Writers, Go Forth and Binge-Watch Netflix

I often think of the additional books I might have written if it wasn’t for the invention of Netflix, and I mourn them. I watch so much Netflix and I almost always do it in a binge.

Last summer I started what I’ve heard referred to as ‘extreme scheduling’, i.e. the only kind of extreme anything you’ll ever catch me doing, which is where you use an hourly planner to keep track of and/or to plan out your days. The same week I discovered Project Runway. There’s four (old) series of it on Irish Netflix, each of which have about 14 episodes, each of which are approximately 40 minutes long.

That’s 37 hours of television which I blasted all the way through in the space of about eight days.

This despite the fact that I was supposed to be writing the first draft of Book 3, Rewind (coming September 2019; more on that soon) and that, as per my Must Write This Amount of Words In Order Not To Be Late calculations, I was on track to not finish in time.

Thirty-seven hours. I had to write that down in my planner and look at it in black and white. I felt terrible about it. Shameful and guilty and icky and stressed. But yet I still hit PLAY NEXT EPISODE every time I was given the option.

My brain just doesn’t do rewards. I can’t say to myself, ‘I’ll write now, and save this as a reward for when my draft is submitted.’ Instead I say something like, ‘I want to watch this now, and the wanting is distracting me, so I think it’s better that I down tools and watch it now and then write later instead.’ I wasn’t going to change. I wasn’t going to stop binge-watching Netflix.

So I needed to justify it – and that’s why we’re here today. Here’s why I think all writers should be watching Netflix, lots…

Netflix Helps You Write

If you haven’t watched Set It Up on Netflix (five times already, ahem) then you definitely you should. Immediately.

It’s a smart, funny and fresh rom-com that also contains one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever come across.

Harper is the very much overworked and underpaid assistant to Kirsten, the founder of an online sports news site, but she dreams of being a sports journalist herself. She was hoping that sticking it out as Kirsten’s assistant might help her writing career, but there’s a crucial problem: Harper has never actually written anything. When she finally opens up her laptop, she feels like everything she’s writing is a pile of molten sh*te and despair ensues. But then her roommate gives her some great advice. She tells her, ‘You’re not a bad writer – yet.

One of the biggest lessons you have to learn when you start out as a writer is that the first draft of anything is sh*t. Listen to me: the first draft of anything is sh*t. Because I’d heard that time and time again and yet, when I sat down to write, I got frustrated that the words on the page weren’t matching the vision I had of my book in my head. But realising – accepting – that you’ll never get to that amazing fifth draft without writing drafts 1 through 4 (or however many) is a game-changer. And it’s something you may have to accept again and again, as I did, when I sat down to write Book 2. And Book 3…

You can’t skip that step, you have to write through it. You can’t evaluate your work on your first attempt. You’re not a bad writer – yet.

Netflix Helps You Write Better

A few months ago, Netflix released The Good Cop. I was looking forward to watching it because it starred Josh Groban and I very much enjoy looking at his face. Plus it was from the creator of Monk, which was incredibly popular and I think multi-award-winning.

But I only got 12 minutes into the first episode before I turned it off.

the-good-cop

Why? Because in those first 12 minutes, characters repeatedly said things like this:

‘That’s a nice way to talk to your father.’

‘You talked to Chuck Finch? […] ‘You’re not supposed to talk to anyone in the department. It’s a condition of your parole. […] Especially Finch. He was on your crew, for God’s sake.’

‘Oh, it’s Cora now? How sweet. My son and my parole officer.’

‘Don’t quote your mother at me. I was married to the woman for 29 years.’

‘You asked me to sell my liquor licence, I sold it. No problem. You asked me to move in with my kid, here I am… You gave me 90 days to find a job. I’ll do it. I still got 3 weeks left.’

‘Save your tears, Captain. Jack was dead to you 8 years ago, the second he agreed to testify.’

Now, disclaimer: I’m not a TV writer. I didn’t create a show that drew in millions of viewers and won awards. I can only evaluate this as a viewer, and as a viewer, I was annoyed. Because it felt like the characters weren’t having real conversations, but dumping chunks of exposition into everything they said. Show me Tony Danza’s character is father to Josh Groban’s character. Show me that his parole officer is in a relationship with his son. Show me that he’s living with his son against his will. And if none of that is possible, find a way to tell me in dialogue that feels like real people talking in real life.

