It’s raining here in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I had trouble sleeping last night which isn’t entirely unusual. At midnight, I couldn’t resist posting on my personal Facebook page that I’d received a notice from Amazon that The Wheel Mages went live although it wasn’t part of my “launch plan”. Sometime around 3 or 4 am, after I’d fallen asleep to the glorious voice belonging to Sir David Attenborough, my German shepherd, Gabi, had a dream so intense she “ran” herself right off the bed.
I woke to the sounds of yipping and a struggle with the sheets as she tore them trying to cling to the bed. She couldn’t hold on and fell with a dramatic thud. I spent about half an hour trying to convince her to come out from under the bed. That incident combined with the rain made me a little apprehensive about launch day, I’m not gonna lie.
But you know what? So far, it’s been splendid. I got up as soon as my alarm went off and sprung to action. Facebook posts, messages, and texts flooded my phone. I didn’t realize I had so many people cheering for me. It made me feel immensely blessed. I almost cried. Only almost, though, because there’s still work to be done!
I hopped onto the computer to throw out some tweets and make an announcement on my official Facebook page. Everything is falling into place. Except the print version of the book—that isn’t ready yet. Remember how I said you shouldn’t throw last minute plans on your designer? Uh huh.
It’s all right, there’s still time. As my dad always says, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint.”
When I checked out my book on iBooks (figuring out how to link to an app was not something I was expecting to deal with this morning, by the way), I saw it was related to Game of Thrones and Tolkien. No lie, look!
One of my friends sent me a picture of her electronic copy sitting spine to spine with Harry Potter. Wow. I’m still reeling. I’m a published author y’all. Published. The dream I’ve held since I was old enough to grip a pencil has finally been realized. After years of struggle and dozens of manuscripts, after hundreds of thousands of words and tens of journals filled to the brim with writing, I’ve finally done it. What an incredible feeling.
You know, when I started this post, I planned to write about how I got here. I was going to lay out the whole process of writing leading to publishing but I’m having difficulty finding the technical words when I’m so overwhelmed with emotion. That post will come but for now, I’m simply going to bask in this feeling while it lasts.
I hope you all enjoy The Wheel Mages. I know I enjoyed writing it.
P.s. In honor of Giving Tuesday, 50% of launch day proceeds will be going to HeARTsSpeak, an international organization I’m a member of which is dedicated to helping artists connect with shelter animals to improve their chances of finding a furever home.
Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.
~ Ray Bradbury
I’m going to admit something right now that is somewhat controversial in the writing world. I am not a plotter. I don’t make storyboards or webs or charts or graphs or timelines. I just don’t. I never have (but I won’t say I never will). This little quirk of mine drove my writing professors crazy. They would assign plotting work, and I’d return with a completed story. When asked why I didn’t have an outline or the skeleton of a story, I’d shrug and say it isn’t how I write.
I’ll admit something else, too. As I write this, I’m wincing. I know plotting is super important to a majority of writers. I know I sound inexperienced and ridiculous and some in the writing world want to jump out of their chairs and strangle me through their computer screens. I know.
I also know not plotting causes major problems. I know it creates huge headaches when it comes to filling plot holes and can create stories that go on and on ad nauseam. I’ve thrown away my fair share of short stories and full-fledged manuscripts because of my lack of plotting. Hundreds of thousands of wasted words. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now and gotten down to plotting.
But (as I scrunch up my nose) I haven’t. I’m not sure why I’m so averse to it, but I am. Every time I’ve tried to sit down and plot, I’ve ended up with a prologue instead of a story line. Part of it may be impatience. I just want to write, damn it. Part of it may be the way my ideas come to me—in dreams and sudden revelations. My ideas tend to be very fragile, and if I don’t write them down in short order, I lose them. My stories proceed through my mind like movies. A scene comes to me and when I’m finished writing it, the next waltzes through the front door, demanding attention.
Sometimes, there are gaps in between scenes. For example (without spoilers), the prologue to the second book in the Changing Tides series came to me before the epilogue to The Wheel Mages. I wrote the prologue to the second book, then went back and tried to figure out how to end The Wheel Mages. I didn’t know what the end was at the time, but I knew it had one because the second book had a beginning.
