I’m an Author, how did that happen?

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It’s been a difficult year. In some ways one of the most difficult, but it was also the year that I stopped trying to push a large boulder uphill and equally found a pursuit that was forever at the back of my mind, i.e. writing. But first the boulder.

I love games, and I love making games. I’m of the home computer/console/arcade generation that spent far too many hours either in front of fluorescent tubes trying to get pixels to make the perfect jump or figuring out how to combine spells to open that next dungeon gate. This was before the internet and mobile and the crazy jet fueled life we are all part of today. This was a time when the crafting of games was a cottage industry, something a bespeckled pimply teen could be part of and be enveloped by. And the magic those early days of home computing installed in me, swept me along for decades, on a kind of existential treasure hunt to be part of that world of imagination and fun.

There’s also something to be said for programming regardless of what you are coding. Constructing with virtual lego blocks, and seeing what you can create is an especially fulfilling endeavor. That engineering and inventing part is deep rooted in me, like an itch that I need to scratch.

However this year I found a new method to create and explore those same worlds, and that’s as an author. Being an author to me was something a particular kind of academic was. You needed an English degree. You needed to be well versed in the ‘classics’. You needed an agent, and you needed a publisher, both of which you only got by being in the ‘right’ circles. Yes, sure there were people who got lucky, but the struggling writer to me was as much a cliche as the struggling artist. It was something you left school wanting to do, and kept trying to do until you succeeded (Or at least had a full time in some writing related job, while you worked on your novel in your spare time). You were a writer or you were not. There was no inbetween. And it always seemed such a long shot, that it was never something I seriously considered.

Ebooks and Amazon of course changed all that. For better or worse everyone is now a writer. As usual I was late to the party, but early this year I started writing a thriller. I got a few chapters into it and my girlfriend read what I had written and liked it. That gave me my first inclination that maybe I don’t suck at writing. I continued for a few more weeks and while I was doing that I started to watch lots and lots of Joanna Penn’s and the Self publishing podcasts, and that made me think more about what I was writing in regards to whether it could make any money or not.

Now it just so happens that I like genre fiction. I’m a scifi geek. More so in regards to films, TV and comics, but I’m well versed in the ‘classics’ on those platforms. Looking at the Amazon charts, and picking up on the rumours that abounded on the writing forums it seemed scifi/fantasy did well on Amazon, especially on Kindle Unlimited, and especially series of books, not stand-alones. So I looked at my list of ideas and I had one that was about a bunch of military prisoners that are mysteriously released from a high security prison after there had been a global event that ended most life on the planet. Now I should say, I don’t write to market in the strictest sense. For example I’m not going to start writing romance just because it sells well. For me it’s all about the core story concept. I will write in any genre if I feel I have a particularly original and interesting take on it. I see no point in rehashing what’s already out there. One of the most pleasing aspects of the reviews I’ve gotten on Amazon regarding what that initial idea turned into (The Cascade series) was the amount of reviewers that said how original the idea was. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The thriller that I had started writing, would of mostly likely had been a stand alone story, or at the most a few books. But the authors that were making money were doing so by releasing three, six or nine books. Having not even written one book at that stage, the idea of writing three, let alone six or more seemed a hell of a lot of work, and the idea of stringing an idea out into multiple books, rubbed me the wrong way, however I really didn’t know how everything would play out, so I was open to writing a series if the story called for it.

So, I started writing Survive, the first book in the Cascade series, and I had no idea what I was doing. I just sat and wrote. No plotting, just sheer, pantsing of the highest order and strangely the story came to me without much effort. It was during this period that I started to believe that I could write. I was managing to put down in words something which contained interesting characters, and drew you into an imaginary world. I still had no idea though if it was any good. I was pretty sure my ideas were good, and I thought I was pretty good at setting a scene, but I had no idea if it would all hang together well.

After about four months I had it finished. Just over 60k words, and I thought, well, even if everyone hates it, at least I got to the end, I had written a book. A few weeks before finishing I had created the cover for it myself. This was something else I thought I would have a go at during 2016, cover designing. I had used Photoshop for years, so manipulating photos to create good looking covers wasn’t much of a stretch for me. I bought a domain name, www.starbookcovers.com and started creating some “premades” just so I had some content in there. Luckily I soon got a few author clients, and started creating some covers for them. One of which is David Beers, whom I did the Red Rain and the last three “The Singularity rising” books for.

In late August I published Survive: Cascade book 1 on Amazon. As I was writing it, I realised this was a story that was going to need at least three books to tell, and by that point I was more comfortable with the notion of writing a story across multiple releases and not putting it all into one book. It was slow going at first, as I was a completely unknown entity as an author and this was my first book, but soon the sales picked up, and it was doing well on Kindle Unlimited as well. KU was something that I had heard a lot of in the whole “Wide Vs Amazon” debates, but until I had a book in the Amazon ecosystem I had no idea just how important KU was for new authors. I also brought the release date forward by about a week to coincide with Patty Jansens’s SFF promo which I was very glad to be part of, and gave me a useful boost right at the start.

I set about writing the second book Rescue pretty much as soon as I finished the first and managed to average about 3k words per day. Writing fast and getting out as much content as possible was something every successful indie author I had read or watched talked about as being a priority. And I went into writing the first book knowing that was something I was going to need to be able to do, if I was going to be successful myself. There’s nothing wrong with writing one book a year, just completing a book is a feat, but it’s not coincidence that most of the top indie authors are writing machines, and put out lots of books.

Rescue was complete within about four weeks, and I released it onto Amazon in mid October. By this point I had gotten a handful of reviews on the first book. During October I also did my first paid promotion. A Freebooksy.com promotion for Survive being free. It cost $60 and was well worth it. Up until that point I wasn’t sure exactly how useful paid promotions were (even though many authors on the forums had said they were very useful) and needed to see with my own eyes the impact they could have. Well, that promotion completely sold me on paid promotions and the effects it can have on your sales and more importantly page reads in KU. For weeks afterwards my page reads were increased. I also noticed that the other books that were included in the paid promotion on that day, were also high up on the free book charts. That really brought it home to me that if you want to be high up the charts, you need to pay for it. Which kinda sucks. But unfortunately it’s just another symptom of the world we live in, and the platforms we use.

The third book, Mutant took slightly longer to write. I think this had to do with the fact that I needed to tie up certain storylines from the first two books, as well as advance other storylines and all of that took some time to work out. I still managed to get it done in about five weeks though, and Mutant was released on the 29th of November.

So here we are at the end of the year, and I’ve somehow written three books. Which is still a very strange thing for me to get my head around. In a lot of ways I haven’t got my head around it, it just somehow came about. But what I do know is I enjoy writing and it seems a number of people enjoy what I write, so that’s more than good enough for me to keep on going.

I want to say a big thank you, to my mother and girlfriend for their ongoing support. I also want to thank Johnny B Truant, Sean Platt, David Wright, Joanna Penn, Lindsay BurokerJeffrey M. Poole and Joseph Lallo for the entertaining and informative podcasts and the folks at the Writer’s’ Cafe Forum on kBoards for the helpful advice.

I’ll be launching a new series at the end of January, as well as continuing the Cascade series. I’ve also got some plans for creating a platform that will help authors, but more on that in the coming months.

Merry Christmas everyone, and a Happy New Year!

Phil.

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