Clunky exposition is the kind of thing where, once you notice it, every subsequent occurrence is mercilessly amplified. I’m sure loads of people watched this show without noticing this at all, but apparently not enough of them to convince Netflix to do a second season. Personally, 12 minutes in, I just couldn’t take any more.

When something someone else has written doesn’t strike you as ‘right’, ask yourself why it doesn’t. You can learn a lot about what not to do that way. It’s always easier to see mistakes in other people’s work (unfortunately!).

Oh well. I did very much enjoy looking at Josh Groban’s face…

Netflix Helps You Deal With Rejection

And finally, back to Project Runway.

If you’ve never watched it, it’s basically a reality competition show like The X-Factor or The Voice, except it’s for fashion designers. Michael Costello was a contestant on the 8th season, who was sent home first in the finale, in fourth place.

And he was devastated. Broken. CRUSHED. He looked like he was in physical pain and he was clearly struggling to accept that his chance of getting his dream – the prize is to show a collection at New York Fashion Week – was gone, over. He was inconsolable. In an interview filmed shortly afterwards, his eyes still red from crying, he said, ‘I just couldn’t take it. The first thing that came to my head was my family… Once they see it, they’re going to say, “See? Just give that up now.”‘ I was heartbroken for him, watching it.

Then I Googled his name to see what he was up to now.

Four years later, Michael Costello dressed Beyonce for the Grammy awards, on a night when she took home 3 of them, and his career has just been on an upward trajectory since then. He’s designed gowns for Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys and Katy Perry, and Oprah has personally delivered him pizza. He is living his dream, and it’s probably bigger and better than he ever imagined.

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I know of a time in my writing life when I had pinned all my hopes on getting a ‘Yes!’ from someone who then said, ‘Thanks but no thanks’. I was devastated then too. I didn’t see a way forward. It felt like this could be the only way, and now the door had closed on me. But you know what actually happened? I got a better version of the thing later. It was actually good that I got rejected that time. And that’s happened a few times to me. Rejection is part of the journey, not the end of it.

So next time you get a rejection, think of Michael Costello. And don’t feel bad about mainlining four seasons of Project Runway in the space of a week. Not too bad, anyway…

[Catherine’s Deadline: What the actual—?]

A note: one of my writing goals for 2019 is to get back into blogging on a limited basis, so 1-2 blog posts a month. But I’ve decided to turn off the comments. For chat, I’m over on Twitter, where I’m @cathryanhoward. Happy New Year! 


You might also like these older posts:

New around these parts? Click HERE to find out more about The Liar’s Girl, my latest book, or click HERE to find out more about me. Tickets are still available for The Inspiration Project in Cork on January 26, which you can find out more about by clicking HERE.

So You Want To Publish A Novel

In the past week I’ve visited a lovely writers’ group in Drogheda and taught a crime-writing workshop in a converted church, and at both events I brought along my plotting poster for the third and final draft of Distress Signals. Its four different coloured sheets of A4 card taped together at the creases, one for each part (Act I, Act II Part 1, Act II Part 2, Act III), and each one is covered in Post-Its, scribbles, reminders, instructions and scene summaries. You might have seen pictures of it on this blog before. Whenever I unfold it in a room of writers, it always gets greeted with the same noise: a collective Oooh. I don’t know if it’s because people are impressed, or terrified, or wondering how I ever actually wrote the book seeing as I spent so much time messing around with sticky notes and marker pens.

There’s less than a fortnight to go now to our Inspiration Project presents Refreshers Week event here in Dublin and this morning I thought I should post a short video of my messy, sprawling master plan and then the small, neat, lovely book that was the eventual product of it. The tutorial I’m teaching on the day, The Dreaded Synopsis, should help bridge the gap – and that’s what I was going to say when I posted the video.

Except I started thinking that, actually, the book started with an article in the Guardian’s Weekend magazine, and there was a lot of coffee involved, and a number of drafts…

And then, well, let’s just say I got a bit carried away.

So here is everything you need to get published, or how I got from dream to Dagger award. (Spot my plotting poster.) Enjoy! A handful of tickets are still available for our Inspiration Project event. You can find out more here.

(Okay, so yes, I am blogging again after a six month break. But-but-but… I’m finally done with college and the worst part of Book 3, i.e. the first draft, is done too, so hopefully it won’t be another six months before I blog again.)

