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






Looking Backwards to Christmas – writing Xmas cards needn’t be a chore!

Christmas can be a difficult time of year – I don’t think anyone would argue with that, would they? For wives and mothers and home organisers in general, the month (in plural if you are really organised, which I never am) leading up to December 25th can be hectic and stressful, as the Christmas Machine gets into gear and batters us relentlessly, exhorting us to buy this, don’t forget that, oh and this year why don’t you try the other…  in our household, the annual task of writing out christmas cards has always fallen to me (when my parents were alive, it was always my father who took it on because his writing was neater and besides, mum was always too busy shopping and cooking) because I am (at least nominally) organised – if it was left to my husband, no-one would get a card at all!

It is a job that I tend to approach with mixed feelings. 

Mixed, because on the one hand, when you have children, it’s an opportunity to sing their praises to relatives, old friends and acquaintances you might not have actually seen in person for several years (at my age, usually the last time will have been a funeral – wind back a decade or several and it might have been a wedding, or a christening) – and what parent doesn’t enjoy doing that?  The other side of the coin is that, as I open the battered address book (the one my sister and I gave our parents in 1972) and see the crossed out names of people who are no longer with us, it brings sadness. But it also encourages memories – and those memories bring people back to life, at least for a time.

I see an entry for a cousin, and remember a family visit to his home as a child – the ‘laughing policeman’ toy and the whoopee cushion that he drove the adults mad with; his mother, a formidable woman who would brook no nonsense -and who I was a little bit scared of – sent us kids upstairs so that the grownups could talk in peace. She is no longer with us. I remember taking my son aged three (he’s now twenty-one) to see her in hospital not long before she passed away – she was still a big presence, but not quite as formidable as she had seemed to my childhood self, diminished by her illness.  Or perhaps it was because I was by then an adult myself.

Then there’s an entry for another cousin, and I remember sitting at the dinner table and listening to my mother, who was very upset, telling me that there had been a train crash, and my cousin’s husband had died.  I see another entry for a second cousin (my mother was one of six, my father one of four, so there are rather a lot of cousins) whose father jumped ship and ended up making a life in Australasia. His remarkable daughter is sadly no longer with us, but she spent decades researching my mother’s side of the family tree and sent me stacks of material so that I could add it to my own project. I never met her, but we corresponded for years by letter and email, and spoke on the phone a few times; I occasionally hear from her husband. I remember all this as I write his card.

Here’s my Godmother, who gave me money towards my driving lessons and was always encouraging, interested to know what I was up to. She lived next door to my grandparents and uncles and I still think of her as ‘Aunty Peggy’.

And here is an entry for the parents of a friend I made in my early teens, a penpal from the south coast. We’d take a trip in the car down to see them, or they would come to us, and we girls would chat about the usual things teenage girls would talk about -in our case geeky stuff because, well, we were (are) a bit geeky- while the parents did their thing with tea, cake and conversation. Later on, we’d go to sci-fi conventions together, get married and in my case, have children. Not so many years ago, my friend’s mother passed away two weeks before mine, close to Christmas: I remember a very emotional phone conversation that year. We’re still in touch, at birthdays and xmas.

Taking time out for memories  

It takes, as you can imagine, longer than it might do if I were to simply transfer all the living relatives to a new book (one that isn’t falling apart at the seams!) but I find myself treasuring the opportunity to take a trip down memory lane – it’s part of the Christmas ritual, now.

This extends to my husband’s family too – when I’m writing those cards, it’s always nice if he is in the room, then perhaps I’ll tell him which card I’m doing and it will spark off a memory for him. I hope that my son will do the same when I pass the book on… (or perhaps his future partner will do it, bringing their own memories to the mix).

So yes, Christmas can be a difficult time of year – over-commercialised, costly, insanely busy as you try to get everything done in time… but it can also be an opportunity to remember people – not just by raising a glass to them at the table, or in church, or however you normally do so, but when you sit down to write a card to wish distant family members and friends another ‘Happy Christmas’, and remember how and when you first met, and what they mean to you.  So here we go, another Christmas and another trip down memory lane…

by Elaine Jackson, December 2014