The Five BIG Lessons I Wish I’d Known Before Writing My Novel

(Click here to watch the video version of this week’s blog).

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, it took seven years to write and then publish Every Time He Dies. 

That’s a long time to stick with one project, and the manuscript changed many times as a result.  

The great thing about sticking with a project for a long period of time is that you learn many, many, lessons. For today’s blog, I’m going to unpack the five big lessons I wish I’d known before writing my novel, Every Time He Dies. Hopefully, these lessons will be useful to you as you continue along your own path to publication. 

1 / Have Patience

Like I said at the top of this blog, it takes a long time to write a book. You have to be patient with yourself and the project. Of course, it doesn’t have to take a long time to write a book, like the Book Writing Police won’t be banging on your door, fine in hand, if you write and publish a book in three weeks. But this is my blog, so I’m talking about my experience, and ETHD took a long time. There were so many times when I thought I was pulling the train into the station only to discover that some nasty so-so had extended the tracks. 

If I knew on day one that it would be seven years until my novel was published … well … this book may not exist. Huh? Who am I kidding, I still would have written it. I’m a writer, after all, so what else could I do? Watch Netflix? Pft. 

You will hit blocks.

You will suddenly realise there is a massive plot hole and you don’t know how to fix it.

You will worry that maybe this manuscript is unsalvageable and maybe you should start working on something else, but please (!), do not be quick to throw away a manuscript! 

Let things simmer. Consider how the story could be saved, restructured or overhauled.

Chances are, if you roll up your sleeves and get to work on fixing your broken down bicycle of a book, you’ll wind up with a manuscript that becomes the envy of every kid in the neighbourhood. 

2 / Resistance is greatest at the end

I never got sick of my book. Okay, look, I never got sick of my story, but I definitely got sick of proofreading and checking meticulous details such as formatting. Weirdly enough, I often had to remind myself to pay attention to the language and grammar of each sentence while I was proofreading (alongside five other readers I had enlisted), because I kept getting caught up in the story — the story I had written!

Working on ETHD was mostly a joy. However, I technically could have published this novel two years ago. So, why didn’t I? 

Well, there’s a bunch of logistical and practical reasons, but basically, it boiled down to two factors:

  1. Money
  2. Time

I could have published the book two years ago, it was good enough, but I wanted the book to be great and I wanted to be fully prepared myself.

I needed to know more about the industry, more about self-publishing, I wanted to add a bit more description, to enlist another round of beta-readers, to save a bit more cash etc. etc. Basically, I wanted the book and the book launch to be as successful as possible. 

Perfectionism is a bitch. 

This resistance to publishing my novel really boiled down to one factor: fear. 

I wanted reassurance that I was making good decisions. Is now the best time to publish? Is the book ready? Am I ready? Do I know what I’m doing? (Pst! You never know what you are doing).

Now, to be honest, the book has benefited from this two-year delay. Those extra two years gave me the time I needed to polish the manuscript to the best of my abilities, to hire the professionals I wanted to work with and to have a solid understanding of how to publish, marketing and promoting the book. 

So, it was worth it. However, perfectionism can easily turn into procrastination. Don’t let your manuscript become mouldy in the bottom drawer. Fix it up, pay a bunch of professionals to help you, and get that baby out there!

3 / Don’t do it by yourself

Don’t do it by yourself because you can’t do it by yourself. It takes a village to raise a child, and it also takes a village to publish a book.

Personally, I love reading the acknowledgement page at the back of a book (this isn’t always featured in fiction books but it’s becoming more common). While the author’s name may appear on the cover, I love learning about the many hands that were involved in the writing, revising, publishing and distributing of that text. 

My novel was shaped indirectly by the advice and guidance of my creative writing lecturers as they taught me how to write, and it was also directly shaped by their feedback on early drafts. The critique I receive from classmates and later, beta-reader, provided much needed direction as they identified the weaknesses that I couldn’t.

The markups I got from friends and family (ie: non-writers) told me what the ‘average’ reader would think of my story. Mentorships with professional editors and later, hiring professional editors showed me how to add body to my skeletal draft and how the story could have a totally different — and better — shape. 

Somewhere along the way, an early reader said, “You’re a great writer, but your ideas need a bit of work.” Now, I would have been offended had it not been the truth.

I am a good writer, but sometimes I need the input of others to lift my work to the next level. 

The thing is, our life experiences and perspectives are limited. When we share our art with (trusted) others and invite their feedback, we get the rare opportunity to see our work through another person’s eyes. Then, we can see where the story is weak and we can get to the business of fixing it. 

4 / It’s okay for the story to change

The version of Every Time He Dies that I am publishing is TOTALLY different from the book I set out to write seven years ago. 