 

Why Paris Is Always A Good Idea

Rewind to exactly two weeks ago and find me arriving in Paris, getting to live out a dream: to spend a week at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, or the Irish Cultural Centre.

This is a facility for Irish writers, students, etc. smack bang in the heart of literary Paris. Three minutes’ walk away: Place Contrascarpe, where Hemingway had his first apartment in Paris. Five minutes’ walk away: the Luxembourg Gardens, where he frequently retreated to. Ten minutes’ walk away: Shakespeare & Co, the famous bookshop that first published Ulysses. (There’s so much more, but you get the idea.) The centre itself is down a quiet street, where a heavy green door reveals a tranquil inner courtyard. My room was filled with light and offered a beautiful view of a lush, ivy-covered neighbouring building and a rolling sea of Parisian rooftops (just like— Okay, okay. I’ll stop with the Hemingway now.) Ahead of me stretched a week of writing, Paris and streetside cafe cremes. I was giddy with bliss.

I didn’t even know this place existed until last year when, stood at the end of Rue Soufflot waiting for the lights to change, I looked up and saw a sign for Rue de Irlandais. Google told me what was there and why there was an ‘Irish Street’.  Later, I dashed through April rains to meet my writing friend Elizabeth R. Murray at Notre Dame. She was, by coincidence, in the city with her husband, and we talked about our CCI daydreams. Now, she left a comment on one of the photos I posted saying she was headed to a retreat in Iceland soon, for a month. I laughed and said that we might be in danger of propagating the myth that writers live an enviable, champagne lifestyle…

The next day I was up with the dawn. I eyed my laptop but then decided play first, work later. Everyone goes on about Paris sunsets, but I love the mornings the most. I walked from the CCI to the Eiffel Tower via the Musée d’Orsay (with the help of a few cafe cremes), but by mid-afternoon, I was feeling guilty: the copyeditor had sent The Liar’s Girl back to me a couple of days before, and I had to go through the manuscript to check the changes, answer queries, etc. I took a pre-packed sandwich and a Coke back to my room, opened my laptop and got to work, trying to ignore the fact that outside, Paris was waiting impatiently.

I was also trying to studiously ignore something else: that at seven o’clock Paris time, the Dagger shortlists would be announced at an event in London.

The Daggers are awarded by the Crime Writers’ Association and judged by a panel of crime-writing aficionados, and it seems like every crime writer I loved growing up had the word ‘Dagger’ somewhere in their author bio. They’re a big deal to me. As a reader, I was looking forward to them pointing me in the direction of new books to read. As a writer, they weren’t even on my radar.

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Back in May, I spent twenty-four hours at Crimefest. I was home barely thirty minutes when I got a text message from Andy, a writer friend: she was at the Dagger longlist announcement, and she’d just heard my name read out. This was so out of left-field for me I was scared to tweet anything in case it was a mistake, so I waited (and waited and waited…) until official confirmation had been posted online. Yes, Distress Signals had been longlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger award.

(What?!)

Tonight, I would again find out by text message. My friend (and Betty’s of Harrogate buddy) Erin was going to the announcement and had offered to let me know if I’d made the shortlist. Sitting in my room in Paris, I was thinking how awful it was going to be for Erin to have to text me to say ‘Sorry, but…’ but also about the fact that I was a published writer and I was sitting in bloody Paris, for God’s sake, so there was absolutely no need to be disappointed, whatever happened.

The clock ticked closer to seven. I tried to concentrate on my copyedits and pretend not to care. Then I decided that I was so not going to care, I was going to go out. I’d get a drink somewhere, gaze adoringly at Notre Dame  or the Eiffel Tower off in the distance for a while. I stood up, grabbed my bag. I was looking for my key when I heard a little beep: a text message. (Please excuse my, ahem, French response.)

Amazingly, Distress Signals has now been shortlisted for a Dagger. Paris is always a good idea!

You can read more about the Daggers and view all the books on all the Dagger shortlists here.

How To Get Published in Just 50 Easy Steps

(Did you miss me? After the craziness of the Distress Signals month-long blogging bonanza, I decided to give you all a month off from me. Well, a month and a bit. Also, since I last blogged WordPress have hidden the ‘justify paragraph’ button from me and it is driving. Me. CUCKOO. I can’t even look at this left-aligned. Oh my God. Deep breaths. Wait! Keyboard shortcuts! YES. Okay. It’s all okay. Everything’s going to be okay. Breathe… Okay. Anyway.)