My lack of plotting extends to this blog post too, for the record. I started it over a week ago and am just now getting back to finishing it. Fortunately, it’s easier to check for plot holes in a 900 word blog post than a 105,000 word manuscript.
Lack of plotting aside, the process for my first draft is relatively simple. I write all my manuscripts by hand, usually in the bathtub listening to Pandora. I find writing by hand to be more soothing than typing. It’s quieter, more romantic, and it forces me to slow down and examine my thoughts and my words in a more meaningful way.
I usually write in terms of scenes, not chapters (as discussed above, see how I connected that?). I transcribe onto the computer by chapters, usually at intervals throughout the process when I’m having difficulty finding the next scene. Typing (and self-editing along the way) helps me reinvigorate my brain and get my mojo flowing again (most of the time).
As cliche as it may sound, when it comes to the story line, I let my characters guide me. I have full on fights with my characters sometimes. They really do take on a life of their own in my mind, and occasionally they refuse to do what I want or expect them to do. I’ve actually said to friends before, “Alena is being stubborn and won’t get with it.” No joke. Don’t believe me? Here’s a screenshot:
Annoying as it may be, allowing this to happen helps me avoid snags of disingenuity. The plot I expected may not be where the story goes, and I’m okay with that. I don’t want my characters to fit into pegs I’ve created for them. Real people don’t fit into pegs or molds or categories as much as we sometimes want to force them into those places. I want my characters to be real to me, because if they aren’t real to me, they aren’t going to be real to the reader.
At the end of the day, writing is intrinsically personal. Everyone does it differently. That’s what makes it art. It also evolves. We’re always learning. As Hemingway said:
We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.
I try to live by that and allow myself to learn and observe and grow. I experiment. And I encourage everyone to do the same.
Hindsight is 20/20. Everyone says it but never has that message been clearer to me than a week before I’m supposed to launch my debut novel. And as I start to freak out and stress, I do what I normally do—I turn to writing.
So, if any of you hopeful authors would like to know some mistakes I’ve made and ways to make your first book launch go smoother than mine, I guess there’s no better time to tell you about them than when they’re fresh in my mind.
1. Do Plan to have a Print Version of your Book
I didn’t plan to have a print version of my debut novel. Until today. 11 days before release day. This was not a good plan. Actually, it was the absolute lack of a plan that got me into this terrible situation. Do not do this. Print is good. It’s your friend.
Why didn’t I have a plan for a print version, you ask? Because it seemed silly. We have technology strapped to us all the time. Your dang watch can be an e-reader (okay, maybe this is an exaggeration, but maybe it isn’t). I didn’t think anyone except for super nerds like me preferred print over eBook. As it turns out, this is not true. A lot of people still really prefer the print version. They like the way books feel in the hand and the way they smell, and your friends and family like the fact that they can have an autographed copy.
Be prepared to use CreateSpace at the very least. They facilitate the handy “Print on Demand” feature on Amazon. Also be prepared for a bit of a formatting headache if you’re not a computer whizz (guilty). If you’re not, watch this YouTube video tutorial on formatting your book for CreateSpace. It will help, I promise.
Also be prepared to have a wrap for your print version. It’s more than a cover, it’s a PDF spread required by CreateSpace that includes the spine and the back of the book blurb. You can create your own through CreateSpace but in my humble opinion, they simply don’t look as good as one done by a professional. Thank heavens my designer, Fiona, was willing and able to put one together for me on short notice. But it isn’t a nice thing to do to a designer, so try to avoid it and have it ready to go in advance.