The thing is, I am a fast writer and a slow reviser. I wrote the first draft of this book in a matter of months. I then spent years considering how the story could be different. What could I do to make it stronger, better?

It took a while to figure out whose story it really was, what voice I wanted to use, the perspective it should be told in, the mood and so much more. 

The novel’s premise changed dramatically twice.

First, it changed from a novel about two teenage boys to a novel about an adult woman and a ghost. Then it changed again from a novel about a group of strangers coming together to create a community to a novel about distigrated families, told through a dual perspective of a father and his daughter — don’t worry, I kept the ghost. 🙂

The first time the premise changed, I was excited. The second time, I was exhausted. Probably because I knew how much work would go into changing the story. However, the story is so much better now.

Hard work is hard, but the results are so much more pleasing. So, don’t be afraid to make big, dramatic changes!

5 / Seeing your book for the first time

Okay. So, I totally squealed the first time I saw the digital file that showed the front, spine and back cover. Finally, I got to see what my book was actually going to look like!

Maybe it’s because we live in such a visually orientated world, but for so long I’d been living with the vision of Daff, Lawrence and Liam’s story inside my head in the same way that we can recall memories or scenes from a movie.

For the first time, I was now seeing an exterior, visual symbol of the book I had spent so long writing. Hell, even viewing the files for the interior format design was exciting! Now, I could see the layout my pages were going to have, how the chapter titles were going to be presented, what the book itself was going to look like. 

Now, this euphoria was doubled the first time I held a physical copy.

So much of our life occurs in the digital space, so sometimes we forget how amazing tactical products or experiences can be. I could see how big my book was, and rather than looking at my words on the screen, I could now touch them with my fingers. I could sign the flyleaf and easily pop the book in my bag. My story was now mobile! Hmmm I mean, digital versions are mobile too, but you’d be WAY more upset if you left your i-reader or kindle at the bus stop!

It’s taken a lot of time, money and energy to get to this point, but I have to say that it was totally worth it.

I had to write Every Time He Dies, but I’m also ready to release it.

It’s time for the novel to go off and have its own experience in the world away from my meddling grasp! While my work on the novel is completed, your experience of this story is just beginning, and I can’t wait to hear all about it. 


EVERY TIME HE DIES

AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER + GIVEAWAY

‘Who knew that a book about murder, grief and disintegrated families could be so funny?’ – Paul WilliamsEverytimeHeDies_3D

‘A unique modern mystery that is one part psychic practices and one part police procedural. The fast pace, dynamic characters and intricate plot will keep readers hooked until the end.’ – Gregory James

‘It’s rare to find an Australian-set book of this scope and genre that could stand among its international peers and hold its own, but I won’t be surprised to see this book find its success in all corners of the crime genre reading world.’ – Shayla Morgansen

‘Can someone please make this into a TV series? This is a fabulous read and I want to see Liam and Daff on the small screen.’ – Carol Seeley


CLICK BELOW TO PREORDER NOW

Amazon Australia

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barns & Noble

Bookdepository

Booktopia

Kobo

Glose


PREORDER GIVEAWAY!

Everyone who preorders a copy of Every Time He Dies (paperback or ebook) will go into the draw to win one of THREE MAJOR GRAND PRIZES.

To celebrate the release of Every Time He Dies, I’m running an EPIC book giveaway. The three grand prize packs include signed copies of:

🎉Dying in the First Person by Nike Sulway
🎉Bordertown by Gregory James
🎉Haunted by Shayla Morgansen
🎉The Spark Ignites by Kathleen Kelly
🎉Every Time He Dies by Tara Louise East

IMG_1576

If you preorder a copy, simply take a snapshot of your proof of purchase and fill out the entry form here. 

WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Everyone who preorders a copy will ALSO receive the first five chapters straight to their inboxNot only will this tide you over until the book arrives, but it’s also my way of saying thanks!

Knowing Your Why: The Story Behind Every Time He Dies

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, it took me seven years to write Every Time He Dies. Seven years is a long time. Now, I wasn’t working on the novel that entire time, but still, it takes a certain level of discipline to stick with an unpaid, time-consuming project for that long — even when you love it.

In short, if you want to write a novel then you have to know why you want to write it.

A why that is bigger than: 

  • it’s fun
  • it’s something to do
  • well, it’s better than cleaning the house!

There has to be a story behind your story. It doesn’t have to be a personal story (in fact, this can sometimes become problematic), it can a topic or issue that you want to explore more deeply. 

Why do you want to dedicate your precious time to writing, revising, publishing and promoting a novel? What are you trying to say with this novel? What are you trying to figure out by writing this book?

For me, I started writing Every Time He Dies after a close friend of mine passed away after a very long, and painful illness. This friend was only a few years older than me. They were young, fit, had a good diet, a great family and a sunny disposition. 

