The writing experience

Here, John gives some words of advice relating to his writing experiences.

In this blog I want to give you my own experiences on the process I have used to complete four novels, my experience in submitting to agents and my advice regarding self publishing.

How I write.

There is no definitive process to writing a novel. What works for one author may not work for another so I will give a short guide here on the process I have used to complete the three I have written.

1. It is very important that you know about what you are writing. If you are to write something historical then know your subject before putting ‘pen to paper’ or ‘fingers to keyboard’. Read up on the subject, get your facts right and your dates correct otherwise some history buff who reads your work will pull it to pieces.

2. Spend time on your characters before you put them in the story. Write a character profile for each of them giving dates of birth, physical descriptions, relationships to others etc. and refer to these throughout the writing process.

3. Write a broad plot outline. This doesn’t have to be very in depth, it just needs to be the basic premise or storyline. As you write it and re-read it, more ideas will come to you for sub-plots, changes in the story etc. Make sure that you know how the novel end before you start to write.

4. Once you are happy with what you want to write prepare your chapters. For all four of my completed novels I have used my broad plot outline to develop this. Look at what you want to achieve with each scene and list them. This will help in developing sub-plots and to keep the narrative flowing. You may find again that as you write this, more ideas come to you and the novel develops further. Don’t be afraid of changing anything as new ideas come to you.

5. Re-check and re-check the chapter list. Does it make sense? Is it a complete story?

6. As you write each scene, tick them off on the chapter/scene list. This is a good motivator in finishing the work because as you tick off each scene as completed, you can see how close to the end you are getting.

7. Some authors do not edit anything as they write but what works for me is to edit it as I go on. I will write until the will to do it leaves me or time runs out when I will simply switch off my laptop without reading back what I have written. (You have to be in the mood to write otherwise you will produce rubbish so don’t force yourself, even if you have deadlines). What gets me in the mood to write, is to read back the previous day’s work and edit it, (take out the typos, change words, delete sentences that sound rubbish etc.). I will then carry on from where I left off.

8. As you write, more plot lines and ideas will emerge. Sometimes this is due to dialogue you write. If you are going to change anything in the plot because of this, then be sure to read back and make the changes necessary for it to make sense.

9. When the novel is finished, when you have ticked off that final scene as completed, the sense of achievement is fantastic. At this point I would recommend that you put it away for a couple of weeks and then return to it when once again in the mood. You will find that you will now see many errors, typos, plot failures etc. Print off the whole thing and edit it all carefully. You may want to do this a number of times. Although you have edited it as you have written it you will still find many things you want to change or add to. At least this way you don’t have to do a total re-write!

10. Once you are happy with it then give it to someone else to read. Some say that you should not give it to friends or family members because they will only give a biased opinion. This is somewhat true, but they will also give you encouragement and praise and there is nothing the aspring writer likes more than that. Giving it to an independent person who will give you an honest appraisal is ultimately what you need and so you need to find someone who will do this for you. There are many on-line companies offering this service and if you choose to use one of these then that is up to you but my advice is to be careful on where you spend your money.

11. When you are happy with what you have produced and feel it is as good as it can be, then you now need to submit it for publication and the new issue of who to submit it to rears it’s complicated head.

Submitting to agents

The purpose of an agent is to get you a publishing deal, your work known, your name ‘out there’ and to sort out all the promotion, contracts, tv and film rights etc. etc. etc. to leave you free to do what you do best, i.e. write. So having an agent is very important if you want to be successful.

The problem with finding an agent is that most of them receive hundreds of submissions a week and do not have the time to read your novel in its entirety. They have to be very choosy and the frustrating thing about it is that most only ask for the first few thousand words of your work and a very brief synopsis that rarely does justice to what you have produced.

So if the first few thousand words of your novel does not hit them like a freight train (either with a dramatic opening or a fantastic style of writing) then it will probably be rejected out of hand  and usually with a pre-prepared impersonal email. I do not blame them for this as they are extremely busy people with clients to take care of as well as search for that new Sebastian Faulkes, so do not take these rejections personally.

Some of them do clearly take the time to reply with a more personal email and these tend to be the ones who I will submit to with further work.

It’s just a shame that a novel that slowly gathers pace will probably never see the light of day unless it is self-published which is another topic altogether.

Also, and they will tell you this themselves, the whole process is very subjective. What one agent will think is a load of old rubbish another may think is truly fantastic. In my view, ‘When I Go To Sleep’ by SJ Watson proves this! I thought it was a complete load of old tosh but it’s been extremely successful and is now a major motion picture staring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth!

Ultimately though, if they feel a novel won’t make money then they will not pick it up. Hence there is truly a lot of rubbish out there, ‘written’ by Z list celebrities who have only got their deals due to their marketable name. This can be very frustrating for any unknown writer, particularly when they have written a great book.

The added problem is that most, if not all, of the larger publishing houses do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, so going through an agent is the only course to take with these. However, there are some publishers that do accept manuscripts from budding authors without the need for an agent and I would advise that if you are unsuccessful with obtaining the services of one, then try this route. The good thing with this is that you will only be sharing any royalties with your publisher and if your book takes off, then agents will more than likely come knocking on your door and not the other way around.

Self-publishing

After many rejections for my first novel ‘The Journal’ and being new to all this, I decided to look at the self-publishing route.

By far the best way, and the cheapest (it’s virtually free!) is to publish your work on Kindle by using Kindle Direct Publishing. There are some on-line companies who can help with producing a very professional kindle book (for a price of course), but if you are good with computers then you can do it yourself for free. However you will need a book cover/thumbnail and I can highly recommend ‘Book Covers by Design’ who provide an excellent service for a very cheap price. The good thing about publishing in this way is that you keep seventy percent of all royalties (yes 70%). The bad thing is that you have to market it all yourself so sales can be very limited if you don’t have the time to do so.

Working alongside this is Amazon’s ‘CreateSpace’ which is able to provide you with a paperback version of your book (again for only the cost of a good book cover). This service allows a buyer to order a paperback copy and they are then produced individually to order. The prices are relatively high compared to other books on the market and the author only picks up pennies for each one sold. In my opinion this service is to give people the option of a hard copy, but if you are going the Amazon route you really need to promote the Kindle version if you want to make any money. After all E-books are the future, are they not?

There are also many companies offering hard copies of your book, which will cost you quite a lot of money to have produced. But then it will be up to you to market them and sell them. My opinion on this is that if you are to self-publish, then go down the Amazon route as they are able to get your book on the market very quickly and available globally for a minimum cost with a great royalty percentage. The only issue (and it’s a big one) is marketing it!

In conclusion

I believe to make it in this business depends on many factors. Having a good publisher with a pro-active marketing department, having an agent to take care of all business, but most importantly, having a fantastic product to sell, i.e. your book.

Good luck.