Christmas Eve Plotting
Today is Christmas Eve, and a couple of days ago I received a shocker of an email from the letting agent to say that the owners of the house I rent, had decided to sell, and would be putting it on the market on Boxing Day. To say I was livid and downcast is an understatement, especially as I was decorating the Christmas Tree and trying to jolly myself up for Christmas. Growing up in care as a kid, Christmas has always been my least favourite time of the year, I dreaded it and I was one of the few kids who longed to be back at school! But these days, as a grown up, I've started to tolerate it because it's the only few days of respite each year where no one bugs me (they are all off busy with families), and even the postal knocks at the door, spam phone calls, and hundreds of emails a day cease. A break from bills and financial demands in brown envelopes. A few days of silence and a chance for creative freedom to flow. Christmas is not all bad.
Weirdly, I didn't stay mad for too long after hearing from the letting agent (who also informed me that they would be closed over Christmas, and to prepare for viewings of the property over the coming month). Instead of fretting about moving house yet again and being homeless (same thing happened to me last year), I pulled out a notepad and pen, and frantically scribbled notes. It was just the kick up the bum I needed, and instead of sulking about it and being all miserable and sorry for myself, I realised I could use the situation as the inspiration for a story. At first I thought it would be a story for adults. How the 'hero' was hard done by, after the nasty landlord gave them notice of eviction, and how Christmas was ruined unless they could come up with a cunning plan to save the day. A kind of 'how not to sell your house' book, with all the tricks and pranks for putting potential buyers off. It would be an evil book of revenge and cathartic to me as I went through the process of trying to find a new place for me and my pets to live after Christmas. That definitely would have been a very dark book, with Facebook ads targeted at potential buyers to show all the murders and crime in the location of the house they wanted to buy!!!
On reflection over the day, I realised that whenever times have been tough in my own life, writing is what always seems to get me through. As a teen, I thought constantly about suicide, and felt like I should have been killed at birth. No one wanted me, especially for Christmas, and instead I was a parasite, a burden on society. A social services file that had to be dealt with. But I did have a really cool teacher, and she encouraged me to write her a letter everyday during the Christmas holidays. And that is what I did. Whenever I felt angry or upset each day, I would sit and write her a letter (this was long before email technology existed and no doubt would be the kind of thing that teachers would be frowned upon for doing these days!!), and right before every school holiday she gave me a load of stamps and envelopes, and each day I would slope out of the house and put a letter in the post box to her. She never read those letters, she binned them when they arrived, and it was never about having someone else listening to my woes. It was merely the process of getting all that hurt out of my system, and sending it far away, so that I could start afresh the next day.
It worked. It is what got me through the hardest times in life. That teacher quite literally saved my life, whilst also helping me to practice expressing myself and working on my handwriting in pen and ink and my sentence formation for my English exams! I was probably the only student in the exam hall who didn't get cramp in my hand from writing, because I was used to sending my teacher novel length letters!
Once I had written down the horrid stuff, I could then sit down and focus on revising for my exams or doing my homework, or pretending to be nice to people I couldn't stand, who treated me badly and like I was worthless. When you have nothing else in the world to help you fight, you will always have your words, your writing...and you will always have books and stories to get you through the dark times. For me those books that transported me to far away places, were books like Jane Eyre, and books by Roald Dahl, where the grown ups were idiots, and the children always outsmarted them in the end. I suppose it makes sense then, that I should go on to become an advocate for young people, and to run an educational charity which provides free education to young people who are denied access to education because of things like poverty, war, gender, or disability. Much like that teacher believed in me and gave me a tool for survival, I would love to encourage others to read and write for their own survival and growth too. Not just in the dark days, but the happy days too.
In the past twenty four hours since hearing the news that the house is on the market, my idea to write a book, has turned into an idea for a series of books for children, which will centre around a science teacher called Libby Lane, and the adventures that she has with the students at her school as together they fight the injustice of the world. And though I don't yet have the full story of each book in my head, I thought I might share the writing and publishing journey with you over the next 100 or so days. Since things are generally pretty quiet for me at Christmas time, especially in terms of the freelance work I do, now seems like the perfect time to begin!
20 Books to $50K
As it happens, I've been following a writer called Michael Anderle for some time now, and on my wish list for 2018 is to go to his 20BooksLondon event the 3-4th February since it will be my first opportunity to network with other authors and podcasters that I follow, face to face. The one that took place in LA recently looked amazing and so many of the podcasters I follow were either there as participants, or as speakers. Michael came at writing from a publishing perspective, and realised that if his one book was averaging $7 a day in sales, then if he put out more books, and they each brought in the same amount (or more) each day, he would significantly increase his income and would eventually be able to buy a place in Mexico for his retirement. I had started to notice a similar trend with my Rydal Water notebook sales, and realised that with a lot of luck, there might just be a chance for me to raise my own income, by doing something that I love. Not only putting me in a position to buy my own home one day, but to really leave a long lasting legacy for my children's charity, and to be in a position to undertake my dream creative projects linked to my expedition (swimming along all the rivers and the coast of Great Britain) and the creation of educational content for schools worldwide.