I’ve (weirdly/unfortunately) been to a lot of funerals. In fact, I’ve been to more funerals than weddings (the current ratio is 3:1). I’ve lost friends and family to illness, suicide and tragic accidents. In short, I’ve had my fair share of grief and I’ve lived in close proximity with others as they’ve gone through their own grieving process. 

In the West, we have a tendency to bury our grief and we avoid all conversations about death because we see it as morbid, but Death is a part of Life. As the now famous graph from TheOnion.com shows, Earth’s Death Holding stead At 100 Percent. 

So, I wanted to write a book that expressed my own feelings about death and grief. 

Please note, Every Time He Dies is a work of fiction; it’s not a fictionalised version of my life. The plot is entirely fabricated and yet, as the great adage goes: most memoirs are a work of fiction and most fiction is memoir.

You won’t discover anything about my personal life by reading ETHD, but you will come to know what I think about big topics like time, death, identity and memory. 

I wrote this book because I need to figure out my own feelings about death and I needed to do something with my grief. Some people drink, play sports or speak meanly to their kids. I write books. 

Every Time He Dies is a book about grief, but it’s also a book about life. It’s a story about bravery, female friendships, trusting your gut, forgiveness and the malleability of time.

Plus, it has a talking ghost … so it’s actually pretty funny … 

Writing is how I figure out what I think about certain subjects and topics.

Writing is slow. You have to really think about what it is you are trying to say and Every Time He Dies is the product of that exploration and I think it says it very well. 


EVERY TIME HE DIES

AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER + GIVEAWAY

‘Who knew that a book about murder, grief and disintegrated families could be so funny?’ – Paul WilliamsEverytimeHeDies_3D

‘A unique modern mystery that is one part psychic practices and one part police procedural. The fast pace, dynamic characters and intricate plot will keep readers hooked until the end.’ – Gregory James

‘It’s rare to find an Australian-set book of this scope and genre that could stand among its international peers and hold its own, but I won’t be surprised to see this book find its success in all corners of the crime genre reading world.’ – Shayla Morgansen

‘Can someone please make this into a TV series? This is a fabulous read and I want to see Liam and Daff on the small screen.’ – Carol Seeley


CLICK BELOW TO PREORDER NOW

Amazon Australia

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barns & Noble

Bookdepository

Booktopia

Kobo

Glose


PREORDER GIVEAWAY!

Everyone who preorders a copy of Every Time He Dies (paperback or ebook) will go into the draw to win one of THREE MAJOR GRAND PRIZES.

To celebrate the release of Every Time He Dies, I’m running an EPIC book giveaway. The three grand prize packs include signed copies of:

🎉Dying in the First Person by Nike Sulway
🎉Bordertown by Gregory James
🎉Haunted by Shayla Morgansen
🎉The Spark Ignites by Kathleen Kelly
🎉Every Time He Dies by Tara Louise East

IMG_1576

If you preorder a copy, simply take a snapshot of your proof of purchase and fill out the entry form here. 

WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Everyone who preorders a copy will ALSO receive the first five chapters straight to their inbox. Not only will this tide you over until the book arrives, but it’s also my way of saying thanks!

Research: taking your book to the next level

Like everything else to do with writing, how and when you decided to conduct your research is a matter of style. In all honesty, you need to know yourself as a writer, because research can quickly become procrastination in a fancy suit.  

I chose to write my “first draft” (I’m not even sure what this means anymore) of Every Time He Dies before I started researching. The purpose of this exploratory draft was to get to know my characters better, to figure out the beats of the story, what the story was actually about and whose story it was. 

It was only later, during the revision process, that I fired up Google and went to town. 

Every Time He Dies is a mystery novel that centres around one major crime. As a result, I was Googling some pretty crazy things, such as: 

  • The decomposition rate of human bodies that are: buried, exposed to air, weighed down in water
  • The decomposition rate of human bodies in Summer vs Winter
  • Australia’s VLAD laws
  • Drug importations
  • Gang crime in Australia
  • Location of Police Academies in Australia
  • How do you embalm a body?
  • Crime scene investigation
  • Forensic evidence
  • Criminal Law, Australia

Don’t worry, I always made sure that I Googled “How to write a crime novel” before and after every research session. I also Googled “Puppy Images” as a palette cleanser.

Google is a great place to get some basic background information, but it can’t replace one-on-one interviews with industry professionals/experts. 

There are some details and nitty-gritty facts that you just can’t find online. 

Research adds credibility and believability to your writing.
Research adds credibility to your writing. 

Two of the central characters in ETHD have unusual jobs, Daff is an embalmer and Jon Lawrence is a Detective. Had I relied on Google to supply all my information, there would have been some seriously big errors in my manuscript. 

The thing is, Australia is pretty small. There was a ton of information on police departments and funeral homes in the US and the UK, but I struggled to find detail information on how these services operated in Australia.

