In the game industry we (typically) do a postmortem after every project. Essentially each person writes about their own experience on the project—the good, the bad, and the ugly. As I near the end of the project with As the Ash Fell I thought it would be fun—if not a little therapeutic—to write one about my first full-length novel experience.
I started writing Ash almost exactly a year ago (I think it was in the closing days of March, 2014). I set out a goal to finish the draft in just a few months, get my wife to edit during her last trimester of pregnancy with our son, and then get ready to release shortly after he was born. As you can see, that didn’t happen. So my first point is:
Slow and Steady Wins the Race!
Ugh, I really hate to use cliché phrases, but this is really the case here. When I first started the project, I wrote the first couple of chapters and decided I was done. After my wife read those chapters, she emphatically told me I wasn’t done, and that she wanted to know what happened with this story. So I continued writing with the plan I mentioned above. I wanted to ship this book and move on, but I had to deliver a high quality piece for my debut splash into the novel world. Unwilling to compromise on the latter half of the plan, I decided I needed to just take as long as I needed to do it right. Despite my disappointment that it’s a year later and still not released (almost there, though), it was the right call. Rushing something out the door, especially when there is nobody pressuring you to do so (except for yourself) is a really foolish move. No matter how many times I wanted to rush this area, or cut that corner, I felt the nag in the back of my head to avoid such lazy tactics. I am glad I did. I believe the end result is something significantly better, and I believe readers will enjoy the book much more because of it.
Eyes on the book before you release.
Once I finished the draft, I was pretty proud of it. I wanted to just get it edited and shipped (again, my desire to quickly publish it was taking control). I thought it was perfect the way it was, but I knew I needed some people to read it. So my wife/editor, and my good friend J.T. O’Connell read what I called an “Alpha” version of the book. The feedback from both of them was genuinely good, but they also both agreed: The ending needed to change! I won’t go into detail about this as to not spoil the story, but I was really surprised with that feedback. I disagreed, and it took a lot of convincing to change it. I eventually caved, and after I released the book to a handful of “Beta” readers they told me how much they liked the book, and enjoyed the reworked ending. When I told them the original ending, every single reader agreed with Lia and J.T. about the original ending not working. I would have never thought this would be the case, but their valuable feedback and insight made this book stronger. Get as many eyes on the book as you think you can before releasing it. Yeah, it might mean you get a few less sales, but if your book is better for it, the added sales in the long run will far outweigh the fewer in the beginning.
Edit, Edit again, and for a change of pace, edit some more.
When I finished the draft for Ash, I thought it might have a few little grammatical errors here and there, and certainly expected some punctuation issues. I thought there might be the occasional paragraph restructure to help make things flow more smoothly, but overall I knew it was solid. Then, before I let my alpha readers get a copy, I did my own edit pass. Wow! I spent a couple weeks reworking many areas, tweaking, correcting, and so on. It was rough, but that’s why it’s a rough draft. Then I gave it to my alpha readers. Lia printed the whole thing out and did red-ink on it as she read. Keep in mind her red-ink comments were more or less just pointing out places it didn’t flow well, incorrect word usage, details that were far too technical, etc. Essentially, it was not a line-by-line edit. I am surprised her pen didn’t run out of ink before she finished. It was bad. Real bad. Then, after I made those adjustments, I released to the beta readers and they found a plethora of mistakes, too. Some that I missed even on my second, more detailed read through. Lia is now doing the line-by-line edits and I know that by and large this release will be very clean and professional-level editing, I know that if I can find mistakes in big-house published books, there will likely be some in mine. But the point I am getting at is: don’t release a book plagued with little mistakes that will take the reader out of the story. One of the biggest stigmas indie authors have going against them is crappy editing. Take the time, edit carefully, and make readers go “Wow! This is an indie book? It’s so well written and has almost no grammatical mistakes.”
Despite being encouraged not to, people do judge books by their covers. You need to make it a good one. In my case I actually do cover art for other authors, so I thought that would be a simple enough task. Except when it came time to put down the first pixels for my own book cover, I acted as if I had never opened Photoshop before. To those that have seen the cover, you know it’s a pretty simple illustration. Not a whole lot going on. However, it took me quite a while to reach that point. I almost contacted some artists I know from the game industry to have them do a cover. Thankfully, I feel I pulled it together in the last minute (thanks to some suggestions from Lia) and I am happy with the end results. But the big takeaway I have from this is, if you can’t create a professional looking cover, then hire a professional. You might have a great book, but if nobody looks inside how will they ever know? Indie books are in the middle of a sea of other books. You need to stand out in all aspects—that especially includes cover work. I was just a day or two away from hiring someone to do mine, which would not only be a hit financially, but a bruise to my ego as an artist. If it made my book more attractive, however, then it would have been worth it.
Writing your draft is only half the battle.
So, after you finish your draft you think you’re finished, right? Wrong! Besides what was discussed above, there is so much more to launching a book. Get ready to become a marketing major! I will say this—I hate this part of launching a book more than anything else. The amount of time I spend on Twitter and Facebook just trying to get a few people to share or re-tweet is very frustrating. I’ve also spent money to advertise posts, and will likely do a lot more of that in the future. It’s anything but fun, however, it is necessary. Yes, a lot of your sales will eventually come from word-of-mouth, but you will need that initial momentum to get people to read your work so they have something to tell their friends about. Once Ash releases, I do plan to do some advertising on websites which will cost money instead of so much time, but I also plan to give review copies away, offer prizes/giveaways on my social networks, find relevant websites and social media folks to try and get interviews and such. As an author, I would much prefer to spend my time writing and reading, but it’s a necessary evil so long as I am an indie author.
I am sure there is much more I could write about, but I’ve already rambled on long enough. The high-level takeaway here is that, as an indie author, it’s a lot of work to release a book, if you want to make a splash. I have seen plenty of indie books that have me shaking my head as I see awful covers, poor marketing techniques, and worst of all—terrible quality control on the writing itself. So many great ideas are dead in the water because authors rushed to get things out the door. Don’t make that mistake. Take your time (even if it means missing your own deadlines) and make sure you are making a great first impression.
A friend of mine posted a review about a book she enjoyed, and she started off by saying that she almost didn’t read it because she was turned off with the author’s first book. However, she gave him another chance and was glad she did. Unfortunately, most readers don’t give authors a second chance—don’t give them an excuse to write off (no pun intended) your books forever because you were just itching to release your work before it was truly ready.
Anyway, sorry for the long post. I hope you enjoyed it, and that you found it beneficial.
Until next time,