My first experience of writing for publication was in 1987. My form tutor, also the head of English, decided we needed a school magazine. I was among the half-dozen or so kids who found ourselves editors.
My abiding memory of the time is the daisy-chained BBC Acorn machines. The first time I touched one, it shorted, and the entire network went down. Work was lost. Words were exchanged. I survived to edit the magazine for a year before handing it off to younger students to focus on my ‘A’ Levels.
At uni, a housemate and I joined the Hull Free Press, an alternative student rag. We managed to scramble together a vox pop piece and get our names in print. I don’t remember the question we were asking students on campus, but the headline came out I Want to be a Tree. Then the editors suggested a fictional character deserved an honorary degree. Rather than Terry Waite. We parted company with them.
Fast forward a few years. I was working in a prison library, running the prison magazine with the other librarian. We spent most of our time trying to cajole staff members into writing something for us. The rest we spent arguing with the higher-ups about the things they forced us to print. And that they wouldn’t print prisoners’ opinion letters unedited.
Around that time, I started submitting poetry to anthologies. I had a few published, including a collection in Silk Tipped Wings, under my married name (Gail Vernon.)
But then I was pensioned off due to a chronic illness. It left me with no noise filters and a lousy sense of balance, vertigo, and tinnitus. As debilitating illnesses go, it’s far from the worst thing to deal with, but there’s a clue in the debilitating part.
I ended up designing websites, writing resumes, product descriptions, and other advertising materials. It wasn’t until 2009 that I got back into ‘real’ writing again. That was my first NaNoWriMo year. I completed Moroaica.
I have participated in NaNo every year since, with a 5:3 win track record so far. But it took me until April 2011 to get Moroaica out in print, and the only other one to make it so far is Decontamination.
In May 2009, I walked out on my life and started again. Still with major health issues. Living in a city where the only person I knew was my new partner, I knew I was unemployable in the traditional sense. So, I set about building myself a job.
I started writing for content mills. Selling 500-word plus articles for a couple of dollars apiece. And sharing in advertising revenues on sites like Helium and Triond. It was a tough apprenticeship. Within a few months, I was earning a few hundred dollars a month. Mainly due to writing for back-end clients on Helium.
I progressed to writing articles as Fiverr gigs. Then ghostwriting longer pieces, and finally books. I can’t tell you the titles, due to the nature of ghostwriting agreements. I can tell you I’ve written as many books for other people as I have published under my various pseudonyms.
Having abandoned Fiverr and writing for lousy pay back in July 2013, in February 2015, I returned to the site. Not as a writer, but as an editor. In the interim, I’d run the WritePublishPromote.com website for indie authors. I also started the Facebook group Authors’ Launch Pad. As a result of those two, I had taken on a lot of beta-reading, editing, and writing coaching work I hadn’t charged for.
Making the switch to paid beta-reading was a wrench. I have been lucky to find several good clients who work with me regularly. I soon learned that paying clients are far more likely to listen to advice, and act on it. It wasn’t long before I made the move into paid editing and coaching, too.
Back in 2011, I decided on self-publishing rather than the traditional route. I set about learning the ins and outs of book design. I thought it would be a simple matter of adding page numbers, running heads and chapter headings. Word would do the rest. I was soon disabused of that notion. I discovered the vagaries of runts, rivers, and ladders. Uneven footlines, widows, and orphans became a thing I had to deal with. I learned about LaTex, and abandoned it.
I also learned the difference between publishing for print, and for eReaders. And that each had its own quirks and issues. It took months, but I got Moroaica out, and I was proud of it. Of course, looking at it now, it’s hideous. I had learned a lot more about typography and book design in those months than most people will ever want to know. Yet I still had a lot to learn.
I learned it in 2011/12, working with a small new York publisher on internal book layouts. I preferred working in InDesign to Word. It has better text-management features that allow greater control over the finished product. But I learned it is possible to create a professional standard print book in Word – if you have patience.
The other thing I learned, was it’s not a good idea to start on the book design and layout before the author is done editing.
It’s a lesson I have to relearn occasionally. And one reason I am may switch to InDesign for all formatting and book design work. Sometimes, you have to draw the line, and accept that done is better than perfect.
In 2017, Moroaica got a facelift, a thorough edit, and a new title. As Breed: Slayer it’s sold more in the first couple of months than it did in 6 years. I’m currently working on Breed: Sleeper, Book 2 in the series. That should be available by the end of August 2017.
So that’s how I ended up as an author, freelance writer, editor, and book designer.