Finished your book? Hah, not by a long shot!
I got the idea for this post today from listening to another podcast from a writer who just published her first book and how much she found out that finally putting the pen down and being excited that you finally finished your book, is only just the beginning. So I thought I would elaborate on that a bit from my point of view. I also went off on a tangent later in this writing as you will see
about the challenges I faced when I first started and how writing saved me. Read on....
I was very proud of myself back in early 2018 when in just under 90 days I ripped out a full 72,000-page novel. I was not only proud that I finally did it, which had been something I wanted to do for over a decade since moving to North Carolina from California. But mostly the fact I conquered what had been stopping me from writing in the first place all those years. Fear that I didn't have what it takes to plot out my story and characters. It seemed to daunting. Until I realized I was a pantser writer. Someone who writes from the seat of their pants and lets the story just take you where it wants to go. I won't get into that in this post, but the euphoric feeling of completing the book in a short amount of time using my creative juices thrilled me and inspired me to continue into the next phase of learning how to get it published.
Now here is where I found out quickly how little I knew and how much more work was needed. I remember thinking my first draft just needed a little tweaking and it would be ready to send out to publishers and get that big lucrative contract. Man, was I an idiot. Let me give those who are not of this industry a little bit of an idea. When you finish your book, you are only at the beginning of getting your book published.
After a few critiques from family and an English teacher, I quickly realized my writing needed a lot more professional input and I really sucked at structure and grammar!! At least from the beginning I still got lots of compliments on my characters and overall storyline, but that was when I went to work to find out what I needed to do. First, I joined a critique group. Everything online recommended finding a local critique group to get feedback from your peers. I joined several. Driving all over the area to check out different ones. Mostly settling on one out of several that met twice a month. They were harsh, especially to a newbie like myself and one's self-confidence. But it was tough love and a good learning experience prepping a new writer.
I also started editing both after my critique group sessions from their comments, combining the notes from numerous critiques over the same chapters. At first, I hated the editing stage. After a while, though I grew to actually enjoy it and the challenge to my creative style in rewrites along the way to make it more polished. I am currently at Draft 13 and almost 1.5 years after my first draft was completed. Never would have thought it would take me this long getting to this point. Still to this day I can take a chapter that has gone through numerous rewrites and readings, and find lots of issues still with it. Very frustrating, but also an eye-opener.
The real breakthrough came when I first found a local editor who pointed out that for how much work my manuscript needed, she would "only" charge me 5 cents per word. That would have cost me near $5000, and that was before my rewrites expanded my novel from 72,000 words now upwards of 91,000+. She told me it ranged from 2 cents to 6 cents depending on how much work it needed. She was being honest and I connected with her and wished for her to be my editor, but could not afford her. She did go through my first 15 pages and give me a quick review for free which was kind of her. Unfortunately, she was right.
Then I found my next editor (who was a recent English Major) in a family member back in CA willing to work for free, but in return, I told her "if" it gets published with her help I will gladly write her a big check. From then she became my teacher in this world, plus advisor, and confidant going forward. But she did do this on her own time and she was a very busy lady, so it has been a slow process, but in the long run a good one. Slowing down helped me learn a lot more along the way as I started rewriting and editing myself even before giving her pieces of the book, but she would always find more and explain to me why I should consider changing it. She was kind, and as we continued through the process she became tougher on me because I believe she felt I was truly learning and improving and saw that I could take the hard critiques. She was still kinder in general than my critique group, but her job wasn't only to critique, but also advise, instruct, and mentor, all things she has continued do excellently and calmly. She has even become a bit defensive for me of my critique group(s) comments which sound harsh to her. Probably my way of explaining what they said made it sound harsher than it was. Hard to say.
Well getting back to the theme of this post, it is a long process even after you finish your book. That is only the start of your journey if you are serious about getting it published. Many falter at this point finding out how much more work they still have to do. Or just continue on for year and year editing it over and over never feeling it is truly ready. Their fear of rejection holding them back. I know a few of these types, and it saddens me to see it. They truly have talent but the public may never get to read their writings. Some stop writing altogether, feeling like it was a waste, and that the system was against them. That saddens me even more.
Once arriving at this point and upon discovery of more research into the requirements of getting published, you find that whether you want to be an Indie Writer (Independent-Self Published) or find an agent and go the traditional route, you find out you need to create an author platform long before your book ever sees an Agent or Publisher. You have to get your name out there and find followers of what you are trying to achieve and who might be interested in your writings. A platform consists of a social media presence and a website. Well with Social Media I am pretty good, having been running several Facebook pages over different topics that have quite a few followers. So I created my "Author Facebook" page first. Basically a get to know me as a writer blog to tell my story and share other stories or authors from the literary world. Then I tackled the website, which cost more money than the free FB creation. Yes, you can find and use a free website, I did at first, but as soon as you want to create your domain name and start to google promote it so it will be found online, then the monthly cost began. Since then I have also reworked my not much used Twitter page to be more my author twitter page since it was critical to be in media since all of the literary agents worked out of it. I still need to tackle Instagram. One step at a time.
Before I started to write I was in a bad spot mentally and at one point physically. Having lost a long time job I loved, going through several failed new jobs (out of my control reasons), and then being out of work on and off forced to take p/t jobs to get by, financially sinking caused more stress which caused my marriage to be challenged. This further crippled my confidence, which was compounded by having my neck pain increase to an unbearable amount in early 2018. I developed anxiety for the first time in my life with acute panic attacks that had me buckled over at times and my heart racing. As they say, when it rains it pours. Well, it was a real hurricane to me at the time. I even went to a therapist for the first time in my life. I needed it. She helped me realize that I was actually doing pretty darn good going through everything I was going through and made me appreciate what I had even more.
I was getting back to my confident self again. I was always looked at as the one who always seemed confident and happy. Obviously some can hide what they are hiding inside, but before all this, I was generally a happy person who enjoyed going to work and interacting with others. Never thought I would have been brought down so low. Just shows you how life can change you, or you fight back and change it to what you want it to be. I am still far from 100%, but I continue to push forward to make it better for my beautiful wife and two incredible daughters, but at the same time as they grow older, I can now focus a bit more on myself and my marriage and what I want as well.
During that time I was when I started to write. I credit that having really saved me at the time mentally. I was able to forget my troubles and focus and pour my creative talent into my work. My confidence level grew again as I saw my story flow onto the page in front of me. My dream of becoming a professional writer had begun. So whatever your reason to write, I say "Just do it!" Don't give up! Whether it is to see your writing published, to become a successful author, or just to unleash your story onto paper for your sanity, writing is good for the soul. Use it, feel it, flow through it. You will be the better for it.