My First Published Book: a Retrospective and FAQ

By now, you’re probably aware that Winterwakers Part 1: Cold Hands is officially up for sale on the big online book stores. Or maybe you weren’t aware, perhaps because you don’t follow me on Twitter, or like me on Facebook.

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*clears throat* anyway … Winterwakers is my first book, so this is definitely a huge milestone for me. And yet, there is still so much left to do, not only for the Winterwakers epic itself, but for my writing career as a whole. Publishing Part 1 was big, for sure, but I’ve really only just begun.

I visited with a lot of friends and relatives over the holidays, and many of them were curious about the book, and how it came to be. Over the course of blathering on, some of the same questions came up a few times from different people. Chatting with folks about the book turned out to be a good way to look back at what I’d accomplished, and look ahead at what’s to come.

Thus, here is my FAQ about writing, Winterwakers, or whatever.

1. How long did it take you to write? Well, that depends on your definition of “write.” Typing out the words that make up the book is only one aspect of writing a book. I started that in January 2014 and finished in early March. In terms of hours, I’d guess I spent between ten and twenty hours a week writing during that time.

There’s a lot more to finishing a book than writing the first draft, though. Before I even typed a single word, I made an outline — a note card for each chapter and scene in the book describing what I wanted to happen. That took a few weeks by itself, and it was a very important step. I’m 100% certain I would have never finished writing Part 1 without that outline in place.

Then there was editing, more editing, and even more editing. I spent a couple weeks doing a first pass edit of my first draft, then sent it out to my test readers, a brilliant group of volunteers who read my book in a pretty rough state and gave me notes on it (side note: love you guys!). I gave them two months to submit their feedback (during which time I started writing Part 2), then I did another round of editing, and then another. By this point, it was late August.

After that, I send it out to a professional editor (Leah Wohl-Pollack from Invisible Ink Editing) for a thorough line edit. This step is absolutely critical. The difference in clarity and readability between my draft and her edits is night and day. Then, I had to do my final revision and read-through, and format the manuscript to work as an eBook (this part was easy for me, as it involved a lot of computery-type skills I already possess). That took me through to late October, just in time for my intended publication date. I was still catching typos and making quick edits hours before submitting the eBook to the online stores.

Short answer: start to finish, it took about nine months. But I was doing other things in parallel to that, including a full-time job, and working on the second and third parts. It would be nearly impossible for me to add up the hours, but it’s hundreds.

2. How do you find time to even do this? You have a job and stuff! Ha ha ha what are you talking about? I have lots of time!

*sighs*

Yeah. It wasn’t easy at first, but it’s part of my day now. Turns out, if you are driven from the very core of your being to do something, you will find a way to do it.

My typical weekday goes like this: I wake up, I go to my day job for eight hours or so, I come home, I walk the dog, I cook dinner and eat it with my wife, I watch one TV show (usually while eating dinner … yeah, I know), then I go into my office and write until it’s time for bed. It works out to about three hours a day, give or take an hour. I also aim for four hours a day on weekends, sometimes more.

I decided early on that if I wanted to do this, I’d have to treat it like a second job, not a hobby. I got disciplined about it. I would force myself to try writing every evening, even when I felt like doing something else. Now, a year later, I get anxious on the evenings when I don’t write, or edit, or at least do something related to putting books out. Practice becomes routine, and routine becomes habit.

3. Is your wife okay with you spending so much time locked away in your office? Amazingly, yes. I make sure to ask her this question every couple of months or so, and she always smiles and tells me to go away. She has a pretty demanding job, and she likes the quiet time in the evening to be able to pick away at some of her own work. Plus, she thinks I’m a good writer, and believes I actually might have a shot at earning a living at this. In fact, there have even been times where she’s kicked my ass back into the office when I’m being lazy.

Yes, I am amazingly lucky, and I make sure to tell her so whenever possible.

4. Where do you get your ideas for stories? I have no idea.

*rimshot.wav*

Ideas just pop into my head at random, pretty much every day. They might be triggered by things I’ve seen or heard, other things I’m thinking about, or random brain chemistry.

