The Official Blog of Author Tristan Vick
Personally, I wouldn't consider myself a great writer, but I find that I am improving. Here are three quick, simple, ways to improve yourself as a writer.
1. Be Bold: Try New Things and Always Challenge Yourself
Write what you love, but don't always write the same thing. The only way to truly grow and expand is to gain new skills, and the only way to gain new skills is to try new things. I wrote Bitten because I had the odd notion that my first novel should be a genre I was entirely and wholly unfamiliar with (in this case horror). It pushed me to grow as a writer because I was forced to learn new techniques, styles, and open myself up to new possibilities. What's more, it seemed to work. One of the best reviews I ever received was from a test reader who informed, "I couldn't read this book without turning on all the lights in the house. It's that scary!"
Apparently I succeeded. But only because I pushed myself. I could have just as likely crashed and burned, but that too would have been a learning experience which would have helped me grow.
2. Be Wise: Writing a Book isn't a Sprint--It's a Marathon
As an Indy author, you will likely be doing everything, or at least mostly everything, yourself. This considered, it is wise to take your time and pace yourself. Keep a schedule or a calendar on hand to help with your pacing. Even if you're like me and rarely ever follow it with any precision, it still helps to keep things organized so you don't have any conflicts later on down the road which might jam you up. I learned that the hard way.
Also, don't rush to publish just because it's now easier than ever to self-publish. Additionally, once you do publish, realize this ins't the end, but the beginning of the second half of getting your book made. The first part is making the book, but the second part is letting know people that you have a book, otherwise what would the point of making it be?
Advertising and selling your books takes more time, at least I find, than the actually work on the book. I tend to finish a book every sixth months (give or take). But I am still trying to find readers for my very first novel, along with all the subsequent titles, and this seems a never ending process. So don't expect a hundred Amazon.com reviews the first year. Even if sales are good, for example my first novel Bitten has sold upward near a 1,000 copies in one year, but it has only one four-star review on Amazon.com. I don't know exactly whether that's a good or a bad thing, so I asked my friend Mark Tufo, author of the Zombie Fallout series, and he said it took three months for him to sell even one copy of his first book. The reviews, he stated, didn't come until much, much later. After the word of mouth had gotten around. So I'm still waiting--with fingers crossed.
In the meantime, I am pacing myself, taking my time and trying everything I can think of to make my next book even better than my last. Which brings me to my third tip.
3. Be the best you can be: Make your next book even better than the last!
It seems like simple advice, but it's easier said than done. When I began writing Bitten two, I was thinking, what could I do to make this one stand out? What could I do to separate it from the first? Well, I did something drastic. Even though it's part of a series, I made Bitten 2 a stand alone novel. Instead of being a continuation, it simply is set in the same universe. The first book involves and intricate story-line with over 52 characters! Bitten 2 only has a grand total of 12 characters. This allowed me to focus on the characters more. Get more involved in their relationships. And create interesting dynamics. Moreover, it caused the story to go in an interesting direction. Bitten 2 is a romance novel. But with zombies in it. Bitten one is entirely an action, survival-horror, with thrilling twists and turns. It's part mystery, part western, part science fiction. Bitten 2 is a much more simple story. It's about a fledgling love ruined by the inconvenience of the zombie apocalypse. It's tragic. It's scary in a much more realistic way. The sheer horror of the zombies takes a backseat to the horrible realism of real life relationships and the hardships the characters endure. It's about trying to fight for love ... but losing out ... and then having to figure out what life is about when the world lays in ruins around you just like your failed relationship.
Did it make the book better? Well, that remains to be seen. But I feel that technically, my writing became better, because of the mistakes I made with Bitten 1, so that by the time I wrote Bitten 2 everything was clicking, and the smaller story allowed me to focus on telling a strong character piece. Ultimately, that's what stories are about, people, not the monsters. Not the action. But the interactions.
Bitten 3 is halfway written, and it combines everything I learned from writing the first two into one novel, so it promises to be the best of the series, but at the same time, it is also proving to be the most challenging to write. Probably because I don't simply want to fall into a formula. I want to break the mold, always push myself, and have the next book be better than the last.
Because that's the only way I, as an author, can ever be satisfied with my work. Like most Indy authors, I have the luxury to state that I write for myself. If people fall in love with what I write, then that's the best compliment I could ever receive In the meantime, I keep on writing, and the only way I could be happy is if I was improving.
I teach English during the day. It's what pays the bills. By night I fancy myself an author, perhaps not the best author, but I love to write. I mean, I literally love to write, tell stories, and make books.