Fortunately, I have a background in Journalism, so … I have no problems “cold calling” businesses and departments, introducing myself and seeing where my (well rehearsed) speel gets me. 

Cold calls can be effective, but of course, a far better option is to tap into your existing network. Trust me, someone will know exact person you need to speak to — you just have to ask!

For example, a couple of years ago, I enrolled in a masters course. On the first day, I met another student who was also writing a crime novel. Now, here’s the cool part, Greg was a former detective. Hallelujah! 

Greg decided that the masters course wasn’t for him, but I was smart enough to get his email address and to shout him a coffee in exchange for information. After that, I felt totally comfortable to send Greg an email whenever I needed a bit more detail about police procedure, lingo or his thoughts on certain “what would happen if?” scenarios. 

 I should also add that Greg is now a published author, his debut novel, Bordertown, came out earlier this year — so go buy it!

Bordertown by Gregory James
Bordertown by Gregory James

Later that same year, I was volunteering at a children’s writing festival, while waiting in the green room I started chatting with a lady who was on the cusp of having her debut novel, Becoming Aura, published (it wasn’t until four hours later that I found out she’d won the Queensland Literary Prize that year, the sneak). Anyway, we had a great time and I was desperate to make some new writing friends, so we exchanged phone numbers and organised a coffee date. 

We talked about the writing life and our current projects while sipping away at our cappacinos. When Liz found out that I was writing a crime novel, she immediately put me in contact with a friend of hers who was also a crime writer and an active police officer. Yet again, I sent an email off to a total stranger, offered to buy her coffee and then picked her brain. 

Here’s the thing …

When it comes to research, you’re never going to find facts or stories online that are as good as the ones shared by people who have lived that experience. 

This might sound all very easy, and look, finding cop contacts actually was pretty easy — I once exchanged email address with a cop [also a writer] after he’d given me a fine! Miss no opportunity, people! — but it took me two years to make contact with an embalmer. 

Research and writing
Me: waiting to find an embalmer that would talk to me!

At the time, I was studying away from home and was renting a spare room with a family. I had been cold calling and going into small funeral homes in the hopes that someone would be willing to talk to me. They weren’t. 

Exasperated, I was sharing this experience with my live-in family one night — thinking that at least I’d get a laugh out of this scenario — when someone said, “Why didn’t you say you wanted to talk to someone? I went to school with a fella whose family owns the biggest funeral parlour business on the coast.” She open her phone, found said person on Facebook and sent them a PM. Fast forward a week and I spent three hours interviewing one of the top embalmers in Australia. 

The crazy thing is, I had told everyone in that family what my book was about, but it wasn’t until I said that I wanted to interview someone from that industry that this connection finally happened. 

Here are some of the things I found out through my in-person emails that I couldn’t find out online:

  • Cop lingo
  • Australian police culture
  • What a typical day looks like (for a cop and an embalmer)
  • What training is involved
  • Career trajectory
  • The fact that Australian embalm procedures differs from the US and the UK because of our unique climate
  • What embalming chemicals smell like
  • What embalming rooms look and smell like
  • The typical equipment used every day 
  • Unusual requests/weirdest cases
  • The physical layout of workspaces
  • The dynamics between professionals, their colleagues and how they interact with the public
  • The worst part of the job
  • The best part of the job
  • How a cop/embalmer answers the question, “So, what do you do for a living?”
    (Best Answer: “Bricklayer, it has way less follow up questions.” [I may have put a similar line in the book, it was too good not too!])

It was these details that added credibility, authenticity and intrigue to the book. Several of my beta-readers said that the embalming scenes in ETHD were among their favourite because they “were so different.” 

I also interviewed psychics, mechanics, nurses and pharmacists, but that’s a whole other blog. 

Research can make a scene in your novel really pop
Interviewing an expert will provide you with insights and details that you won’t find online.

Finding the right professionals to interview can take a lot of time or no time at all, but it’s always worth the effort.

The two biggest boons to one-on-one interviewing are:

1. Access to fascinating and unique stories, details, information and insight into a particular workplace’s culture
2. Talking to an actual person is (often) far more interesting and quicker than trying to find information online. 

This second point is particularly important. Once you’ve conducted your initial interview with a professional, you have now created an invaluable resource. Over time, you will create your own customised Google: a network of contacts who will provide you with the exact information that you are looking for. 

The internet is a great source of information, but nothing beats direct contact with an industry professional.  


