They say there's a book inside all of us but just how, exactly, do we get it out?
While many of us fantasise about putting pen to paper - or finger to laptop key - and letting out a stream of consciousness, things aren't always as straightforward as we'd like them to be.
However, with self-publishing now an option for anyone who has access to the internet, there really is no time like the present to get cracking on with that great idea. But where do you start, and how do you structure your days around writing? How do you actually publish a book and fast tack it into the hands of a reader?
To answer these all-important questions, we enlisted the help of bestselling British author Rachel Abbott, who has sold over two million copies of her novels since self-publishing her first book, Only the Innocent, back in 2011. Renowned for her pacey and gripping tales of domestic noir, her books frequently hit the top spot on Amazon's bestseller lists, with novels including Sleep Tight and Stranger Child gripping the nation.
Named as Amazon's most popular independently published author in the UK last year, Abbott has now overtaken household names such as Jeffrey Archer and Karin Slaughter in the battle of the e-books.
Read below for her top advice on writing and publishing your own novel.
I think Agatha Christie had a good point when she said, “The best time for planning a book is when you’re doing the dishes.” If you have an idea for a story in your head, it’s with you always, whatever you are doing. So just because you’re not actually sitting down and writing, it doesn’t stop you from plotting, or thinking about your characters.
Always carry something with you so that you can record those thoughts: either on paper or by dictating them. They arrive fleetingly, and sometimes they’re hard to grasp hold of, even in the middle of the night!
Sort out a routine
Writing is quite a lonely experience so I have to stay focused and committed to my idea. Having a routine is important and helpful.
I am always at my desk by 8am, and that, in general, is the same seven days a week. I often work until the early evening, with perhaps an hour off to sit quietly in a comfortable chair just after lunch and think about my characters and what they might thinking and feeling at a specific point in the story.
I also like to plan and plot in detail before I finally embark on the story, and I use brainstorming tools and writing software such as Scrivener to organise my thoughts. Even then the plot can change dramatically before I get to the end, but once I have the structure in place and I’m confident that it works, it’s hard to run out of inspiration.
Make a plan
I start with a plan. I need to understand the broad outline of the story: there is usually more than one plot so I need to figure out how they will interconnect with each other. The plot begins to define some of the characteristics of my protagonist, and I develop detailed profiles of each character, including photographs of how I think they would look, what their back story is, what they like to drink, what kind of clothes they wear, and so on.
I do something similar with the locations. I need to know the houses, the streets and the woods intimately so that I can always add a line here and there to show a consistent view of a person’s home, or a dark, deserted street. Only when I have all that in place do I begin to write.
I set myself a certain amount of words to write every day. This starts at about 2,000, but once the idea has firmly taken root I often up this to a target of 3,000. I use Scrivener to keep track of my progress, which is very useful, and I feel an enormous sense of achievement when I reach my target for the day. But of course, this is only the first draft. Then the real work begins.
And if you get struck with writer's block...
Different writers have different solutions when they lose their impetus. When I lose focus I do something else, usually just for an hour or so, but sometimes for a couple of days if I’m really struggling. I generally choose something work related – I might write a newsletter or a blog post – but I steer clear of my story for a while.
Going for a walk also clears the head, particularly if you don’t try to force the ideas. Concentrate instead on the scenery around you, smile at the people you pass, and use the time to give your mind a rest.
Edit, edit, edit
The most important thing you can do is to get your book professionally edited. I didn’t realise what an editor did when I started writing: they comment on the pace, the characters, the style and so many other aspects of the book to shape it to become the best it can be.
The finishing touches
The only other thing you need is the cover. And a good, strong title, of course. You have an option to include some metadata on the Amazon page – keywords that will make your book standout – and you also need to select two categories to help readers to find your books. It’s important to think carefully about these. It’s not much use putting your book just into the Thriller category, for example, because there are hundreds of thousands of books to compete against. It’s better to drill down to a sub-category to stand a better chance of getting a chart rating.
The book should also contain a title page and a copyright page, and it's usual to include a page of acknowledgements and information about the author. I would also recommend including a link to a webpage or blog where readers can sign up to go onto your mailing list, so you can notify them when you have a new book.
Publishing your book is very easy – and if you are publishing on Amazon their Kindle Direct Publishing website is very clear and concise. Basically, you just need to have a word-processed version of your book that is well laid out, and a good cover of the right dimensions. You upload it, set the prices (you will be offered guidelines) and within a very short time you will have your own book on its own dedicated Amazon page. It’s quite a thrill.
Never buy reviews, or get your immediate family to write them for you. It takes hard work to get reviews, but those that are invented are usually obvious to anybody who knows what to look for. Personally I would also never openly criticise another writer. We’re all in this together, and as a group self-published authors generally try to help each other. But equally, reviews are important, so if people let you know that they have read and enjoyed your book, do ask if they would consider writing a review for you.
We each have our own idea of success. For some, it’s great to just have a book published, with the same size page as your favourite author. Even if only five people ever buy it, it doesn’t detract from that sense of pride. And you should be proud, because it’s a major achievement.
For others, critical acclaim is the most important thing. If that’s the case, sending the book to as many reviewers as you can find is the key to achieving your dreams.
But if, like most independent authors I have met, you want to sell as many copies of your book as you can, there is only one answer and that is hard work. When I launched Only the Innocent back in 2011, I worked so hard – about fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, for three months, and during the other ten hours of the day I was constantly checking Twitter, emails, chart positions and sales. All I did was market, market, market. It worked, but given that I spent most of those three months existing on chocolate biscuits, it didn’t do much for my health...
Images: TV/film stills
Rachel Abbott's latest novel, Kill Me Again, is available now from Amazon