From Melokai story concept through to ‘on sale’ took me one year, four months. It was an intensive time, and in this post I will break down the different stages of planning, writing, production and marketing that led up to publication day on 10th October, 2017.
Putting pen to paper after I had my original idea happened pretty quick. In early 2016, I’d quit my job in Dubai to take a break to travel for a few months with the plan to move somewhere else in the world and was eyeing Singapore, Sydney or Hong Kong. I was trekking in Nepal’s stunning Annapurna Sanctuary and daydreamed about a country surrounded by mountains and ruled by women. The trek took eleven days up and down, hiking for up to seven hours per day, so I spent a lot of time thinking and a story formed.
After Nepal, I went to stay with a friend who lives in Muscat, Oman. She encouraged me to start, so I purchased an A3 pad of plain paper and some felt tip pens (which was the way I used to plan creative communications campaigns in my previous job), plotted out the story and what would be in each book. When I returned home from Oman a few days later, in June 2016, I bought myself a laptop, hunkered down, and started writing. So, it took a matter of weeks from first idea to first paragraph.
I’m definitely a planner and I made copious notes before I started to write, and then also during the writing process. I brainstormed the following, drawing big spider diagrams or jotting pages of random thoughts:
· Storyline of the trilogy, storyline of each book including beginning, middle and end of each
· Plot, subplots, ensuring conflict, increasing jeopardy, high stakes
· Characterisation including motivations, arcs, appearance, quirks, flaws, backstories, relationships with others etc
· Worldbuilding including geography, politics, culture, technology, rites/rituals, history – you can read more about my worldbuilding in this blog post
· Character and place names – see my article on Tattooed Book Geek which goes into more detail on this topic
· Chapters – overview of what happens in each, cutting out any unnecessary scenes
I also did lots of research before I started writing and during, including on wolves, troglobites, and how the Mongolians used to live. Read more about my research here.
Although the plot evolved whilst I was writing, I had a solid outline in place first. This helped me to write, knowing what end I was striving for. Many writers don’t plan and simply start writing and see where the story takes them – I’m certainly not one of those!
The first draft of Melokai, was written in under four months, then it went to my beta reader. I gave myself a deadline of finishing the first draft before I went on holiday to Ibiza in September 2016 and I wrote at least one chapter per day until it was done and then read through my work and rewrote, improved, spotted plot holes and fixed. At this point, I had no idea if what I had written was any good!
My beta reader, Becky, read my first draft super quickly whilst I was away raving on the white isle and gave me some incredibly valuable, and very encouraging feedback at the end of September. It then took me five weeks to edit based on her notes and the second draft went to two different beta readers, Jolly and Steph, in early November 2016.
Jolly and Steph came back with hugely insightful and inspiring feedback by early February 2017 and I set about tweaking my manuscript. In late April, I sent a third draft to a professional editor, who came back with his analysis one month later. Considering his feedback, I edited a fourth draft which went to my mum to proofread in early June, just before I went on holiday to Croatia. When I returned, in early July, I made the final amends and did two further read-throughs before I considered the manuscript finished in mid-July and ready to go into production.
Altogether, the writing phase took 12 months, with approximately 8.5 months of that time writing and editing. When the book was with my beta readers and editor, I kept myself busy by writing three novellas and six short stories as well as taking various free online training courses and reading articles and books on honing your craft.
The biggest change was in the character of Ramya. Originally, she was nasty, and did some rather cruel things. Becky, my first draft beta reader, told me that she was desperate to like Ramya but Ramya was a complete bitch and I realised that I wanted people to warm to her. So Ramya had a dramatic overhaul before draft two.
Otherwise, there were various small improvements made to plot, character, world, language and writing style following feedback, but fortunately – due to all my planning – there were no gaping plot holes to fix!
Opting to self-publish meant that I now needed to learn exactly how to turn my word document into an ebook and a paperback. Cue lots of research on formatting word with the correct Table of Contents and HTML to convert it into an ePub or Mobi file suitable for ereader devices. Also, how to typeset so that it could be printed as a paperback. I won’t lie – I found the formatting the most stressful part of this entire process! Trying to work out why your mobi file has an extra page inserted or why the italics all run together in Chapter 14 only, nearly prompted a 2007 Britney Spears style meltdown where I shaved my head and ran around smashing car windows with green umbrellas.
As well as formatting, I also needed to get a cover. This took much longer than I expected, mostly because I had a specific vision for my cover and the book cover designer very patiently made tweak after tweak until I was happy. First, I researched similar covers to my ideal and created a mood board on Pinterest, then I spent a long time looking at the covers of best sellers in my genre – epic fantasy – as well as looking at what I didn’t want. I assessed various book cover designers and options and went with Damonza. I was very pleased that I did, as I love the cover they produced.
Next, I needed a fantasy world map. I had a sketch of the world that I drew in the early days of writing to help me to visualise where everything was and I wanted that sketch turned into something that I could use professionally. I worked with a graphic designer called Ren Flower Graphx who was recommended on a Facebook self-published fantasy authors group. She was a delight to work with and created my map in colour, grayscale as well as black and white for different uses.
Once I had all these elements, I created my final ebook and paperback files and uploaded for sale to various retailers who readily accept self-published works, including Amazon.
The marketing started in October 2016, a full year before my on-sale date. First, I set up my author social media channels on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest as well as updating my LinkedIn profile. I knew that many of my friends wanted to follow my author journey and my first followers were all friends! However, organically, my following grew and on launch day I had a combined social media channel following of 3000+ people. I’ve met some awesome people via social media, and I love the online fantasy community.
My website went live in March 2017, six months before my on-sale date. I started to build an email mailing list by giving away my short story Peonhood and then my novella The Fall of Vaasar. Both are set in the same world as Melokai and so acted as great teasers. (You can sign up to my mailing list to get both free here). By the time of launch, I had 800+ on my mailing list. I also started blogging and writing regular book reviews to continually drive traffic to my site.
I already had a Goodreads profile as a reader, and I changed this to an author profile in August, when I added my novel Melokai. I also set up profiles on writing websites Wattpad, RoyalRoadLegends and Sweek where I posted a chapter from my novella The Fall of Vaasar each week.
Researching relevant book bloggers who 1) take fantasy 2) take ebooks 3) take self-published authors took a long time. I approached them to review an advance reader copy of Melokai two months before my publication date and had some great early reviews on Dwelling on Fantasy and KayteReads, plus a few closer to the launch date, for example on Books Of All Kinds. I asked my friends, mailing list and Amazon reviewers if they would consider reading and reviewing my ARC so that I would have reviews ready to be posted on Amazon during my launch week.
For the launch, I also ran Facebook and Amazon ads, promotions on numerous book websites and newsletters as well as set up giveaways on Goodreads, LibraryThing and Booklikes. I wrote lots of content for my blog (including this post) and for other bloggers and websites, such as Tattooed Book Geek, Fringe Frequency and SFFWorld.com.
So, there you have it, a brief overview of the making of Melokai. I’m happy to go into more detail on any of the above in further articles, please leave me a comment on this post if there’s anything you’re interested to hear more on :)
Click here for your free ebook of my fantasy novella THE FALL OF VAASAR.
Click here for my Book Review Policy.
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