2. Do have some Wiggle Room in your Budget
This was actually something I did do, but I was amazed how quickly the money in my budget disappeared. This self-publishing thing is not cheap. One of the biggest errors I made was only including “big ticket” items in my budget, like the artwork and editing. The little things add up quickly and caught me by surprise. Here’s a quick list of the things I included my budget and others that popped up along the way:
Cover Design (included in budget)
Artwork/graphics for website, Facebook, etc. (included in budget)
Wrap for print version of book (not included, popped up)
Content Edit (included in budget but went over budget)
Copy Edit (included in budget)
Costs associated with buying ISBN numbers and barcode (I literally didn’t know this was a thing until about a month before launch. I’m not proud of this lack of knowledge, but if it helps one of you avoid the same mistake, I’m happy to admit it. Obviously, this was not included in my budget)
Website hosting costs (included in budget)
Vellum formatting costs (or other formatting costs if you choose to go with a formatter for print and/or eBook) (not included, popped up)
3. Do Consider Pre-Orders
The pre-order function on Amazon didn’t really seem to make much sense to me for a first book. I mean, no one has heard of me and the only people who were going to pre-order my book were people who were going to read it anyway (my family and friends, mostly). But as soon as I started posting about the release date on Facebook and officially launched my website, I found a lot of people were interested in pre-ordering my book. My editor also asked about posting pre-order links to her social media accounts. This left me in a bind.
I actually did manage to scramble and get something ready for pre-order, but it’s not much of a pre-order as it’s only coming a week before launch. It was also extremely stressful (I’ve been working for going on 14 hours today), and in my haste, I messed something up on my Amazon submission and my book is now listed under my editor’s name instead of mine, and I’m sitting here with my fingers crossed obsessively checking my email every 17 seconds to see if Amazon gets my email begging them to fix it before it goes live on the site.
Which leads me to my next point about pre-orders on Amazon. At the very least, pre-orders give you a chance to correct any silly mistakes you’ve made (like listing your book under your editor’s name instead of your own) BEFORE your hard launch. The other great thing about pre-orders is that if it’s already ready to launch, it will be released exactly when you want it to instead of having to wait 12+ hours on launch day for it to go live on the site.
4. Do Remember to Breathe
I’m a naturally anxious person, so I might be more stressed than most, but this is advice I could have used. All throughout my day, I kept telling myself: there is nothing that has been done that cannot be undone. There is nothing that cannot wait. It helped. Well, at least until I put my book out for pre-order under the wrong name.
Seriously though, it can be fixed. I know it can. That’s the great thing about technology and the great thing about self-publishing. This would have been much more serious if I’d just put the wrong name on a slip for a 10,000 book print run. That could probably be fixed too, but this is much simpler. I can fix it quickly with Amazon (aren’t they the greatest?), and I’ll be right back on track. Nothing is so big it can’t be addressed.
5. Don’t Forget—Taxes are a Thing
Any retailer is going to ask you to fill out a W-9 for tax purposes. For me, this was relatively simple, but I didn’t realize it until I was basically ready to start uploading to various retailers. This might be an added complication for some, so I wanted to throw it out there in the event someone wasn’t expecting it!
Happy Writing! And if you see The Wheel Mages listed on Amazon under someone else’s name, please still buy it! I’m pretty sure I got the mailing information right for the check, at the very least!
Hi everyone and welcome! I’m so happy to have you here! So far this debut novel experience has been a wild ride, and I’m so excited to share it with all of you.
For my very first blog, I have to give a really important shout out to the lovely Fiona at Fiona Jayde Media who designed the stunning cover for my debut novel The Wheel Mages.
Nothing prepares you for the moment you first see your name on the cover of a book. That moment is made even sweeter when you are lucky enough to work with a designer who is able to tap into your thought process and understand what you’re looking for even if you don’t.
When I first started working with Fiona, The Wheel Mages was barely a manuscript, but I was determined to see this one through. Though I’ve produced more than a dozen manuscripts, I’d never had the self-confidence to go the whole way with one before.
But The Wheel Mages was different, so before I even started my first read through, I began to search for a designer. I reviewed dozens of portfolios and even considered (for a very brief moment) designing something on my own, but as soon as I saw Fiona’s work, I was sold.
I am so fortunate to have been able to work with Fiona. Not only was she professional, prompt and insightful, she helped me keep this project alive. She took fantasy and turned it into reality. When I got the first draft of what would become my cover, I cried. This was real, and it was happening.
Now, many months later, I still have that draft set as the background on my desktop and every time I look at my computer, I get giddy. It’s not only a cover, it’s a reminder. Keep working and don’t give up, it whispers to me, because this is real and this is happening.