Growing as a Writer

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As a kid, I always had a very vivid imagination. I would read a good book and spend hours and hours imagining myself in the story. Playing “pretend” was my absolute favorite game and I’ve never really stopped playing it. I wrote small things here and there, but I never thought it would go anywhere so I focused more on reading. If I had only known, lol.

In 2008, I was a graduate student and low on money. I had some down time, finally, and I wanted something different to read. I had over a hundred m/f romance books sitting on shelves, but I didn’t want to read any of them. I had yet to really discover the m/m romance genre at that point, but I was getting there. One of my favorite authors, Emma Holly, had written an m/m/f romance book that completely rocked my world. The problem was, I wanted MORE! 

So… I started writing one. It was called The Forest’s Edge and was a sci-fi/fantasy m/m/f romance with fated mates and shifters. I loved writing it, but honestly it wasn’t very good. It did keep me entertained and didn’t cost any money, so I guess it really was just what I needed.

After some prodding, I submitted it to an online publisher who actually gave me some great feedback on how to improve the story. I learned so much about writing in the process of revising it even though I never followed through with publishing it after I fixed it up again. Instead, it sat there on my computer for a few years.

Fast forward to 2011 and I was an adjunct instructor at multiple schools with zero time to pursue any hobby, little less one that would actually take time. I came across my story and thought What the hell? I’ll give it a try, and self-published it. I sold three copies. One to my brother, one to my best-friend, and one to someone out in the void. My book was lost to the abyss of Amazon.

Looking back on it, I know why it ended up where it did. Despite revising it, it was still my very first book and had some problems. The dialogue was a little awkward and wordy, I did more telling than showing, and my plot was a little too bare. I didn’t have it professionally edited. My cover page was homemade and didn’t fit the market AT ALL. Plus, at the time, I had no idea where I would classify it. There isn’t a category for m/m/f romance and I still wouldn’t know the best place to put one outside of “erotica.”

For years afterword, I was consumed with work and didn’t have time to go back and figure out what I did wrong. Not until I picked up writing again with The Mercenary’s Mate and Falling for the Omega. I used a lot of what I had learned writing The Forest’s Edge to write my m/m books and they were much better for it. Are they perfect? Of course not, but I adore both of them.

I guess my point here is that everyone has to start somewhere. If you are an author and want to write, then be prepared to learn. No one knows everything about writing and the moment you think you do is when you stop growing. Each book I write teaches me something about characterization, narrating, dialogue, description, etc. Being a writer is being in a constant state of growth. I think that’s one of the reasons I love it so much.

If you are a beginning author that is interested in self-publishing, here are a few of the most important things I’ve learned over the past year and a half:

  • Write, write, write, write! Don’t write one book and stop. Keep writing even as you are trying to publish another book. Write as if it’s a second (or primary) job. It’s a wonderful hobby, but it will always be a hobby if you treat it like one.
  • Write books you WANT to read! If you do this, then you know there will be an audience out there. You aren’t the only one who likes whatever type of books you read. Market toward an audience of “you.” For one thing, you’ll be familiar with that audience. For another, if you love the type of books you’re writing, readers are more likely to connect with your books. There is always a lot of advice out there saying “write to market,” but if you don’t really like what you’re writing, a lot of readers will be able to tell. You’ll come across as a douche canoe and you don’t want that.
  • Use a professional editor! No one can edit their own books without it taking ages. Then, you are still likely to miss something. It stinks to have to spend money before you make any, but it is worth it. I lost some readers with my first books because I couldn’t find an editor I could afford and didn’t want to wait. I was an impatient douche canoe. 🙁
  • Use a professional cover artist! There are plenty of non-professional people with the skills and talent to make a good cover page, but there are also many who THINK they can, but can’t. Professional cover artists are more aware of the market and can provide that additional insight and talent needed. HOWEVER, don’t be afraid to speak up. Be as clear as possible when you are ordering a cover page and don’t be afraid to request something different if what you’re given isn’t what you want. The cover page is the first thing a reader sees.
  • Learn about writing! Very few people can just sit down and write a story without either analyzing fiction or reading craft books. Don’t be a douche canoe know-it-all that can’t admit they can improve.
  • Make connections with other authors. You’ll learn a lot from them and you can help each other be successful. That leads into another point –
  • HELP OTHER AUTHORS!!! Even with a saturated market you are sharing readers with other authors, not competing for them. When you read a good book, recommend it to your readers. If you see an author has a new release, share it. Invite other authors to promo events and projects. AND… don’t do it in the expectation of getting something in return. Do it to avoid becoming a douche canoe. Be nice, damn it!
  • Social media is necessary for promotion. This means FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, a website, a blog, and anything else that is out there. Learn where your audience is and focus on that at first. For example, FaceBook is a big platform for my audience, so I have a reading group, author page, and general author account. This allows readers to contact me easily and gives me the chance to promote. However, be aware that you don’t need to neglect other platforms. You want your audience to grow, so don’t narrow it down too much. *shudders

There is so much more I’ve learned, but these are the biggies for those starting out. If you want to be an author, be prepared for a life long journey of learning. 

For now, I’m working on book two in The Silver Isles and am focusing on making the pacing better than in book one because I’m not a douche canoe know-it-all that can’t admit I can improve. 

C.W. Gray

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