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STICKING WITH IT

On days when I put my earning-money-to-eat hat on, I train people on management skills (I do other stuff, too, but I digress). And one of the big themes of the last 5-10 years has been the concept of stickability, and how employers often find it lacking in employees, and how they'd like to see it being developed more in our schools and colleges.

I like to think I have reasonable stickability. I especially have it when people advise me that I'm not able to succeed at something (perhaps that's bloodymindedness - or perhaps they're really the same thing), and that something is a thing that I'd like to have. (Let's be clear. I will never stick at climbing Everest. I've never had any desire, whatsoever, to climb a mountain. Or do a marathon.)

What it turned out I really, really wanted to do with my life is write books. Who knew? I didn't, right up until I started in earnest. The gap I never knew I had in my life was suddenly filled.

The thing is to write books I have to be able to sell books (or accept the current mish-mash of writing and working and stretching everything to fit things in). And to sell books I have to write more books, and good books, and work hard at it all.

I thought, as most first time writers do, that writing the book was the hard bit. After, things would get easier, I'd get an agent and a nice publisher with an editor who'd tidy everything up (because we all know writers don't really write the released book, don't we? It's all down to them having an expensive editor....)

Anyway. Now you've all stopped laughing. The serious bit. Most writers I know who are no longer writing haven't given it up because they weren't good at it. Many writers I know who don't write anymore are fabulous writers and I miss their work very much.

They give up because it's so damn hard and because it's another time-consuming, soul-eating thing to fit into lives where jobs have to be carried out, and family spoken to at least once a week and where taking time out isn't, actually, a bad thing.

I started this blog a number of years back to tell the truth about what it's like to be a writer. What's fun, what's hard, what's downright crazy. I wanted somewhere to have not just posts on how writers got agents, but posts on what happens if you don't, or you lose agents, or things go horribly wrong - and I think, by and large, I've been pretty searingly honest in it. Here, though, is the big one for me. What really lies ahead, and where, if you still want to be writing in 10 years time, or 20, or whatever, you're going to need to bring those sticking-at-it skills into play.

1. WRITING THE FIRST NOVEL. It is hard. If you're serious about learning your craft and improving the manuscript to publishing standard (which you should be, no matter how you plan to bring the book out) there is a steep learning curve. You won't just need to know your grammar and proppa writing, and where to use commas and not. You'll need to learn what keeps a story flowing, about passive and active voice, about point of view discipline, about your genre norms. You'll need to learn to work with an editor, of some description, and make things better where they tell you to. Most people would find completing a 15,000 word story to that level difficult. Many fantasy and sci fi novels top 125,000 words and creep up to 200,000. On a good day, I manage 3000 words, and I'm a quick writer. Do the maths. This is going to take a bit of time.

2. WRITING THE SECOND NOVEL, AND ALL THE REST. I, naively, felt the first book was the hardest, and it was in some ways. But, in others, it was the easiest. This is the story I'd spent 25 years coming up with. I knew most of the plot. I knew the characters. I was passionate enough to daydream about the world for nearly half my life. It blasted out of me like nothing else.

I'm now writing my 8th novel. (Although I only have contracts for 5, but it's good to have a couple on the back-burner). Surely, by now, I should have cracked it.

I sort of have. I know the process a little more. I accept my time for writing is late afternoon and manage my time better to support that time. I know I will struggle through a first draft. I know a little more about making things hooky and keeping them moving on nice and snappy.

It's still hard. I've also, along the way, trunked two books. I know not all of them work out as viable projects - but struggle to explain why, exactly.

So, it's not just about getting to the end of your first novel, but the next and the next and the next, all with original storylines, all completed to good order.

3. GETTING AN AGENT/PUBLISHER - if you go that route.

It's damn hard. I subbed to 100 agents, over two years, before I got one. That one dropped me when the book didn't sell (so there went the dream of a nurtured career...). Publishers, ditto: more rejected me than accepted. The acceptances took time. Open windows went on forever.

The only sanity - and all writers I know say this - is to write something else. Start a new project. Keep your focus elsewhere. Hang onto that new world and excitement.

4. GETTING THE BOOK OUT THERE - if you go that route.

Taking the time to research the market - and revisiting it. On Monday I'm pulling out of Kindle unlimited and onto a multiple-platform selling model for Inish Carraig. What felt right a year ago has changed. Taking time to find cover designers and sort out your formatting. It takes a fair bit of gritted teeth to bring out a high quality book.

5. REALISING THAT YOUR BOOK IS NOT GOING TO BE AN INSTANT HIT

Some people get lucky. Most don't. You will have periods where nothing sells and periods where everything sells. Keep plugging.

Keep writing something fresh. A new book will build on the last.

6. THE PROJECT DOESN'T END THE DAY YOU RELEASE THE BOOK

This isn't emphasised enough, anywhere. Make sure you really explore all the avenues for your project. Audio isn't out of the reach anymore, or selling the rights. Know any awesome graphic novellists who might want a new project/collaboration? At the moment, I'm exploring what it would take to make a screenplay of one of my books.

Those are big projects - but smaller ones can also pay off and help sales. Free short stories in the world. Novellas on Amazon for 99p. Fan art. I can't tell you how much I hope, one day, for someone to create art in a world I made up and me to go, whoah - it's real, not just mine anymore. Have fun with your project. Set  small goals to keep up your enthusiasm.

7 MARKETING IN A BIG WORLD, WHERE YOU'RE A TINY VOICE

There are thousands of writers doing what you hope to do - bringing out books, finding readers, getting their name known, Social media-ing like a champion, blogging, interviewing other writers, begging for reviews and then hoping they're good. I'd love to give you a magic formula, but there is none. Some people are naturally better at this than others (but isn't that true of every step?)

Again, time plays it's part. Ripples in the pond, a slow spread. Most writers who do break through do so after many years of writing. Most start with a few voices and spread, if their stuff is good.

It takes time to find an audience. If you write easy to market stuff in a specific genre, it's a little easier. If you write quirky, or across genres, it takes longer.

All of this is slow. It is for all of us. If you can, don't give up - you had a dream the day you started to type. And know that you're not alone.

If anyone wants to check out my book-babies, here's the link: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13696082.Jo_Zebedee


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