I've given a lot of thought to my will of late and been working with a lawyer to make changes and decisions about things like the rights to my books (that I haven't even written yet), since I plan to leave all of my estate to my charity Oceans Project when I die, and have been reading M.L.Buchman's Estate Planning for Authors book after watching an interview with the Creative Penn podcast. How amazing would it be to turn those feelings of being worthless as I did as a kid, into being able to create content for kids, that will go on to generate funds, long after my death!
So I spent the entire day googling Michael Anderle, watching podcasts and interviews with him, reading Kboards, and joining his Facebook group, thinking that there must be a catch and that it was all just a gimmick and wasn't possible, but I figured that it might just be worth a shot, and I really had nothing to lose in the process. I have been longing to write books for children for a really long time, and if nothing else, writing as much as I can, will help me to develop my craft, to get feedback from readers, and maybe even earn some money in the process. Money that could actually change my life and improve my day to day existence. What if I could pay off that £20 outstanding bill, or have enough to pay rent without stressing each month. Or to buy cat food without worrying whether I can afford it. That really would be life changing for me. Little things, little actions with a ripple effect. Imagine that! It isn't like I have anything else planned over Christmas anyway. Imagine being able to create a book once, and then have it go off into the world, earning you money each day, whilst you invest more time in writing the next book. That has to be better than me spending my time working as a cleaner in McDonalds and getting a one off payment per hour for time that I will never get back and which has no lasting legacy for the children I serve through my charity.
My plan now is to write long and hard, every day, for the next 100 days, and to share that progress here on my blog as I go. Blogging will help me deal with the emotional side of 'becoming a writer' and fighting off that age old imposter syndrome that I frequently suffer from, maybe my experiences will help others, and maybe if anyone ever reads this blog post, they will have ideas or suggestions to help the process too. Since joining the 20Booksto50K Facebook group, I've already met other people in the same position as me, writing their first or more books, and that in itself is amazing, to suddenly be a part of a community. Not only that, but a small group of us have set up another Facebook group 'Novel in a Week' where we will share the process as we each write or work on a novel between the 1st and 7th January 2018. Now I feel like I'm accountable, that I have a commitment to write, even if I don't feel like, it, even if I only write a few words each day. That is what I needed.
What to Write?
Whilst walking the dog, working out on my rowing machine, tidying the house, and taking a shower, the little idea for a book series has been buzzing around my head, and now I'm super excited because I suddenly have the Libby Lane series to write, as well as my adult colouring books that I am working on, and after being inspired by another Creative Penn episode about short stories, another project that has been ticking over in mind for the last few months, suddenly seems like something more tangible. My River Thames Tales (based on my swim along the Thames from source to sea in the summer), but rather than waiting to release all of the stories at once, I've realised that it is in fact possible to release them individually, with the added benefit of bringing in funds on Kindle Unlimited for each page that gets read - perfect for Christmas holiday readers! Plus it means that three quite different series will help me to have a break and to switch between them whilst I work, so I never get too bored or lose flow. When drawing, I generally listen to podcasts and these usually get my creative juices flowing for writing. Plus, three very different series might help me with diversifying rather than having just one.
Stumbling Blocks and Hitting a Wall
Though I have wanted to write for ages, I hit a massive wall the past few months, because I felt like I was only justified in publishing, if I had a super duper cover creator, editor, and my own ISBNs, and was published on Ingram Spark (which has a set up fee, though you can get codes to reduce this cost) rather than CreateSpace which is free and comes with free ISBNS.
I want to do things the best I can, I want my books to be perfect, and I don't want to let the readers down, but the simple fact is, I cannot afford to do things the way I want to, and unless I make compromises and go with what I can afford, then I will never be able to publish a book. I had approached lots of editors and authors about their editors, and had submitted writing samples to websites like Reedsy, all of which left me feeling beaten before I had even started writing.
Once again, it seemed like writing was only for the elite, and I was not worthy. I had rejections from 4 out of the 5 editors I approached at Reedsy, maybe I just pitched to the wrong ones, but if I was paying for editing, I wanted the best editors and I still had no idea about the quality of their work even if I paid them millions. The only one who came back to me with an offer wanted £9000 to copy edit a 20,000 word children's book, another told me that my book wasn't of interest and wouldn't find a commercial market. I want to write my books so that the children supported by my charity get free digital copies of them, and what difference does how much you make on them affect an editor, they get paid once only?? £9000 would feed and clothe and educate the kids I support for a whole year, even if I had that kind of money I couldn't justify it, and it wasn't even like it was for line editing. I've since found some cheaper editors, but all are simply more than I can afford, and to save up will take me a year or more per book.
