Lessons Learned: My Journey as an Indie Author


In the Beginning…

In August, 2014, I published my first science-fiction book on Amazon, ‘The Journey & Other Short Stories‘. As the title suggests, it is a collection of short stories, and the act of publication was a very exciting moment for me. It represented decades of wanting to be a published author but not having a clue how to go about it; two years of independent study with both Faber Academy and The Writer’s Workshop whilst holding down a stressful, full-time job; and two years (at least) developing and writing a full-length novel (working title ‘All Our Tomorrows‘) which would then only see the light of day in a much-reduced form, as the titular tale in ‘The Journey & Other Short Stories‘.

Keep Only What Serves the Story!

It was a very steep learning curve, and probably one of  the most important things I learned during that period was not to be afraid to cut out what doesn’t work. Ditching the best part of sixty thousand words (representing months of writing) and stripping the story down to the core to produce ‘The Journey’ was not an easy decision at all. As it happens, I believe  some of that material will probably be used somewhere else, one day… but it just wasn’t right for that particular story arc. And that’s all I’m going to tell you about that… for now.

Keep it Up!

As soon as I finished the anthology, I began writing my first full-length novel, ‘The Methuselah Paradox‘, which funnily enough, was also inspired by  ‘The Journey‘. And again, I had to make a major decision during the writing. I didn’t have to lose so many words this time, though!  I had been so invested in Tom and Eva’s story (which began in ‘The Journey’ and continues in ‘The Methuselah Paradox’) that I made the mistake of making them the main characters in ‘Methuselah’. I soon realised that it just wasn’t working, and that the main character needed to be the time-traveller, James Moran. Once I accepted that, everything fell into place. So never be afraid to ask yourself – “Is my main character the right one?” Be honest, even if it feels rather like a betrayal to those characters. If you must, tell them that you are saving them for better things…!

Is Your Protagonist The Right Character for the Job?

Tom and Eva’s story had pretty much been told in ‘The Journey’ –  and ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ takes place almost a quarter of a decade later, when Tom and Eva’s daughter is abducted. Who has taken her – and why? It seems obvious in hindsight, but being emotionally invested in your characters, whilst it is a good thing, can also blind you to their place in the Grand Scheme of Things. So common sense prevailed, Tom and Eva took a back seat, and James and (to a lesser degree) Emma stepped forward. Hurrah!

Another Learning Curve… or two! 

‘The Methuselah Paradox’ was published two years (not quite to the day, but the same month!) after ‘The Journey…’, and I was already thinking about the next project. But hold on a minute – that’s not all I did during that time…

Almost a year before ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ was published (and whilst I was still working on it) I decided that I wanted to make a book trailer to promote it. Having taken a short course in screen-writing with The Writer’s Workshop , and because I love TV/Film drama, I wanted to try to bring my characters to the screen.

Incidentally… if someone out there would like to bring ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ to the screen, please do get in touch via admin@neonskybooks.com.

Crowdfunding – the Indie Creator’s Gateway

But how was I ever going to find the money to pay voice-artists/actors, graphic artists, a camera operator and a composer to realise my vision?  Crowdfunding worked wonderfully for me, and again that was another steep learning curve, with a whole other level of responsibility. If people are sending you money to help you create something, you had better get your sums right!  I used an awesome networking site for the film industry, Stage 32, to find a concept artist, Cat Archer-Wills, and using Patreon and GoFundMe -and some off-line funding from family members – I manage to raise enough, which was a huge relief because I had been working on the script since January 2015… We finally recorded material for several versions of the trailer in March, 2016, and completed several versions of the trailer just in time for the book launch in August 2016. Here’s one of them.  Kudos to everyone who helped make the trailer a reality – the teamwork of creative collaboration is just the best thing ever!

What’s Next?

One of my writing buddies (yes, you, MW!) described me as an ‘ideas machine’, and it is certainly true that I have more ideas and notes for new stories than I currently have time to write. I don’t have a full-time day job anymore (or as fellow author Nick Stephenson calls it, the DDJ – ‘dreaded day job’)  having graduated to a four-day week, but there are still never enough hours in the day!

