How to write a book · self-publishing · The writing business

On publishing another book when there are already so many

Didn’t I say in January that I had a book I would write quickly? A book based on my travel diaries. A book that should have required a quick spit and polish, then out of the nest it would go.

But no, the months have passed, and if you followed my newsletter you’ll have seen the progress through rough edits, reconcepting, purge of darlings, second purge of darlings, beta reader 1, beta reader 2, reader 3, reader 4, final polish, snapshots of typesetting on Facebook and final sigh of relief.

January to July: seven months to take a book from personal notes to publicly presentable. It was a lot more work than I thought it would be, but still quite fast by my usual standards.

I haven’t been doing it full time, of course. My usual freelance editing gigs have snowballed, and sometimes I’ve been fighting to protect a few hours for my book. Equally, it’s benefited from being consigned to the basement, cogitating. If I’d had an uninterrupted run, it wouldn’t be the book it is.

Finding a destination

‘Finding a destination’ is generally the biggest challenge of the bookwriting process for me. It’s what takes literary writers so long (which I posted about here).

It also doesn’t seem confined to writing, by any means. I recently stumbled across these lines in an obituary published in The Economist of the mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani:

By her own account, she was “slow” …. she teased out solutions by doodling for hours on vast sheets of paper … the point, she said, was not to write down all the details, but to stay connected to the problem. She likened mathematical enquiry to being lost in a forest, gathering knowledge, to come up with some new tricks, until you suddenly reach a hilltop and see everything clearly.’

I’m a card-carrying slowcoach, and I see this same struggle in the Facebook feeds of writer friends. It’s the hell of book writing, and also, eventually the heaven. You did it. You persevered, you made a substantial something out of fat nothing; just a notion that took your fancy or kept you fretting. The fact that it took so long is, in the end, part of the triumph. You persevered with a possibility that no one else saw, shaped it in a way that no one else would. Finally, a stranger can take your trip and say ‘I never went there before’.


So far, so personally rewarding. But we stumble over the finish line and into an immovable fact. This cherished, nurtured, shiny new book is a speck in a sea of plankton. There are not enough eyes to read all the books that are published. It’s the best of times to be a writer and the worst of times to try to make a living at it, or run a publishing company. The Guardian recently published this piece with a bleak view, which we can boil down to this: barring a miracle, hardly anybody will buy it.

So does the world need my new book?

We have so many already. Good books; great books. The human condition doesn’t change.

Certainly it doesn’t, and Chaucer still resonates now. I’ll read a book from the 1950s as readily as the 2000teens. Dave keeps urging me to read New Grub Street by George Gissing, which was published in 1891 and nails the creative industries exactly as they are today. But sometimes we want the company of contemporary minds. People might not change, but the world will always do things that are, for better or worse, unpresidented.

Even if your work is not tackling current issues, it still comes through contemporary sensibilities. Although authors primarily write for their own reasons – personal fulfilment, making a living – the world does still need them.

The duty we have now is to publish only what deserves to be. To use a reader’s time wisely and responsibly.

Still, why write?

But selling books can be so soul-shrivelling, particularly today. So why do we still write more? We do it because the long process of conversation with an idea, like Maryam the mathematician, is intrinsic to those who are creative. Even though it’s often agony to face a blank page. The writer in the Guardian goes back into her cycle, the way we all do – not knowing if she has the goods to do it again.

The selfish gene?

Is that primarily a selfish process? It must seem so. But at the least, it must make us wiser people. To understand our own themes forces us to see them from more sides than just our own. We might delve a long way in research to write a situation truthfully. To create a character who isn’t a stereotype, we might have to admire their flaws or be critical of their virtues. Our invented people teach us tolerance and generosity.

Even my travel tales – which were not invented –  had to be revisited with a more critical eye.

And so, for better or for worse, I have a new book. Because that is what I do.

Not Quite Lost – Travels Without A Sense of Direction will be available on preorder soon -watch this space.

Still time to grab this bargain! You have until the end of July to grab a special offer on Nail Your Novel – Amazon have chosen it for a Book Of The Month deal, so the Kindle edition is just USD$1.99.

Bargain! again! – Last chance to read my novels FREE and choose from hundreds more titles on subscription service Bookmate – exclusive code at this link.

23 thoughts on “On publishing another book when there are already so many

  1. Ah, yes, you know full well how your words echo my thoughts at the moment! The grind, the slog, the act of sometimes almost unbearable endurance, leaving me feeling like a poor swimmer who made the stupid decision to leap in the sea at Dover and do the breast stroke all the way to Calais, fully clothed.

