Blog Series – Step #1
Having recently wrapped up our self-published sci-fi trilogy, Computer Love Inc., we found ourselves wanting to jump into another project. During our initial stages of self-publishing, we found that while there are many excellent resources available online to help indie authors self-publish books, there lacked a complete step-by-step guide for self-publishing with the details on how to do it all, from start to finish.
Of course, there are books, courses, and other resources available that you can purchase – all of which are surely valuable for new authors – but if you’re looking for an inexpensive way to fast-track your project, you’re probably seeking a guide that’s both free and easy to digest. After all, indie authors are almost always on a tight budget and have limited time.
So, with our new blog series, that’s what we’re setting out to do: provide aspiring writers some insider secrets about how to do it quickly, affordably, and efficiently, while also giving readers information about what it’s like to self-publish a book.
We experienced a few hiccups during our self-publishing journey, and while we both enjoyed every minute of the process, we hope that we can provide some takeaways of real value for you, and that you can learn from some of our discoveries. What we wished we had at our disposal from Day 1 was a high-level guide on how to self-publish a book, so that’s what we aim to provide for you, in hopes that more great novels will be published by indie authors like you in the future!
The holiday season is always busy (we know it is for us!), so while we will be publishing the posts in this blog series over the next few weeks, please feel free to print them out or bookmark these pages and come back to them when you’re ready to begin your self-publishing journey.
For the first post in our series, we’ll begin with the first step in self-publishing your own book: writing it.
Step #1: Write The Damn Thing!
Maybe you already have a manuscript that you’ve been working on. Perhaps you have an idea for a novel that’s been bouncing around your head for as long as you can remember. Or, maybe you have a Word doc with a single first sentence (hey – it’s a start!).
Whatever you’ve got, you know the age-old saying: Your book isn’t going to write itself.
Writing the damn thing is, no question, the most difficult part of publishing a book. While there are no golden rules by which you must abide (nor is there any “magic formula” that all authors use to craft bestsellers), here are a few general pointers for you to consider. These tips will be the focus of our first blog post. Choose the ones that work for you, and feel free to leave the rest. And, by all means, if you are a writer with your own tips and tactics for getting it done, please feel free to share them with us!
Start With a (Well-Developed) Idea
Don’t let this step intimidate you, but remember: your idea needs to be AWESOME. Classics like Jane Eyre and Great Expectations are estimated to take the average reader roughly 10.5 hours to complete (ShortList.com). If you expect your readers to spend upwards of ten hours with your novel, they must absolutely love it to invest that amount of time with it.
How do you know if your idea is awesome? Toni Morrison sums it up for us: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Certainly, there are countless books about vampires, but if there’s something about your vampire novel that makes it unique and unlike anything else that’s been written, then write it! Likewise, there are innumerable crime stories, sci-fi books, and so forth. Something about your story – whether it’s your quirky characters, unpredictable plot developments, or unique setting – must be distinctive for it to work.
Again, don’t let this intimate you. Almost any idea in the world can be intriguing and captivating, as long as it’s well-executed. Be confident in your idea and write your story with conviction.
Study Your Genre
Or, as Stephen King puts it, “Read a lot.” (File this tip away, too: Pick up a copy of King’s book, On Writing, when you get a chance. It’s filled with invaluable tips for writers with all levels, including one of our personal favorite pieces of writing tips, which is to treat adverbs like dandelions: A few are okay sprinkled here and there, but include too many in your writing, and it starts to get ugly.) Read anything and everything. Cut down your TV time and read. Pick up a book for your commute or lunch hour. Make a point to especially read books in the genre you hope to write in. (Jess and Kurt were inspired by some of the greatest sci-fi novels of all time, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Brave New World, and 1984, to name a few.) Take note of which books have the greatest impact on you, and try to find out why. Are the characters easy to relate to? Does the captivating plot leave you unable to put your mystery novel down? Does the author provide just the right amount of detail? Are you enthralled with every aspect of the futuristic world that comes to life in your favorite sci-fi series? See which strategies appeal to you most, and incorporate them into your writing in your own unique way.
Schedule Your Writing
This step is critically important, and it’s the one thing that separates an actual indie author from someone who “wants to finish that book one day.”
If you’re like many people, you might envision the average day in a writer’s life as follows: wake up and pour a cup of coffee, then head to the laptop to have a successful and uninterrupted day of writing. Sounds ideal, right?
Here’s the thing: for many writers, that scenario is quite far from reality. As we can attest to, squeezing in an HOUR of writing at a time is a success – if you can devote a full day to writing, you are some kind of unicorn, and know that we are very envious of you. Seriously, though. As much as we would have loved writing to be our sole responsibility, we both have full-time jobs, family life, and hobbies and other interests. So, like these other components of our lives, we must schedule time for writing. It takes a bit of the romance and mystique out of the idea of novel writing, but it gets the damn thing written, and that’s what matters. And, if you can actually keep to that schedule, that’s how to become a self-published author – instead of just a writer with a head full of ideas.
Write the “Throw Up” Draft
Jess collected this lovely description from a professor in one of her college writing courses. What it means is this: Absolutely no one produces a bestseller in their first draft. In fact, the first draft is, by nature, pretty crappy. This is why that writing professor referred to it as the “throw up” draft – you’ll get it out of your system, feel better about it afterwards, and go back and clean it up. (Unlike throw up, however, we recommend letting your first draft sit for a while, and coming back to it with a fresh perspective.)
Here are a few things that the pros have to say about writing a first draft:
“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” – Shannon Hale
“The first draft of anything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway
“The first draft is just telling yourself the story.” – Terry Prachett
Show, Don’t Tell
If the third tip was what separated a true author from a wannabe writer, this fifth and final tip is what separates a decent book from a great one. Don’t get me wrong – any completed manuscript is an achievement that should be celebrated. Yet, when you learn how to show the reader instead of telling them – that’s when you can achieve masterful writing. Of course, there are other elements, such as well-developed characters and plot lines, that are also required for writing a great novel, but this principle is, we believe, the foundation upon which all the other stylistic elements can be built.
Explaining the concept of “show, don’t tell” can be challenging, so instead of telling you what we mean, we’ll use an example to show you (see what we did here?).
In college, Jess was tasked with writing about a presentation made by a Holocaust survivor for her journalism class. In her article, she had written that the man was short. During class, her professor asked, “Well, how did you know that he was short?” Jess thought about it and said, “He could hardly see over the podium.” The professor said, “That’s what you write. That’s how you show your readers that he was short.”
In other words, don’t tell the reader what your character is like. Let the readers come to those conclusions on their own by showing them instead.
Here’s one more thing for you to remember when you’re writing: if you feel like you’re struggling, you’re doing it right. Writing is not easy, but just know that your writers will never feel something unless you’re feeling something. Or, here’s another quote from Hemingway that wraps it up quite eloquently: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”