by EE Isherwood
I wrote my first novel without a lick of sense. I just sketched out 15 or so chapters with a few bullet points and started writing whatever came to mind. I began with a 104-year-old woman fighting off her infected live-in nurse, then I gave her a great-grandson as a helper and sent them both out her front door into the zombie apocalypse devouring the city. They go from bad to worse situations while trying to reach the safety of the suburbs.
I guess in some ways writing a zombie book like this was perfect for my writing style. I like the adventure of always moving forward in a collapsing world. My characters often lament there is no time to rest because each fortress has an expiration date. Somehow, someone is going to mess things up. A door will be left open. A wall will buckle. People do stupid things. There is ALWAYS an end to safe places in the zombie world. The global clock counts down from the first sirens on day one until the time a cure is found, or the world is overwhelmed by death forever. The stakes can’t be any higher!
But the hardest part of writing isn’t the pen-to-paper of the story. The far more difficult process comes after “the end.” Books don’t edit or sell themselves. You have to be relentless in improving your editing skills—unless you have the upfront cash to pay an editor. You’ll have to recognize weaknesses in your story, or flaws in your world-building. You’ll have to pay for a cover unless you are great at graphic design. It doesn’t work if you are so-so at graphics. This is what sells when someone is browsing the virtual shelves of digital books. Finally, when all that is together, you’ll have to start marketing your book. Promoting yourself relentlessly. Doing podcasts. Building your website. Doing audio books. Managing mailing lists. Social media. Getting yourself into fancy black-tie affairs like Winter of Zombie!
I’ve found that writing is the fun part. That can be done in a couple weeks. Thousands of potential authors write books in the month of November as part of the National Novel Writing Month. The rest of the process is laborious and a massive time sink, but entirely necessary for the independent author to master. However, after six books and over 600,000 words, I’m starting to gain my sea legs on this new business venture called “being an author.”
Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way:
- The best way to become a writer is to write. Don’t say one day you’ll write that book in your head. Get started! Write about something that happened to you. Tell the story from a different perspective than your own. Re-read and edit that story. See if you think the exercise is enjoyable. If you don’t, see point 5 below.
- Embrace disaster. Your first book will suck. This simple truth is something, I think, most authors recognize once they get a few more books behind them. The version of my first book when I initially published it was terribly rough in the editing department. I’ve since revised it several times as I’ve improved as a writer.
- Be prepared to work hard. I’ve been doing my job of “being an author” for a little over a year now. I’ve written something nearly every day for the entire year. I’ve read about the craft. I’ve interacted with other authors on forums and Facebook groups almost that entire time. I work on weekends. I’ve spent Friday nights laying out my print books. I’ve made enough money to take care of my family, but not much more than if I’d worked full time for minimum wage that entire year. Some writers make much more than me. Most writers make much less. Be prepared for this reality.
- This is a business, not a hobby. This is the fundamental underpinning of writing books. An instant smash hit would be great, but for most of us, that isn’t going to happen. We can’t control that. What we can control is how much we learn about writing. How much we learn about successful authors and their methods. How much we learn about the marketplace. Writing to that market. A million little details that lead to a successful writing career. It takes time. Lots of time. It helps if you treat it like a multi-year business plan, rather than an enjoyable part-time hobby (unless that’s your goal).
- Have fun. I can’t say this is an iron-clad rule, but it’s one I couldn’t live without. If I didn’t find writing to be the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had, I wouldn’t waste all this time and effort to become a better author. I find it very rewarding, and I want to do this for as long as I possibly can. Not because it pays well, but because I get to use my imagination and bring others into that world and show them around. It’s the ultimate tour guide business, which speaks to my background in travel and geography. I can’t get enough!
I chose to write about zombies because I love reading about zombies. It helps to be well read in the genre so you can be critical about your storylines, worlds, and book series. You don’t want to write something that is too close to your peers. Try to find your unique perspective on zombies and then run like hell with it.
Have some fun while you’re out there.