Lessons Learned: My Journey as an Indie Author


In the Beginning…

In August, 2014, I published my first science-fiction book on Amazon, ‘The Journey & Other Short Stories‘. As the title suggests, it is a collection of short stories, and the act of publication was a very exciting moment for me. It represented decades of wanting to be a published author but not having a clue how to go about it; two years of independent study with both Faber Academy and The Writer’s Workshop whilst holding down a stressful, full-time job; and two years (at least) developing and writing a full-length novel (working title ‘All Our Tomorrows‘) which would then only see the light of day in a much-reduced form, as the titular tale in ‘The Journey & Other Short Stories‘.

Keep Only What Serves the Story!

It was a very steep learning curve, and probably one of  the most important things I learned during that period was not to be afraid to cut out what doesn’t work. Ditching the best part of sixty thousand words (representing months of writing) and stripping the story down to the core to produce ‘The Journey’ was not an easy decision at all. As it happens, I believe  some of that material will probably be used somewhere else, one day… but it just wasn’t right for that particular story arc. And that’s all I’m going to tell you about that… for now.

Keep it Up!

As soon as I finished the anthology, I began writing my first full-length novel, ‘The Methuselah Paradox‘, which funnily enough, was also inspired by  ‘The Journey‘. And again, I had to make a major decision during the writing. I didn’t have to lose so many words this time, though!  I had been so invested in Tom and Eva’s story (which began in ‘The Journey’ and continues in ‘The Methuselah Paradox’) that I made the mistake of making them the main characters in ‘Methuselah’. I soon realised that it just wasn’t working, and that the main character needed to be the time-traveller, James Moran. Once I accepted that, everything fell into place. So never be afraid to ask yourself – “Is my main character the right one?” Be honest, even if it feels rather like a betrayal to those characters. If you must, tell them that you are saving them for better things…!

Is Your Protagonist The Right Character for the Job?

Tom and Eva’s story had pretty much been told in ‘The Journey’ –  and ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ takes place almost a quarter of a decade later, when Tom and Eva’s daughter is abducted. Who has taken her – and why? It seems obvious in hindsight, but being emotionally invested in your characters, whilst it is a good thing, can also blind you to their place in the Grand Scheme of Things. So common sense prevailed, Tom and Eva took a back seat, and James and (to a lesser degree) Emma stepped forward. Hurrah!

Another Learning Curve… or two! 

‘The Methuselah Paradox’ was published two years (not quite to the day, but the same month!) after ‘The Journey…’, and I was already thinking about the next project. But hold on a minute – that’s not all I did during that time…

Almost a year before ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ was published (and whilst I was still working on it) I decided that I wanted to make a book trailer to promote it. Having taken a short course in screen-writing with The Writer’s Workshop , and because I love TV/Film drama, I wanted to try to bring my characters to the screen.

Incidentally… if someone out there would like to bring ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ to the screen, please do get in touch via admin@neonskybooks.com.

Crowdfunding – the Indie Creator’s Gateway

But how was I ever going to find the money to pay voice-artists/actors, graphic artists, a camera operator and a composer to realise my vision?  Crowdfunding worked wonderfully for me, and again that was another steep learning curve, with a whole other level of responsibility. If people are sending you money to help you create something, you had better get your sums right!  I used an awesome networking site for the film industry, Stage 32, to find a concept artist, Cat Archer-Wills, and using Patreon and GoFundMe -and some off-line funding from family members – I manage to raise enough, which was a huge relief because I had been working on the script since January 2015… We finally recorded material for several versions of the trailer in March, 2016, and completed several versions of the trailer just in time for the book launch in August 2016. Here’s one of them.  Kudos to everyone who helped make the trailer a reality – the teamwork of creative collaboration is just the best thing ever!

What’s Next?

One of my writing buddies (yes, you, MW!) described me as an ‘ideas machine’, and it is certainly true that I have more ideas and notes for new stories than I currently have time to write. I don’t have a full-time day job anymore (or as fellow author Nick Stephenson calls it, the DDJ – ‘dreaded day job’)  having graduated to a four-day week, but there are still never enough hours in the day!

Currently I have two novels on the back-burner (one of which is a follow-up to ‘The Methuselah Paradox’), a stage adaption of the same book, another short-story collection, and a Graphic Novel. I do like a challenge! First an anthology, then a novel and a trailer, now a comic book – whatever next?

‘Minding Mama’ – a Tale of Future Earth

Minding Mama‘, the Graphic Novel – or comic book, if you prefer – almost became one of the short stories in my next anthology (and still might). Originally written as a competition entry, I didn’t get to the required word-count before deciding that it was fine just as it was. I put it aside. Then I went back to it, and realised that it would work very well in a more visual medium… so back I went to Stage 32, and advertised for a concept artist, then later a storyboard artist/illustrator. Amanda Fullwood (who in addition to being a first class concept artist, is also a talented costumier/production designer) was first to join the ‘Minding Mama’ team, followed by Dan Schaefer . (Dan has worked for Marvel, DC and Dark Horse Comics and the film industry, creates documentaries, does graphic design for the advertising industry and was storyboard artist on NBC’s ‘Grimm’). My long-time friend Sue Turner agreed to do the camera/editing work, and Matthew Thomason is on board to provide a theme. We have cast one of the two performer roles – David Learner (science-fiction readers will recognise David as Marvin the Paranoid Android in Television and stage versions of the late Douglas Adam’s best-selling novel, ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘)

As of August 2017, we have concept art and sample pages (fully coloured, but without text) and are well on the way to creating a trailer/pitch video for the crowdfunding campaign – you can find out more about that here!

