As fall 2022 rolled around, I sat down and started writing a science fiction novel. During November, National Novel Writing Month began and I challenged myself to make it as far as I could. I put in the extra hours and broke 50,000 words before the month ended. That momentum carried me, and I finally finished the first draft, ending at roughly 93,000 words, just before Christmas.
I learned so much during this experience. So, I figured why not share and explain the various tools I used to go from a rough draft manuscript to a full Kindle eBook.
The first tip I can give, and the biggest one that helped me finish my first draft, was writing an outline. I know some people like to write by the seat of their pants, but in the past, it only led to my stories falling apart. To make it to the end, I needed a guide. Starting with a bunch of world-building, I jotted down as many ideas and character concepts as possible, filling a Word document with notes. Lacing together a plot, I broke the story beats down into each chapter. Each chapter was further broken down into various component scenes. This granular organization kept me on track, consistent, and focused on the fun part: storytelling.
Editing is the most challenging and vital part of writing a novel. This was a hobby project, so I didn't hire an editor. I read extensively about self-editing; there are hundreds of articles, books, and videos on the web.
Through my studies, I picked up some nice tricks along the way. One big thing is to give the story a rest. Most conventional advice says to give your first draft a whole month's rest. I gave it a couple weeks while I worked on the outline of my next novel.
Distance from your first draft will help you catch things you didn't see before. When I was finally ready, I returned to my prose with a sharp axe. Chopping away 10,000 words made the story flow cleaner, honed my voice, and kept the language succinct. Feel free to remove things that distract from your story, even if you love them. "Kill your darlings," Stephen King once said in his book On Writing.
Grammarly is a popular writing assistant software. I ended up getting a subscription, and I'll admit, I wasn't disappointed at all. Grammarly caught so many more typos and mistakes than the built into Word editing tools. No algorithm will ever replace a real editor. Many times I disagreed with its suggestions and skipped them. But it did help me clarify many sentences and avoid using a passive voice.
There are bound to be minor typos and spelling mistakes in my published draft, but I am confident they are at a minimum, thanks to Grammarly.
Once I was satisfied with my draft, I experimented with making a cover for my book myself. It's something you could commission, but it was a fun challenge for me. I am confident in the design experience I received from working in web development, so I looked around at some similar books in the sci-fi genre and got inspiration. I bought the rights to a piece of art I liked and used the site Pixlr, a streamlined photo editor in the browser, to modify the image. It took less than an hour and turned out great.
To get my book on the Amazon Kindle store, I created an account on Kindle Direct Publishing. It's free and easy to get started. You can add your book easily to your Bookshelf. The entire process, along with tips, is well-documented in the site's help section. The UI and flows have an AWS feel, so I felt right at home.
Amazon gives you a few options when uploading your story. They accept .docx files if you don't want to mess around with .epub or .mobi formats. I wanted a more professional feel to my book, so I opted to make a .epub.
I found Reedsy, a handy web app. It allows you to upload your manuscript and generate a .ePub. The other huge benefit is the template system, allowing an author to add frontmatter, a table of contents, and backmatter. The entire UX on Reedsy is top-notch and intuitive. It took me a half hour in total.
To make sure my .epub looked good on different devices, I used a free software by Amazon called Kindle Previewer. It reminds me of an Android or iOS simulator. I've used those extensively during dev work to build and test React Native apps. With Previewer, you upload your .epub and can immediately preview it on the Kindle mobile app, tablets, and e-readers.
The general self-publishing process wasn't nearly as complicated as I thought. Have any of you published your own book on the Kindle store, and what was your experience like?
For those interested, my novel is called Phasematter. It's an action-packed sci-fi adventure.
Here's the description:
Fahon Drakk dreamed of joining the Argent Knights since childhood and claiming his family's Caster to become a Bonded. Upon doing so, he will wield the superpowers of Phasematter and become one of the most powerful warriors on the moon. A new era of peace secured by Fahon's grandfather and nurtured by his father has become threatened by a detractor who thinks conquest is the only way forward for humankind. Fahon is at a disadvantage with a childhood spent training to become a scholar. Now he must quickly learn to master his nascent abilities before entering the Knight's Tourney and getting swept into a murderous plot to overthrow his family.
Please check out the book if you're interested in reading it or supporting me. It's free to add to your library if you have Kindle Unlimited. Drop a review if you read it and like it (or even if you don't like it). I'm always looking for feedback to make me a better writer.