Every Time He Dies

AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER + GIVEAWAY

‘Who knew that a book about murder, grief and disintegrated families could be so funny?’ – Paul WilliamsEverytimeHeDies_3D

‘A unique modern mystery that is one part psychic practices and one part police procedural. The fast pace, dynamic characters and intricate plot will keep readers hooked until the end.’ – Gregory James

‘It’s rare to find an Australian-set book of this scope and genre that could stand among its international peers and hold its own, but I won’t be surprised to see this book find its success in all corners of the crime genre reading world.’ – Shayla Morgansen

‘Can someone please make this into a TV series? This is a fabulous read and I want to see Liam and Daff on the small screen.’ – Carol Seeley


CLICK BELOW TO PREORDER NOW

Amazon Australia

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barns & Noble

Kobo

Glose


PREORDER GIVEAWAY!

Everyone who preorders a copy of Every Time He Dies (paperback or ebook) will go into the draw to win one of THREE MAJOR GRAND PRIZES.

To celebrate the release of Every Time He Dies, I’m running an EPIC book giveaway. The three grand prize packs include signed copies of:

🎉Dying in the First Person by Nike Sulway
🎉Bordertown by Gregory James
🎉Haunted by Shayla Morgansen
🎉The Spark Ignites by Kathleen Kelly
🎉Every Time He Dies by Tara Louise East

IMG_1576

If you preorder a copy, simply take a snapshot of your proof of purchase and fill out the entry form here. 

WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Everyone who preorders a copy will ALSO receive the first five chapters straight to their inbox. Not only will this tide you over until the book arrives, but it’s also my way of saying thanks!

PRESALE GIVEAWAY!

You don’t normally hear from me on a Monday, but today is a very special day because…

Add a little bit of body text (3).png

YUP!

Every Time He Dies is now available for Preorder!

To celebrate this AWESOMENESS, I am hosting a MASSIVE book giveaway.

EVERYONE who preorders a copy of Every Time He Dies (paperback or ebook) will go into the draw to win one of THREE MAJOR GRAND PRIZES.

These grand prize packs include signed copies of:

  • Dying in the First Person by Nike Sulway
  • Bordertown by Gregory James
  • Haunted by Shayla Morgansen
  • The Spark Ignites by Kathleen Kelly
  • Every Time He Dies by ME!

IMG_1576

I provide a quick description of these books in this week’s video, which you can watch here.

If you preorder a copy, simply take a snapshot of your proof of purchase and fill out the entry form here: https://bit.ly/2k4FHpc or email me directly at authortaraeast@gmail.com

WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Everyone who preorders a copy will ALSO receive the first five chapters straight to their inbox. Not only will this tide you over until the book arrives, but it’s also my way of saying thanks!

You can preorder the book from the following retailers:

»Amazon Australia: https://amzn.to/2m4IhfD

»Barns & Noble: https://bit.ly/2kzDt1d

» Kobo: https://bit.ly/2lJeKHZ

Need to know more before you commit? No probs.

You can read the first THREE CHAPTERS of Every Time He Dies right here

The two things you need to know about writing a novel

Writing a novel is a big deal. There are so many components that you need to consider and educate yourself on: writing craft, publishing, business. And there are so many habits that you need to develop: discipline, a writing routine, time management skills.

I learned so much writing Every Time He Dies, but there are two massive lessons that I want to cover in this week’s blog, and they are:

  •  Writing a novel takes as long as it takes 
  • The story will change. A lot.

It takes as long as it takes

If you’ve been following this blog or my Instagram posts for a while, then you’ve already heard that it took me seven years to write and publish, Every Time He Dies.

Of course, I wasn’t consistently working on the novel that entire time (that would be embarrassing!). There were HUGE caps of time when I wasn’t working on the novel because of various factors (study, work, relocating, travel). By the end of 2017, I realised I had taken the novel as far as I could and that it was time to get an editor. The only problem was a) I had no money and b) I was about to start Honours.

I tucked the manuscript away for an entire year while I saved money and concentrated on my studies. I didn’t touch the book for all of 2018.

With that in mind, you could say that it took six years to write and revise the novel. To be clear, I didn’t work on the novel every day for six years. Sometimes I didn’t work on the novel for three-six months because other things had to become the priority. 

Sometimes these stretches of inactivity were intentional; sometimes I needed to put distance between me and the work so that I could gain a better perspective. Sometimes I needed to detach from the work so that I could be more ruthless when it came time to begin the next round of revisions.

The story will change

Every Time He Dies changed many times. Some elements stayed the same, but the plot and characters were overhauled more than once. 

Every Time He Dies is about a woman, Daff, who finds a watch buried in the sand at Gold Beach, only the watch is haunted by a ghost with no memory of who he is or who he died. While trying to uncover his identity, Daff becomes entangled in her estranged father’s homicide investigation.     

This is not the novel I set out to write seven years ago. Initially, I wanted to write a murder mystery involving two teenage boys: boy number one dies under suspicious circumstances and boy number two tries to find out what happened. The plot thickens when boy number one returns as a ghost and together they try to solve his murder. Pretty different, no?

