I started writing – in any kind of formal sense – about six years ago. I wrote a novel, which, lo and behold, somebody said they wanted to publish. That was an amazing feeling and all the build up to the launch of my first novel was exciting and new and great. Then I wrote another one, and then another, and again, until now I have six.
My journey toward becoming a writer has been via a steep and slippery learning curve. One of the things I’ve noticed along the way, is that most people who write tend to proclaim how much they love it, how it consumes them, how they would spend every waking moment doing it if they could. The thing is, I’ve struggled with writing for the past six months and it made me question whether I was a proper writer or not.
I finished my last novel – Stark Realities – in the spring of 2015 and it was published that summer. It was the third installment of a police procedural series. I should point out that I don’t write for a living. Just as well, really, as I’d made very little money from my efforts up to that point. However, all the evidence, advice and received wisdom was that series were the answer to sales, and the more you added to them, the better. I was really hopeful this third installment might help springboard sales from the modest to low levels I’d managed so far, up to something more akin to decent or respectable
When the book came out, my motivation levels to market the hell out of it were sky high. I did all the things I was supposed to. I wrote blogs on my website and as a guest of others; I got local press coverage; I got a couple of excellent reviews from relevant websites; I posted on every Social Media outlet I could; I started an e-newsletter, complete with an exclusive, free, short story to help improve take-up; I did a Goodreads giveaway for the paperback; I revamped all my covers to give them a common branding; I had hundreds of existing four and five star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and every review that appeared for Realities was a four or five star; I was already writing the follow-up.
Sales were … underwhelming.
It was as if someone had stuck a pin in me. What I found most demoralising of all was the aftermath of Amazon promotions. On a few occasions my books were chosen to be included in some promotion or other. Usually, sales surged and the books climbed the rankings. Within days, a few new, positive reviews would appear. I would get excited, thinking this was the breakthrough I’d been waiting for. And then, when the price reverted to normal, and Amazon’s marketing machine moved on to pastures new, sales slumped and the books tumbled back down the rankings.
All of the time I’d been spending marketing the books seemed like a massive waste of time. Nothing I was doing seemed to sustain sales at levels where I would actually make some money from them. In the Spring of 2016 I stopped writing the follow-up to Stark Realities. Ironically, the stark reality was, I couldn’t see the point.
I’m under no illusions about becoming a millionaire, by the way. I don’t even mind if I can’t make enough to call it my proper job. I just wanted it to justify the time I put into it. I wanted to see my efforts rewarded. I’ve got a busy life away from writing: a time-consuming job as an ecologist and a daughter who competes for Team GB at ice-skating. All through the summer, when I was tired or busy, I couldn’t face writing. I stopped posting tweets and Facebook posts. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to blog about. I had no motivation for it at all.
This is when I started to doubt my writing credentials. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that I can write well – enough strangers have said so through their reviews to convince me of that. What I really mean is, that I doubted whether I had the mind-set of a writer. I didn’t seem to love it enough and I didn’t find myself bereft if I went days without adding anything to the new novel. I just didn’t feel like I could call myself a proper writer. I’m sure there are plenty of other writers who’ve been through something similar; it just didn’t seem like it when I went on Twitter or Facebook.
Fast-forward to September 2016 and, in the past month, I’ve added almost 20,000 words to the next Stark novel. It’s been a hard year but I’m glad I’ve battled through that summer hiatus and the lack of motivation. I’m hoping the next novel might actually benefit as a result. In the end, I decided that I’ve come too far with this and put too much time and effort in to just chuck it. I am a writer – even if I’m not as evangelical as some – and I will indeed write on, hoping for that breakthrough moment.