Sunday, 13 December 2020

10 Things I Learned About Writing & Publishing a Novel

This year, I wrote the novel 'Aqua Maddas' and self-published it using Amazon KDP.

And yes, I have a new cover! Made by the talented artists Jacqueline & Jane Lau!
(artist links to follow)

The novel is about a genderless sea creature named Aqua Maddas, who is trapped in a mental health ward. They have many stories to tell about their adventures at sea, their journey through human history and the fascinating characters they meet, leading up to their imprisonment in the ward.

The story of Aqua Maddas explores the wonders of the ocean as well as the complexities of recovering from psychosis, and it is available as a Kindle ebook and paperpack from Amazon.

Many people have asked me how I went about writing and publishing a novel. Honestly, I do not feel as though I am truly an expert on this process and every day I learn something new. All I know is what I have experienced, so let me share some of the ‘wisdom’ I have gained. Hopefully, it will be useful for those who want to write and publish a book but don’t know how to go about it.

1. Decide What Your Story is About and Who Will Potentially Read it

There are many different reasons for wanting to write something, and the goal does not have to be publishing a book. Suppose the only reason you are writing something is to process your thoughts and emotions about a particular event in your life. That’s OK, and it can be an effective way to heal. 

Maybe after writing, you will have something you can base a novel on. Or, you can print it, burn it, make it into biodegradable confetti or wholesome origami swans. Whatever you need to do to help you on your healing journey, do it. 

No one ever said that pain can't be elegant
Image by stux at Pixabay

Instead of destroying my writing (although I wanted to many times), I realised that other people might benefit from reading a story loosely based on psychotic delusions and bipolar mania. It’s a topic often not spoken about due to the associated stigma, and that’s what motivated me to write and publish ‘Aqua Maddas’. 

My primary target audience are people who have experienced psychosis, bipolar mania, delusions and mental health hospitalisation, and who want to feel less alone and isolated. I also hope that my novel might inspire in others the confidence to share their stories, and also contribute to breaking the stigma.

One of my crucial deadlines this year was Mental Health Awareness Month (October)
Image from

However, I was very aware that a lengthy whine about being in a mental hospital would be rather depressing for most readers. I wanted to entertain people as well as to educate. So, that’s why my book is not just about mental health, but also the ocean and fascinating events in history thrown in with some whacky humour. 

By experiencing being the aquatic humanoid ‘Aqua Maddas’, my book aims to welcome you into this imagination-stretching delusion where you become briefly detached from reality. So, my target audience can also include people who want an escape from the stress of the pandemic, multiple lockdowns and political instability.

And of course, people who love the ocean
Image by 舰 周 from Pixabay 

So, be honest with yourself about why you are writing, why your story is unique and who your target audience is, even if it is a relatively small audience. However, if your goal is to make a serious amount of money by writing and publishing a book, stay away from fiction (unless you’re already a big name). If you want to roll on a carpet of cash then write a self-help book, invent a new diet or provide some secret about how to get rich quick. 

Here's a tip. Get rich quick by not buying so many 'get rich quick' books
Image by Thomas Rüdesheim from Pixabay

Also, it’s fair to say, even if you are an astonishingly good writer, you will be competing with the thousands of new books published every day (on Amazon alone). So, if making money from writing is your goal, I suggest not writing a book. Learn how to write code instead (and then maybe write a book about that?).

2. Make Time to Daydream

Armed with your story outline and target audience, you now need to build a book that will entertain your average reader for ideally more than two hours. So, you will need to collect lots of ideas and weave them into something that tells your story well. A lot of people wince ‘but, I’m not very creative!’ It pains me when people say this, and I always argue that it's certainly not true. Most people have fantastic imaginations, but they don’t make the time available for the bedrock of creativity; daydreaming. 

Buddy makes time for daydreaming. Be like Buddy.

Maybe you daydream best on a long walk? Or a run? Perhaps swimming can help? Or meditation? For me, I get my best ideas when I’m listening to music, cycling, walking, running, swimming, using public transport or during a long shower. The main objective is to make time to immerse yourself in your inner world. Fight off that voice that tells you to ‘stop daydreaming’ and let your thoughts fly.
Being alone with nature can also help
Image by TanteTati from Pixabay

3.  Psychologically Commit to Writing and Block Out the Negative

Writing a book (and completing it) is a lot like being in a committed long-term relationship. You have to make quality time for it, and even if you’re feeling lazy, bored or caught off-guard by attractive distractions, you need to bring your focus back and keep making it a priority. 

I hate this meme now but it's the best way of conveying the idea

The only real difference is that when you’re in a committed relationship, other people usually know about it. For me, I found it healthier not to tell anyone about my novel apart from a few of my closest, most trustworthy friends. Telling the right people can help you keep focussed and give you motivation to reach your goal. However, my advice is not to talk about your novel too much, as this can take energy away from writing. 

