What Writing a Novel Taught Me About Life and Being an Indie Author

Brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want things. – Randy Pausch, the Last Lecture.

A terrific quote that pretty much sums up writing my debut novel, Ten Days In Paradise, which I started many years ago on a trip to Sanibel Island. More or less on a dare to myself. You see I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could not write fiction, I wasn’t smart enough or talented enough and I lacked the creativity to describe the sunset in sixteen different ways using colors that nobody has ever heard of.

I love the island, and it wasn’t until Day Four when I finally willed myself away from the irresistible pull of the ocean to go inside and open the equivalent of a ‘writing fiction for dummies’ book. Though I’d been a writer for years – first in journalism and then in PR – I was convinced this was an exercise in futility. Too many unlimited possibilities, too many pages to fill. My talent, my spécialité, was the one- or two-page news release, for which I was the Queen of the Realm.

Yet the challenge taunted me. So on that day, sitting at the dining room table of a rented condo, much to my amazement, a mere three hours later, I had completed an exercise from the “how to” book and had, in fact, written several pages of fiction. I had characters, dialogue and a beautiful setting. Little did I know that afternoon I had written the opening chapter of my novel. Little did I know that I would spend hundreds if not thousands of hours over the next decade seeing it to completion.

Some reflections on the lessons from this journey:

Life happens in the small moments, pay attention. I never even thought about writing a novel until well after my fortieth birthday. I grew up wanting to be Lois Lane (for those of you who remember Superman), not an author. But about fifteen years ago, someone asked me a fairly innocuous question that literally changed the direction of my life. “Have you read any good books lately?” At the time, all I read were news magazines. But the question haunted me; after all I’d spent my childhood devouring Nancy Drew. So I went to the library, started reading fiction again and haven’t stopped since.

Follow the dream in your heart even when you don’t know where it’s taking you. If I had invested the time I put into writing and publishing this book, I probably could have 1. Started a small business; 2. Finished a doctorate; 3. Raised another child. But for some unknown reason, once I started this project I just kept going … as if some unseen hand were moving me forward. Unlike many authors, I never thought I had this amazing story to share with the world; I just wanted to finish what I’d started. There were periods of time when I didn’t work on it for months, but then I got back to it, again and again and again.

Challenges and brick walls keep us vibrant and alive. I learned about writing, editing and how a cover can make or break a book. I took classes on Adobe InDesign and Photoshop, and devoured everything I could find on indie publishing.  I learned that when things in my life weren’t going well I could get lost in this project, plotting chapter after chapter, editing and revising, trying to get it right. I learned about the thrill of doing research and finding some little detail that enlivened a character or scene or gave my words greater authority and credibility. I learned that your first bad feedback can be brutal and when you find a champion for your book – someone who encourages you well beyond what you’d ever expect – you thank good Lord for sending them.

In December 2014, after years of tedious work, overcoming fears of rejection and months of delay because my “day job” always got in the way, I clicked through the sales channels that would create the Amazon page, and voila, three days later there it was. The idea that I had the power to tap into a powerful global platform like Amazon as an indie author was exhilarating. At that moment, it didn’t matter whether my novel sold or not, or what people were going to say about it.  What mattered was that I wrote and published a book. I felt so proud of myself for an accomplishment that was well beyond my comfort zone and certainly beyond anything I had ever imagined doing.

Thank goodness I didn’t let fear kill this life-changing opportunity for personal growth and, much to my surprise, success.  Since I published, I’ve sold several thousand print books on Amazon and in book shops and ebooks through Kindle Direct Publishing. Many readers have left great reviews, and others have personally reached out to tell me how much they loved my novel (oh my gosh if there were more than one reader who did this I would have been happy : ) I’m writing the sequel to Ten Days In Paradise and very excited about publishing it because I’ve learned so much about writing, publishing and promotion.

The key takeaway is this: when that little voice in your head tells you that you can’t do something, don’t listen. Each and every one of us is capable of so much more than we can imagine. Advice to would-be writers: Go for it, and enjoy the journey.  There’s never been a better time to be an indie author!

Linda Abbott is the author of Ten Days In Paradise.

Upcoming author events on Sanibel Jan. 19 and Jan. 21

woman in chairSo excited to have the opportunity to talk about my Sanibel-inspired novel, Ten Days In Paradise, at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 19, at the Sanibel Public Library, 770 Dunlop Road.  The event is part of the library’s Meet the Author series.

I’ll also be talking to readers and signing books from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, at the Sanibel Island Bookshop, 1571 Periwinkle Way.

Ten Days In Paradise is a compelling and heartfelt novel about marriage and family relationships.  The story unfolds as the Blakemore family arrives on Sanibel to celebrate their parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.  Tensions are running high.  Judy is worried about her husband’s strange behavior and inexplicable memory lapses.  Her daughters haven’t spoken for months.  Judy’s son David is ambushed by a powerful attraction to another woman, and forced to confront the fault lines in his own marriage that lead to a stunning revelation.

