It's 2014. Time for a new year. Time to stop making excuses and time to just do it. You don't have to quit your day job to live your dream (though it could lead to that). Here's proof.
Peter Dudley is a CSR leader by day, but by night (and early mornings at Starbucks), he writes young adult novels, available on Amazon. Many people fantasize about being a published author. Peter has done it. So I asked Peter a few questions about how he balances a full-time job, parenting and writing, plus his top tips for breaking into the business. Bonus: Peter will mail a FREE, autographed copy of one of his books to the 10th person that tweets: .@dudleypj, I want a #free copy of your book.
Q: Peter, you’ve followed your passion to write in your spare time resulting in two books on Amazon; how did you get started, motivate yourself and find time?
A: I’ve loved to write since I was a little kid. My fifth grade teacher taught us how to make books, and I wrote about a dozen that year (blog post: http://cornerkick.blogspot.com/2011/02/my-start-in-self-publishing.html).
But I kind of dropped writing when I found myself with a job, a wife, a house, and two kids. Then, about 2002, I decided to pick it back up again, and in 2004 I discovered National Novel Writing Month, nanowrimo.org. The idea is to complete a 50,000 word story in the month of November—just 30 days. I managed my 50,000 words, and a few months later I completed my first 68,000 word manuscript, which wasn’t half as bad as I expected. The next couple of years I did it again, completing four manuscripts—the last of which was actually pretty good.
Along the way, I wrote and published several short stories and won some small online fiction contests, essentially putting in my “ten thousand hours” becoming expert in my craft. In 2010, I set out to write Semper. It was hard finding time with all my other commitments, but I got up early and wrote three days a week before work, and sometimes late at night. It took about eight months to draft the manuscript and another four or so in revisions. It turned out pretty well, and now I get a lot of my motivation from the positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and from the supportive comments and emails I get from people I’ve never even met.
Q: What would you recommend to someone who wants to self-publish? What are the 3 things someone needs to know?
A: The most important thing is to understand why you want to self-publish. The traditional publishing process is insanely frustrating, but self-publishing is not a shortcut to success. As the self-publisher, you need to handle everything from editing to formatting to cover design to marketing. There are contractors and tools that will help you with all of that, but the more you hire out, the more you pay out of pocket to make your book real. If you’re set on self-publishing a novel, though, my three top tips are these:
1. Hire a good cover designer. I did Semper's first cover myself, and it wasn’t awful, but after a few months it really hampered sales potential. People looking at my book did not think, “teen post-apocalyptic science fiction.” When I was preparing to publish Forsada, I hired a cover designer for both books, and I’m much happier. A good cover (including print version) really shouldn’t cost much more than $200 or $250, and a good cover ends up paying for itself.
2. There’s no need to be everywhere right out the gate. My ebooks are only available for Kindle, but not because I don’t believe in the other formats (my family owns a Nook but not a Kindle). I focused on Amazon because they are the undisputed market share leader and have a lot of very easy to use, author-friendly tools. Writing is my moonlighting job after my day job, my family, my home, my volunteer work, etc. So I don’t have time to manage multiple products on multiple platforms. I’m guessing you don’t either. Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select is a good program in my experience.
3. I would recommend publishing in print as well as ebook. The trend today is to push ebooks out as quickly as possible, and maybe that’s a good idea if revenue is your driver. Then again, if revenue is your driver, you should probably do something other than write novels. Creating a print version of Semper was only a matter of creating a print cover, reformatting the manuscript slightly, and getting an ISBN through my publisher CreateSpace (an Amazon property). It’s simple and almost free, and there are very few things more satisfying than signing a copy of your printed novel for someone who loves it. You can’t sign ebooks. For me, the emotional rewards of publishing were my top objectives; the revenue is really pointless to me, at least in the short run.
