It all started with a trip to South America where I heard a story from the Independence Wars that hooked me. I started researching the background to it – just curious – and before I knew it, I was writing a historical novel.
It was a monster and took me over three years to write, but it gave me an excuse to go back to South America for another nine months. When I was finally done, I started querying agents.
I spent eighteen months researching agents, sending out submissions, and rewrote the novel three times based on feedback. At Christmas last year, I thought all that hard work had finally paid off.
An up-and-coming, well-respected New York agent expressed interest in representing me and we spoke twice on the phone.
He told me how much he was in love with the novel, how everyone in his office had read it and loved it, that it was “big, sweeping, really great”, then never contacted me again or replied to any emails.
I found that very disheartening, and couldn’t summon up the energy to start looking for an agent again. I was working on a second novel, but I found myself questioning everything I was writing.
I had read a little about self-publishing, but it only became a serious option for me in the week that Amanda Hocking signed a big trade deal and Barry Eisler walked away from one.
I saw both these events as a validation of self-publishing and spent a week tormenting myself wondering whether I should self-publish my novel or not.
I broke the impasse by deciding to start off with some short stories. I already had some success publishing those, and it seemed like a low-risk way to both learn the process, and test if I wanted to do this with my novel.
At the same time, I started my blog, and within a week or two I was getting over 200 views a day, and feisty conversations in the comments.
After four weeks of manic preparation and very late nights, I released my first e-book. It cracked the Kindle Top 40 Short Story charts on the first full day and picked up some lovely reviews.
In the month or so since I made my decision to self-publish, I have never worked so hard on writing. Aside from setting up a blog and posting over 1,000 words a day to it, I had to hire an editor, and find a cover designer. I had to learn how to format an e-book from scratch, and how to sell them.
I put together my first e-book, published it, and wrote a brand new 6,000 word story, and started two more. On top of that I wrote 30,000 words of a non-fiction project.
I have found the whole process exhilarating. I love being in complete control about what I can write, what I can publish, and how I publish it. I love having the final say on every little detail, choosing the price, and promoting it myself. I love coming up with fun competitions.
But the most gratifying thing is how much my productivity as a writer has gone up, even with all the extra work I have to do. There is something motivating about self-publishing.
I guess it’s knowing that the reader will get to see your work as soon as you are done and they – and no-one else – will decide if it’s a success or not. It’s very democratic.
I still haven’t made an official decision whether I will self-publish the South American novel or not, but I know in my heart what I want to do.
I promised myself that I wouldn’t get caught up in the excitement of publishing my stories, but that I would wait and evaluate everything after a couple of months. Besides, at that point, I should have some sales figures on two or three titles to make my judgement.
And anyway, I’m having fun focussing on short stories at the moment. They are great for trying out new ideas, new genres, and new styles. If you hit a permanent dead end, you have only lost a few days writing time, rather than a few months.
People always ask me where I get my ideas from, and I usually give some glib answer like, “I make them up, that’s my job.” However, that’s not strictly true.
Often a short story starts with half an idea, or a concept, or a name, or a character. The title usually comes next and then the whole story unfolds in front of me, and I struggle to keep up with my brain as I write (I work with paper and pen first). And the idea always comes from somewhere.
The second story in my collection was written just after I moved to Stockholm, in the depths of winter last year. I guess I was struggling to learn the language and to make friends, and was finding the dark days a little too much. The first story was something I actually wanted to do in real life, but it would have been too expensive.
That’s the beauty of fiction; you can live out your dreams. I’ve already achieved one already.