The louder you shout 'I'm writing a novel', the less words you actually write. Fact.
Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

Plus, I definitely advise not to talk about it to certain types of people. These include untrustworthy idea stealers, narcissists or negative, pessimistic thinkers. If you hear the words ‘you’re not talented, educated or good enough to write a novel’, it’s fair to say that this is a reasonable response:

The reason I am saying this is that when writing your novel, especially during the half-way mark or even near the finish line, you will be battling with negative voices from your own mind, which you will need to silence to complete your goal. This is an exhausting process in itself and will be a hundred times harder if you’re also battling the voices of outside negative influences. Every time you get to your laptop to write, you will need to bring the mindset of ‘I can do this’; otherwise, it will be challenging to push through the inevitable self-doubt, fatigue and writer’s block. 

And to reduce stress, I recommend using the auto-save features of Google Docs or OneDrive
Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Unless you have unwavering self-confidence, those negative inner voices will manifest at some point, so prepare yourself. Have a few positive mantras ready to help you get back on track. For me, I like to remind myself that 50 Shades of Grey got published, that a whiny cheese-puff was president of the USA, and that many blockbuster movies are based on unoriginal stories. If these things can happen, so can your book!

If this movie exists, then there is space in the world for whatever creation you want to bring to life
Image from

Here are some more positive mantras to keep you inspired and motivated:

4. Embrace Discomfort but also Small Rewards

Ways to maintain motivation and tap into sustainable creativity are personal for everyone. For me, disorder and discomfort are effective catalysts for my imagination. I can’t have my surroundings too tidy and I deny myself some things that I want, but I also make sure to give myself simple rewards on completing deadlines. For example, I love video games, especially immersive RPGs. But, I decided not to play serious RPGs until I had completed and published my novel. Short Mortal Kombat or Mario Kart sessions, seeing friends for a couple of hours or a quick wild swim were my ‘mini’ rewards for completing chapters, sections and rough drafts. 

If the power goes out during Mortal Kombat, at least you'll have your 'creativity' for entertainment
Image by Leo Zank from Pixabay

Not completely living your best life can be a great motivator to achieve, and it always has been for me. Chaos mixed with the boredom of lockdown in 2020 was the ideal setting for me to get my novel done. And yes, sitting down for hours, facing difficult emotions and making sacrifices can be mentally and physically straining, but hey, sometimes you have to suffer for your art!

There's so much truth to this statement
Image from

 5. Enjoy the Journey

Once you have started writing and you’re on a roll, you will feel like you are on a special (secret) mission. Every day you will face new challenges in the form of thinking about how your protagonist will react to something, how to get your characters out of whatever scrape they’ve gotten themselves into, or how to write the most tantalising cliff-hanger. You are creating your story, and this is your adventure, so take pleasure in those moments where it adds spice to your life. For instance, enjoy having an odd Google search history due to your ‘research’, which will undoubtedly confuse any snooping partners.

Your targeted ads will never be the same again

Enjoy those feelings after releasing suppressed emotions by writing something heartfelt and cathartic. Above all else, enjoy inching ever closer to the goal of a completed book. Even if you’ve only written one paragraph one day, it’s still a step in the right direction. 

6. Seek Out Supportive & Respectful Beta Readers and Editors

This aspect can be challenging, but you must seek out supportive people who will respectfully comment on the good and the bad in your work. You must trust these people not to steal your work. Importantly, they should also not be the kind of people whose self-esteem relies on being critical in order to feel superior to others (aka narcissists). At least, not at first.

Everyone meets a person like this eventually. Like wasps, they're ubiquitous.
 Image by Sammy-Williams from Pixabay 

If you do find wonderful people who offer respectful criticism of your work, cherish them and listen carefully to everything they say. If they make fair critiques, do your best not to take it to heart, and understand that they want the best for you and your creation. It is challenging to be tough after writing something from your bare soul, but it is fair to say that you need to build that thick skin, albeit gradually. 

Don’t let your first beta readers be random people on Facebook writer groups unless your skin is armadillo-tough. Do be kind to yourself and pick gentle beta readers to start with, especially if this is your debut novel. But then, afterwards, try to make space for the straight-talkers and the no-nonsense editors – it’s (main) character building.

7. Work Out How You Will Publish Your Book

Once you’ve written about three-quarters of your novel, it is time to research different publishing avenues. After some consideration, I realised that self-publishing through Amazon KDP was the best way to get my book on the market. I knew that there was no way my story would be interesting to traditional publishers due to my target market being somewhat limited. 

There are many advantages to self-publishing. Firstly, you can gain more royalties (approximately 40-70% on Amazon KDP) than via traditional publishing (~10%). Additionally, you have total creative control over your book content and cover, your work gets to the market faster, and you have more time to reach your target audience. However, you will need to do all of your marketing yourself or pay someone to do it for you. You will need to hire editors and book cover designers (or DIY). Finally, self-publishing currently has less ‘respect’ than traditional publishing, although this mindset is changing. 

Yes, I am aware that Amazon is not the most ethical of companies, but it is a great platform for self-publishing indie authors who would otherwise face rejection from traditional publishers.

I will say this; if any ‘publisher’ approaches you and expects you to pay vast sums of money to publish your work, this will definitely be a scam. I know of many writers who have fallen for these. You never pay publishers up-front. They make their money from royalties after publishing your work, and anyone who says otherwise is lying. 