4. Okay, another tip: Don’t get caught up in the traditional publishing definition of success. Traditionally published books have three to six months to prove themselves before the publishers lose interest and move on to the next one. If you self-publish, you own your rights forever, so there is no artificial timeline you need to follow. Relax, don’t sweat the sales numbers. Celebrate every sale, but don’t bite your nails to the nubs if your book isn’t performing like you want it to. Keep writing and keep publishing because the top two ways people decide to read a new book are (1) recommendations from friends or trusted sources, and (2) familiarity with the author’s work.
A: Without a doubt, the best thing is hearing glowing comments from readers who loved your book. The first month or two Semper was out, I mostly got reviews on Amazon from people I knew really well. They were being supportive. One day I saw a review posted by a woman in Puerto Rico who stumbled upon my book and gave it five stars. I’ll probably never forget that moment, or the time a local kid took my book up into a tree and spent all afternoon reading it, or the time a teenage girl wrote her 11th grade English book report about Semper.
The biggest challenge is that frequently you feel like you’re yelling into a hurricane. There are millions of books being published every year. Writing a good novel is a tremendous commitment, a lot of work. It’s time away from other things I enjoy like exercise, movies or television, reading, sleep, etc. So when you finally get your book published and realize how hard it is to get noticed amid all the other books out there, it can be very frustrating and discouraging. Advertising, discount days, free downloads, and other promotions can spike sales a little, but sustaining a high level of sales, particularly in more difficult genres like teen science fiction, could be a full-time job.
Q: What is your next book going to be about?
A: I’m about 10,000 words into the third and final book in the New Eden series, which started with Semper and continued with Forsada. This third book continues with the series’ examination of faith and truth, how they shape us and how we determine what we believe. I hope those themes will speak especially clearly to teens in this third book, as Semper appears to have, from reading the comments I’ve gotten. But also I am focusing on story—the theme is the theme, but the story is king for me. There will be a lot of action, and I hope the ending will both ring true and be a bit of a surprise to a lot of readers.
When this series is done, I’m not sure what I’ll write next. I have some ideas that lean toward science fiction and others in more of a traditional fantasy vein. I also have a middle grade historical novel that is pretty good which I might revise and publish before moving on to new work. It’s exciting to have my options wide open, but it’s also difficult to commit to a single idea when I have so many I’d like to pursue.
Q: What should someone do if they think they might want to try writing?
A: The web is full of great resources for both craft and publishing. Many literary agents have blogs with great information about the publishing industry. The best thing to do is to try to connect with a writing or critique group. It’s certainly possible, and often a good idea, to connect with such a group online. There are hundreds, probably thousands. I have writing friends all over the world that I’ve never met in person—from Germany to New Zealand to the UK to India—and that diversity is great for creativity. But it’s a killer for social media time sink… I have friends in virtually every time zone which means the distractions never end. But fundamentally, the thing you have to do is write. Write a lot.
Once you’ve got yourself into kind of a groove, you need to write different things. Write short stories—this is a must. Short fiction requires discipline and focus; plus, it’s a lot less of a commitment. Write some poetry, just to try it. Perhaps the more important growth step I took as a writer was when I wrote a one-act play. I am not a playwright. My play will never be performed. But the form required such a different mindset that it broke me of some lazy habits that were keeping my fiction from progressing. Finally, if you find yourself abandoning projects after just two or three chapters, try National Novel Writing Month.
More about Peter:
o Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Peter-J-Dudley/e/B004TJLXKY/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1
o SEMPER (ebook): http://www.amazon.com/Semper-New-Eden-ebook/dp/B0070F2WP4
o SEMPER (print): http://www.amazon.com/Semper-Peter-J-Dudley/dp/1469923130/
o FORSADA (ebook): http://www.amazon.com/Forsada-Volume-New-Eden-ebook/dp/B00B0GFNW8/
o FORSADA (print): http://www.amazon.com/Forsada-Volume-II-New-Eden/dp/1480172413/
o Home page: http://www.peterdudley.com/
o Writing: http://www.peterdudley.com/writing/
o Blog: http://cornerkick.blogspot.com/
o Charities @Work posts: http://www.charitiesatwork.org/author/pdudley/
o Twitter: @dudleypj, @semperbook, @forsadabook
o LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/peterdudley/