I have had many people stare at me in disbelief when I pull out a copy of one of my books, particularly the 619 page compilation of my trilogy (which, like the rest of my books, is currently on holiday for some much needed editing). This often sets off a string of questions: When did you write this? How long did it take? How did you get it published? Can I find it in a store? etc. etc.
While I will be the first to tell you that my books are merely self-published, something that anyone can do, I will admit that I take a certain pride in my work none-the-less. My books, though self-published, are the results of years of practice, hundreds (if not thousands) of pages of hand-written ideas, and hours upon hours of planning, drafting, typing, editing, and designing.
Call me old-fashioned, but to me there is nothing like the feeling of scrawling down words using pen and paper. I am a highly physical person (this doesn’t have anything to do with all those years that I refused to wear my glasses, does it?), and I like to feel the pen in my hand, feel the texture of the paper under my skin as I move along, and watch as the ink is applied to the paper. Evidence of this can be seen all over my room, with bookshelves and floor space chock-full of notebooks, some completely filled, others half empty. I am quite positive that my story notebooks alone contain at least a thousand, if not more, pages of mostly failed attempts. People often go on and on about my writing ability, yet they don’t realize that, for every story I finish (the list is quite small), there are at least a dozen stories that I have started and never finished.
Writing a novel is fun but certainly not easy. Rarely does a person naturally write 50,000+ words without much thought. (Unless, of course, you are one particular friend of mine, whose name will remain anonymous).
For me, each story, particularly my novel-length work, is the result of detailed planning. My inspiration comes from many sources. However, my most common areas of reference are my friends, old half-baked story ideas, dreams, and National Geographic.
I start out by envisioning a certain scene in my head. I am highly imaginative, so the scenes play like movies in my mind’s eye. I formulate appearances, choose character traits, and conduct character interactions during this time, imagining that I am there and witnessing everything. Sometimes I become so engrossed in the story that I take on the role of the main character, hearing, feeling, and occasionally even expressing what that character would. I take this time to become familiar with the world that I am creating, deciding rules and guidelines for how the world operates. Because I am a fantasy writer, this step is crucial.
Once I get a feel for the story, and if I think that there is enough plot to actually make it worth my time, I pull out a pen and a college-ruled, one-subject, spiral-bound notebook – yes, I am that particular about what I use – and begin jotting down notes.
I almost always start out with a list of characters and their information. I include their name, age, race, hair color, eye color, vocation, skills, weapons (if necessary), and a short bio indicating origin and any relatives that might be involved. Often, I will also make sure to note the gender, as some names are unisex.
After jotting down information about the main characters, I often create a list of side characters, whose appearances and backgrounds are not particularly important. This is followed by a plot overview and a tentative outline.
For the outline, I go chapter by chapter, giving phrase names to each in order to get a better idea for where I want to go with the story. Sometimes I leave it at that, allowing my imagination and the flow of the story to dictate its final outcome. Other times, I write out expanded explanations of what should happen in each chapter, allowing for deviation should the need arise.
The actual story, like the notes, is handwritten, typically in the same notebook. For my novels, my rule is usually approximately 14 handwritten pages per chapter. This allows me to estimate the length of the story, and is useful if I am aiming for novel-length material. Many think that I’m crazy for doing this, and perhaps I am. The Four Stars consists of about 145 pages of handwritten material, The Secret of Erris around 170, Rebirth ranging around 190, and Ancient Vengeance coming in at 287. Of course, the handwritten copies are all first drafts, and usually grow dramatically when I go to type them.
After writing the first draft of each story, I proceed to type everything up in a pre-designed format. This format, done in Microsoft Word, is something that I created myself by measuring and studying professionally published books. Using those as a reference, I create a copyright page, lay out headers and page numbers, and designate margins and tab points.
Typing takes time, but luckily for me I have had plenty of practice over the years. Averaging at about 65 words per minute, my typing skills allow me to type up large amounts of work at one time, especially when the work has already been written. However, for a person like myself, typing up the story isn’t the end of my work.
As a self-publishing individual, I am not only the author, but the agent, editor, designer, artist, and publisher as well. I go back through my work multiple times once I have finished and recruit friends to help me look for errors when possible. Unfortunately, things often get missed, as being the writer creates the chronic issue of mentally filling in the gaps without noticing the problem. I also do the layout for my book, as I mentioned above, around this time.
Even though words are the meat of any story, pictures never hurt, and for fantasy novels this is doubly true. For this reason, I am not only the writer but the artist. I draw maps and sketch out characters and places. I also do the cover art for my book. Lacking the digital programs of professional designers, my cover art is done almost entirely by hand using paint and brush.
It takes hours, days, weeks, even months to put together a single book even after it has been written. However, the end results make all that work worth it.
The final step is the actual self-publishing. Of all the questions I get about my writing, self-publishing ranks #1.
There are tons of different self-publishing companies out there on the internet, each sporting various features. The company I use is called Lulu.
I discovered Lulu.com via a self-publishing e-zine, an email newsletter dedicated to helping people master the ins and outs of self-publishing. Ranked as one of the top self-publishing companies, Lulu is reliable, helpful, and, more importantly, free. The only charges incurred are if you choose to buy a print copy of your own book.
The process itself is very simple, and Lulu’s publishing wizard makes putting the book together a walk in the park.
Creating an account is the first step. It’s simple, free, and helps you track any projects you have started or completed.
Once you have obtained an account, simply clicking on the “Publish” tab will lead you through a several-step process in which you will select book dimensions, gray scale vs. color, upload files, enter book information, select visibility settings, and put the book up for sale (or leave it private for individual printing later on).
Lulu comes with an “Author Spotlight”, an online bookstore displaying any work designated as public.
From there, it is all a matter of the author publicizing their work and getting it out there. For me, my favorite thing to do is to give copies of my books to my friends and family for birthdays, Christmas, graduations, etc. This comes in handy for getting my name out there, particularly when in the hands of an ardent admirer such as my little brother.
While the likelihood of becoming famous through self-publishing is rather slim, and the thought of getting rich on such an endeavor is rather far-fetched, self-publishing creates a sense of fulfillment for an author that simply writing a story could never do. For me, there is nothing more satisfying than to hold that hard-back, professional-looking book in my hand, to look down at the name, and say, “Lyn Gilleland…that’s me.”