I drafted a couple of chapters, but the story lacked life.

One day, I was driving back home after running errands when a scene bloomed before my eyes. It was a conversation between a woman and a man, only the man was dead. The scene was electric. I pulled up at the front of my house (I wasn’t going to waste time hauling open the roller door or locking the car behind me, I had a scene to write!), raced in the front door and madly wrote out the scene. Seven years later, those three pages have remained virtually untouched.

You may have noticed that this scene was not about two teenage boys … Fortunately, I was in the early days of writing, so I had no qualms about scrapping those early chapters and starting again. 

I was teaching myself how to write a novel while writing a novel.

Writing regularly was helpful, but I supported my learning by reading writing advice books and by watching YouTube videos (regardless of genre, Brandon Sanderson’s lecturer series is a fantastic entry point!). 

Basically, I knew that I was green and that there was nothing valuable in those early chapters I was throwing out.

The scene that occurred to me was a gift from the muse (please note: this moment of inspired writing only happened twice in seven years). The scene was dramatic and climactic, and it gave me a point to work towards. All I had to do was figure out who the heck these characters were and what lead them to this moment. Easy, right? Um, no. 

It took seven years, countless re-writes, a ton of research, one mentorship, a Master Program (thanks USC), five beta-readers, a great structural editor, a great copy editor, three wonderful proofreaders and seven tons of coffee to write and publish, Every Time He Dies. 

In that time, the novel changed from a story about a group of strangers coming together to create a community, to a family drama about grief, identity, and secrets.

Characters’ changed names, gender, and occupations. Some characters were blended together, some removed and new ones added. A chapter from the middle of the book was moved to the start. The novel changed from a first-person perspective to a rotating third-person limited perspective (god, did that hurt!). 

The novel was initially set in Chicago, then Sydney, until finally, I settled on Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. 

The title changed from Ghost Story (hey, I had to call it something) to Haunted to Concealed Constellations (don’t laugh) to Death Walkers and then finally Every Time He Dies.  

The tag line shifted from A Forensic Fairy Tale to A Ghost, A Cop and An embalmer Walk into a bar … to Even the Dead Can Lie.

I wrote 80, 000 words and then delete 20, 000 from the beginning because it wasn’t very interesting. Then I wrote another 40, 000. Then I deleted another 10, 000 of fluff. This expansion and contraction continued until the story settled at a comfortable 85, 000 words.

The point is, if you’re starting your first novel, don’t get too attached to the premise, setting, characters, voice or perspective. Cos, girlfriend, that shits gonna change. And usually for the better. 

Now that Every Time He Dies is on the cusp of release, I’ve finally started working on a new project. Perhaps this journey will be smoother, maybe it will be even more turbulent, either way, I’m in for the ride.

I hope you are too.

Every Time He Dies will be available for preorder September 16.

To keep up to date on all this ETHD and to gain early access and exclusive information about competitions and giveaway, please join my email newsletter here.

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Why I Chose to Self-Publishing My Novel. Part 2.

Last week I revealed why I chose to self-publish my debut novel. In Part 1, I unpacked the benefits of self-publishing. So, for the sake of balance, this week’s post will cover the limitations of self-publishing. 

Another author may make a more extensive list, but the limitations of self-publishing basically fall under two umbrellas: 

  • Money
  • Responsibility

Self-publishing means investing your money
Self-publishing requires you to invest your cash before you make a single sale.

Money

The main reason why people don’t want to self-publish is because you have got to cover ALL of your expenses upfront. You have to invest a ton of cash into the publication and promotion of your book before you can start selling your book baby. (And hopefully, make a profit!) 

Like any high-functioning parent, this can cause resentment. 

First, there are the obvious costs as you hire an editor and a book cover designer, but then there are all the other costs …

  • Editing isn’t a one-round go-around, you have to hire a structural editor ($2000+), then a copy editor ($600 – $2000) and then a proofreader ($500-$1000). For those of you keeping tally at home, that’s three different editors and wheelbarrow of moo-la.
  • Unless you want to do the interior formatting yourself (do you really hate yourself that much?), you’ll have to hire a professional interior designer ($300+) or buy a program ($250+); while this will make things easier, you’ll have to invest x amount of time into learning how said program works.
  • ARC copies. Once you’ve loaded your files onto your publishing platform/distributor, you will need to order a few copies to check that everything is okay ($100+)
  • Membership fee: Some publishing platforms charge an initial sign-up fee (For example, Ingramspark charges $25-$50)
  • Marketing: This can be cheap or really expensive.
    Apps
    Affordable apps like Book Brush and Place It charge a small monthly fee ($8-$15 per month). These apps allow you to make beautiful marketing images of your book that you can use on social media and in paid ads (such as Facebook and Amazon). Other platforms like Canva will allow you to make free images, but some stock background etc come with a fee.
    Website
    You can run your website from a free platform like WordPress, Squarespace or WIX, but if you want a more professional website, then you gotta hand over your credit card.
    Paid Advertising
    Again, this can be cheap or expensive. Unfortunately, it may take a little coin to figure out which ads on which platforms result in sales, for example, Amazon Ads, Facebook ads, or Instagram ads. 
  • Book reviews: Book reviews can cost money, but most reviewers do this for free (thank you kind, generous, book reviewers!). However, it took me SIX months to line up fifty reviews for ETHD. Lesson: This exercise won’t cost you money, but it will cost you time. 
Responsibility
The hardest thing about self-publishing is becoming the CEO of My Novel Inc.

