What made me think I could write a book? Uncut edition
I was having a conversation with my mother just a day ago during the afternoon on new years eve, and she asked me “So at what point did you think you could write a book?”
And I thought about it and here was my response (more or less). I may have described some of this before but here it is again in more detail.
It would of been…well lets go further back to a few years ago. I wrote a short story for an online competition. Even though it got lots of people reading it, I never made it past the first round, and that combined with a not so enthusiastic response from someone I knew meant I dropped the whole idea of writing and went back to my never ending battle of trying to have a successful indie published computer game.
So that rolled on for a few years. Then we get to very early 2016, and I basically gave up on the idea of being able to create a game myself that would then bring in the big bucks. It happened for a few developers (Flappy bird), but they were definately the exception not the norm. And I was in a deep dark hole. The goal that I had set myself for years was not going to happen, and unfortunately the tech skills I did have were rapidly becoming obsolete (I was pretty good with Adobe Flash, which went the way of the dinosaurs). So I was a 40 something game dev with out of date skills, zero money and whose lifelong dream had come to nothing.
Somewhere in the mix I decided to take what knowledge I had in regards to indie game publishing and turn it into an ebook. I knew nothing about ebooks at that point other than they existed and that you could publish them on Amazon. So I started writing out some rants about how hard it was to succeed as a lone game developer in Microsoft Word and at some point, I’m not sure exactly when, I started to watch some of Joanna Penn’s podcasts. I dropped the idea of writing an ebook but I did get interested in book cover design.
I knew photoshop fairly well and I’ve always had a bit of artistic talent, and there seemed to be an obvious need for book covers for all of these ebooks that were being released all the time. It also seemed to pay decently (at least that’s what I thought originally until I knew more, but I’ll get into that in a bit). I created some pre-mades and a website ( www.starbookcovers.com ) and set about looking for some contract work. After a while some people contacted me, and I did a few covers.
Even though I enjoyed the work I quickly learned that creating book covers wasn’t going to solve my problems. For a start it’s very difficult to dislodge cover designers from authors they have been working with for years, for obvious reasons. So even though there are a lot of indie authors, most already have people they use regularly and trust. Second, even though at first I read about designers making hundreds of dollars per cover, that’s a small percentage who are probably working with top authors. Most cover designers I suspect make a lot lot less, and when you include all of the premade covers which some authors are happy to use, then making a living with cover design can be difficult. And lastly, I’m not an illustrator, or at least I am but nowhere near good enough of one to do illustrated/painted book covers, which a lot of certain genre of books require (Space opera, Epic fantasy etc).
So after a few months it became obvious that even though book cover design might bring in some money every now and again, it wasn’t a path for a career, at least not for me.
So I was back to square one, and looking down the nose of having to get a 9-5 job, and not a work in London and get paid lots of money type job, but fill shelves at the local supermarket type of job. Which obviously I wasn’t thrilled about.
I also felt deep down that there was something else I could do. Some other creative endeavor that I would be good at, good enough to make a living with. But I had no idea what it was.
All while this was happening I was continuing watching Joanna’s podcast interviews with authors and absorbing the information there, but I still didn’t contemplate being an author. You see all my life I had thought to be an author, you need an english degree and you need to be an expert in something, maybe a lawyer or a doctor. A lot of the indie authors I was watching in interviews, seemed to come from that kind of background. You also needed an agent and/or publisher, which from a cursory examination throughout the years seemed very difficult to get.
But here’s the thing. I had been writing down story ideas for decades. A part of me thought, that one day, maybe when I’m old, and I’ve had my success I would give writing a go, and then I would take one of these ideas and turn them into a book. So it’s not like I thought I would never write a book, I just thought it’s nothing I could serious expect to do now, and certainly couldn’t make a living out of.
But…watching the podcasts of Joanna Penn and then the Self Publishing Podcast with Jonny, Dave and Sean, a voice started to shout at me from the back of my mind, and it was saying “Why don’t you write a book?”
