This month’s guest blogger introduces a genre long dear to my heart: horror. A first time author, self-published, this writer wrote, edited, formatted, designed, created, produced his entire book while emerging from a popular reading niche – a risky move for a fresh new novelist. His book not only crossed into gothic horror, but also – gasp – dared to propose a sequel to Bram Stoker’s beloved classic, Dracula. Moreover, not only did he dare such an ambitious writing challenge, he succeeded! Praise has flourished, and this author is now preparing his second novel. I’ve never met him in person, but his love of all things vampire obviously attracted me to his Twitter feed. I pressed him with cheaper prices (and in return I broke down and got an e-reader app), downloaded his eBook when he offered it free, and became a fan. I’ve invited him to speak about his self-publishing journey and what he learned that might help you achieve success. With pleasure, I present Xander Buchan, noted author of Dracula Rekindled.
Please add your comments after the post and feel free to ask questions! Xander will respond to everyone who posts and will return live for the next two weeks.
Why I Self-Published and Lessons Learned
I am not a big reader, nor am I a vampire fanatic, yet I’ve always had a soft spot for Dracula, the Gothic horror unleashed upon the world in 1897 by Bram Stoker. During my 2010 reread, I grew restless as the story approached its climax. The chase gathers pace, the undead villain races back to his castle in Transylvania, the company split in two in order to increase their chances of foiling him. They corner the Count, the box opens, the monster awakens and…..and is immediately defeated with a knife to the throat and another to the heart. Death came not by a wooden stake, and decapitation, the method described, by Van Helsing earlier in the book, as the correct method. And that was it: Chapter 27, “the End.”
As a reader I was not only sad that the thoroughly enjoyable story had come to an end, but also felt distinctly dissatisfied with the outcome; surely the story was meant “To be continued”, I thought. Did Stoker forget the vampire-killing ritual by the time he got to chapter 27? Or did he mean to suggest that the knives did the trick? We’ll never know because, of course, Bram Stoker never did write a sequel. Neither is there any tangible evidence that he ever planned to do so.
My dissatisfaction was in no way a criticism of Stoker’s work, but entirely rooted in my love of the story, and my desire to keep reading about how the Count wasn’t defeated, at least not permanently. Aware that the works had been in the public domain for many years, I presumed that there must be numerous attempts at sequels. Yet some research revealed that despite a biblical-sized flood of vampire fiction, much of it off the back of Dracula, very few sequels were attempted.
Sure, there are successful retellings, re-imaginings, modernizations, and complimentary stories but virtually no sequels written faithfully to the original, bearing the same style and mood. Then I came across the Official Dracula sequel, published in 2009 by Bram’s great grandnephew Dacre Stoker. Wow – I was just about to part with my cash until I read the book’s collection of mixed reviews.
People seemed to either love it or hate it – there was little middle ground. The consensus seemed to be that people who had read and enjoyed the original hated it, whilst those who hadn’t enjoyed the original loved it. Renowned Dracula scholar Leslie Klinger described it as a “fine book,” but not one that could be classed a sequel to the original, having altered so much of the story line. I didn’t checkout my purchase, and still haven’t read Dacre’s book. Nor have I read the other “must-read” Dracula books by Kim Newman, Elizabeth Kostova, CC Humphreys, or Karen Essex to name a few –although all of the above are firmly on my “to read” list.
So, why haven’t I read them? Well I went a little crazy and decided I’d have a go at writing one instead. I needed to ensure the ideas were either my own, or influenced entirely by the original story. Dracula Rekindled was self-published six months ago, and seems to be pleasing its target market i.e. readers who enjoyed the original. I’m currently writing the follow up. My decision is particularly bizarre because I have no previous writing credentials, didn’t study Literature at University, nor did I have a burning desire to write anything before now. Yet, I had an unquenchable desire to write this book. My fuel was my love of the story and my desire to see a good sequel. Plus I assessed there was a definite gap within the saturated vampire fiction genre for a genuine Dracula sequel.
The process took two years from the beginnings of an idea. If I’d known how tough writing and publishing would be, I don’t think I’d have attempted it. Ultimately, I researched and learned the “how to’s.” Now I find the writing process much smoother. I’m still a newbie at writing, but I learned some key things and would like to share them with other potential novelists.
· As best as you can, plan out your story – the beginning, middle, and end. Let your plan evolve as you write – as new ideas appear, work them into the plan and gradually build it up.
· What characters do you need? You don’t want to bombard the readers with an army of detailed characters that they need to remember, nor do you want a 30-chapter conversation between two boring individuals. You’ll need a mix of major and minor characters and if they’re key characters then they must be interesting. Make who-they-are important and relevant to the story.
· Whether the storyline is simple or complex make it convincing – readers aren’t idiots, and want to read something that works as a story and engages their mind and imagination. I think this is true whatever your genre.
· Know your reader. If you are writing YA in Twilight-style for example, then you need to decide who the stereotypical fan is. So if you’re targeting a “moody teenager that wants easy thrills and hot guys and may not appreciate a literary masterpiece,” then write your story for that fan base. If you’re writing for a slash-and-gore fan then they want their action fast and intense, with a simple fail-safe plot. If you’re writing for a fan of Dracula, then you’ll need a more complex story that relies on suspense, creepy atmosphere, as well as gore. Of course – I am generalizing here – there’s no reason why a reader wouldn’t enjoy all three books. But do thoroughly understand your audience and your book’s genre.
· If you’re writing a series, then make sure the end of your books offer both closure and bait. It’s great to leave readers wanting and desperate to read Part 2, but it’s not fair to finish almost mid-sentence with no climax. If you can’t do that, consider writing a longer book or breaking into smaller ones.
· Have your book professionally edited. It will only improve the quality of your work.
· Drawing influence from other books in your genre is fine, but you don’t want to end up writing a book that disappears into an over-populated genre – give readers a reason to read YOUR story. But know enough about other books out there to show how your book differs.
If you plan to self-publish, don’t assume it is an easy process. Avoid taking shortcuts. Just because you could publish the book tomorrow, doesn’t mean you should. Not only do you have technical considerations with eBooks, and layout conundrums with paperback versions, but you must also consider the book cover. People won’t judge the quality of a book by the cover, but it certainly has a strong influence on their decision to buy it.
Readers’ buying decisions are heavily influenced by your marketing and PR efforts. You’ll need a real presence on social networks, a website, a blog, a strategy, and targeted advertising/marketing plan if you can afford it. If you have some nice reviews then share extracts that might entice potential readers. If you don’t have the time or skills to do these things on your own, be prepared to learn, or pay others for these services (and that can be very expensive).
While I continue to learn about self-publishing, I hope this will be helpful to would-be novelists pursing publishing avenues. Believe you can. The rewards are deeply satisfying. Let me know when your book comes out!. I fully support indie authors! Good luck!
Yours between the lines,