It takes a village to raise a child and the same can be fairly applied to getting a book published. As I head toward the launch of my new series, The Quantum Curators, I thought I would walk you through the route I have taken to publish the first book in the series, The Quantum Curators and the Faberge Egg.
This story starts almost a year ago, in what now feels like a very different time and place.
I am a member of the SPF community, that’s the Self Publishing Formula, and by taking their courses I discovered the successful world of self publishing. I wrote and published my history of Mevagissey and a range of walking guides, as well as my newspaper columns into two volumes of short essays.
Life was good. I decided to try fiction. And that seemed to work. But it’s far more terrifying than non fiction, and despite the reassurance of the SPF mantra, I didn’t have the confidence to go it alone. Instead, I got a contract with the wonderful Hera Books to publish my Hiverton Sisters series. I am loving this process, but I still wanted to try my hand at self publishing fiction. You can do both, you know. This freedom to do what you want is heady.
It was early summer and James Blatch and Mark Dawson, the founders of SPF, put out a call for beta testers for a new course they were running; How to Write a Bestseller by Suzy K. Quinn. I stuck my hand in the air like some desperate school child. I was looking for a kick start. My son had had a severe accident and had ended up in ICU and my spring had been a blur. So, I was thrilled to get selected to run through the course, this was just what I needed to get back on track. My son was on the mend and I could settle down and focus.
I was granted access to the course on the same day that I got on a plane to Tenerife to watch my father slip from a sudden and unexpected illness to his death. I spent two surreal weeks surrounded by holiday makers who were having a fabulous summer, whilst I tried to deal with the horror and bureaucracy of it all, whilst in daily contact with my brother and sister who had also come out in the previous weeks.
And so during the many hours when I just sat in my father’s house, I went through the course. Anyone, who has been in a position where they are helpless, knows how beneficial having something to focus on is.
As the course was in its beta stage, there were niggles and issues, but oh boy did it give me what I needed. Suzy gave me a blue print in how to work out what you are going to write, before you write it. This course is about focused targeting; know your audience and give them what they want. And I don’t mean a simple formula — this happens, then this happens, then that happens — but a clear sense of the marketplace in which you wish to launch your book.
This is not how to write a good book, this is how to write a good book that sells. Get your title, tag line and blurb written before you even start your story, then write a story that delivers to those items, and always be genre aware. Promise your reader something, then deliver it. I loved the focus of this course and could see how beneficial such an approach would be.
I made a start. I had an idea for a story, a sort of action adventure Indiana Jones art thief time travellers thing. It was vague, but at least I had a starting point. I began to throw ideas around, I looked at authors and shows that I liked. I worked on tag lines. I tried to envisage the cover. Gradually I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to write. The problem was there wasn’t a clear cut genre. I had ended up with an Urban Fantasy vibe but with a strong SF element. No magic, no vampires, no werewolves, dragons, pixies or anything else like that. I had fallen at the first hurdle and not written to a clear genre.
I decided to create a new genre called Urban SciFi.
Fixed. (Yes I know it’s a fudge rather than a fix but work with me.)
Anyway, I had a plan, write three books in relatively quick succession, then launch the series. Simple. I returned to the UK. Then most of my direct family went in and out of hospital plus another death. It’s fair to say 2019 was crap. In context, no one in our family gets ill. No one has ever been in hospital, no one had died. We are healthy, fit and lucky. 2019 knocked us all sideways.
I didn’t write the trilogy, but I did write the first book.
So far, in writing this book it had just been me and Suzy. Now I started to stretch out to my alpha readers; my husband and best friends. Chapters went out, chapters came back; ‘love this’, ”do better’, ‘what are you on about?’ ‘give me more, now!’
I was enjoying what I had written and whilst there were some big issues, ‘commas, for the love of God, use a comma’, my alpha readers seemed to like what I had written. Finally, I was happy to send it to some beta readers. Beta readers are generally strangers, maybe over the years I will get to know them, but in the first instance they didn’t know me from Adam. More importantly, they couldn’t hear my voice in their head as they read. I was very concerned that my alpha readers were slightly compromised by them knowing my voice.
