Advice for authors

I’ve always loved reading, but my writing career only took off when life threw me a curved-ball, and having my first book published stopped me going stir crazy. That was some seven or eight years ago, and although by no means an expert, I thought it might be interesting to share my experiences for anyone thinking of becoming an author.

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My first book, ‘Changes’ was traditionally published, professionally edited, and the cover designer did a good job in reading my mind. Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, many publishers will choose the cover, and the author will not be allowed any input.

The current trend is to scream ‘run’ if you are offered a contributory contract. There are many rip-off merchants, but without the knowledge I gained from first dipping my toes, I wouldn’t have been in a position to self-publish. Although it’s now a popular idea, it  never occurred to me to make a trailer available on YouTube.

Self-publishing was relatively new at the time, and being totally naïve I assumed the publishers would take care of all the horrible marketing bit, and just leave me to write. It was a shock to learn the author is expected to do the lion’s share.

Amazon and KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) opened up a whole new world for anyone who had been told ‘You should write a book.’ There are literally thousands of books available in every genre, and some of the contributions are at best dire, and at worst, horrific. That’s not to say there aren’t hidden gems, a million times better than the over-hyped, must buy, flavour of the month, with unlimited marketing budgets.

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As I said to a book blogger in a recent guest post- ‘The best thing about self-publishing is anyone can do it. The worst thing about self-publishing is anyone can do it!’

If the idea of writing a book takes over your every waking moment, my advice would be ‘Just do it.’ Notice I said ‘writing’ not ‘publishing.’

Type ‘The End,’ celebrate, then leave it a week or so. Make sure you have saved in various locations, including emailing to yourself, using the Cloud, USBs, and a trusted friend, in case disaster happens and the gremlins attack your computer/laptop. Months of work could be lost in the blink of an eye.

It’s worth learning as much as you can about ‘How To.’ This could include formatting, the ‘rules’ of cover design, even down to the colours and fonts appropriate to particular genres. Remember that what might look wonderful in a full-size poster, could appear as a blob in a thumbnail. Look at your masterpiece in various formats. Reading out loud, reading online, reading from a printed copy, reading on a Kindle, even reading backwards can all help to show inconsistencies and typos.

Revise your first draft, (because that’s what it is.) Repeat.

Join and engage with writers’ groups who have been there, done that and can provide a wealth of advice.

When you are convinced it’s perfect, you will need beta readers. Close friends and family are not a good choice as they will automatically want to support you, and at this stage you are looking for ‘warts and all’ comments. Other authors can be a good choice, but remember to ask first, and don’t forget their priority will be their own writing. Hopefully by now you would have built up a relationship with people who can give you an honest opinion. Listen to them. You don’t have to accept everything they say, but if several people mention the same thing, it’s probably an area needing revising.

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Remember you only have a few seconds to grab attention. ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is an old adage, but if the cover doesn’t grab attention, your book will sink in the mire of the thousands of other books available. One mistake newbies make in cover design is in trying to tell the whole story on the cover. Simple is often best. Remember the original Penguin book covers were often little more than a background colour with simple text for the author and title. Times change but the principles remain true.

Browse Amazon for books in your genre, note the best sellers, and try to pick out the points which would attract your attention as a reader. All authors should be avid readers (except when they are trying to meet a deadline, when they are allowed a little leeway.)

Many a great story has been ruined by poor editing. Publishing houses receive thousands of submissions, and even if you are accepted, expect your manuscript to be returned in a sea of red ink. Don’t despair. It could be a repetition of putting commas in the wrong place, or using your ‘go-to’ words too frequently. I use the find button to track down my favourites, ‘just,’ and ‘that,’ and then the delete button awaits.

You will need to decide whether to self-publish, or look at approaching traditional publishers. Research is time consuming but a priority. Sending your fantastic erotica novel to a publisher of children’s books wastes everyone’s time. In this current world of instant communication, remember ‘old-school’ publishing is a different ball-game. It could well be that from first submission to published book could take up to two years. Meanwhile, continue learning all you can and get on with writing your follow up books. If a miracle happens and they want to sign you up for a three-book series, you’re ahead of the game and can keep the publicity momentum going before readers forget who you are.

If you can use the time to build up a list of fans, eager to read and review your book as soon as it’s released, it will help the algorithms and start the snowball effect. Book bloggers are invaluable in helping to spread the word, so follow them, support fellow authors and when you need them, they will be there for you.

Most of all, enjoy your writing. Even if you only sell four copies, and have two reviews, Great Aunt Aggie is proud of you, and you have the satisfaction of calling yourself a published author. Good Luck.

I hope you found this useful. If you are interested in reading some of my short stories you can find them on my Facebook author page;

and my books on Amazon:

Thanks for listening.

© Voinks May 2019


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