Today I'm going to share with you a post that I wrote for Peter Hutchinson over at http://thegrimdarkfiles.typed.com on my journey to publication.
I have wanted to write a book for as long as I can remember. As a child, I wrote stories in notebooks that I carried with me. In my teens, the film Bucket List was a big thing and Write a Book was number one on mine. As an adult, I never thought I would actually get around to it; I mean who has the time? But I still squirreled away ideas, guarding them jealously against the possibility that I would win the lottery and become a lady of leisure.
About nine years ago, I had a dream that, immediately upon waking, struck me as one of those ideas and though much of the dream faded, the final image has stayed with me all these years.
Beginning to Write
Fast forward to 2014. I was approved for a career break to care for my two young children. My husband and I were joking about how I wouldn’t know to do with myself having so much free time on my hands and he suggested that I use the time to write a book. I think at the time he was mostly joking and I laughed it off but the idea lodged in my mind. What better chance would I have?
I started to read books about writing – my first resource whenever I want to learn something new – and eventually I bit the bullet and sat down at my laptop. I didn’t have any clear idea about what I was going to write, there was just that one dream image in my mind.
In my dream, I was a warrior fairy, battling against evil wizards who were destroying my land. None of that made it into Ashael Rising. The final image that stayed with me was flying across a desolate land, looking for any sign of life. This features only in a small way in Ashael Rising but it foreshadows things to come. You see, it’s just a tiny part of what I discovered to be a huge story.
Ashael is not a fairy, in fact she is a human medicine woman, living in a culture roughly equivalent to a stone-age tribe. And the Zanthar are not evil wizards but are invaders from another world who extend their own lives by stealing the life force of other races and worlds. They do use magic but access to it is strictly controlled by their culture of castes – only those of the highest castes are permitted to extend their lives.
The Zanthar invaded Ashael’s world, KalaDene, generations in the past and their most powerful mage was defeated and humiliated. Now they’re back for revenge and in search of The Vessel, a being prophesied to hold the life-force of the entire world.
After a few months of writing I hit a crisis of confidence and struggled with moving forward so I joined an online writing group called Scribophile and from there, a smaller, intensely focused group.
I joined the Ubergroup, a group on Scribophile dedicated to putting together small teams who commit to exchanging a chapter a week. This was the best thing I could have done for my writing. Having a commitment to other people helped me to keep moving with the work, making sure that I wrote a chapter a week but, more importantly, the team was invaluable. A group of guys, they all offered a different perspective in their critiques of my work and really helped me to shape the novel and think about deeper things than just what was going to happen next. For example, Iwan was a minor character at the beginning. It was only when one of my group suggested that Ashael needed a love interest – or at least an explicitly stated reason for not having one – that I started to look at him in a new light and he grew to become not only a main character but one of my favourites.
When I got to the end of the first draft, they helped me to see that I had started and ended the story in the wrong places. I went back and added about seven chapters to the beginning and ended the book a fair bit sooner than I had in the first draft. It’s a much better structure that way, giving my characters more room to grow.
I also learned a lot from critiquing their work. It helped me to recognize areas of my own writing that could be improved and I got to see how some really talented writers approached their drafts. About nine months after joining Ubergroup I completed the first draft of Ashael Rising.
That was at the end of January, 2016.
I started working on the second draft of the book and thinking about pitching it to agents etc. In my mind, I still had a long way to go. I thought I had potential, but I would have to spend another few years refining my craft and it might take another few books before I saw publication.
Then I heard of Unbound, the world’s first crowd-funding publisher. I was really interested in their model, and in the fact they believe the choice of what to publish should be in the hands of readers – not based on some celebrity’s latest project.
One Friday in February, I saw that Unbound were doing a pitching hour on Twitter. I saw them give feedback on pitches to some people and decided that they looked friendly so, on a whim, I pitched them, hoping to get some feedback.
They asked for the manuscript.
I went into an immediate panic – it was still the first draft after all, and I knew that it still needed quite a lot of work.
I sent the manuscript as requested with a note explaining that it was the first draft and a rough outline of the changes I was planning to make. At this point, my hope was that they might give me some editorial feedback and agree to look at it again at some point in the future, after I had fixed it up.
For the next week or so, I checked my e-mail at least 50 times a day, waiting for the inevitable rejection. I mean, even Stephen King (my hero) collected plenty of those. I finally accepted that this would take a while and tried to put it out of my mind, getting back to work on the second draft.
On the 9th of March, 2016, I received this e-mail:
There was quite the celebration in my house that night!
Next came the crowdfunding campaign. Now, that was hard work. I wrote guest posts for lots of blogs, got involved with social media and basically tried to convince people to pre-order my book. I spent hours a day on the campaign, all while working on the second draft of the book, looking after my children and caring for the house. And then I discovered I was pregnant with our third child so I had morning sickness to contend with too!
I was overwhelmed by the generosity and support of my family and friends. For some of them, especially my parents and in-laws, this will likely be the most expensive book they have ever bought since they made substantial pledges to my campaign. I couldn’t have done it without them. My main hope now is that I can make them proud. That Ashael Rising will be successful and will justify their faith in me.
My campaign was 100% funded after around 87 days.
Ashael Rising was published in E-book on the 6th of February and paperback three weeks later.
I have gone from pitch to publication in less than a year. I was accepted based on the first draft of my first novel. It’s not the story that we’re all used to hearing but it is my story and it’s been a crazy ride.