Lessons Learned

I unleashed unto the world a novel titled Into the Badlands at the beginning of September.  Since then I’ve had some time to reflect, and I’ve learned a few things not only about the process, but about myself as well.

I’ve  been writing for years, ever since I was very young.  Into the Badlands is actually my second novel, but the first I felt was worth publishing.  I also wrote a bunch of short stories, all before the year 2000.

I took a hiatus, then returned to writing in late 2010.  One thing I’ve learned since then is that my old writing was pretty crappy.  However, some of the premises are still viable.  As a result, I’m releasing a collection of short stories at the end of 2011, many of which are rewrites from old premises I think are still worth the time.

I also learned that editing is a bitch.  Tedious and boring, it is likely the most undesirable step of the writing process.  If I sell enough books, I’ll likely farm that work out.

I learned that beta readers are essential.  By beta reader, I mean volunteers who will act as a focus group for your work, providing honest and constructive criticism.  I will never release any work without vetting it with at least a handful of readers.  It is absolutely critical to the success of the project.  They can also offer some of what an editor can offer.  I gave all my beta readers a free copy of the book and a mention inside in exchange for their feedback.

I learned that I, the writer, am a brand.  Me, the human being, is the person I really am.  These two things are separate.  This concept allows me to accept criticism more easily and to differentiate myself online.  I write as “Brian J. Jarrett”; adding that middle initial allowed me to create a completely separate online profile for me, the writer.

I learned that I can’t be timid.  I can’t be afraid to share my work.  None of us can.  Besides, timid people don’t change the world.  I learned to believe in myself and, maybe more importantly, to believe in my potential.  I believe my best work lies ahead of me.

I learned that getting that book out on Amazon was more of an inspiration than I thought it would be.  Just seeing it there on the product page made it more real than I had expected.  In the old days I’d finish up a manuscript, then stick it in a trunk to collect dust.  The soft copy would sit on the hard drive of my computer, unseen by anyone, forever.  This time around within 24 hours my book was available and was being downloaded.  People were actually reading my work for the first time.  It was exhilarating.

The book has been available for a little over two weeks now.  I’ve sold 29 copies so far, and I’m ecstatic.  Sales spiked once I told everyone it was out, which I expected.  Now they’ve tapered off, and I’m selling on average about a copy per day.  Time will tell the tale, but that’s a good start for a nobody with one book.  It’s 29 more people reading me than I had before.

This is going to be a slow burn.  I have to build chops, earn a following, and prove I’m not just a flash in the pan.  I need more books.  Books sell other books; once a writer earns a fan his or her books will cross-pollinate.

I’m one year into returning to writing, and I’m on schedule.  2011 will see one novel and a collection of short stories released.  My online presence is building.  My homepage has been built.  I’ve taught myself how to build eBooks for Amazon and Smashwords (and subsequently Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBookstore, Sony bookstore, and more).  I’ve suffered through my eBook learning curve; next time around I won’t have to pay that pain again.

It took me seven months to write Into the Balands.  I wasted a lot of time and still pulled that off.  Realistically, I could release a book every six months.  As a result, the end of 2012 should find me with three novels and a collection of short stories.

By the time I turn forty I should have five novels and a collection available.  I hope to see some good sales numbers by then.  I’m considering it my second major milestone (the first being releasing my first novel upon the public).

Writing is more fun for me now than it ever was before.  I’m a better writer, the gatekeepers are going away, and distributing my work myself is now a viable option.  There’s so much in front of me this time around; I feel like I’m twenty-one again, writing stories and dreaming big dreams.

I’m still dreaming big dreams, but I’m happy with a modest reality.  And my odds for at least that are much better now than they were when I was twenty-one.

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