Responsibility

I wasn’t sure what to call this section. Independence? Creative Control? Team with an I? Solo? Basically, the other huge limitation of self-publishing is that you are all on your own. No-one is going to hold your hand through this thing. ☹

You are FULLY responsible for every decision involved in the publication of your book. 

This is additionally difficult because … despite all the research you’ve done … you still have no idea what you’re doing. 

You have to do ALL the research and you have to make ALL the decisions. 

You have to research all the publishing/distribution houses. You have to read blogs, reviews and watch YouTube videos to see what other authors say about these platforms. (Note: self-publishing is changing ALL the time, so the internet is full of contradicting advice and old information). Then, you have to type ‘free-lance editor’ into Google and watch as your bank account shrinks to zero. You will spend days/weeks/months trolling through websites and portfolios as you try to decide who you want to hire. 

In addition to all this, you also have to learn how to build an author platform and how to online marketing works. Being the CEO of My Novel Inc. is a full-time gig y’all, the only problem is you’re tending to this company at nights and on weekends because, you know, you also have that other job, the one that actually keeping the lights on. 

The indie community is a generous one. Every self-published author I have met (in real life or virtually) has been incredibly generous in sharing information and their own experiences. Still, as CEO, you are fully responsible for the success of your novel. This can be exhilarating or terrifying. Usually both. 

In the hopes of saving you all some time, money and heart-ache, here are some of the key lessons I learned when publishing ETHD:

  • You can’t trust testimonials

  • Sometimes you’ll hire a truly stellar professional, but then something happens (they have an accident, fall ill, have a death in the family). This may mean that deadlines have to be extended and the publication date pushed back. If you’re lucky, this happens BEFORE you’ve announced pub date

  • Sometimes you can trust testimonials

  • Some professionals will be great communicators and they will respond to your emails quickly. Some professionals are … not very good at communicating … and you’ll (maybe) hear from them once a month – despite the glowing testimonials on their website …

  • Designing a cover is HARD and so much fun

  • Naming a book is HARD and not very fun

  • When you show the mock-up designs of your book cover to beta-readers, family and friends and NO-ONE picks the cover you liked … you will start to second guess EVERYTHING. Maybe I don’t know my target audience? Maybe I should re-design all my marketing images and adjust all the copy? If I picked the ‘wrong’ cover, maybe the whole book is ‘wrong’? etc. etc.

  • Making marketing images is fun … and kind of a time suck

  • So much of marketing feel kind of like you’re doing nothing

  • Checking interior formatting takes FOREVER and is mind-numbingly dull

  • Applying edits takes FOREVER and you literally live for those tiny compliments and smiley faces your editor has sprinkled throughout the document

  • Publishing a book takes about eight times longer than you think it’s gonna take and it’s three times more expensive. 

Self-publishing has its limitations, but I knew from the beginning that it was the best option for me.

Becoming CEO of My Novel Inc. has been a huge learning curve, but I’m going to ride this crazy roller coaster all the way to the end. If you’re looking for a ticket, don’t worry, I’ll hook you up with one of the scouts out front. 😉

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Why I Chose to Self-Publish My Novel. Part 1.

I chose to self-publish my debut novel, Every Time He Dies, for many reasons; most of which I will unpack in this blog. 

Before we get started though, I do want to add the disclaimer that both self-publishing and traditionally publishing have their strengths and weaknesses. 

There are many factors that you need to consider before choosing an option, such as:

  • what your publication goals are 
  • how comfortable you are with technology 
  • the strength of your author platform (or your wiliness to build one)
  • your budget 
  • how much time and energy you can (realistically) dedicate to this endeavour.

Now, my gut has always told me that self-publishing was the best option for me. However, to be completely transparent, a number of friends who are traditionally published and/or professionals in the industry convenience me to give traditional publishing a go.

I got close twice, but no banana. 

So, why didn’t my novel “make it”?