During my library presentation, I’ll read a few excerpts and share my unconventional author’s journey.  As a late bloomer to fiction, I also hope to inspire people follow their dreams.

Yes, life is full of surprises . . . If someone would have told me that I would have published my debut novel well into my fifties I would have never believed them.  Many people my age are retiring.  But without question, this has been one of the most rewarding – and most terrifying – experiences of my life.

You name it I was afraid of it: failure, bad reviews, not selling any books, the list goes on.  I’ll never forget the day I published on Amazon, my hand hovered over the mouse for ten minutes.  I knew it would change my life and it did.

Since then, I’ve sold more books and ebooks than I ever thought possible, garnered 100+ Amazon reviews and amassed a huge Twitter following, including hundreds of authors and readers.  (And this from a die hard social media phobe prior to publishing!)

Fear is a dream killer.  To think that I came very close to missing out on a wonderful opportunity for personal growth and success because of fear … That’s why I’m always excited to have an opportunity to share my story with others.  There is a post-it on my desk with this quote:  “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”  It is my mantra.  We are all capable of so much more than we can imagine.

Sanibel is such a special place for me.  Yet when I was writing Ten Days I never realized how much readers would connect with the Sanibel Island setting.  One reviewer wrote that “the lush locale was a character in itself.”  Another wrote, “I could actually imagine myself in that glorious setting.”  And one Amazon reviewer said, “I love the way the book immerses me in nature; the island is so lush and the portrait so vivid it’s physical.”  I am so grateful these readers took the time to share their thoughts.

Soon I’ll be there for a glorious two weeks.  And whether I’m walking on the beach or riding my bike through the lush greenery, Sanibel never fails to renew my spirits and belief in all that is possible.  And my novel is proof of that.

Dare to dream, and never look back!

 

 

 

Six Tips for Your Best Thanksgiving Ever

I love Thanksgiving. Getting together with family, enjoying a feast of turkey and fixings and taking time to express gratitude. And the best part, no gifts to worry about. For me, Thanksgiving is all about food, family and celebration, so the pressure is off.

But some people find that the holidays are stressful or never quite live up to expectations. Family gatherings can bring long-simmering tensions to the surface, and instead of Norman Rockwell you get Norman Lear (All in the Family for those of us old enough to remember). So here are a few ideas for your best Thanksgiving ever:

Relax: Focus on what’s important, not the sweet potatoes. Don’t sweat the small stuff. No one cares if the gravy isn’t at chef-grade viscosity. One of my favorite holiday memoriesone my family still gets a chuckle out ofis the year I was helping my mom make the gravy, and instead of adding corn starch as directed I added baking soda. Voila, a volcano-like eruption overflowed on the stove and all over the countertop and I was banned from gravy patrol for a year.

Pitch in: Wherever you are, help out your hosts. Preparing a Thanksgiving dinner is a big undertaking, especially for larger families. Be attuned to the needs of your hosts, especially right before and after the meal. Pitch in with the cleanup; the sooner you get done the sooner the pumpkin pies come out. Offer to bring something to contribute to the feast.

Engage: Get beyond the superficial and truly take an interest in people’s lives. One of things I love about the holidays is that it’s a chance to talk to people in person. My family is more than three hours away, so these are great opportunities to reconnect. If you have elderly family members, go out of your way to talk to them. A lot of older people have trouble hearing, or have difficulty talking in a room crowded with people and children. Take them to a quieter room and talk to them … you will be surprised what you can learn.

Share stories: I’m an evangelist for storytelling in families. Our stories are the bonds that hold us together and a gift to our loved ones. But all too often we fall into the trap of “we’ll do that next year” and it never happens. Family holidays are a great time to interview elderly family members. Take a digital recorder, shoot some video or just take notes. This is a golden opportunity to learn more about your grandparents and loved ones. Don’t miss it, they won’t be around forever.

Find coping strategies: Okay, so your family isn’t the Brady Bunch. If there are people who just get on your nerves, you might want to try playing Dysfunctional Family Bingo. Create a blank Bingo card of what really drives you crazy: for example Aunt Alice asking you for the 100th time “when are you going to get married?” or Uncle Hal passing out on the sofa and snoring loudly after too many spiked eggnogs. When the dreaded remarks or events materialize, mark it off on your Bingo card. It’s best to play this with a trusted partner. The things that annoy you will now make you laugh.

Be thankful: I’ve saved the most important for last. Think about the blessings in your life. The ones you take for granted like waking up every morning and being able to see. Your loved ones, your health, your home. The work you do. Your faith. I believe a spirit of gratitude is the most important thing we can possess in our lives.

Author Melody Beattie sums it up beautifully: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Five great sites to find free and bargain eBooks

Okay, so I’m new to this game. Debut author, trying to get noticed. Alongside the other 3,500 people who publish books every day (and that does not include eBooks, source: Bowker 2012).