In short, to produce a book the best way I could, and on Ingram Spark was going to cost me £89 for an ISBN number, plus $49 in set up costs, £9000 for copy editing, more for line editing and proofreading, and a few hundred dollars for a cover design, plus marketing costs. It simply wasn't viable for my first book. The cost would be more than I earn in a single year! It might not sell a single copy and I might be a terrible writer!
Instead, I have decided to write and publish anyway, but the budget version. I will just have to accept that I will get negative reviews because yes my books could have been edited better, and yes the covers could have been better too. But I feel like it is more important at this stage, to take the risk and have those stories out there, than to not have anything out there at all. I don't even know if anyone will be interested in them yet, and if they do take off and earn some money, then that money can then be ploughed back into the creation side, once I've found an editor and cover designer I like and trust. It feels the equivalent to me of saying that I won't take up rowing, because I know I can't afford my own nutritionist, Team GB coach, and personal trainer.
No one starts out at the top of their game, we all need to make mistakes and to learn from them as we go. You don't pass your driving test and buy a Ferrari, you buy an old banger, and work on putting in your driving hours, and getting experience, until you are ready to take a step up the ladder to a less beaten up car, one with better go faster stripes and shiny bits. I have to stop allowing my fear of anything less than perfection and being judged for it, as a reason to not get on and write my books. At the end of the day, I'm writing my books for the 100,000 kids I support worldwide each year through my charity. Some of those kids don't have access to any books, and if I can even get just one book into their hand then that is success to me. How cool would it be to send them a copy of my book this time next year, and to be able to do a live reading of it on Christmas Eve, with chocolates, and across time zones around the world.
With those decisions made, I was starting to feel a lot better about the bad news of potentially being homeless in the New Year. I had the start of a plan, that had steps I could now follow. My thoughts could now turn to the writing side and the first book in the series.
It was a massive step for me. I had £40 in my bank account, not a lot of money, but I was happy with it because it meant that I wasn't overdrawn, which would have been much worse. I was about to take a calculated risk with all the money I had in the world. I was about to spend it all on stuff that felt like a luxury, that I wasn't sure I could even justify.
One of the biggest benefits to me, of taking part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November was that participants got to download and use Scrivener for free for all of November, with a 50% of discount for 'winners' (people who reached the NaNoWriMo 50,000 words over the month target) if they decided to buy it before 7th December. That allowed me to get a feel for it each day as I wrote, and to think about whether it would help me with my writing. It costs $45 for the Mac/PC version of Scrivener, less if you belong to an educational establishment. Unfortunately I was only in a position to buy it yesterday on the eve of Christmas Eve, but I did manage to do a Google search for codes and still got 20% discount. Kicking myself for missing the 50% discount! That will teach me. But on the plus side, I realised that I could pay for Scrivener in dollars or in pounds, and since the exchange rate is pretty different at the moment, I paid in dollars which should have saved me a couple of extra pounds once my bank charges for the foreign currency.
What I love about Scrivener is that it allows me to plan out the storyline, places characters for my book, in one file, so I can jump between chapters easily, and tick them off when complete, rather than having things in Word or Pages and having to scroll through hundreds of pages to find what I'm looking for. If I want to speed up my writing process, the ability to plan out a whole book before I start the writing will be a massive bonus, so I consider this to be a great investment. I knew that I now had the best possible start when it came to the writing process of my book.
Writing a Synopsis
A little while ago, when I was thinking about writing books for a living I purchased three books over the space of a year to find out more about what was involved. The first was 'How to Market a Book' by Joanna Penn, the second was 'Mastering Amazon Ads' by Brian Meeks, and the third and most recent book (that I read on my way to do a paid talk in a school last week) was 'How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis' by Bryan Cohen. I should probably confess here, that I bought the synopsis book because I mistakenly thought it was written by the same author that wrote the Amazon ads book, but both books had come highly recommended by a lot of authors I'd asked for suggestions and are actually fairly similar in style.
I mention these books because I ended up re-reading them all on the eve of Christmas Eve as I was thinking about whether I should throw myself fully in to writing over the next 100 days to try and improve my current situation and to get me to the kind of life that I want to have. I much prefer print books to digital ones, as I like to have a hard copy that I can thumb through as I scribble down notes, and that I can highlight text on. As I worked my way through the Synopsis book I started to follow the activities as I wrote the synopsis for the first book in my Libby Lane series. And then I joined the accompanying Facebook Group 'Selling for Authors' and shared the first version of my synopsis with the other group members for their feedback.