Currently I have two novels on the back-burner (one of which is a follow-up to ‘The Methuselah Paradox’), a stage adaption of the same book, another short-story collection, and a Graphic Novel. I do like a challenge! First an anthology, then a novel and a trailer, now a comic book – whatever next?

‘Minding Mama’ – a Tale of Future Earth

Minding Mama‘, the Graphic Novel – or comic book, if you prefer – almost became one of the short stories in my next anthology (and still might). Originally written as a competition entry, I didn’t get to the required word-count before deciding that it was fine just as it was. I put it aside. Then I went back to it, and realised that it would work very well in a more visual medium… so back I went to Stage 32, and advertised for a concept artist, then later a storyboard artist/illustrator. Amanda Fullwood (who in addition to being a first class concept artist, is also a talented costumier/production designer) was first to join the ‘Minding Mama’ team, followed by Dan Schaefer . (Dan has worked for Marvel, DC and Dark Horse Comics and the film industry, creates documentaries, does graphic design for the advertising industry and was storyboard artist on NBC’s ‘Grimm’). My long-time friend Sue Turner agreed to do the camera/editing work, and Matthew Thomason is on board to provide a theme. We have cast one of the two performer roles – David Learner (science-fiction readers will recognise David as Marvin the Paranoid Android in Television and stage versions of the late Douglas Adam’s best-selling novel, ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘)

As of August 2017, we have concept art and sample pages (fully coloured, but without text) and are well on the way to creating a trailer/pitch video for the crowdfunding campaign – you can find out more about that here!

I love the process of research, writing, then creating a team to take it all further. Geography is no limiter – our current team uses Skype to link participants in Camberley, Southsea, Norwich and Oregon. Isn’t technology great?

So You Want to Self-Publish?

If you are just starting out on your self-publishing journey, and have doubts about whether you can do it, my advice to you is to keep at it! I’ve learned so much since I started on this journey, and have met some wonderful, very talented people. There’s a commonly-held misconception that writing is a lonely calling, and perhaps some of the time, it is. But I don’t see it that way. When I’m writing, my characters keep me company, and when I’m working with a team of fellow creatives, be it my cover designer (waves to Rachel Lawston and Harry Saxon) illustrators, actors/voice artists (hello to Simon Bugg, Richard Oliver , Amelia Sefton and David Learner), composer (here’s to you, Matthew Thomason) camera operator/video editor (waves to Sue Turner of www.elephantinscarlet.co.uk), stills photographer (thanks to Sue Thomason) and last but not least, all the lovely people whose crowdfunding support made the trailer for TMP a reality, it feels anything but lonely!  There is a wealth of online advice  to be had (some of it free, but some well worth paying for if you can afford it)  and you’ll find that most people are more than willing to share their experience and to help you however they can.  Go for it!

Elaine Jackson

Camberley, August 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Lost for Words? The Passion to Write (and Publish) is Important!


I’m re-blogging this thought-provoking and empathetic post from fellow indie author and ex-pat Annabel, who asks the questions that countless indie writers (including me) have asked ourselves (and will no doubt continue to) – ‘Can I succeed?’ ‘Do I have what it takes?’ ‘How long will it take?’ For the record, I think that what Annabel has achieved so far is amazing – clearly she has the drive and the talent to succeed, even if (as we all do at some point) she sometimes needs a confidence/inspiration boost. Speaking for myself, in those moments of self-doubt, I find it helps me to remember why I wanted to do this in the first place… and what would I do with my spare time if I gave it all up now?

I’m in a slightly different position than Annabel – I have a part-time job which helps ensure that bills are paid. My problem is not having as much time to devote to pursuing my writing career as I would ideally like… both of our situations will be soooo familiar to thousands of indie writers around the world, which is kind of comforting. We Are Not Alone.