    And then yes, say I make it to the other side – will anybody care? I have the small hope that because my efforts are directed at a niche (a vanishingly small niche by some standards), they might at least notice me flop onto the beach at the other end, gasping for breath and swearing “Never, never again! Quoi? Vous demandez mon passeport? Are you saying I have no right to be here and must prove who I am – again?”

    I hope it goes well for you, Roz. With faith, hope, hard work and the help of your friends, it will.

  2. Having just spent the last six months wrestling with graphics instead of the written word, I suspect I like the creative /process/ in any form. But like you, I’m slow, and as I near the moment when I’ll actually hold one of my books in my hands, physically, I too wonder if adding more fiction to what’s already out there is worth it. It is for me, but I admit my need is selfish. But we do what we do, right?
    Congratulations on coming out the other end of the process again. I’m looking forward to being lost. 😀

  3. You’ve nailed some of the difficulties for a writer – the process can be a struggle that no one else knows or cares about. Finishing the project is great – but then you want to get it published. Birthing the book can be trying as well as wonderful. As a friend once said of a book launch ‘it’s like a wedding, except you did something to deserve it’. Weddings can be stressful though. I’m also looking forward to being lost in the process again. Good luck with yours!

    1. Hi Maria! It’s funny that you compared it to a wedding. I went to a launch a few weeks ago and thought exactly that. For all the people involved, it’s a big, joyous whoop of relief, a bookend for a big journey. Then we have to hope the rest of the world will take a bit of notice.
      Thanks for the good wishes – right back at you for yours.

  4. Your last line summed it up for me. I continue to publish books because that is what I do.

    I no longer worry (much) about how quickly I release new titles because I’ve tried to tackle the speed problem and managed little other than stressing myself out. I don’t write because “I must” or because I expect my stories to earn a living for me. I write because I enjoy writing.

    That said, there’s nothing like the anticipation of releasing a new book and the excitement of seeing it for sale. Today, after months of revision, I start the final read-aloud proof of my sixth novel. It’s an exciting moment because after that, it goes to formatting and then into the world. It should be in readers’ hands by the end of August at the latest.

    The truth, however, is as you say. I release new books mostly for me. I have a few fans, and my books do fairly well upon release, but I can’t seem to muster much enthusiasm for marketing, so my work eventually fades into the rankings dungeon. As Napoleon said, “Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.”

    I believe patience and enthusiasm for writing are cyclical and somewhat symbiotic with how the market reacts to our work. I have hope that I’ll eventually publish a book that boosts the enthusiasm of both my readers and myself. In the meantime, I’ll struggle through my current fatalistic quandary, which is in no small part due to the horrors of current events.

  5. After all that navel gazing, I forgot to wish you congratulations and the best of luck with your new book. It doesn’t matter if it is a speck in a sea of plankton. It represents your unique viewpoint, and that alone makes it every bit as worthy as the rest of the specks. For some readers, yours will be the best travel tales book they’ve ever read.

  6. Good on you for keeping at it Roz. I have finally actually decided not to write anymore books, and frankly, at this point in my life it is a relief. Although my books have sold enough to cover my costs, that’s all. I expect that’s quite good in comparison to many, but I no longer wish to spend all that time agonising over getting a book to my standard when the interest in them is not sufficient for it to be worth my while. The market for my kind of fiction is quite small. And then there’s the marketing, which despite studying it, I do not do easily or particularly well, and I can’t afford to pay someone to do it for me. When I think of writing again, the thought of marketing it is the thing that puts me off most.

    Anyway, I’m glad I’ll have another book from you to read, and a travel book should have a big market, so I hope it sells well for you.

    1. Tahlia, that’s the first time I’ve seen anyone publicly declare they’re stopping. Your reasons make enormous sense, unfortunately. The marketing is quite gruelling. You were one of the first indies I met, so it seems a shame to hear that. But I’m very glad you haven’t given up reading!

  7. Hi Roz! I think an element may be selfish, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s also good to keep in mind that nobody can tell your individual, specific story. You could write a story about a short guy who finds the One ring and takes it to a fiery mountain to destroy it, and it’ll still be a quite unique story because you wrote it with your own flavor.

  8. You mentioned why you keep writing. I can’t speak for you but I can speak for myself. I think we writers tend to be a bit narcissistic. For example, I know that what I have to say may not be all the different than what others have said before, but I have a voice and I want people to read it.

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