The betas came back with generally positive feedback and some good warnings of issues and sections that didn’t read properly or were confusing. I have learnt that Americans don’t understand the phrase ‘you wally’. There was general puzzlement over this new character. They were also surprised to discover that ‘bollocks’ could be a verb as well as a noun. Putting our trans-Atlantic differences aside, they also discussed my tag lines and title, and broadly agreed with where I was going.
It all seemed to be on track. I booked an illustrator and an editor and I spent a few days away on a writing retreat with one of my alpha readers and we mapped out books two and three, sticking tightly to the Suzy Quinn Bestseller method.
Life was good, 2019, foul year that it was, was behind us and 2020 was going to be excellent. I had my writing and publication schedule for my books in place. Two novels with Hera, three walking / cycling guides and the Quantum trilogy. Yes admittedly, Australia appeared to be on fire, and half of England appeared to be under water, but sod it, what else could go wrong?
Well, that’s rather taken the wind out of everyone’s sails. The entire world is either becalmed or rudderless. As I write this, I am in week four or five of lock down. I have come to terms that my walking/cycling guides won’t happen this year. My books for Hera had thankfully already been written. But the second curator book stalled whilst I watched the TV and social media in disbelief.
Despite this mess, things were progressing. The manuscript was tweaked again and then it was sent out to my editor, Steve Moore. I had met Steve the previous year at the London Book Fair. He’d seemed friendly and was used to thrillers and action adventure style books, so I felt he would be a good fit. As global travel turned to molasses, Steve tried to return to S. Korea. Eventually, in a journey worthy of a good tale in itself, he made it home to his wife. He successfully passed through all the various quarantines and returned my manuscript in a lovely polished format.
Then, two days ago, I received the first drafts of my cover design. The terror of opening that e-mail. Would they have understood my brief? Would it be a total mismatch? Would it be awful?
I think you’ll agree, it’s a pretty bloody wonderful start. I had decided to go with Books Covered, they are professional book cover designers with strong SPF links. Initially, I had discounted them as I needed a cover with a strong illustration element. Having followed Suzy’s lessons, I had identified key authors to target and studied their covers. My story has a strong portal and parallel world element, but I really wanted to steer clear of the UF fantasy motif. You know the one; a strong woman holding a weapon standing in front of a glowing portal. This may prove to be a mistake, but I don’t feel that what I have written actually vibes with those books. Time will tell.
Anyway I was asking around in the SPF Facebook page for recommendations and Stuart Bache from Book Covered mentioned that they had recently taken on a designer that specialised in lettering and illustrations. Given their great reputation and lovely covers for other authors I jumped in.
So how is the village doing?
Well, I’ve circulated the cover for initial feedback and unsurprisingly people like the covers and there seems to be a clear favourite. Happily, it’s the one I like most as well, so I’ll be going back to the designer now with suggestions to tweak it in to a more tailored design.
My next stage is to get the website up, some social media, and start building an e-mail list. I think I’ll be launching mid/end May but that’s what I’ll be looking at over the next day or two.
I’m back into the creative flow and am happily writing book two, it’s fully plotted and I’m quarter of the way through the first draft.
Stay tuned to follow how the rest of the launch goes. If you want to join the village, so to speak, send me an e-mail at email@example.com I’ll be sorting out a preview or free download over the next week or two and will send it along to you.
The village so far:
General background knowledge and support – Self Publishing Formula
Two other podcasts worthy of note.
The Creative Penn – Joanna Penn HUGELY informative, an industry beacon.
The Bestseller Experiment – an incredibly friendly and supportive group. Through them I have met so many lovely authors and took part in a small podcast by Ink & Sage. Have a listen, it focuses on improving the opening lines of a book. As you can see I tweaked mine following her feedback.
Co-incidentally, this course launches this week. Have a look, I really enjoyed it. Suzy K Quinn‘s own home page.
Editor – Steve Moore from Condor Publishing
Cover designer – Books Covered
Other useful bits. I use Mailerlite for my e-mails, SiteGround for my web hosting, and word press for my web design.
Oh and I’m over here on facebook