Ideas are cheap, and everywhere. At this very moment, I have six work-able ideas for my next novel (some better than others). I could probably come up with another by the end of the day if I felt like I needed to. I don’t mean to brag; my entire point here is that having a story idea is really nothing to boast about. Taking that idea and turning it into a finished book is the hard part.

5. What’s Winterwakers about? See my Books page. Hopefully that’s a good enough description. If not, maybe check out the free sample of Part 1 I posted back in October, or peruse the free samples you can find on Amazon or Kobo.

6. When will there be a “real” paper book version? I don’t know yet. There may never be one. I would very much like for one to exist. If it happens, it will be for the anthology (all three parts combined), not each individual part.

Publishing a print book is much, much more difficult than publishing an eBook. At minimum, I would need to spend money on a full wrap-around cover (the current cover art is not adequate for that) and time and/or money formatting the book for print. I’m running a business that intends to be profitable, and I would need some expectation of return on my investment if I put out a print book. I have yet to make a profit on eBooks (see question 7), so sinking money into another edition just isn’t in the cards right now.

If a publisher picked up Winterwakers, I’m sure they’d put out a print version. But that’s a whole other can of worms (see question 8).

7. How are your sales doing? Uh … hmm … hey, look at this!

*runs away*

They’re not great … which is exactly what I was expecting. This is my first book, and it’s the first in a series. The odds of me getting serious sales at this stage of my career are basically zero. How many “real” businesses make a profit their first year, or even their second year?

The common wisdom among veteran authors is “don’t evaluate your career until you’ve finished five books.” The reasoning is solid: debut novels are a risky buy, so you should expect low interest and weak sales. But once you have a few books under your belt, you’ve proven you’re serious about writing. You’re not some wannabe hobbyist, you’re the real thing.

8. Why didn’t you find a publisher to publish Winterwakers? I considered this, but decided I’d rather go the indie route for my first novel. I have a lot of reasons, and this is a complex topic, so here’s the executive summary:

  • Getting an agent, let alone a publisher, is a lot of work in and of itself — not to mention unlikely, especially for a sci-fi debut. At this stage, I’d rather focus on writing and building an audience. If I do well at that, my chances of finding an agent or publisher will improve.
  • eBooks, freelance editors, and indie publishing have made it possible to put out a great book without a publisher, and get it into all the major eBook stores. It’s even possible to do print without a publisher (though much more difficult; see question 6).
  • Getting a book deal is no guarantee you’ll sell a single copy. It’s not even a guarantee the publisher will publish it at all (it just means they hold the publishing rights). I wanted my first book to have a shot of getting out there, not sit on an editor’s desk until the contract expires.

There are a few other factors in this decision, but they’re all kind of boring unless you’re a publishing industry keener. I’m still pretty firm in thinking it was a good call. It definitely wasn’t a career-killing move, as some staunch traditionalists threaten.

Besides, Winterwakers won’t be my only book. I might actually try to go the traditional pub path with the next one, and skip the indie route completely. Or maybe I’ll do the same thing again. Or maybe I’ll give it away for free, or staple it to telephone poles, or tattoo it onto the back of a burly Dutch sailor. The publishing world is in a state of flux right now, and it’s tough to say what my best option will be when the next book is ready.

9. What’s next for you? More bullet points!

  • Winterwakers Part 2 is out January 27. I just got it back from the editor, and it’s a kick-ass read. I’m very proud of it.
  • I’m almost done writing Winterwakers Part 3. It still needs edits and revisions, so we’re looking at late April at the absolute earliest for publication. And with that, Winterwakers will be all wrapped up! Holy crap, you guys.
  • When Part 3 is released, I’ll also put out an omnibus/complete edition that combines all three parts into one book.
  • I want to do a short story as an exclusive for e-mail list subscribers. I had an idea for one, but I’m not sure I like it anymore. I’m sure I can come up with something better (see question 4).
  • At some point in the spring, I’ll start outlining my next novel.

2015 is going to be awesome. Bring it on!


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