So we get to early 2016 and I had made the decision to try to write a book, something which I was fairly certain wouldn’t really come to anything, but I had nothing left to lose, so why not give it a go? I had a vague idea of how to publish on Amazon, and some idea of the kinds of things you needed to do to promote your book, but I still hadn’t a clue as to whether I could write a paragraph let alone a whole chapter that someone would want to read (the idea that someone would pay anything was even beyond that).
I started to write…a thriller. It was one of those ideas that I had written down over the years and I wrote about four chapters. My gf read what I had written and liked it, and that was all the encouragement I needed to think I was onto something, but I changed course. I’m not sure what caused me to do that, it might of been an interview with a particular author, but I thought I’d take a look at the post-apocalyptic category on Amazon and see how the books there were written.
So I went to the category, downloaded the sample of one of the top books and umm…let’s just say I wasn’t impressed. I couldn’t believe how a book which even from someone who grammar skills at that point where not exactly great, could be that high up in the charts (and had lots of great reviews). I love The Walking Dead, comic and TV show and was fairly sure I could write a good PA story, and when I saw the competition it completely changed the course I was on. I thought rather than write something which for a first book might be hard to do justice too, why not write something which is going to be far easier for me to write? And I’m a fan of the genre?
(Something I should also say, is that I ended up downloading some other PA books, and one in particular was a great read).
It also taught me a very important lesson. And that is your book (especially first) doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact I would say, if it’s a choice between not releasing a book because it’s not ‘perfect’ or releasing a flawed book (typo’s, grammar issues) for the love of all that’s good in the world, write and release the book. Yes, obviously if you can afford an editor, have at it, but if you can’t, and you have a book, then release it and just use the feedback (even if it’s negative) as a guide to moving forward. (To be clear, if you can afford an editor USE ONE! but if you can’t then you can find family members etc to help proofread your book, but don’t let a lack of an editor stop you from releasing).
Ah, and that’s another thing. Something I never released about being an author before I started, and that’s the role editors played in cleaning manuscripts up. If I had known about the role they played, I might of started a lot earlier and not been so concerned about grammar skills.
Anyway getting back to things. It just so happened that I had written down an idea of a group of military prisoners who get mysteriously released and make their way out into the world to find that it had been destroyed by strange creatures. In early March of 2016 I started writing “Survive” the start of which wrote itself.
The next few months were extremely difficult due to personal reasons, but I managed to keep writing on and off, and by about August I had most of the book written, and suddenly realised maybe, just maybe I can write a book. I still had no idea if it was any good, and I was 90% sure that the kindle store was like Apple’s App store, in that you upload something and like a pebble thrown into the ocean, absolutely nothing happens and it sinks without trace. By the start of the third week of August I was ready to upload and publish. I had created a cover which I didn’t think was too bad (it covered the main tropes) and had proofread the book a number of times. On the 25th of August 2016 “Survive” appeared on the Amazon App store in all stores it could.
I launched at 0.99c and I was in Kindle Unlimited. Which was a no-brainer for me. I wanted as much help pushing the book as possible from Amazon.
Within a week I calculated I had made about $60, which was more money that I had made from any self-published game for a few years and I couldn’t quite believe it. I also got my first review.
Liked this book. It was a different take on the end if the world. But that being said , it could have done with better editing , which I know is hard to do when you are just getting started in self publishing . I am glad I took a chance on this author because I have Kindle Unlimited. Looking forward to book 2.
So in the first review I got a lot of feedback. That KU was the place to be, that my PA idea was pretty unique and that I wrote something that kept people wanting to read. That was probably the first moment I really thought I could be an author.
People have varying opinions about reviews. Some completely ignore them and others swear by them. I think they are important for new authors, and for me it answered the question of could I be an author. What would I have done if I had gotten a bad first review? Well I definately would of been down about it, but I wouldn’t of thrown in the towel straight away, I would of waited to see what the others were like. Luckily they weren’t too bad, and nearly all said they liked the story. They did however mostly mention the grammar issues, but I expected that from the book being self edited. The main thing was that my sucky grammer didn’t stop people from reading or wanting to know what happens next.
So to answer the question of this post ‘What made me think I could write a book?’ Getting positive feedback made me think I could write a book, after I had written it, but before that point I didn’t know. I just had an idea for a story and nothing left to lose.