As of February 1, this little blog is a staggering SEVEN years old. One of the first posts I published on here was a tongue-in-cheek How To Write A Novel in 37 Easy Steps. So, seven years and a bit on, and to break my post-blogging-bonanza fast, I’ve decided to update that – or rather, continue it.

How To Get Published in Just 50 Easy Steps! 

  1. Decide, aged 8, that you are going to be a novelist.
  2. Ask Santa for a typewriter.
  3. Ask your parents for an electronic typewriter.
  4. Ask your parents for a PC.
  5. Spend much of your late teens carrying the first three chapters of your first attempt at a novel, a Formula 1-themed thriller named Chequered Flag, around on a floppy disk. By ‘novel’ read ‘excuse to daydream about Jacques Villeneuve’s abs on the cover of Jacques Villeneuve: A Champion in Pictures’…
  6. Sorry, drifted off there.
  7. Avoid studying for your own Leaving Cert, i.e. the final exams in Irish school, by writing a funny but quite pointless YA novel about avoiding studying for the Leaving Cert. Submit it to a publisher whose office is 5 minutes’ drive from your house, because you think geographical proximity will help seal the deal.
  8. Get rejected.
  9. Tell your parents you need a laptop ‘for college’.
  10. Go to college.
  11. Drop out of college.
  12. Go to NYC for a week’s holiday and think this qualifies you to write from the POV of a NYPD detective. Submit your (god awful) attempt at a detective novel via post to a top London agent and get so swiftly rejected that SAE arrives back at your house before you do.
  13. Stop writing. Pretend that reading books about writing will move you closer to your published novelist dreams in the meantime.
  14. Quit your crappy job working in a greeting card store.
  15. Quit your pleasantly boring job working in an auctioneer’s office.
  16. Take a job in the Netherlands.
  17. Take a job in France.
  18. Take a job in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
  19. Buy John Mayer’s Continuum album and put ‘Stop This Train’ on repeat for 36 days. (This is KEY.)
  20. Go backpacking in Central America.
  21. Start writing a book about number 18 after you return home to Cork.
  22. Find an agent who is interested in said book but cannot represent you on the strength of it due to there being only about 23 people in the whole world who’d be interested in reading it and even less in buying it (probably).
  23. Tell agent you are already writing a novel. (This is a big fat LIE.)
  24. Decide you can’t write the novel because your soul-destroying job is slowly but surely sucking all the life force out of your blackening soul and if you don’t do something about it soon your heart will be an empty abyss of abandoned dreams, bitterness and contempt.
  25. Quit your job – in the middle of a devastating economic recession, for maximum dramatic effect.
  26. Put a MacBook on your credit card, because you simply cannot work under these conditions.
  27. Use your savings to relocate to an isolated and slightly scary holiday home by the sea (in winter, in Ireland) with two coffee machines and your new computer.
  28. Write a comic, corporate satire, chick-litty novel. Describe it The Devil Wears Prada meets Weightwatchers.
  29. Start submitting the novel to agents and editors.
  30. Buy John Mayer’s new Battle Studies album and put the song Assassins on repeat for thirteen days. (No, really. This is KEY.)
  31. Self-publish the Disney book, i.e. Mousetrapped.
  32. Read an article about cruise ship disappearances in a magazine that someone left behind them in a café that your mum was in shortly before she picked it up and brought it home.
  33. Write a book about number 20.
  34. Self-publish that book, i.e. Backpacked.
  35. Get a meeting at a Major Publishing House by way of your friend Vanessa. The MPH don’t like the Weightwatchers Prada book, but they do like your writing. Tell them you’ll write something else.
  36. Writing something else (well, a synopsis and three chapters of it) and send it to the MPH.
  37. Writing something else else (well, a synopsis and three chapters of it) and send it to the MPH.
  38. Write something else else else (well, a synopsis and three chapters of it) and sent it to the MPH.
  39. Go for a meeting at the MPH and get offered freelance work using social media to promote their commercial fiction titles instead. Be very excited about this.
  40. Get an idea for a thriller from number 32. Write 30,000 words of it.
  41. Stop.
  42. Buy John Mayer’s Born and Raised and put the title track on repeat for the entire month of May.
  43. Let a year pass.
  44. Struggle to find anything to play on repeat on Mayer’s Paradise Valley. *tear*
  45. Decide to apply to return to university as a mature student to student English Literature.
  46. Panic when you actually get in, as this necessitates a move to Dublin. Use the panic to push past the 30,000 barrier and finish the thriller. Call it Dark Waters. Start submitting it to agents.
  47. Go to college. Stay this time. Use this as a distraction from the UTTER DEVASTATION OF REJECTION.
  48. Unexpectedly get offer of representation from dream agent while sitting in a coffee-shop near college waiting for your American Genres lecture and looking out at grey and gloomy rain. (Hooray!)
  49. Work with agent’s amazing in-house editor to write a second draft of the thriller. Change the name to Adrift.
  50. Get a 2-book deal. (Bigger hooray!) Change book’s name to Distress Signals. Start buying everything you see with an anchor on it and planning your book launch like it’s your wedding.

