All writers will know the beauty and curse of a deadline. It’s the thing we sometimes need to light a fire under our ass and get to writing (instead of endless days of procrastination and self-doubt).
So, when I saw I had only three weeks left to enter this years’ Amazon UK Storyteller competition, I cleared my schedule (as much as possible with a toddler and clients) and decided to bang out a novel. In a week. Yes, a week. I know.
Needless to say, I didn’t bang out a novel at all. What I banged out was more of an overly long novella with a suspenseful plot, some okay dialogue, but a distinct lack of scene-setting and character development. What I ended up with is a first draft – and not a very pretty one at that.
Still, being the eternal optimist that I am – and stubborn when I set my mind to something – I didn’t want to give up hope that maybe I could still enter the competition. But with a deadline of May 19th looming I knew I had next to no chance! Damn. Was my writing tear a complete waste of time?
Well, hopefully not. There’s still several options I can take to gain (some form of) satisfaction from my blood, sweat, and tears.
1. Fill in the Blanks
The most important thing I need to do is add more meat to the bones of my story. As I was writing it, it felt like a full story. I knew it was a bit sparse in places, but I was purposefully writing a pacy thriller, so hoped that wouldn’t matter too much.
Then, upon rereading (on my Kindle for authenticity, and because I was tired of staring at the damn computer screen), I realized that I didn’t have much more than the bare bones on paper.
I also realized I had plot holes as big as my touche so, if I’m ever going to get my manuscript to a readable form, I need to put some serious rewriting effort in.
The other worrying thing – I didn’t like my main character. Oops. Now, I realize there has been a trend in contemporary lit for unlikeable characters (Think ‘Girl on the Train’ and ‘Gone Girl’) – but readers need to understand and appreciate why they are so tarnished.
The four chapters of backstory I wrote for my character, to help explain her current personality, were actually the four best-written chapters of the book. They made me aware that I needed to expand this part of the story, and introduce them much earlier to draw the reader in, and fend off any abandoned reads (and negative reviews, yichh).
2. Get a Professional Copy Editor
I had already put feelers out for copy editors, hoping this would help motivate me to finish faster (it did). In deciding who to work with, I had few professional editors look at short samples from my draft.
And while they didn’t exactly tear the scene I supplied to pieces, the message was pretty clear to me. I don’t have formal creative writing training, so I better learn the minimum conventions fast. If I don’t, I will only turn off potential publishers, or readers if I go the self-publishing route, scuppering my own efforts.
While the readers themselves may not be able to spot errors as such, they will be able to discern that something is ‘off’ and they won’t like it.
Adhering to literary conventions doesn’t mean encroaching on my unique style or ‘voice,’ but it does mean doing things ‘right’ so that I don’t turn off my audience before I’ve even started to build one.
I was able to find good copy editors on sites like Upwork starting from $100. Pretty reasonable considering the time and work that goes into what they do, and necessary if I’m going to take my book to the next level.
3. Submit to Publishers and Competitions
In this case, it turned out to be a good thing that I missed the Amazon deadline as if I had self-published the book by entering, I wouldn’t have been able to offer it to publishers if I found I didn’t win.
If I do decide to submit the manuscript to publishers, like Harper Collin’s Killer Reads, for example – and get knocked back, then at least I still have a manuscript for competitions or self-publishing. Meaning I can still monetize my efforts – although I know from past experience that self-publishing success is as much about advertising as it is about having a great book. Which brings me onto my next point.
4. Build an Author Platform
If I’m like the vast majority of wannabe writers, my first manuscript probably won’t end up being published by a well-known publishing house. Although I have found one or two houses that specialize in ebooks, who I can also approach before going the self-publishing route.
Even if they agree to publish my book, I will still be expected to build my own author platform – the audience which I market myself and my book to – online. And that means having a professional, dedicated website (not the one I currently use for my business), as well as spending time and money on social media marketing.
If you think you can write a book, get it published, then sit back and watch the sales roll in – think again. Books are big business, and the most successful authors are often the ones with the biggest marketing budgets behind them. Sad but true.
5. Get Great Cover Art
Whether you decide to self-publish or submit your work to Amazon Publishing (who accept thriller and romance submissions only), you will need to have an eye-catching cover done by a professional.
While it’s tempting to work up a quick cover in Canva, one that looks half-decent; half-decent isn’t going tempt people to download your book. Sorry, but it isn’t. Your cover needs to look slick, enticing, and should, of course, reflect what the story is about.
Once again, sites like Upwork, or your own network on social media, are good places to find talented book cover designers who won’t charge the earth. If you’re not thrilled by your cover now, think how much you’ll hate it in a year, after 365 days of promoting your book?
So make sure you get one you love from the get-go.
I hope you found this article useful, I’m off to go cry in a corner, wondering why I ever started writing a darn book!
Sandra Smith is Editor at Social Marketing Solutions, a marketing and personal brand agency focused on helping you achieve your life and career goals. For a free consultation, get in touch today.