8. Create or Pay for a Good Front Cover

OK, sit tight because I have a lot to say about this. As an inexperienced author and amateur artist, I have learnt many harsh lessons this year regarding book cover design. I honestly did not think that my book would be successful enough to warrant paying the average £150-200 cost of a graphic designer to create a front cover. I also believed that my DIY artistry would be fine. People close to me told me that my front cover was great. It’s ‘authentic’, it’s ‘from-the-heart’, and it’s ‘sincere’, but in reality, it's not what it needed to be to reach my target audience. 

It certainly reached younger readers though

The vast majority of people on Facebook author groups disliked my original cover. They thought that children were the only target audience, said it was unprofessional and labelled it as ‘ugly’. And yes, this hurt me to the core, but their opinions were fair, and my skin is indeed thicker than it used to be. Sometimes you have to walk through fire to reach the oasis of success.

I could have used the 'phoenix from the flames' metaphor but I prefer this 'heron from hell' picture
Image by Leandro De Carvalho from Pixabay

So, upon receiving some initial royalties from my book sales, I decided to pay for a better cover. At this point, I would like to say that novel writing is my hobby and not my full-time job, meaning that I don’t have the time to spend on learning how to use photoshop to a professional standard. I was also curious about how artists would interpret my ‘vision’ for the book cover. Therefore, I searched for designers on Facebook, Instagram and Fiverr, and had a few covers made....with mixed results. 

One artist produced this – which wasn’t bad at all. There’s a strong chance I will use this cover in the future, and I think that the designer did a good job.

Produced by designlorrd

And another artist produced this...

Let's just say I got some of my money back on the condition that I don't reveal the source of this uncanny-valley CGI casualty. I do feel bad for the artist though, they did work hard on it. 
Sometimes it's best not to overthink a project.

However, when I saw this cover, I fell in love:

Made by the talented Jacqueline & Jane Lau

This cover represented my 'vision' in the best way, and I felt as though the design was mature and detailed without feeling too 'crowded'. 

To conclude this section, if you are an excellent artist or graphic designer, then, by all means, make your own book cover. However, if you need to hire someone, this is what I suggest: 

Choose an artist who will make a real effort to read and understand your work. If they say ‘I don’t have to read the book to know what you want’, you might get something that’s pretty OK but perhaps not ‘perfection’. Also, stay away from the ones who reveal that they ‘never get feedback’ for their work, or who insist on putting multiple gigantic watermarks all over the cover so that it’s difficult to ask for feedback. Yes, artists need to protect their work, but one tasteful watermark is enough, not fifty.

Image from gocamle

From my experience, Jacqueline Lau took the time to read my work and demonstrated a detailed, perfectionist mindset. I found her approach to be incredibly professional, patient and respectful, and I had a positive experience working with her and Jane Lau. I would recommend them for any artwork or graphic design that you might need, and I will indeed be working with them again (if they'll put up with any more of my mad projects). 

9. Publish, be Patient and Promote

So, you’ve got your final manuscript and front cover and like me, you decided to go through Amazon KDP. You may have reached the moment where you hit ‘publish’...

And what a rush it is when you finally do hit 'publish'!!

Prepare for an agonising 72-hour wait for your book to become available on Amazon. You can either refresh the page thousands of times (or wait for the email if you have more emotional stability than me) or think about your marketing strategy. 

Honestly, the more experienced authors will probably have worked out a marketing strategy weeks or months ago. My marketing approach was a bit chaotic. It involved waiting for the right trends on social media, preparing for Mental Health Awareness month (and relevant associated online events) and talking about it with the right people. Whatever strategy you have, once your book is finally on sale and you can start publicising it, you must be patient. 

Meditate before your market. Find your calm, not your Caps Lock.

Don’t expect friends or family to read your novel (if they haven’t already as beta readers), and try not to feel offended if they don’t. Your closest may not be your target audience, or they just might not be into reading. Focus on your core market, whether they are book lovers in general, people interested in your subject matter, or fans of your particular genre.

It can take ages to build a following and to get reviews for your work, so again, patience is key. Being an author is also like being a small business – when you find your supporters cherish them, but always think about how you can improve your product, your reputation and your marketing approach. 

10. Celebrate

You’ve written and published a book, and maybe some people have read it? Perhaps some people have even paid for it!? You may have gained one or two ‘fans’ of your work? Even if you only make enough money to afford a video game or two, that’s still something to be proud of. It’s a significant achievement, and now you can say you are a published author. 

Finally, success can be many things. Some people may say that becoming rich is the only real success. For me, yes, making some money is sweet, but I think that 'success' is something entirely different. Readers have reached out to me and thanked me for being open about my experiences of bipolar mania and psychotic delusions. That makes me happier than I have ever been before. Whenever readers say ‘wow, I don’t feel as alone’, that’s when I feel successful. 

It's reviews like these that make it wonderful to be alive

Now, someone please recommend me some consoles and good RPGs!

If you have enjoyed my writing, then you will love my debut novel 'Aqua Maddas', available as a paperback or Kindle ebook. 

Happy Hanukkah!