If you want to read Distress Signals, check it out here for Ireland/UK and here for the USA. Also if you’re in Dublin this Saturday, I’m chairing a panel on self-publishing at the Irish Writers’ Centre Women Aloud NI IWD event. Get more info on that here.

Also, on a more serious note, there’s an update on the Irish resident accused of murdering his wife on the MSC Magnifica. In a line that could’ve come from Distress Signals, his lawyer has said to reporters, ‘If this was murder, where is the body? Where are the witnesses?’ (There are neither because, of course, this is a cruise ship.) A working theory is that he allegedly stuffed her body into a suitcase and threw it from the balcony of their Deck 11 cabin. You can read more about this terrible case here.

Next time on Catherine’s blog: the Great Desk Redesign of 2017! It involves an actual pink typewriter. AN ACTUAL ONE. 

How Do You Write A Book?

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on Thursday (February 2) and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

So Distress Signals is out and Book 2 is almost there. Although writing them were two very different experiences, without setting out to do it, I wrote both of them pretty much the same way (albeit in very different periods of time):

  1. Initial idea. Fun fact: both thrillers were sparked by magazine articles, although in very different ways. Percolation ensued, i.e. I didn’t immediately sit down and start writing.
  2. Post-It Plotting Party. I get a pen and a stack of Post-Its and I write down every idea I have about the book. This could be something big, like what it’s actually about, or something as small as a sentence a character may utter at some point. Then I take a chart of some kind – calendars are my new thing – and I arrange all these Post-Its on it in the order in which I think these events might appear in the book. This gives me some signposts to help lead the way.
  3. Vomit draft. A draft that doesn’t even deserve to be called the first one. A free-wheeling experiment. No editing as you go, no reading back if you can. This is where I figure out 70% of what happens in the book – the ideas come while I work through it. This is why Book 2 turned into a bit of a stressfest: because, drowning in self-doubt and distracted (oooh, shiny book launch stuff!), I pathologically procrastinated and didn’t leave myself enough time to do a truly vomit-y vomit draft. I had to go straight into a first draft, which proved to be a pressure cooker because I had to figure out if I could tell this story and how to tell it at the same time. Never again. Lesson learned.
  4. First draft. I give the book the break and then I go and re-do step 2. Except now that I have a vomit draft behind me, I know enough to plot out the whole book in more detail before I type ‘Chapter One’. This makes writing a first draft – the first one that could be read by someone else as a coherent book, realistically – much easier than writing the vomit one. Once this is done, my agent and editor come in and we start the editing process.

Here’s the thing though: there is no right way to write a book.

 

The ‘Getting Published’ Advice I Wish I’d Listened To

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

As you may know, I’ve led many a ‘how to self-publish your book’ seminar in my time. The first few times I did it, I’d sit down at my desk to start putting together my PowerPoint presentation and despair that I only had 90 minutes or however long to squeeze in everything I needed to tell the group about how to self-publish successfully. After I did a few of them, I realised that the best approach was not to aim to tell them everything about self-publishing, but to tell them everything they needed to know in order to start, and start off on the right foot. Those are two very different things.

So I stopped talking about making and selling print-on-demand paperbacks with the likes of CreateSpace and Lulu. Instead I advised that they treat the e-book like a hardback, releasing that first, testing the waters, adapting their plan if need be, and then – if it went well – reinvesting the profits in their print edition. After years of this self-publishing lark, both doing it myself and watching others at it, I think now that this is the best approach. It’s logical, it’s risk-averse and it keeps it simple. But during the Q&A, someone would always ask something like, ‘What about Lightning Source?’ And I’d groan inwardly, because I’d be thinking to myself, Go home, finish your book, self-publish it as best as you possibly can in e-book – and then start worrying about Lightning Source. But not before.

