• 2018 has been a rollercoaster!

    Just a little over a year ago, I sat where I’m sitting now having penned my first novel. It still needed a lot of work, but after an exhausting few months, I had done the impossible. The story that bubbled and boiled for so long was finally here and I had no plans on resting until I shared it with the world.

    I submitted it to various publishers and literary agents, but after three months and dozens of template rejection emails, I decided to self-publish. I read every blog and article I could find and after putting together a marketing plan, I unleashed my story into the world. It did surprisingly well for the first few weeks, before ultimately crashing and burning.

  • “You want to become a writer? Are you drunk?”

    That was one of the many reactions I received after I made the conscious decision to take writing seriously. I can’t blame anyone for reacting like that – prior to September 2017, I had never once openly expressed an interest in writing. It was always something I’d considered doing when I had more time. When my children are more settled in school, when things get quieter in work, when the latest season of Game of Thrones is over. The list of reasons not to write grew longer and longer.

    Then, in September 2017 something happened. For years I juggled parenthood, working and building my app development side-project. After one particular project went south, a moment of clarity struck me when I asked myself what I wanted to do. Did I want to spend every spare hour continuing to build and develop apps? I thought about that question over and over until I came to a realisation.

    Deep down, app development was nothing more than a means to an end. I wanted to grow my app portfolio for no other reason than to increase my income. That would then allow me to quit my job and focus on what I really wanted to do – write. From that moment, an idea crystallised. Rather than spending what little free time I had doing something that I may have been good at but realistically, had no interest in, I decided to start writing.

    The transition wasn’t easy, but I did have a head start. Prior to forming my first app development company two years previously, I had written roughly thirty pages of a story based on a vivid dream I had. I dusted this story off, re-read and edited it and then I wrote a single sentence. From that sentence a paragraph was born, followed by an entire chapter.

    I became possessed, spending every (extremely rare) moment of peace and quiet dragging a story out of me. It was something I had been thinking about for years, something that I had torn apart and put back together so many times, that it felt more realistic than the real world.

    Determined not to rest until I had this story completed, I worked furiously around the clock, eventually finishing it two hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve 2017. The sense of satisfaction from drafting a 100,000-word story struck me like a hammer. It almost felt like an out-of-body experience as I read through it. Through sheer force of will, I had ignored every desire to relax, laze about and waste my time and instead, had built an entire world from scratch.

    It isn’t easy and there are times when the last thing in the world I want to do is write. I sometimes think back to September 2017 and wonder what things would have been like if I didn’t have that epiphany. There would have been no self-publishing journey, no countless hours of bashing away at a keyboard, no publishing deal and certainly no Big Red.

    I could easily have kept on developing apps and who knows where I’d be with that now. The most important thing is that I’m happy. I’m glad I made that decision. I’m glad I spent months sacrificing my free time to write Big Red. I’m glad I have the opportunity to be a writer.

    And no, I’m not drunk. (Well… Not that drunk…)

  • Like most of my writing projects, Big Red started as a dream. I’ve always had an overactive imagination, which is something that’s followed me into sleep. It’s rare that I don’t have vivid dreams (or nightmares) that I can easily recount the following morning.

    When I woke up, I wrote roughly two pages describing what I had dreamt about. It wasn’t much and I didn’t know it at the time, but that became the basis for the first two chapters of Big Red. I can still remember seeing rows upon rows of fold-out beds with soldiers laid out on them, screaming and howling out in pain and agony. Dressed in an army uniform myself, I walked past them before looking up and seeing a swirling, crisp image of the planet Mars. To say this dream impacted me would be an understatement.

    I played around with the idea for months, trying to figure out the context. What were those soldiers screaming about? Why Mars?

    While doing day-to-day errands the idea played on my mind. I created characters and their backgrounds. I read up on interstellar colonisation and exploration and kept track of the growing attempts to put a manned crew on Mars. I considered setting Big Red in the future, at a time when we had the mainstream technology to do the things that so many people dream of. But that didn’t feel right.

    I thought back to my years in primary school. One of my teachers once quipped his belief that our current level of technology is far more advanced than most people realise. In a two-minute ramble, he told us that, in his opinion, technology is released to the masses decades after being developed behind the scenes by various shadowy government organisations.

    Was he wrong? I have no idea. I enjoy reading conspiracy theories with an open mind, but I never bought into the idea that some international cabal was trying to control us. Still, I took his idea and looked at Big Red through his lens. What if (in 2018/2019) humanity already had the ability to travel between the stars and establish colonies? What if those colonies have been there for decades? What would that be like?

    And with that thought, the background story for Big Red was born. It took further research to develop and flesh it out. I wanted the history of the colonies to be based (as much as possible) on real life events and fears, even if that history wasn’t directly dealt with in Big Red.