However, as you can imagine, trying to squeeze in a few precious hours of writing time wherever I can isn't always easy. Especially on top of raising a family, working a full time job, and trying to write full time on the side. Some days are more daunting than others. During summer, when I have large chunks of time off, I have to find part time work just to make ends meet. Which is always a hassle. Thankfully my wife is patient with me and lets me write whenever I can.
In the last year and a half I have come out with two novels and an anthology. In the next few months I will be coming out with two more anthologies and I am beginning two new novels as I finish up the third installment of my Bitten resurrection virus series.
I don't have any proved formula for balancing it all, but a few things came to mind on what I have tried that seem to work. These are my little key points on being a steady writer. Maybe not a good writer, but a work-horse writer.
Key Point #1: Lock Yourself In and Write as if Your Life Depended on It!
This past weekend (March 1st) was my birthday. My good Japanese friend Takumi Nezu came to visit me. He recently got a job with a gear carving factory as a sale representative. He basically convinces large industry to use their product for large scale gears. And I am talking massive machinery. Gears the size of weight lifting plates all the way up to gears the size of small cars. Big stuff. Mainly for ship building and other things which require such massive gears. Fascinating really.
At any rate, Mr. Takumi asked me how I keep busy? He was finding his weekends alone and rather boring in a new job where he doesn't yet know anybody. Just keeping oneself busy is hard enough. But I, like most writers, am a massive introvert. I live just about as much in my own mind as the real world.
He asked me what I do to keep busy, and without hesitation I responded, I stay home and write. Sometimes I read. I read and write. And when I am not doing that I am playing with my daughter. And that's about all I have time for.
I'm afraid I wasn't much help for Mr. Takumi. He's more of a socialite than I am and needs a more interactive stimulation. Also, he's single, so he's hoping to maybe find a girlfriend in the near future. That's hard to do if you never leave the house.
I on the other hand will wake up at 6 am on on a Saturday and write straight through until Sunday morning ... just for fun. If I do get an extended holiday, it is almost entirely consumed by my voracious hunger for writing. I just lock myself in and write. It's the only way the books get done, since as you may have heard, books don't write themselves.
Key Point #2: Carry a Note Book With You--Always!
I try to have my notebook on me at all times. On occasions when I don't have it, I will use my smart-phone to email myself ideas or things which pop into my mind, names, or news articles which relate to something I have been plotting in my mind. But it is always vital to have a way to get your ideas down on paper.
Spur of the moment ideas that pop into your head, those moments of artistic inspiration, are always fleeting. Even if you have an excellent memory, it still helps to have something to write the ideas down.
How does this relate to time management and being able to write more, you might wonder? Well, a good notebook chock full of ideas, quotes, references, name lists, plot points, character descriptions, you name it, well, such a notebook can act as a springboard.
Some authors swear that writer's block is a real thing. Others claim it's not. I take the position that it's not. What I think "writer's block" amounts to is either a lack of good ideas or else burn out. Both of these happen to be real.
Without any good ideas, you simply are stuck, and you waste time by procrastinating and hoping for that inspiration to find you. Sometimes it doesn't come. Other times, busy life on top of perhaps too many sleepless nights editing to reach a deadline, and you find yourself burned out, and your brain is too fried to piece anything together.
This is when a good notebook becomes vital. Just browsing through a notebook, or even an old one, can give you that little bit of inspiration you need, or refresh your memory of neat ideas you might have had but never used, or sometimes you'll be lucky enough to find a short description of a story idea you never got around to but now can begin to develop more fully.
Other times, if you're burnt out and stuck grinding your gears, it can act as a springboard to give you that little pick-up that helps finish the novel in a timely fashion. It might even give you enough momentum to spring you into the next novel too! So, as you can imagine, a good notebook can be a time saver. More than that, for an author, it can be a life saver.
Key Point #3: Get out of the House Sometimes
Many authors forget that in order to be inspired you have to interact with the real world. At least sometimes. Even us introverts need to get outside once in a while. Even if it is just taking a walk and taking in a bit of fresh air. But it helps to keep connections open. Perhaps sign yourself up for a writer's workshop. Not only will you learn lots of things about writing, not just from the lecturers but the other writers in attendance as well, you will be able to network with other authors and put faces to names. Not only this, but you'll become a face yourself, rather than just a name.
Key Point #4: The Interwebs and Social Media are the Indy Author's Best Friends
If you are an Indy author, the Internet and Social media are likely your only way to advertise your work. It benefits the author greatly to learn the main ones. I only started Tweeting this year, but my books sales about doubled when I did. I still haven't been brave enough to upload any videos to YouTube, but it seems that's the next step for me. Most of my interactions take place on Facebook, Tumbler, Twitter, and some web forums I frequent.
