Writing is a very demanding artform, so you might ask why I do it? The answer is simple, I write because I feel I have stories inside of me that have to be told. Ever since I was young, I've enjoyed storytelling. From writing and drawing comics to tackling my first novel in high school—which I hope to revisit and publish someday—storytelling is in my DNA.
If writing is your passion, please read on as I share my approach as well as some writing tips I've learned along the way. It's helped me and I hope it does the same for you.
Sadly, I don't read as much as I'd like to, especially when I'm deep into writing my own material. This is a habit I'm trying to break. I recommend reading as much as possible and studying how other authors approach their craft. I read a variety of genres and pay close attention to character development, plot, pace, etc. However, in the end you need to find your own style and voice. Write often and don't be afraid to fail. That's my biggest piece of advice. Don't worry about getting every word in every sentence exactly right the first time. It will change anyway, I promise. Just keep writing and revising. Writing a novel is like racing in the Indy 500. As Rick Mears said, "You can't win the race on the first lap, but you sure can lose it."
I'm a visual person. I love art and I grew up watching a lot of movies and television, so visual forms of expression really inspire me. Now, as a storyteller, I try to use movies and television just as much for education as I do entertainment. When I don't feel like writing, I can still be productive by watching a movie and studying the plot, the actor's behavior, listening to sounds, and so on to help me with my projects.
Kudos to those who can concentrate and write in public places. That's not me. When I wrote Steal the Reaper, I would sometimes go to a beautiful library in a neighboring town to get away, but even that was too distracting. I have to work in complete silence, so when I sit down to write it is usually in my office with nothing to disturb me but my dog, Lilly, who has a habit of scaring the daylights out of me whenever the mailman approaches. For Hunt the Reaper, I stuck to writing at home. I turn off all distractions and allow myself to dive into scenes. That's when the fun begins. I love it when a scene takes off and I'm just along for the ride as a scribe.
I typically write early in the morning before my family wakes up. Since I'm a part-time writer, I try to maximize this period during the workweek to get something down. I don't focus on word count. I just try to make progress each day because I know eventually I will reach the end. After I get home from my day job, I'm usually done sitting in front of a computer and need to get outside. But be prepared when inspiration strikes. I take my journal with me wherever I go because if I don't write an idea down immediately, it'll be lost forever.
The first step in my writing process is to outline the entire book (as much as possible) and then start filling in the gaps along the way. Being plot driven at the onset of a project helps me figure out the who, what, where, when, and why for the most part. From there, I'm able to go chapter by chapter diving into scenes from each character's point of view.
I'll be honest, I hate editing. It's fun at the start because you're working with newly written material. The first edits allow you to view your raw story from 40,000 feet and then start refining. However, editing gets old after a while and I find I reach a point where I feel I've taken the story as far as I can. That's why you need help. If you're a self-published author like me, it is imperative that you solicit feedback from others. Take their feedback as gold. It can help you see plot holes, typos, and any other shortcomings to help make your story better. I highly recommend advance readers and hiring a third-party editor, too. It's money well spent.
FORMATTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT
As a self-published author, deciding which format(s) to publish your book is up to you. If you're on a tight budget, I recommend publishing an e-book to start. This can be done relatively cheap or even free, and some services have templates to automatically convert your manuscript to the epub format. They even provide basic cover art. Since I love all phases of the publishing process, I chose to build my hardcover and paperback books myself. For the cover art, I used Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, and Adobe InDesign for the book interior. With that artwork, I used a vendor to build the ebooks, but eventually I want to do that myself to save money. Again, you can hire someone to do all of this for you but it's costly. Just be sure your book is completely finished and ready to publish before paying someone to build it so you avoid change fees!
Once you have the artwork files, you'll need to decide how to get your book out into the world. Amazon and IngramSpark are the two major print on demand (POD) services out there. Amazon has a great interface for uploading your artwork and publishing your book through its Amazon network around the world. IngramSpark is another POD service that can get your book to most major retailers, including Amazon. Just know that POD services take a huge cut. Amazon doesn't have a middleman, so you stand to earn more royalties going exclusively with that service. The downside is that you're also limiting your exposure. Using IngramSpark (IS)makes your book available to thousands of retailers but IS also requires you provide retailers with a minimum 35% wholesale discount. The norm is 55%, so if you pay for printing and shipping plus give a 35-55% discount to the retailer, there's little left over for your royalties.
Marketing is my least favorite part of being a self-published author. If I had gone the traditional publishing route, my publisher would handle the editing, formatting, and distribution tasks. However, from what I've gathered in today's world, publishers are demanding the author help with the marketing. In fact, it's hard to land a literary agent or publisher unless you bring thousands of followers on social media. All this—and you sign over the rights to your work—is the reason I decided to self-publish. If you go this route, you will have to work hard to get your book noticed. My piece of advice: market to readers who are ready to buy. Don't waste your time and money advertising to other authors. Find ways to reach your buying audience.