I love the process of research, writing, then creating a team to take it all further. Geography is no limiter – our current team uses Skype to link participants in Camberley, Southsea, Norwich and Oregon. Isn’t technology great?

So You Want to Self-Publish?

If you are just starting out on your self-publishing journey, and have doubts about whether you can do it, my advice to you is to keep at it! I’ve learned so much since I started on this journey, and have met some wonderful, very talented people. There’s a commonly-held misconception that writing is a lonely calling, and perhaps some of the time, it is. But I don’t see it that way. When I’m writing, my characters keep me company, and when I’m working with a team of fellow creatives, be it my cover designer (waves to Rachel Lawston and Harry Saxon) illustrators, actors/voice artists (hello to Simon Bugg, Richard Oliver , Amelia Sefton and David Learner), composer (here’s to you, Matthew Thomason) camera operator/video editor (waves to Sue Turner of www.elephantinscarlet.co.uk), stills photographer (thanks to Sue Thomason) and last but not least, all the lovely people whose crowdfunding support made the trailer for TMP a reality, it feels anything but lonely!  There is a wealth of online advice  to be had (some of it free, but some well worth paying for if you can afford it)  and you’ll find that most people are more than willing to share their experience and to help you however they can.  Go for it!

Elaine Jackson

Camberley, August 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Lost for Words? The Passion to Write (and Publish) is Important!


I’m re-blogging this thought-provoking and empathetic post from fellow indie author and ex-pat Annabel, who asks the questions that countless indie writers (including me) have asked ourselves (and will no doubt continue to) – ‘Can I succeed?’ ‘Do I have what it takes?’ ‘How long will it take?’ For the record, I think that what Annabel has achieved so far is amazing – clearly she has the drive and the talent to succeed, even if (as we all do at some point) she sometimes needs a confidence/inspiration boost. Speaking for myself, in those moments of self-doubt, I find it helps me to remember why I wanted to do this in the first place… and what would I do with my spare time if I gave it all up now?

I’m in a slightly different position than Annabel – I have a part-time job which helps ensure that bills are paid. My problem is not having as much time to devote to pursuing my writing career as I would ideally like… both of our situations will be soooo familiar to thousands of indie writers around the world, which is kind of comforting. We Are Not Alone.

Could it be it as simple as “If you want it badly enough.” …? Perhaps it is – certainly those writers who fall by the wayside will never find out one way or the other. Personally, I believe it is a mix of passion and having the commitment to learning new ways of connecting to potential readers. Think of JK Rowling and the pile of rejection slips she collected before one savvy publishing house signed her up!

So for those of us who have the Passion to keep trying – here’s to us. We can do this!

Elaine Jackson August 2017

The Regina Monologue

inspiration

Feeling a bit hopeless right now. I haven’t posted about all the recent politics because I can’t think how to articulate my incredulity in any way that hasn’t been written a thousand times already. Brexit was bad enough… Trump is just unbelievable. Carl and I sat up watching the US election (alternating between BBC, CBC and Twitter, for ‘balance’) until it was clear that Hillary was not going to win; it was about 1am when we finally gave up and went to bed despairing of the world.  At the time I was angry and raging sarcastically online, but the next day I seemed to get a sort of political hangover. I didn’t want to do anything, couldn’t face going online in case there were still Trumpanzees on my Twitter feed, but couldn’t summon the motivation to go out and do anything else. I met up with friends and took the…

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So You Want to be a Writer?


I’m re-blogging this invigorating and inspirational post by Hugh Howey – which was drawn to my attention by Ricardo over at Reedsy – simply because it IS so invigorating and inspiring. It looks as if comments are closed on the original post, but feel free to comment and discuss here…

 

So You Want to be a Writer….    

Wasn’t that a great post? Don’t you feel inspired? I know I do – thank you, Hugh!  Here’s how I have – or plan to- follow Hugh’s advice, and my thoughts:

Hugh advises that if you want to be a writer, these are ten rules to follow:

1) Make a long-term plan.   I’ll confess to you now, that I don’t have a long-term plan as such; it’s more like a list of things I’d like to do, but in no particular order. Like:

  • write my first novel – tick.
  • write and publish a short story collection – tick. (I did that first)
  • write something for film or television – I’m working on that.

So I’ll be working on the long-term plan. But mostly it will involve writing, and more writing. And then more writing. Books, short stories, scripts, blogs…

2) Reading.