I wish someone had said something similar to me when I was traipsing into Waterstone’s Cork every Saturday afternoon in the early 2000s, systemically working my way through their How To Write Books books section. I hadn’t finished my book – I hadn’t even started it – but I felt like it was really important I know exactly how much an agent’s commission was on translation rights before I even thought about putting put pen to paper. The proliferation of blogs and the constant, never-ending, information tsunami that is Twitter only made things worse. Much, much worse. Years later, when I finally got a clue and concentrated solely on the things I should be concentrating on, I finally learned that getting published is all about the book. So I finished my book. I signed with an agent. And then I got published.

But, but, BUT.

It’s easy to forget that information you think is common knowledge is not actually so. It’s just that you’ve known it for so long, you’ve forgotten you didn’t once. And starting out, I think you do need to know some things. So here is my absolutely bare bones, rock-bottom minimum place to start if you’re aspiring to see a book you wrote on the shelf. This is what I wish someone had said to me five, ten, fifteen years ago.

(Well, someone no doubt did say this to me. But boy, I wish that I had listened.)

Step 1: Write the Book

If I could go back in time and talk to Me From 2009, this is what I would tell her: do nothing else except sit down and write, and keep doing that until your book is finished.

Now, there’s loads you can to delay this. You can read stacks of how to write books books, you can attend workshops, you can hang around the writers’ water cooler on Twitter, you can blog about all the writing you plan on doing, you can play with Post-Its. But honestly, I think there’s only two things you need to do: read as much and as widely as you can, and put your arse in the chair in front of your computer. Honestly, you will never learn as much about how to write a book as you will from the act of actually sitting down and writing one. So go do that. First.

Step 2: Pick a path

Now comes the decision: to self-publish or try to get published? Well, no one can answer this question but you, so there’s really no point in asking me or anyone else.

What you can do is:

  • Research, so you know exactly what you’re getting into (and you can make a plan)
  • Set yourself a deadline

It’s possible that your book will decide for you. It might be very short, too short for a traditional publishing house. Or it might be about something that means time is of the essence, and you need to publish it now. For instance, last year you might have written something about the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising here in Ireland that really needed to be published in 2016 to take advantage of this increased awareness, public appetite, publicity opportunities, etc.

If this isn’t the case, I will say to you what I always say to writers who ask me this: set yourself a deadline. If you’re not sure, give yourself 12 months. Submit to agents, enter competitions, attend conferences, etc – basically, network – and do everything you can to try to find a traditionally published home for your book. Then, once the 12 months is up, if it seems like nothing is happening, perhaps self-publish instead.

Step 3: Don’t Rush Things

Here’s the thing I would love for you to take in: don’t rush. Don’t panic. Don’t feel like you’re missing out or that you need to get your book on Amazon yesterday. I completely understand the feeling you get in your gut when someone says, ‘When is your book out? I can’t wait to read it.’ It’s itchy. It’s panicky. It increases your heart rate. And suddenly all you can think about is getting the book up on Amazon so you can capture that one sale. And that’s a huge mistake.

Just on a practical level, self-publishing does not mean uploading your file to Amazon this weekend. Self-publishing means launching a product. You need to plan. You need to prepare. You need to build anticipation. Ideally, you need to have another book nearly ready to go. (I think, these days, the only way to succeed at self-publishing and to maintain your momentum once you do is by releasing more than one book.) All of this takes time. You can only launch your book once. Don’t diffuse your own momentum by doing it too soon, before you’ve done the work.

Similarly, don’t give yourself 6 weeks to get an agent. Leaving aside the fact that the top agencies get thousands of submissions a year and it would be nearly impossible for even one of them to get back to you in that space of time, that’s so little time that you’re guaranteeing failure before you’ve even begun trying. All this stuff, it takes AGES. Use it to start on your next book.

What I didn’t realise before I got my deal is that, you know what? It’s not the worst thing in the world to be waiting for your dream to arrive. It’s a nice bit. There’s no deadlines, no pressure, no contracts. You’re writing purely because you love to write. Forget about the destination for a second. Enjoy the journey.

Everything else – that can come later. Worry about it then. For now, just finish your book, pick a path and don’t rush.

In its own way, this is the good bit.

dsbb

Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!