Learn the basics of fiction writing
I never had any formal training in writing and, whilst my grammar isn’t too bad, I had a lot to learn as I went and ended up learning new techniques part way through an edit. That was frustrating, as it would usually mean running through the rest of the draft at a better quality than the first half. On the advice front, if anyone asks me, I’d suggest they finish their first draft and then read all the books they’re going to about writing before starting editing and revision, or at least read a book about plot/structure before starting at all.
The most difficult thing to balance is study and practice. If I’d not started writing first, I’d have had nothing to relate to while I was reading about writing.
Keep notes / Get your facts straight
Keeping notes/filing for backstory: this was probably the bit I struggled with the most. I wrote my manuscript in plain text and inserted code-like comments in squiggly brackets that indicated where and when scenes were taking place, and also had a running block that I kept at the end of the document to track where items and characters were. Obviously everyone has to develop their own method that works for them, but it is vitally important (and makes your job easier) if consistency of state within the fiction is maintained and tracked.
Get feedback on your plot
Work through developing a synopsis. Discuss ideas with someone who works in the industry, either a creative writing tutor, an editor, or an author, just for some feedback on how the plot develops and how the characters deal with those developments. Run the idea past a couple of friends if the others aren’t possible to access. Read some essays on structure, split your plot out into elements such as scenes and mark them based on the tension. Rearrange scenes if needs be.
Editing, before you get an editor
Run through your book several times, checking for grammar and formatting. Consider the first draft to be a rough outline. Expand scenes in places where description is lacking, cut down where description is too verbose or dialogue is flat. Check that the tension is held where it should be and that events flow smoothly. Rewrite sections that come across as too vague, or could be shown rather than told, or vice versa. If you have an idea that will increase tension, do that. Tensions of all kinds, be they based on conflict, physical or mental, are the main thing that will keep a reader turning pages.
Get yourself an editor!
Get feedback on your opening sections and structure. If you’re completely confident that everything is as dramatic as it needs to be and that the structure is appealing (not just in your own opinion) and that you can’t improve the work further other than just by making changes for the sake of it, now is the time to get an editor. Copyediting is for the penultimate stage; your plot should be fully developed and not require major rewriting to get it into shape. A good copyeditor will be searching for inconsistencies of details, may or may not provide you with hints to improve the quality of the writing, and will often correct repetitive formatting/style issues. To find an editor, do a search for fiction book editor and you’ll come across services such as Playle Editorial Services, who specialise in fiction such as short stories and novels, and also provide a short sample edit.
Once you’ve hired your editor, they will come back to you with their changes and suggestions, which you then implement – entirely at your own discretion, but why are you paying someone a considerable-but-worthy sum of money if you don’t intend to use their changes?
Once your changes have been sent back to your editor and they have either advised of further corrections and/or accepted your implementations you begin going through your final proof copy. Hiring an editor for copyediting will not cover proof-reading. Proof-reading is a different service, and is intended to pick up the tiniest of mistakes – the final proof. Copyediting will pick up most of the mistakes, but not all. If you’re not going to pay for a proof-reading edit, make sure everything is as it should be and that all punctuation is correct and that there are no mistakes. Read through it several times, or at least once, SLOWLY.
I found understanding typesetting very confusing initially, but probably because I have a lot of technical knowledge and intended to set my novel myself. For most professional authors I’m sure it typesetting wouldn’t be much of a concern as many employ a third party to do the work but, for a self-publisher, taking the attitude of “I’ll just do it in my word processor” isn’t acceptable for published material if it’s supposed to look professional. You can get close, but not close enough.
Contrary to popular belief, wordprocessors are woefully inadequate for the job – they simply can’t perform many of the functions that professional typesetting software such as Adobe InDesign do. A word processor finds it difficult to line text through with facing pages whilst maintaining a gap for chapter headings. They are also difficult to set out justification and hyphenation.
I couldn’t justify buying something like the Adobe suite, so I opted for the open source solution, LaTeX, and the results were astounding. LaTeX takes a bit of learning, and is fairly technical – but for free, it’s great! If you’re good with HTML, LaTeX isn’t much of a stretch (pardon the pun). I’ve added a sample project for you to do your own here.
When setting our your final copy, do some research on what to put in your front and back matter. You’ll need this to determine your final page count. A basic guide is this: Front page (right) title page (book title and author, maybe in the same font as the cover); title verso (back of the title page – the publisher, author and copyright message); dedication note (right page opposite title verso); dedication verso (back of dedication, blank page); Chapter 1 first page (appears on the right, opposite that blank page). At the end of the book (the back matter) you usually have acknowledgements and possibly an about the author page.
Once you know the format of your book, you need to order your ISBNs. For many self-publishers using one printing source such as CreateSpace or Lulu, it’s not necessary to order a block of ISBNs from Nielsen (UK) as you can simply accept to have CreateSpace or Lulu registered as the publisher and use their provided ISBN. If you intend on releasing more than one book it’s wise to establish your own publishing brand and order a block of 10 numbers from Nielsen. ISBNs are a considerable expense if you’re only publishing as a hobby, but if you intend to have more than one book format it’s a must. You don’t necessarily need to create an actual company and register it if you’re trading as self-employed, but do check companies house to make sure you’re not infringing someone else’s trademark or name.
There is no such thing as an e-ISBN. If you publish an eBook, you will use up one of your ISBNs for that format. If you add paperback, that’s another ISBN. Hardback – that’s another. The eBook ISBN will cover eBooks of the same format, so if you provide Kindle Direct Publishing with an epub file and also the same file to Kobo and Nook, the same ISBN will cover it. Somewhere I read that it doesn’t cover iBooks but, when I published an eBook via IngramSpark, I found that there was no provision for an extra ISBN. Maybe this has changed.
You don’t need to allocate all of your required ISBNs at once when you order. I set up Synthesis:Weave as eBook and then later added the paperback and hardcover edition ISBNs from those 10 that were allocated. As long as the basic format of the editions don’t change, you can also use the same ISBN across providers. SW is printed via CreateSpace for sale on Amazon and LightningSource for retail; both use the same ISBN for the paperback as they look essentially the same, except for cover colour quality and paper weight.
There is a common misconception that traditionally published authors have a massive marketing machine behind them, and therefore have more marketing clout. This isn’t entirely true, and it seems that in the industry, the resources allocated for marketing are dwindling. Nowadays, traditionally published authors have to do almost as much work to market their wares as self-published authors.
Do not settle for merely posting on facebook or tweeting on twitter. Once you have your books set and are ready to launch, build the hype by using social media, but also approach local newspapers and shops. Try to get a local bookshop to commit to hosting a launch event and round up some people to go to a talk that will guarantee a few sales (and maybe generate some more local media attention). Get fiction groups that read your target genre involved by offering a free copy or asking them to read samples or buy a copy if you have an eBook edition before the print edition is released.
I recently stood on street corners, handing out leaflets to get people to come to my launch event – whether it has helped remains to be seen. I wrote a press release which has been used as the basis for a handful of articles in different newspapers, the results of which can be seen below:
Of course, my book has local place names and that helped secure a spot in the news – you just have to find things that will help generate the local attention required. Numbers will slowly build, but you must keep driving them up!