    Being a bit of a history buff, I remembered reading about the Nazis V1 and V2 rocket programs during WW2 and the fear and terror this newfound technology brought. I studied up on it and read about how the Russians and Americans both rounded up these Nazi scientists post war and quietly put them to work.

    Using that and the still ongoing fascination with the theory that Hitler escaped as jump-off points, I created a background where the last remnants of the third Reich used their advanced technology and escaped to Mars.

    Stories like that have been done before, but the events in Big Red don’t deal with this. Instead, it takes place decades after the Allies victoriously crush the Nazi threat (following the historically documented “1952 Washington UFO phenomena”) with their 1954 invasion of Mars.

    The characters in Big Red learn all this, shortly after realising they’ve been abducted. As fascinating as it is to them to learn about this alternate history, these events don’t impact them directly. The aftermath does.

    The simmering racial tensions between descendants of the Nazis, Mars-born Allied colonists and the Earth-born soldiers that protect and police them is a vital aspect to the overall story and one that brings dire consequences.

    To think, all of that started with a dream.

  • It took eight years of messing around with his story before Phil Parker published it himself. It was only when he was selected to join the Curtis Brown Creative novel writing course that he developed the confidence to pursue this goal. Since then he's learned a lot. Some of it he's outlined in this post. He's still trying to make sense of the rest.


    On January 15th 2018, I joined Twitter. My intention was to prepare the ground for when I published my Knights’ Protocol trilogy, which would be three months later. The date represents the moment I committed to starting a new career.

    Which sounds grand and laudable perhaps, except I had no idea what I was doing. I’d suffered enough, trying the traditional route to publishing so decided to tread my own path and self-publish. I’ve learned a huge amount in the last year, THREE lessons stand out.

     

    Research – get familiar with the landscape.

    I spent a lot of time researching which marketplace I wanted to use. There’s lots of advice out there, it’s conflicting as you might expect, so that meant having to compare and contrast, like at school. It’s potentially the biggest decision anyone makes so choosing carefully is essential.

    I found Tom Corson-Knowles’ The Kindle Publishing Bible to be a great help. It explained issues such as devising saleable titles, writing book descriptions that sell, how to get reviews (ethically) and promotional campaigns. It’s objective too. Kindle Direct Publishing pages will save you time and increase your awareness too I found.

     

    Navigate the jungle of social media

    I’ve met people who only Follow agents and publishers. I’ve found the greatest benefit comes from a network of folk who will support you, share similar values and experiences – people you’d call friends in the real world!

    I don’t just click Follow to anyone either. I check profiles, see what they’re posting. That way you network will always remain focused on the topics you want to see in your feed.

    I prefer Twitter. It’s easy to use and concise in its content. I went through Follower lists of the people I Followed to identify like-minded folk. I discovered software that helped me analyse my data to sharpen up my account – Manage Flitter is the best. It’s free if you only have one account and can help you work efficiently.

    I suffer Facebook. I dislike its endless pressure to advertise and haven’t found that it works anyway. It didn’t help that my first book, The Bastard from Fairyland, caused them to ban my adverts for the use of profane language! However, Facebook does have useful forums you can join, some of which help promote your work.

    Finally, to get real traction, you need to spend time on these platforms. It is a commitment but it does pay off in the long run. People get to know about you, they buy your books on the back of it. Spread yourself too thin (over several platforms) or only log in occasionally, and you don’t get the relationships you need. It’s like any friendship!

     

     Appearance is Everything – get noticed on your journey

    It took me six months to learn this lesson! You’re not the only one on a journey with your book. That old adage about not judging a book by its cover doesn’t apply in this context! People do judge! Plus, you need to stand out. The answer?

    Get your book designed professionally. I tried to cut corners, bought images and used Amazon’s book cover systems and thought I was being clever. They were crap. I look at the originals even now and shudder in embarrassment. Yes, it will cost money but you will recoup it in the long run.

     Tom Parker (@papagaeio) designed mine. These people think in visual media, as writers we use the written word. Tom asked me for an outline of the books but also their themes, backgrounds, even one-word definitions. (I gave him Rage for my first book and I suggest you see what he did with it!).

     

    Conclusions

    A few final thoughts:

    1.     Writing is a lonely business. The internet is changing that. There are online groups you can join but social media offers you forums where you can share ideas, concerns and general chat with others who are just like you. It is not infested with trolls.

    2.     Get people to review your work – but check them out first. Make sure they are bone fide reviewers, people who consistently offer constructive comments. There are people – even businesses – who offer to do this for you but I recommend forming relationships with bloggers, it’s more honest and rewarding.

    3.     The hashtag is a wonderful tool to identify networks and themes. Such as #BritishIrishWritingCommunity

    4.     Don’t spend all your time on social media plugging your book. You’ll annoy people. Promote others, they’ll do the same for you. Show you’re a person first, a book-selling author second!

    Good luck with your writing and your career as an author!

    http://http://viewauthor.at/PhilParker