Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Guest post: Alan McDermott on being an author

I've asked some bloggers to contribute guest posts, where they answer two questions:

- what's the best thing you've done, as a writer?
- what is the hardest thing, or the biggest mistake you've made?

I am contributing posts on the same subject to their blogs.

The responses have covered topics from the kind of writing they do, when they write, their writing process and even managing their personal lives.

The first is Alan McDermott from the south of England, author of Gray Justice (which I reviewed on this blog last week). His blog is Jambalian.

Take it away, Alan!

The best and worst of being an author

The best part is easy. You might expect me to say it’s looking at those sales figures and seeing them tick over, but to be honest the thing that pleases me more is when I get a review from someone totally impartial. There haven’t been that many (I think around 16 in total, spread over a few sites such as Amazon, Smashwords and Goodreads), but each one gives me the determination to keep going on the next book.

Readers might think that the book in their hand was written by someone spending hours at the keyboard in an idyllic mountain retreat, but I’d bet that 90 percent of the time the author is like me, working a day job and coming home to a family. As any parent knows, that leaves very little time for anything, never mind writing a novel. This means I have to get up at dark o’clock every morning in order to scrape a couple of hundred words together before setting off for the office. When I get home there are three lovely ladies waiting for me, and they all want a piece of Daddy, and when I get an hour to myself in the evening I am so worn out I can just about say Hi to my friends on Twitter before the sandman comes calling. Weekends are not much better, but at least I can manage a thousand words over the two days.

It’s a tough regimen, but every time I see a new 4- or 5-star review it tells me that someone got a lot of pleasure from my book, and that makes it all worthwhile.

The hard part about being an author? To be honest, I don’t think there is an easy part. Notwithstanding the above routine, I had to come up with a storyline which gallops along at such a pace that the reader cannot put the book down. Having written that story, I then had to tame the beast that is impatience. The beast rears its head as soon as the last word has been confined to the page and screams “Publish it NOW!” I succumbed with my first novel and boy, did I pay the price. I’d given copies to friends and family the day before I published it on Smashwords and the emails soon started coming in, mostly entitled “List of errors.” I cringed as I realized I had given away over a hundred copies and all of these readers would have their reading experience ruined by needless typos. Even after fixing these errors, I got feedback from customers telling me they had found even more! Lesson learned, and for the next instalment I will be doing a heavy re-read and passing it to a few friends well before I publish it.
The next hurdle is probably the hardest to overcome. You now have a perfectly-formatted, error-free book, you think it’s a fantastic read, but how do you get it into the hands of readers? Sure, I’ve got a few friends on Facebook, but when I announced the release I got a couple of responses, both saying “well done,” but neither offering to read it. So I went back and told everyone they could have a free copy, and six people took me up on the offer.
Next came the Google search performed by all new authors: “How to sell my ebook?”

Up came about 150 million results and I started scrolling through. Most of the links took me to writer blogs and the general consensus was that I should get a Twitter account, which I duly did. I signed up and began telling the whole world about my book. After no sales that week, I discovered that people had to be following me in order to hear what I was saying. So I went in search of authors and the numbers began to rise, but still no sales. As I started clicking on blog links in the tweets of others, I discovered some of the cardinal rules of Twitter: don’t just tweet about your book; don’t send new followers direct messages asking them to buy your book; do always thank people who retweet your words; do try and make genuine friends rather than just potential customers. The list goes on, but these are the ones I have concentrated on.
One of the last things I ever considered was having my own blog. With no time to eat, never mind write, how could I begin to pile more work on myself? Nevertheless, it was seen as an essential part of the whole writer-selling-books deal. I already had Jambalian and I added a few posts about the book, but I realised that a proper blog was needed and created a free Jambalian blog on Blogger:

I have tried to keep the focus on writing without saying “BUY! BUY! BUY!” but I find it hard to get time to even think of a topic, never mind commit one to pixels. I’m getting better, though.
At the moment, things are moving slowly, but having stuffed impatience back in his box, I am prepared for the marathon.

Now to get some writing done…


  1. I agree, it's a big turn off to see a twitter stream full of 'Buy this now' tweets.

    Be yourself. Be interesting. Say something.

  2. I have to say as an emerging writer this blog was very helpful! It was honest and yet encouraging. I am currently writing my third draft of my debut novel and believe me, its been the hardest thing I've done - that compared w/ taking and eventually passing the CPA exam and years of extremely stressful years in the business world. thanks for your suggestions - hope you follow me on twitter and check out my blogs: and Good luck - I'll see you on twitter!

  3. I did the same thing with my first book, the cover was awful and it had many errors. I finally pulled it and republished it with a better cover and free of errors including the formatting ones. I have a great ebook formatter and she is wonderful. I did hire a cover designer for my first book but after that I did my own and was happy with the results. I find that writing is sometimes the easy part, it's the business side of it I find hard. Thanks for a great post!

  4. Hi Al,
    You'd almost wonder why people want to be a writer... It's an urge inside of us, isn't it? I do happen to be in the circumstances with the mountain view etc, but it still does not make writing a lot easier. When I heard about Indiepublishing I did like you: I published at once. Now, 4 months later I am still working with correctors, editors, coverdesigners and photoshoppers on Odesk to 'improve' the products of my brain. Mind you, I use the people who are cheap as my budget hardly stretches both ways. It's an interesting world though and everything you said about having friends buying and reading, let alone reviewing is true.
    There is an adage though: a good book sells itself!
    Could I add to your list to be patient and give it at least a year to get noticed by the big public?
    The twitter option is good. I know you from Twitter, so that's a step ahead. You are very right about not twittering BUY BUY BUY all the time. Those tweets quickly irritate people. I understand the best is to now and then point at your book, to get a good review and to become a personality on Twitter. Best of luck!
    Constance Hampton Jones

  5. What a brilliantly honest point of view. And so true.

  6. Just reading your blog made me want to read your book. It's next on my list. --an Amazon Reviewer;-)