I’m enthralled with my SmartTV, which might at first glance give some idea of how generally gripping my life is. But first impressions can be wrong. My life is gripping—not because of the tv, or because I play golf and love gardening, but because I write novels, and when I’m in the throes of writing, life gets so exciting I can’t sleep.
I’m about to start a new book, and it may be a comedy set on a cruise ship—or not, time will tell. If it is a comedy set on a cruise ship it will mark a departure from my previous four novels.
I think I began writing fiction as a way of exploring questions that stuck in my mind during thirty years in business. So my first novel, Owen’s Day, is a romantic comedy about risk: why we take risks, why we’re taking fewer of them these days, whether that’s a good or bad thing. My second, Ang Tak, is about character, and its effect on an individual, and how the lack of character can manifest itself in a country. The story alternates between Kathmandu, Nepal and Augusta National golf course, and mixes international intrigue with the four-day Masters tournament.
The Money Tree, another comedy, explores greed and generosity. The story was inspired by the clients whose work I had edited during my business days, clients who were interested in money, the money supply, and the virtues of paper money versus gold and silver.
My most recent novel, Return to Kaitlin, deals with teen drinking and alcoholism. Been there, done that.
RTK was actually given a kick-start by my nephew’s adventures in northern Canada. He’d headed off to find work in the oil business because that’s where the money is, or was. But like most things in life, it’s never quite as simple as it seems, and he ended up learning some valuable lessons as well as earning some money for his education.
“I’d like to use some of your adventures in a story,” I told him up front. “But it’s a bit like stealing.”
“You want to write a book about me?” His face lit up. “I’m honored.”
“Not exactly,” I said and set him straight. I wanted to take his experiences, mix them in with fictional ones, invent a character who was not him, and add in some addictions to make it interesting (and because drinking especially is widely prevalent among teens).
He agreed but I’m not sure he fully got it. It’s hard for people close to you to believe, but a character inspired by someone they know likely won’t be that person. Unless of course you want him to be. If you’re writing about a tyrant or serial killer you might want to get inside his head. But that wasn’t the case here. Ty Hogan gets into some of the same scrapes my nephew got into, but he isn’t my nephew.
The morning period between waking up and the first cup of coffee can be useful for mulling things over. One morning, not long after Return to Kaitlin was finished, I mentally shelved the cruise book and mulled over the possibility of making Ty’s adventures into a series.
A lot of writers have a series. Some have several in the driveway but that to me seems ostentatious. I could see two more possible books about Ty, one on gambling/alternative fuels and another on pot/pipelines. But first I had to gauge reaction to this first book. Which meant reviews and sales.
Self-published authors have to spend a good deal of time promoting their own work, because no one else will do it. You could buy professional help, but I did not have a happy experience with that, so I’ve ruled it out. Instead, I followed once again the traditional route to book promotion, because that’s what I know best.
I began life as a nonfiction book editor, working for publishers in Toronto and London. So I mailed out copies of Return to Kaitlin to print media, the major industry outlets like Publisher’s Weekly, Book List, Kirkus and Foremost Reviews. You have to give them two to three months’ lead time for this, and I decided to continue in the promotional vein for a while longer and make a determined effort to interest online reviewers as well.
I was also using CreateSpace for the first time, having decided to produce my books through both LightningSource and Amazon. They each have their strong points, but the production process is a little more complicated when you go after both.
One it was over and after I’d found as many reviewers as I could, I turned to the cruise ship comedy. It had been percolating for weeks and began to demand to come out. But then a friend sent me a link to a course on generating your own mailing list, and having watched the teaser I decided to take the course. I’m doing it now.
Why am I doing it? Because I’ve decided to eschew (love that word) the traditional publishers’ promotional route in future. Never again will I send out review copies to the media, except by request, though I’ll still contact online reviewers. Instead, I’m setting up an automated program to try to attract and retain potential readers. This may not work. I’m as thick as a plank when it comes to promotion, so indeed, if it doesn’t work I won’t be surprised.
But this program will be one arm of a dual strategy to gain readers. The other: write a bestseller.
Of course, we all want that, those of us who write. But I’ve noticed I’m getting better at what I do, and perhaps better at lifting my head to notice what readers want, a not-unimportant consideration. So one of these days, it will not surprise me if I have managed to combine what I like with one of the recognized niche markets and hit some sort of sweet spot.
Until then I’ll just go on loving the fever of creativity that takes hold during the first draft stage and which fuels my life.