In the latest installment of our Notes From the Field Series, FEATURED AUTHOR Renée Paule gives us an intimate look at her writing journey. She shares how her first book never made it to publication (having met a tragic fate) but served its purpose in paving the way for the books that followed. Now here's Renée in her own words...
I wrote my autobiography a long time ago, all 90,000 words of a sad and tragic life. A few years later, I burned it because I didn’t want to put another sob story out into the world. Afterward, I felt some grief for all the hard work I’d put into it, but not everything was lost because I learned a great deal about myself and what I wanted to do with my life. I also got a lot of negativity out of my system, thereby freeing me to write about something else.
Write, write, write, is a feeling I’ve had all my life and after burning my book I’d no idea what to write next. After much reflection and reading many books, I realized I was meant to write my life story in a different way. It was to be a philosophical book about my lifelong observation of humanity with parts of my autobiography thrown in—a semi-autobiography.
My First Book to Go Public
The result was On The Other Hand:The Little Anthology of Big Questions and never in a million years did I imagine I’d write a book like that. This is not a book that ‘sells well’, but it is the book I was destined to write and publish, along with others I have written since. The point I’d like to make strongly is that our first book isn’t necessarily going to be our best, but writing it is like getting a mental workout at the gym. Writing skills require practice and finding out what we’re best suited to write about requires making mistakes and a few sacrifices along the way. Whatever we write, it’s never a waste of time. Experience builds on experience and I’ve never regretted burning my first book attempt.
Motivation and Self-discipline
Writing requires a lot of self-discipline. I’ve heard many stories about people who sit down for two hours each day writing or knock out two thousand words a day in order to get their book written—it’s different for everyone. I sit at my desk full-time, apart from the obvious breaks, and take notepads everywhere with me so that when thoughts pop into my head I won’t forget them. I write, or think about my writing, all the time and sometimes dream about it too, so I keep a notepad by the bed to jot any ideas down. Some days I might write five thousand words and on others, I'm less productive. On the occasions when I can’t write fluently, for whatever reason, I work on my book cover or illustrations and then return to my writing. I must admit to being somewhat obsessive about my work. Once I make my mind up to do something I get on with it without argument or distraction. I print out a photograph-sized copy of my draft book cover (front and back) and stand it on my desk. This keeps me inspired and motivated because I see the book as already having been written.
There are tough corners to turn when writing and one of the biggest hurdles for me originates from my idea notes. I used to type them up and fit them beneath chapter headings that I thought they might belong to and leave them there until I got around to writing that particular chapter. This resulted in a messy document that was full of chapter headings with way too many notes beneath them. Some ultimately ended up in a different section of the book and things got very confusing. I’ve now partly solved this problem and instead of inserting the notes, I write full paragraphs which means I’m often writing more than one chapter at a time (I’m currently writing three). This works for me and gets the job done in the end.
When a chapter is finished I find it helpful to read it out loud and mark any sentences or words that tripped me up. I then re-write them until I can read them smoothly. I can’t stress enough the importance of getting your book professionally edited and yes, I know how hard this can be; like handing your baby over to another mother. Editors can make helpful suggestions about things to re-phrase, put in or take out; though some parts of our book are clear to us they may not be to someone else. Editors also pick up problems with continuity and a host of other things that a writer may be blind to when in the thrall of writing. Be prepared to discuss points with the editor if you disagree—which I do often—but remember two things; they want our work to look professional as much as we do and we don’t have to take their advice.
Above all, don’t take offense—editing is not personal and a good editor has a lot of valuable experience to offer. When my book is completely finished I go back to the beginning and read it out loud again, and again, if necessary. When you’re happy with your book, get it beta-read; friends and family are convenient but likely to be soft in their remarks, so try to get it read by people you don’t know so well. Put it on forums asking for beta readers and be prepared for negative as well as positive feedback.
For several reasons, I never tried to get my books published and went straight into self-publishing. One quickly finds that there’s more to self-publishing then putting one's book on Createspace and, subsequently, Amazon. People need to know it’s out there and there’s a lot of competition. So have a marketing plan in place well before publication.
Every author needs to build a platform if they expect to sell books, especially over the long haul. You need to be active on social media, have a website, start a blog, set up giveaways and do the best you can to get reviews. They’re very important. There are masses of information on self-publishing (tons of which you'll find right here on BookWorks) so I don’t feel a need to go into that any further. I’ve just co-written and illustrated a children’s picture book (630 words) called The Frightened Little Flower Bud which will be launching next month. I experimented with submitting the manuscript to publishers, but in the end, I decided to self-publish it as well.
When You're Ready to Self-publish Your First Book
If you’ve made the decision to self-publish I’d suggest:
It sounds obvious, but know what you want to write about and get it into some sort of structured format before you begin. This reduces the risk of inconsistencies in your story.
Do your research! Read forums on your subject matter to get a good idea of what people want. Often, (as with me) we write for ourselves and it’s not necessarily interesting to other people.
If you’re going to self-publish don’t stint on professional editing, (even professional editors use other editors for their own books) and make sure you follow guidelines of websites like Createspace before uploading your files. It saves a lot of time later on and reduces the risk of reviews that say "this book was full of typos" or other negative comments. Once a review is up, it stays up!
How about you? Do you have a story about your first book you'd like to share? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below.
Renée Paule is an English writer who lives in Ireland. She is the author of five thought-provoking books for adults and a new book for children, launching in Oct of 2017. Visit her website at https://www.reneepaule.com/ and connect with her on Twitter @Renee_Paule.
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