  • I do this all the time. I devour books, always have done. I go through phases of reading different genres, but mainly: thriller/police procedural/detective mysteries, science-fiction, contemporary romance. Years ago I read a shed-load of Catherine Cookson, and dozens and dozens of natural history  and autobiographical works.  The one thing I have a problem with is ‘How To’ text-books…

3) Practice.

  • I do this all the time, too. Sometimes in my head, or in the form of emails, letters, blog posts, and pages and pages of dialogue, scenes that come to me out of the blue without a story attached… I have thousands of documents on my portable hard-drive, some of which I may not have looked at in years. I came across one the other day that I literally couldn’t remember writing at first…

4) Daydream.

  • I probably shouldn’t admit to this, but driving to or from work is when this happens most. The hard part is remembering it until I get a chance to write it down. If I could set up my Bluetooth so that I could mutter into my mobile as I drive along, that would solve the problem…

5) Learn to fail.

  • I’m working on that!

6) Plot trumps prose.

  • I agree – if the writing is ‘pretty’ but the story doesn’t engage…. I work hard at that, too. I find it helps to study other stories, and ask myself if I would have written it differently, and if so, why?

7) Live fully and cheaply.

  • That’s a WiP!

8) Network.

  • Most of my networking to date has been online – because I can fit more in! It’s fun and you meet the most interesting people. You never know when you might be able to help them, or vice-versa.

9) Write Great Shit.

  • I can’t disagree with this – if you don’t engage your reader quickly, they likely won’t buy your book. Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ feature is the opportunity to hook them. I always read the sample, and often know within the first paragraph or so if I am going to hit that magic ‘BUY’ button. If it’s a great premise, but the hook isn’t there… as Hugh says, pull out the stops to engage your reader, and do it as soon as possible, even if it means starting half-way through the story.  I had several beginnings for ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ – a department store fire, the moment my protagonist realises that he has caused a death… and a scene in which someone very close to him is has maybe days to live… in the end I went with a scene which shows us who he is in his workaday life, showing the reader who he is.  I’m not convinced I chose the right opening, as it happens… (see point 5.)    As Hugh says, just keep writing…

10) Find your voice.

  • Agree 100% with Hugh on this. Have I found my voice? Maybe not yet – sometimes I think I have, then I’ll find myself struggling again. I think it is really important to be telling the story you want to tell, and not what other people think it is -or should be- about. If you find yourself listening to other people’s versions of your WiP, I think it could be a sign that you haven’t nailed the story, or perhaps that you are telling the wrong one. Or perhaps it’s just that you don’t have the confidence yet… but when you do find your fingers struggling to keep up with your thoughts as you write, there is nothing quite like it!

 

 

INSPIRATION – MINE YOUR CHILDHOOD MEMORIES


we had one just like this in our kitchen at home. When the pull-down shelf came off, the cabinet was moved into the dining room & used to store crockery. My father fixed the shelf to the kitchen wall and it became 'the flap'. On the bottom left you can see a blue caddy very similar to the yellow one our kitten got into...
we had one just like this in our kitchen at home. When the pull-down shelf came off, the cabinet was moved into the dining room & used to store crockery. My father fixed the shelf to the kitchen wall and it became ‘the flap’. On the bottom left you can see a blue caddy very similar to the yellow one our kitten got into…

Today I was sorting the recycling ready for the bin men to collect tomorrow. As I tore apart and flattened a box which had contained tea bags (Yorkshire Gold, if anyone is interested) I was suddenly reminded of the smell of the tea caddy my mother used to keep ‘on the flap’ (an enamel-topped shelf that my father put up in the kitchen) – the caddy was the size of a small biscuit tin, part of a set of three – Tea, Coffee and Sugar. I recall our second cat (I don’t remember the first, a cat called Lucky who wasn’t – I seem to remember that he got run over, quite an achievement in the late fifties/early sixties when there weren’t nearly as many cars on the road as there are now) just about fitting in one of them not long after we first got her. (Quite what we were doing with the caddie, and why Kitty came to be in it, I have no idea) This prompted me to search online for images of kitchen furniture from the 50’s and 60’s, which in turn gave me an idea for a story about… but that would be telling. You’ll have to read my next short story collection to find out (see if you can guess which one it was).  It also reminded me of the smell of the PG Tips cards, which came in a variety of topics and which you could save up and put into an album …

PG Tips 'Famous People' we had this one, too
PG Tips ‘Famous People’
we had this one, too
PG Tips - Trees of Britain - we had this one
PG Tips – Trees of Britain – we had this one

I also remember the smell of coal smoke as I walked home from school on a winter afternoon, the smell of paraffin from the portable heater we used in the hallway (and the curtain that went across the  front door to keep out the draft – because winters were definitely colder when I was a child!) and the peppery smell of the coal shed. I’m sure there is a story in each of those memories, should I decide to explore them!

A few months ago, I penned a post about the sights and sounds of my childhood, prompted by the arrival of a modern day ‘Rag & Bone’ man in our street. Inspiration can strike a writer at any time, spark a hundred ideas – a sight, a sound, a memory evoked by a smell…   What sights, sounds or smells have inspired you to write a story?