Could it be it as simple as “If you want it badly enough.” …? Perhaps it is – certainly those writers who fall by the wayside will never find out one way or the other. Personally, I believe it is a mix of passion and having the commitment to learning new ways of connecting to potential readers. Think of JK Rowling and the pile of rejection slips she collected before one savvy publishing house signed her up!

So for those of us who have the Passion to keep trying – here’s to us. We can do this!

Elaine Jackson August 2017

The Regina Monologue

inspiration

Feeling a bit hopeless right now. I haven’t posted about all the recent politics because I can’t think how to articulate my incredulity in any way that hasn’t been written a thousand times already. Brexit was bad enough… Trump is just unbelievable. Carl and I sat up watching the US election (alternating between BBC, CBC and Twitter, for ‘balance’) until it was clear that Hillary was not going to win; it was about 1am when we finally gave up and went to bed despairing of the world.  At the time I was angry and raging sarcastically online, but the next day I seemed to get a sort of political hangover. I didn’t want to do anything, couldn’t face going online in case there were still Trumpanzees on my Twitter feed, but couldn’t summon the motivation to go out and do anything else. I met up with friends and took the…

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Why we should never give up on our dreams… why crowdfunding works


If someone had told my fifteen-year-old self that I would one day create an appreciation society for a favourite science-fiction show (a club which is still going strong thirty-four years later) or that I would be invited to visit the set, go to sci-fi conventions and meet authors, directors and actors, write a novel, and have the opportunity to help create a new science fiction web series, I probably wouldn’t have believed them. I probably didn’t even know that I wanted to do all those things then. But I’ve always loved science-fiction; looking to the future has always been my thing (although I’ve enjoyed looking back into my family’s past – the Family Tree has been an ongoing project for the past twelve years, and now my son has taken up the mantle).

I created an appreciation society for ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’  in 1980 because I wanted to join one and none existed; I never stopped to wonder if I could do it. I coerced my sister into becoming treasurer (she’s always been good with numbers), bought a supply of A4 paper, Letraset, and paper glue, and set to with a typewriter I borrowed from my Uncle. Some years later, I started going to science-fiction conventions, where I heard behind-the-scenes stories and watched out-takes in the days before DVD Extras (even before most of us could afford a video recorder) – all of which made me realise that I was just as interested in what it took to put my favourite shows together, as I was in watching the finished product on the goggle box.

A considerable number of years later, I began writing fiction – I took several creative writing courses to improve my writing after two already published and successful authors said nice things about what I’d written and suggested it might help make my work better. I attended a writer’s conference in York, met some very interesting people and made a wonderful friend, with whom I will one day collaborate on a project. I self-published a small anthology of my stories on Amazon, and began writing a full-length novel. Now I’m contemplating book covers and talking to a talented young musician about creating a promo video for the novel when it is finally published…

I’m a writer, not a movie-maker, but I’m discovering how crowdfunding can help to bring new projects to life, whether its a digital magazine created by a very talented interviewer who has had to reimagine her career in the wake of the digital revolution, or a science fiction web series.  The opportunities for people with dreams to bring them to life have never been better, even as other avenues may be diminishing.  Self-publishing used to be called ‘vanity press’ and wasn’t taken seriously by the literary establishment. Nowadays, even traditionally published authors self-publish! The advent of the Kindle and other digital readers means that you can follow your dream of being a published author.

I’m so glad that I eventually followed my dream to write stories other people want to read, and I’d urge you to follow yours… you may have a full-time job (so do I – I write early mornings and weekends and any other time I can) but I firmly believe that if you want something badly enough, you’ll get there.  Just look at this:  Third Contact – entirely crowd-funded, and what superb quality!

Now Simon Horrock is looking to create another science-fiction drama, this time a web series called Kosmos. Check this out:

Isn’t it a brilliant idea? To give people the opportunity to be a part of something like ‘Third Contact’ or ‘Kosmos’ (or the also fabulous ‘Minister of Chance’, also a crowd-funded project currently in production) will surely bring more talent to the creative world.  Anyone who dares to dream can do the same.  I’m living my dream, I’m quite sure that Simon is too… what about you?

author Elaine J Jackson