How writing a book can take over your life…

It was way back in 2010 that I had the idea of writing a book based on my family history research. I’d never done any creative writing before and had never imagined being an author, but I had a story in my head that I couldn’t shake. With a promise to myself that it would never see the light of day if it wasn’t good enough, I set about turning my family history into a novel.

It was a pleasant and interesting pastime to begin with. I would spend most evenings crafting the story or, when I got stuck, doing more research, until slowly the manuscript emerged. Based on my outline I expected to produce a relatively short story, but accounting for people’s day to day lives takes a lot more time than solely writing about births, deaths, marriage and census data. This meant the story grew beyond my expectations and before I knew it, I had a trilogy of about 350,000 words!

It was at this time that I shared an early draft with a few family members. Whether they were being polite or genuine, I’ll never know for sure, but I actually got some favourable feedback. So much so, that at the beginning of 2016 I made the decision to publish it. That was when my life changed…

The Decision to Self-Publish…

Until I started writing, I knew nothing about having a book published…absolutely nothing…and so I turned to the internet to find out what was needed. Being an unknown author and writing in a genre I guessed was commercially unviable for traditional publishers, I quickly decided to go down the self-publishing route. I wrote a post about the decision at the time (here) and I have to say that I don’t regret it for a minute.

What I didn’t want to do, however, was publish an unprofessional book. That meant I needed to find an editor. Most advice on the internet was to ask author friends or acquaintances for recommendations. Not so easy when you know no other authors. In the end, I ignored conventional wisdom and consulted Google. Once I’d identified a few candidates, I sent out the first 1000 words of the manuscript to see what came back.

Eventually, I selected a person I thought I could work with and sent her the manuscript. I must admit, sending it out was easier said than done. Here was a document I’d put my heart and soul into – and it was going to be critically appraised. Would I be able to take all the comments I was sure would come?

It came back several weeks later and with my heart in my mouth, I read through the comments. They weren’t too bad, at least not at first glance but as I worked my way through them, I realised I still had a lot to learn. It took me almost six months to make the suggested changes (more due to my writing style than the story itself), but with hindsight, it was well worth the effort. The post-edited version was much better than the original and in addition, I learned so much that I could take to the other books.

Thinking of Marketing…

By the time I’d sorted out the changes, found another editor to do line edits and proofreading, and got a cover for the book (from a professional cover designer), I turned my thoughts to how I was going to sell it. There is so much to learn (I wrote a post about it here) but this is where I hit another hurdle.

A popular way to go is to have a short story that you can give away to attract readers to your other books. The trouble was I didn’t have one. I wrote a post about it at the time (here) and did what I didn’t think I could – wrote a short story prequel to the series in about a month. Again, it was easier said than done but I had it professionally edited and a cover made, and once it was ready I knew it had been well worth the effort.

Becoming a Published Author…

The short story prequel is called Condemned by Fate and I loaded it onto Amazon in November 2016. It sold a handful of copies, but I also offered it as a free giveaway and since then I have given away thousands of copies (click here if you’d like your free copy). It was a surreal time and I was eager to get Part 1 of what is now The Ambition & Destiny Series, published. Four months later, in March 2017, Hooks & Eyes finally became a reality. With hindsight, I did so many things wrong with that launch, not least going on holiday for two weeks immediately after it was published, but at the time I thought the hard work was done.

How wrong I was!!!

I returned from my holiday to work on Part 2 of the series. I already had a draft that I’d self-edited about three times (prior to having Part 1 edited), and I wasn’t planning on publishing it for six-twelve months, so it should be straightforward – I thought.

My first mistake was to think the draft I had was any good. After working through the comments from the editors on Hooks & Eyes, I realised how much work I needed to do to improve Part 2. Not only that, at 135,000 words, it was way too long and I made the decision to turn it into two books.

The second mistake was thinking that launching a book a year was the way to go. One of the major benefits of self-publishing is that you can set your own timelines. These can be a lot faster than those of traditional publishers, but almost as soon as I’d published Part 1, I realised that a book a year was unlikely to be fast enough.

The trouble was, the books I had in draft basically needed to be re-written. As I was working through them, I also knew that I had to write another book – the fifth and final part of the story. That was when the whole process took over my life.

So…since April 2017, every subsequent book has been re-written (or written from scratch), edited twice, proofread and had professional covers. I’ve also managed to publish a book every four months. I worked evenings, as I always had, I worked weekends as well as during the day when I wasn’t doing my day job (fortunately I’m self-employed so could adapt my workload). I am also fortunate enough to have a supportive husband who enabled me to do that.

What did I learn?

  1. Self-publishing is a wonderful opportunity to write and publish the books you enjoy.
  2. It isn’t easy. It takes determination, focus and an ability to learn and adapt.
  3. There is help out there if you look for it.
  4. Have at least three books in the advanced stages of editing before publishing the first in series.
  5. You can make money from self-publishing if you have a good quality product and know what you are doing (and you’re willing to learn what you don’t know).

Part 5 of the series, Different World, is now available to pre-order on Amazon and for the first time in over eighteen months, I find I have a bit of time on my hands. I hope to return to posting here about the process and all the things I have learned over the last two years. I also hope to put my learnings into practice next time I’m ready to press publish.

For further information about The Ambition & Destiny Series, visit my Amazon Author page.

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About Val McBeath

Born and raised in Liverpool (UK), I live in Cheshire with husband, youngest daughter, and cat. In addition to family history, interests include rock music and Liverpool Football Club. Prior to writing, I trained as a scientist and worked in the pharmaceutical industry for many years. In 2012, I set up my own consultancy business and now split my time between business and writing.
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