What I’ve learned (so far) while writing my first novel

I have written my first novel. It’s the first part in a fantasy series that will have, at least, two parts and, probably, a prequel, because is it even fantasy if it’s just one book? Anyway, my book is currently being read by some kind friends, before I finish it off and publish it, so I figured I might as well share some of the things I’ve learned so far.

Early readers can make all the difference

There are few things more motivating, when writing your first novel, than someone that is actually excited to read a new chapter. Once my story was in a vaguely readable state, I started sharing it with a friend, chapter by chapter, while I continued to work on it.

I wasn’t looking for any proper feedback at that stage, so the simple fact that she was enjoying it, even in its fairly raw state, was comforting. Like, it’s not actually bad, at least someone will enjoy this story once it’s published.

This can be crucial whenever the inevitable self-doubt creeps in and I will be forever grateful to my tiny Early Access fanbase.

Word counts may consume you

I have become somewhat obsessed with my word count now that I know that anything over 40 000 words is, technically, considered a novel.

My first novel is, currently, over 50 000 words and it seems that this doesn’t make for a very thick book when I compare it with the ones on my shelf. This shouldn’t matter, especially with the popularity of e-books, but I still find it surprisingly disheartening when, really, it’s the story that should matter.

Also, I write in Google Docs (for the constant cloud backups, ease of sharing, and anywhere access) and it’s amazingly stupid that it has a limit to the value it can show while you type (currently 20 000). Up until recently, it couldn’t show the word count while you typed at all, so I guess we’re meant to be grateful?

Make notes, no matter what time it is

Odds are, you’ll come up with some great dialogue, plot twist, or prequel idea while you’re in the shower or lying in bed trying to fall asleep amongst all that existential dread. Write that stuff down because it’s highly likely that you’ll forget it. Ever walked to the other side of a room and wondered why you were there? Exactly.

I have Microsoft’s OneNote on my phone and it’s crammed full of story ideas and plot notes I may never use, but at least they didn’t disappear into the ether of my daily existence. Another app or an actual notebook will do just as well and will, almost certainly, be less annoying to use.

It’s okay that your first novel isn’t original

Nothing is really original any more, all stories come from somewhere, so it’s pointless stressing about it. You will discover that several people have already written something similar to whatever you’re working on and that’s fine.

I learned, early on, that my story is similar to Avatar: the Last Airbender even though I’ve never watched an episode. My story is different enough that it could never be seen as a copy, but I do see the parallels. I’m also okay with the fact that I’m not writing literature.

Really, I’m just happy if it entertains people.

Self-marketing your first novel is exhausting

When you look up advice on self-marketing a book, there will be a bunch of people with the super-helpful advice that you should’ve started building your online presence four years ago. Thanks, Jan, I’ll just invent time travel then. It’s sort of like those people that say you’re financially doomed if you didn’t start saving for retirement from age 20.

A more helpful suggestion I’m seeing a lot is that you should fire up that social media marketing storm at least six months before you think you’ll be publishing. This is to get people aware that you exist, especially if you intend to self-publish and it’s your first novel. Extra-especially if you deleted your Facebook account a year ago.

I now have three public social media accounts (Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook), largely followed by kindly friends. You don’t need a marketing degree when you’ve got Google. Even though I have no concrete details about when my book will come out or how much it will cost, I’ve been sharing artwork and quotes to get people intrigued.

Also, Twitter is full of other writers doing the same thing as you, so it can be an excellent resource for inspiration, writing tips, and solace.

Self-publishing from South Africa is slightly more tricky

I thought I would be able to just use Amazon to self-publish, like everyone else, but Amazon doesn’t use PayPal and will only deposit royalties into a US bank account or send… cheques (lol). You can get around the US bank account requirement with this international debit card thing, but who has time to manage yet another bank account?

Then there’s Apple Books, but you need to have an Apple device in order to have access to publishing on it, so… no.

I’ve decided to go with Draft2Digital, an aggregator that formats your work into an e-book for free and then tries to sell it on all the major online bookselling platforms. These include Amazon, Apple Books, and Kobo. They take a percentage of your earnings, on top of whatever fees the other shop has, but at least they use PayPal.

By the way, if you’re having trouble linking your FNB account to PayPal, my article on exactly that thing has been helping a lot of people (Analytics says so).

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Reader Comments

  1. Avatar

    Just by the way, the easiest way to get royalties from Amazon to SA is to open a Payoneer account. Apparently the only reliable and agony-lite method.

  2. Avatar

    Good day! This ppst couldn’t be written any better!
    Reading this post reminds me of mmy old room mate! He always kept
    talking about this. I will forward this write-up to
    him. Fairly certain he will hhave a good read. Thanks for sharing!

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