#1 / It was too similar to a book that had already been published earlier that year

#2 / The company already had an extensive backlog (“And by the way,” … the receptionist whispered … “We might not be around that much longer anyway…”)

I didn’t walk away with a contract, but I did walk away with an important lesson: if the timing isn’t right, it doesn’t matter who you know!

I have to say though, I wasn’t crushed. Like I said before, my gut was telling me to self-published. This is probably because my genetic make-up is one part arrogance and one part naivety. 

Plus, I’ve been a long-time listener to Joanna Penn’s, The Creative Penn, podcast (among others), and there’s a lot of self-published authors out there that are killing it. Of course, most are lucky to earn a couple of bucks a month, but the same goes for traditionally published authors. 

For me, the benefits of self-publishing outweighed the drawbacks. 

Full creative control

Self-publishing means that you get to choose who you work with – time and money permitting. Basically, you are the CEO of My Novel Inc. Congratulations! You are now in charge of researching and hiring the best professional money your budget can buy!

Personally, I loved the fact that I got to choose my own editor; that I could hire the interior formatter that I liked and that the cover wasn’t designed by a department, but through the one-on-one collaboration between ME and the designer I had hired. 

As CEO, I also had the final say on everything. Cos, you know, I was paying for it. 

Marketing

The number one reason why people want to go traditional is because they don’t like marketing. 

Okay. 

So. 

Like.

You’re just gonna have to get over that. 

As part of my community service to the online writing world, I’ve chosen to write an open letter to all the ‘but I don’t like marketing’ Luddites.  

Dear ‘I Don’t Like Marketing’ Luddite, 

It is highly unlikely that you will get a contract with a major publishing house if you don’t have an author platform. If you aren’t willing to promote your books then why should they?

This is especially important if you are trying to publish your debut novel. A publishing company WILL NOT INVEST a ton of cash into a marketing campaign for a DEBUT novel. 

Why?

Cos no-one knows who you are!

You haven’t proven yourself yet and you don’t have a trusted, loyal fan base. 

It doesn’t matter whether you chose to self-publish or traditionally publish if you want to sell books, then you have to market your own books. 

Sure, a publishing house will put some money towards a marketing campaign, but you, sweet innocent writer, will be expected to do some heavy lifting too. 

No one rides the bus for free. 

Love,
Tara 

 

Environment 

I can appreciate that not everyone will be on board with this one, but in case you haven’t heard, our planet is currently in the midst of the sixth extinction. So, publishing 5000 copies (or more) of a book that I may only sell ten copies of seems like a huge waste of our already depleting natural resources. 

Print on demand doesn’t completely solve this problem, but it’s a step in the right direction. Companies like Lulu, Amazon, and Ingramspark (among many others) offer the print on demand option. Every time someone goes onto Amazon, iBook, Kobo, Barnes & Nobel etc. and orders a copy of your book, the publisher (Lulu/Amazon/Ingramspark) will print, package and post that book to your wonderful, generous, and sparkly reader. 

How great is that?

Gone are the days when self-published author had to keep twenty book boxes in their garage and physically distribute said books themselves (probably from the trunk of their car…).

Bookshops and Libraries

Another common reason for going traditional is because authors want to see their book in their local independent bookshop or library. 

Oh, man, I feel like I’m about to tell you that Santa isn’t real …

Okay, look, the thing is, most new releases only stay in bookstores for the first three-six months following their release. 

That’s it. 

If your stock doesn’t sell, then the store will ship your book back to the publisher where it will hang out in a giant warehouse until someone buys a copy online or until another shop orders in extra stock (if you’re really, really lucky). 

So … that book that you spent years writing will be on the shelf at your local independent bookshop for a few months … maybe.

So, you better enjoy that ‘thrill’ while you can, sailor. 

It’s a common misconception that independent bookstores and library won’t/can’t sell self-published books, but that isn’t true. Thankfully, services like Ingramspark make it easy for bookstores to order in (at wholesale price) copies of your book. YAY! 

If you live in a small town, you might also be able to negotiate a deal directly with your local bookstore owner. 

Companies such as Kobo, also make it very easy for libraries to order in your book. However, someone may need to request the book in order for this to happen. (It’s about time your Nan did something for ya, right?) Alternatively, you can always donate a copy to your local library. Now all the local residents will benefit from your literary generosity! 

These four pros are the biggest reason why I chose to self-publish. I would list the cons here too, but that would make the post WAY too big.

Don’t worry, I’m gonna realise part 2 next week. 😉

All that being said, you are in charge of deciding what is best for you and your project.

While I have chosen to self-publish this novel, I would be open to traditionally publishing in the future just so I could experience it. (You may have noticed that I have a writing blog … that means I like to do stuff and then write about so that others can learn from my experience).

Writing, editing and then publishing my debut novel, Every Time He Dies, has been one very long road. For the most part, though, the view had been spectacular. 

I hope you can say the same.

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