Granted, all this digital socializing takes up a lot of time. But if you want to find readers for your books, then this becomes one of the Indy authors best means of reaching more readers. Before the Internet and the E-book and self-publishing boom, Indy authors were seen as the smucks who simply couldn't get a big fancy contract with a mainstream publisher. That's no longer the case. Now the Indy market is taking over, and self publishing is gaining in respect, and quality, I might add. Still, we Indy authors are limited in our reach, and so social media becomes our biggest platform for reaching potential readers and expanding our overall readership.
I find that I learn about other talented Indy authors by social media more than through any other medium. In fact, nearly all of the Indy authors I read are those I've met online. So it's not a waste of time to build a good platform. It's just part of the job, since the Indy author is also her own agent and publisher.
Key Point #5: Take your time and Be Professional
One of my biggest mistakes, I tell you with blushing cheeks, is that my first novel was rushed into print because I majorly FUBARed my schedule. I hired an amazing studio to do formatting and cover design, set the date about four months after my manuscript was completed, and then real life got in the way and I didn't have time to edit to the point of satisfaction.
Also, at the time, I couldn't afford to pay the late fee. And I couldn't reschedule due to real world complications. So my only choice was to send in a completely raw, and unpolished, manuscript full of errors and horrifying grammatical blunders.
That's why you should take your time. Polish your novel. Get it to the point you would be willing to let it out into the public, and THEN schedule your publication.
Trust me, you'll save a lot of time, money, and heartache.
And if you can afford it, hire an editor to give you that professional polish. I have found an excellent proofreader, a gentleman who is a retired English teacher, and he is excellent. But it's always good to have another set of eyes go over your work and give it that professional shine. Another option is to hire a freelance editor or proofreader, or try an in-house one with whichever publishing service you are using. I know that Create Space, LuLu, and others offer in-house services--although they tend to be on the pricey side. It's better to use your social media platforms to ask author authors who they use, which are usually people who love reading books, and I find this is the best way to find the editor who is right for you.
Once you take these steps, it's about giving your books a professional look, not just on the inside, but the outside as well. It may seem superficial, but people really do make their purchasing choices based on a books cover. So it pays, literally, to have a professional quality cover. People will even be more forgiving of Indy authors minor mistakes if your cover looks good... that is... if your presentation is professional. Because what this says to the reader is that you're at least trying. You're making an effort. You're doing your best to give them a product they would actually want to have on their bookshelf.
Minus these things, all it says if that you don't care enough about the product you are creating... so why should they care to read let alone buy it? So being professional does matter.
These are just some tips I learned the hard way. But when you're new to the publishing industry, and you have no choice but to do it all yourself, just remember a little patience and perseverance goes a long way. Don't get discouraged. Learn by trial and error. Mistakes are bound to happen. But learn from them, improve, and make the best art you can. At the end of the day, that's about any of us can do--whenever we can find the time.
As it turns out, I have become an official Micro Publisher. What this means is that I publish a limited amount of titles and usually in small quantities (e.g. print on demand) on a regular basis.
I marked my Micro Publishing debut with my first full length novel Bitten : A Resurrection Thriller a little over a year ago. About half a year later I came out with the second installment Bitten 2 Land of the Rising Dead.
Today I received my first ever fully edited book anthology Seasons of Freethought which republishes the Freethought works of G.W. Foote. If you don't know who he is, well, look him up on Wiki. Or get a copy of my book--no pressure to buy--but little is available away in details of Foote's existence apart from the writings he left behind. Which is why I felt it important to preserve them by giving them a new life, a new Season, if you will.
Admittedly, I am really proud of this one because I did everything myself. Not only did the 756 page monster turn out well, I managed to do everything. And by everything, I mean everything apart fromn the writing (which was Foote's work). However, I handled everything from editing, to formatting, to book blocking, to styles, to writing the introduction, to doing headers and footers, page numbering, you name it. I am glad that I was able to bring back G.W. Foote's Freethought writing and also give it a gorgeous new presentation. Take a look for yourself and see!
So now I am an official publisher, even as I remain independent. Good times. I learned a lot this time around and I hope to continue bringing high quality collections of other important works in the future. If you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear them!
By day I am an educator and a cultural ambassador. By night I entertain notions of being a literary master. In reality I am just a family man and ordinary guy who works hard and loves writing just about as much as I love my family. Just about.