This is what my first draft of the synopsis looks like:
When the owner of the Old School House, mysteriously disappears, long standing tenant and science teacher Libby Lane will have no option but to quit her job as the only teacher of the tiny hamlet school. Can best friends Tom and Lilly find a way to save their teacher from eviction, and their school from closure? If they fail, not only will they will be sent away to boarding school hundreds of miles away from their family and friends, but the grown ups in the hamlet will become old and crabby, devoid of any children in their lives to keep them young and quick witted. Can Tom and Lilly use their scientific knowledge that Libby has taught them, to save the day before Christmas arrives?
It has only been a few hours since I was accepted into the group and posted my synopsis, but just the act of writing it, and sharing it publically seemed to help the book idea come to life and make it more real to me, and to consider others reactions. More real than just uploading the book and synopsis to my back cover or Createspace where I don't have that same sense of real people reading it. But writing it before I have even written the book, helped me to develop the story in my mind, and to ask questions about the characters before I even started planning out my chapters and story on Scrivener. I really hope that I do get some feedback on my synopsis from the group as it means I can tick off another thing from my publishing list of skills I have yet to develop. Plus being able to read and comment on what other authors post, is already helping me to get a feel for what does and doesn't work when trying to create a hook and a tagline for a book. Best of all, this is a resource that is free and will help me to grow as a writer and publisher, and to be able to give back to others in the process.
CReating a Book Cover
With my characters and storyline roughly in my mind, and the synopsis out there cooking and developing and waiting for feedback, I could now turn my thoughts to my book cover. This was important to me, because if I couldn't find the images I wanted, or pay for an expensive designer, then I might have to write my characters so that they looked more like the images that I could find for free or cheap. Shutterstock was going to be too expensive for me if I created a lot of books, but my main character Libby would need to be consistent across each book for branding purposes. I wanted the covers to be similar but not exactly the same. I typed different character traits into Google that best represented how the characters looked in my mind, and found images that looked the closest to my characters. I saved these as a Pinterest board and then began looking at book covers and created a Pinterest board of the covers I liked best and which I felt best replicated the feel of my book and story, and the genre it would be in. I had about £20 left in my bank account, I needed to leave £1 or more so I didn't go overdrawn, which left me with very few options. Either I would have to buy an image or use a free image and design my own cover from scratch, which I didn't think I had skills for, or I would need to go to websites like Fiverr and source illustrators or designers who could create something that best matched my Pinterest boards.
This was by far the most time consuming part of my day, but I eventually found an artist in Spain who I felt would be able to draw my character in the style I wanted, and then I could later create the background and format things myself to create the final cover. It would cost me more to buy the 'commercial use' extra, but would still be within my budget, better than I could do alone, and with a three day turn around, could be a way for me to create my series with covers that looked the same for branding purposes, but different for each story. I placed my order and will have my character illustration by Boxing Day, ready for when I come to format it. If all goes to plan this will speed up the process, and be within my price range.
One of the benefits of having joined the SPF (Self Publishing Formula) Community Facebook group is that it is a great place to post your cover designs and get feedback from the community on which design is best. Again, something that is free of charge, benefits from lots of experienced writers and publishers, and will massively help me, especially given that I don't have a budget for an all singing, all dancing cover at this stage. I'll post the finished cover here once I'm ready so you can see the result and give feedback too.
Bum on Seat Time
With my biggest worries: synopsis and cover now underway, and knowing that I have a head start to the writing process with Scrivener, I feel really happy and more at ease with my 100 day plan to write as much as I can and to get better with each book I write. Now the only thing left to do, is to get my bum into my seat and to write. Not easy when your next door neighbours are effing and blinding at each other as you try and write!!
To make this simpler and to stop me wasting time my faffing around and not knowing where to start, I put together a rough plan for my writing, with a planning day, several writing days, printing and editing days, formatting and publishing days. It isn't a hard and fast plan, things are likely to crop up, but I know which order to work on the books.
The most difficult part for me is the starting part. So to simplify things, my only commitment and tasks to complete each day, for the next 100 days are to:
I have zero distractions over the Christmas period. No freelance work, no knocks on the door from the postman, no urgent emails about work. I just need to sit, eat, drink, and write. I have a cosy seat, a log fire, and a Christmas Tree, complete with Christmas food to enjoy in the breaks from writing. No more excuses and reasons why I cannot get my stories down on paper.
I have no more reasons for self doubt. If my writing and books fail, and if I sell zero copies I have lost nothing but time, but have gained more experience as a writer. If I sell even a few copies, I can pay off some bills or bring in a little extra towards a deposit for a new place to rent, and maybe, just maybe, if I can make a few more sales, I can start to turn my life around by April 2018, and create a lasting legacy for the children I serve through my charity.
Wish me luck!! Tomorrow I will let you know how progress is going.