I’ve done a lot of things wrong in my life, seriously, a lot of things.
There was the time I fell into a rubbish skip when drunk.
The time I jumped off a bus that was doing twenty miles an hour and hit a lamppost that wasn’t.
Or maybe the time I confronted fifteen teenagers vandalizing a wall and got beat up for fifteen minutes straight (I came off better against the lamppost.)
Trust me I could go on all day, so let’s just agree: I’ve done a lot of things wrong in my life.
One of the few things I have done right (eventually) was managing to get a deal with Harper Collins and having my debut novel “The Darkest Hour” published in the USA and UK.
Finally, I did something right.
Except I didn’t.
I made a ton of mistakes as a debut author, honestly, a ton of them, so I thought I would list them here, just in case you are ever in my position and you want to avoid being as big of an idiot as I am:
I love twitter, but I don’t use it properly. I joke around on there, chat, make friends and occasionally plug the book.
Sounds like I was doing it right?
I should have created more of a pre-book buzz. I should have been sharing more of my journey to publication with other writers and those all too elusive readers. I should have made more use of hashtags than just sticking them on occasional tweets. I should have been searching for them, reading them, re-tweeting them, and engaging with others who were using them. I should have been forging links, having conversations, helping people with their launches and then getting people onboard for the big push when mine came along. The one thing though, the one thing I should have been doing most of all: I should have been sharing and learning with the Twitter community at least thirty minutes a day, every day.
So you should be doing that right now, go on, do it.
Remember when facebook was fun? Before it got all political and pluggy? Back when your friends would talk about their cats, and then pictures of their cats, and post videos of their cats, and then tell you when their cats died and they got a new kitten?
It was fun (unless you were allergic to or hated cats, or even worse, a dog.) Back before Facebook became worth billions and started going through your garbage and leaving secret messages for you (facebook may not actually do that) I set up a facebook writers page. I got my sister to go there, and two of my friends, and I put up pictures of a cat (much to the disgust of my dog). One day Harper Collins came along and waved a magic wand (money) and I suddenly had a lot more people looking at pictures of the cat.
Every day I would go there and put another picture of a cat (who knew there were so many cats?) and then the book came out and I said: “Here is another cat, please buy my book or I will kill it…” (I was joking, I like cats). Time went by and I kept pretty much saying this over and over. Occasionally people would send me messages saying “I like the book” and I would say “thank you so much…” and that would be it. What I should have been doing is shouting “tell the world about my book please I need your help!”
But I didn’t because I am English, and polite, and an idiot.
I should have engaged with other pages, I should have commented on them, I should have been talking to writers groups, book clubs, offering them advance copies, I should have been in every nook and cranny that even smelled of book on Facebook in the run up to publication, and every day after that.
And I should have posted more cats.
I wasn’t honest about myself and my work.
I have a terrible habit in interviews and blog posts of using the phrase “I just banged it out…” when talking about my books.
I did it again this week on BBC Radio:
Interviewer “How long did it take you to write the book?”
Me: “I just banged it out in about six months I think…”
I didn’t, I lied.
I did write it in six months, that much is true, but I didn’t “bang it out” like some guy in a bucket factory. I sweated, I had sleepless nights, I thought about it hour after hour, day after day, I lived it, I dreamed it, I became it, I suffered, my relationships suffered, my life suffered and other people’s lives suffered.
I didn’t bang it out, it banged me out.
I don’t know why I play it down so much (any psychoanalysts out there?) but I’m going to try to be honest about it from now on, and so should you. Writing a book is damn hard work, be proud of your hard work and tell the world when it asks, and tell the world when it doesn’t.
You deserve praise.
Don’t just blog, BLOG! I have three blogs, WordPress (I find it complicated and it’s been so long since I used it I think the password is in Latin), Blogger (nice and easy, even for me) and Medium (so shiny and new, it looks like one of those modern kitchens you see in brochures, even I can’t cock it up.) Blogging is great, it is fun (honestly) it helps keep your writing punchy (brevity is king), and it builds your audience if you do it right.
I don’t do it right.
There are thousands, if not tens of thousands of people out there blogging about books. Those people buy books; you are selling books, why are you not talking to them?
Sounds simple doesn’t it?
WHY WAS I NOT DOING IT?
Blogging is a lot like the other things on this list, it needs to be based on the principle of sharing, give and take, help and be helped. You need to reach out to people and praise them if they deserve it, critique them if they don’t, but again, you need to be honest in what you write, be it a comment on a review, or a blog post about a film.
Be honest in your writing and be honest in your interactions.
There you go, some of what I did wrong (well about half the things I did wrong, there are another five things on my list, but give me a break, I’ve got a book to write!)
When I started this piece it wasn’t going to be a blog post, it was just going to be something I was going to stick on my wall for my own reference (my paperback is out in June and I was determined to learn from my mistakes.) I figured that seeing as I was writing a list I might as well share it in the hope it might help someone else.
In looking to help others, I think I’ve hit on the one of the most obvious ways to help yourself, and that is this:
You are part of a community, you are a writer, you will get nowhere, honestly, you’ll get nowhere being selfish and trying to shoulder people off the road.
It just won’t work.
Enjoy the community, work with it, learn from it, and try to help it. Be honest with it, and with yourself, but most of all share, share your work, share the work of others, and you won’t make the mistakes I have made.