What publishing my first book taught me by Protagonist Crafts

5 important things I learned after publishing my first book

I’ve been writing stories ever since I learned to write. In fact, even before that, I was dictating stories for my elder sister to write. However, it wasn’t until after publishing my first book that I realised how little I knew about writing stories and publishing novels. Oops.

For a little background, I must tell you that the first book I got published wasn’t actually the first book I had written, which is not unusual. Secondly, my book was published in Finland by a very small publisher, so don’t worry if you’ve never heard about me. Basically no one has except my relatives and my Tumblr followers. (I kid, kind of. The book was borrowed from libraries all over the country more than a 100 times in the first two years so that’s something.)

So what, exactly, did I learn after I published my first book?

Not all publishers are created equal

Don’t get me wrong, I AM grateful for the experience, but I would no longer accept a deal with this publisher again. I was so eager to just get a publishing deal to begin with that I didn’t care to find out what the publisher was like – naively I assumed they would all be professional and reputable.

I am 100% certain there are FANTASTIC small publishers out there, it’s just that mine wasn’t one of them. I will not go into great detail because I just don’t need that kind of negativity in my life, but let’s just say I was not treated very well as a writer and the publisher didn’t exactly have great customer service either.

The unfortunate thing is that people will expect YOU to have all the answers regarding why your book isn’t coming out when it was supposed to, or why their library can’t order your book when they tried. You don’t need that kind of a burden on you.

We’re living in the time of the internet, therefore it’s incredibly easy to do your research. Don’t offer your manuscript to a publisher or agent whose reputation you know nothing about.

You might not be ready to be published yet

The fact that your book isn’t ready to be published is not a personal insult. It doesn’t mean that you’re a terrible writer or that your book is BAD, it’s just that it needs more work done. That’s it.

I wish someone with good sense had read my book and said “you know what, this is a nice story and all, but you need to work on it a while longer”. You can say that it was still good enough to be published, but I came to realise later that perhaps the publisher was just desperate for material. I absolutely do not say that as an insult to myself, I actually think I’m a very good writer. I just didn’t realise how much I DIDN’T know about writing an engaging story at the time.

So if you don’t like the idea of having a rushed, unfinished novel manuscript getting out there in the world, make sure someone with a lot more experience than you has taken a look at it first. And if you keep getting a rejection letter after another, there’s probably something you can fix in your story instead of giving up on your writing career completely.

You can be a good writer without realising what makes a good story

There is so much more to writing a great book than crafting cool characters and writing a mean sentence. You need to understand what makes a good story as well. c

Many of us have an inherent sense of how this works at least partially, thanks to being exposed to numerous movies and books in our lifetime. But to really employ great storytelling techniques, you need to understand what makes all your favourite stories work, in the very least. That includes learning about the dreaded plot structure.

I do not exaggerate at all when I say that learning more about writing changed my life, and even more, it changed my writing for the better. I don’t claim to be the best writer on earth, because that’s obviously completely subjective, but I no longer feel insecure about my writing and I also don’t suffer from writer’s block anymore. If you want to know what books changed my writing forever, I have written a post about my favourite books to help with your writing.

Writing a GREAT book takes a lot longer than I thought

The first draft of the book I published took me about eight months to write, mainly because I had no direction and no routines, and on top of that I had a baby to care for. (The baby is now seven years old.) Then I spent probably less than three months adding a few more scenes and editing what I had written, and probably did only two full rounds of edits.

Author Katri Soikkeli writing a book by hand

Do you want to know how long I’ve spent working on my current novel? MORE THAN TWO YEARS. With meticulous planning, it only took me three months to write my first draft despite writing by hand and having to parent two small children this time around. After that I added some more meat to the story (I always under-write my first drafts, sadly), changed a few plot points, rewrote bad scenes and edited what already works. I did also take a few breaks from writing and editing, which is always a good idea.

I honed my writing process only after publishing my first book

If you want to learn more about my personal writing process, I’ve written about it here. No one has to work the exact same way as I do, but I just want to point out that the written works that you most admire probably have taken a lot longer to write than you realise. If you want to write memorable books that will be loved and cherished rather than publish for the sake of publishing, you do need to work on your book more than just a few months. (It’s a very inexact science so don’t ask me for how long exactly. Donald Maass* says two to three years for a “breakout novel”.)

*This is an affiliate link, the only one in this particular blog post. Read more about my affiliate links here.

Publishing my first book was just the beginning

More than anything, getting published for the first time was a learning experience. Could I have learned those things WITHOUT exposing my work to the public and having to cringe every time I thought of people reading my badly constructed plot? Maybe, but what is done is done, and maybe now at least one person can avoid making the same mistakes that I made.

Want to start writing a novel the right way?

When you have the dream of writing and publishing your stories, you shouldn’t go into it blindly. To help my fellow writers, I share absolutely everything I’ve learned in my blog, my writer resources and in my courses. If you’d like to start your novel-writing journey on the right foot, you should join my free 5-day course and start writing your amazing novel in less than a week.

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