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

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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

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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!

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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