I am pleased to announce that my latest novel, Paint Me Gone, the third installment in my Gen Delacourt Mystery Series, is now available as an ebook on Amazon. Yaay! If you’ve chosen the self-publishing path, you know how much effort goes into not just writing a book, but getting it ready to send out into the world. The workload is enormous, and so is the learning curve.
When I launched Book 2 in December 2013, I wrote a post about all the stuff I’d learned between the publication of Book 1, Mark of the Loon, and the (very delayed) publication of Book 2, The Last Fairytale. Well, it looks like the education will never end, because I have more to report!
1. I figured out WHAT I WRITE!
Just like that kid in elementary school who knew she wanted to be a doctor and actually became one, you may be one of those lucky authors who knew exactly what you wanted to write before you scribbled the first word of your first novel. It didn’t work that way for me. I knew I wanted to write mysteries – because that’s what I love to read – but it wasn’t until I was 30K words into Paint Me Gone that I really understood my niche. Now I can pitch my books to anybody, because I finally defined – and really understand – what I do. Here it is:
I write women’s fiction mystery novels that feature strong, independent female characters who are professional or amateur sleuths. So far, each plot is set in a Northern California location, mainly San Francisco. My stories are both character and plot-driven, include both friend and romantic relationship elements, and run between 70K -75K words in length. My protagonists are flawed and smart and imperfect but manage to improve, both personally and professionally, in some way through every story line.
It sounds so simple, but knowing this helped immediately with setting up the plot of book #4 and the subplots that play into it. I can’t tell you how excited I am to finally have this piece in place. Takeaway? If you haven’t yet defined your work and where you want it to go, I highly recommend it.
2. My writing processes and systems improve with every book
I own Scrivener and meant to learn it prior to taking on Paint Me Gone, but for very quirky reasons I put it off. Basically, my “writing” laptop is an ancient Dell with a broken hinge and a split screen that’s held together with duct tape and metal document clips.
It’s become my dedicated novel-writing tool because – okay, laugh – I love the keyboard and I can write faster on it. Also because it has a virus that makes accessing the Internet verrrrry slow – so slow it’s too frustrating to attempt. And why is that a good thing? It limits distractions. Anyway, it’s too slow to run Scrivener, but it’s great with Word.
So I’ve hit on a process that mimics Scrivener: I set up a plot outline in Excel and use separate columns to track chapter length, the key elements of each chap and the progression of time, and use Excel’s autosum function to track total word count. Then, I write each chap in a separate Word doc file. That way I don’t have to scroll through a massive single document and I can easily move chaps around if I need to.
You might be thinking that compiling the final doc is a pain, but it just takes a few minutes. Per Sarah Wynde in comments below, “if you have your chapter files in the correct order (so numbered), you can open a blank document in Word, go to Insert > Object > Text from file, select all the files, and click Insert and Word will compile the chapters for you.”
I also use Word “styles” to format the doc(s) as I go, and I have a standardized manuscript proof checklist that I run through prior to every editing run. Long story short, the process I use is familiar, it’s in place, and it works well for me. All that speeds the actual writing process.
Something else I discussed after book #2 is that outlining also helps me write faster. Like Rapunzel, Paint was plotted beginning to end, although unlike Rapunzel, I strayed from my outline and changed a lot of pre-planned elements, including the ending. Takeaway? A combo of plotting and pantsing seems to work best for me, so essentially I’m still a pantser at heart.
3. Reviews are hard to come by
Last time I launched a book, I was semi-smug about what I thought was a fact for me at that point: that reviews are easier to get with the second book. Guess what? Forget what I said, I was full of it. Here’s the truth: reviews from reviewers you have established a relationship with are, indeed, easier to ask for and receive.
But overall, reviews are much more difficult to get now without an established fan base. Honestly, I’ve submitted to at least a dozen sites since January and haven’t gotten a reply from even one. Takeaway? Cultivate new reviewers, stay in touch with reviewers you’ve worked with before, include a call to action requesting reviews in the back of every book, and for goodness sake, don’t stop submitting review requests for your existing books. And remember, when your first bad review comes in – and you will get one – take it with a grain of salt.
Glug, glug, glug.
4. Time for a serious marketing plan – I mean, past time. Ooops!
I decided to wait until I had three novels published before undertaking a serious book marketing campaign. So I’ve turned my mind to that now, perusing the costs and the sites and trying to get a sense of what others are doing that works, since what does work is a moving target and seems to change daily.
And I have one comment: wow, did BookBub ever get expensive.
One thing I’m sure will help is that I’ve wrangled an invitation to join a small group of really sharp, successful women authors who are willing to share their experiences. We’ve decided to swap info re: what we hear about, what we know, and what we try as individuals, and to divvy up the job of vetting book promo sites and processes. I’m excited!
5. Don’t stop writing
When I finished Book 2 I took a breather and didn’t write or plot or move a single fiction project forward until that book was published. That was a mistake. This time, the minute I finished Paint and sent it off to make the rounds or reviewers and editors, etc., I immediately plunged headfirst into Book 4, A Thousand Tombs. And boy, does that make me happy, because I have 45K words of the first rough draft of the 4th installment in my series, and it really stokes the fires to keep writing. Takeaway? Don’t stop writing between books!
Readers, what can you add? What have you learned so far, as either a self-pubbed or trad pubbed author? Please leave a comment and share!
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