffer from these kinds of problems. Of course traditionally published books contain typos. But traditionally published books are subject to a whole host of different people making decisions on their behalf. The only person who's going to make decisions about your self-published book is you.
So, dear author, I implore you: employ an editor or a proofreader. Beg the services of a friend or several friends or a whole critique group. Better still, learn how to fix this stuff yourself. Of course you can't know everything – no-one can. Even the most experienced editor in the world lets the occasional error slip past her tired eyes. But if you are really serious about the rewarding, surprising, incredibly frustrating process that is writing, you can do yourself no greater favour than to keep learning. Because being an author is so, so much more than just getting the story down, patting yourself on the back and hitting Publish.
Words are your tools. Employ them as they were meant to be employed. Your book will thank you for it, and so will your readers.