My first experience of writing for publication was in 1987, when my form tutor, and 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 BBC Acorn machines, connected up in a daisy-chain configuration. 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 (I don’t remember the question we were asking students on campus, but the headline came out I Want to be a Tree) and get our names in print. Then the rag’s editors offended people by suggesting a fictional character (I think it was Michelle in EastEnders) would make a better candidate for an honorary degree than Terry Waite, and 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 spend most of our time trying to cajole staff members into writing something for us. The rest we spend arguing with the higher-ups about the things they forced us to print, and how they wouldn’t print prisoners’ opinion letters unedited.
Around that time, I started submitting poetry to anthologies, and had a few printed, including a collection in Silk Tipped Wings, under my married name (Gail Vernon.)
But then I was pensioned off due to a chronic illness that 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.
Somehow, instead of landing in journalism or a serious writing career, I ended up designing websites for local small businesses, writing resumes, product descriptions, and other advertising materials. It wasn’t until 2009, when I first participated in NaNoWriMo and completed Moroaica, that I got back into ‘real’ writing again.
I have participated in NaNo every year since, with a 4:2 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, and 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, but within a few months, I was earning a few hundred dollars a month, mainly due to writing for back-end clients on Helium.
Eventually, I progressed to writing articles as Fiverr gigs, then started ghostwriting longer pieces, and finally books. Although 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 been running the WritePublishPromote.com website for indie authors, and 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 betareading was a wrench, but 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, having decided on self-publishing rather than the traditional route, I set about learning the ins and outs of book design. I naively thought it would be a simple matter of adding page numbers, running heads and Chapter headings, and Word would do the rest. I was soon disabused of that notion. I discovered the vagaries of runts, rivers, and ladders, of uneven footlines, widows, and orphans. I learned about LaTex, and quickly 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 eventually I got Moroaica out, and I was proud of it. Of course, looking at it now, it’s hideous. I may have learned a lot more about typography and book design in those months than most people will ever want to know, but 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 also discovered that while I preferred working in InDesign, (which has better text management features that allow a greater degree of control over the finished product) it is possible to create a professional standard print book in Word if you have patience.
The other thing I learned, and the reason I stopped working with the publisher (who quickly veered towards author services and not traditional publishing) was that it’s never a good idea to start work on the book design and layout while the author is still allowed to edit the text.
It’s a lesson I have to relearn occasionally, and one reason I am considering switching to InDesign for all formatting and book design work. Sometimes, you just have to draw the line, and accept that done is better than perfect.
So that’s how I ended up as an author, freelance writer, editor, and book designer.