It is officially the first anniversary of the publication of my first book, The Thousand Scars. It’s been. . .an odd year I think. It’s had its up and downs. So I feel I want to take a trip down memory lane and talk a bit about my journey. From the first ideas in my head, through to Counterbalance’s early development, to The Thousand Scar’s publication and my future plans. It’s going to be wild.
Let me take you back to the beginning.
What started it all
As I write this on a cold Sunday morning, I’m 28 years of age and for most of my life have loved reading and writing fiction; it’s a great feeling being able to craft your own world and tales with a stroke of a finger on the keyboard or a pen. Back when I was maybe 10 or 11, I was creating a fantasy world around which eventually became the crux of the novel I am writing. I also wrote a story called Attack of the Silver Serpent, which I found in my room while I was tidying it. Here is a picture down below of the monstrosity.
Michael…that is a green serpent. I cringe reading it now, but it was a fun little thing I wrote when I was ten.
The fantasy world I’ve built took a very long time before it took shape, “borrowing” writing books in my English class to type up the battles and lore. Unfortunately, it seems I have misplaced a lot of this, but I hope that some of it will be salvaged! Think Time Commanders with loads of information about the armies and battles. Most of it was not brought forward into my fantasy world of today, but some elements remain. Turns out you cant build an entire world on just the military.
I graduated in 2011 with a degree in History, and quickly ran into the “I’ve graduated. What the hell do I do now?” dilemma. I admit, I took my degree out of interest rather than a business plan, but I never. . .really planned on my future. I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. I always followed my gut instinct on doing things I wanted to do, rather than conform to a life of work and death. Of course, work is vital, but humans should enjoy their life, not just spent the entirety of it training to work to pay bills then fade. I never wanted that.
Next came the slew of health problems. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is messy and really took it out of me during the 2011-12 period, and barely a day went by where I wasn’t in agony from stomach pains. Coupled with a very difficult year in 2012 with problems at home and my continued struggle in finding a job culminated in a nasty bout of depression, which I am not afraid to hide. It was a hellish year, but thankfully I was able to get help.
Dealing with the diagnosis…was not easy. I felt I was letting everyone down, and I had to deal with a few unhelpful people who tried the “people have it worse than you” card. *Slow Claps*. Well, no shit.
It was proving to be a strenuous and hard period in my life. In this mess and while I was starting to recover from the dark period, I watched the first season of Game of Thrones, and frankly it blew my mind. (Unfortunately, the series really dropped in quality. I’ll save my rants on the mindfuck of later seasons for another time).
With the help of useful friends, I secured the first copy of A Song of Ice and Fire and begun reading. Reading George. R.R. Martin’s work changed me for the better. Furthermore, it got me thinking of my fantasy world and wondered if I could make it a reality. By this point, I had not touched the world in nearly a decade, but I had already had some experience with writing long fiction, but that was mainly fan-fiction. (Very poorly made fanfiction, I might add, but it was popular at least) In the middle of another failed rewrite of it, I realised I could use that knowledge and lessons learnt to work on my own novel.
I thought: “If people could do it, I can too!” And I began my journey then. Call it a rebirth, but it was the start of a long, enjoyable and frustrating journey.
So. In October 2012, I decided to give novel writing a go. George R.R Martin and his bloody Westeros really got me wanting to write something. I had a world of sorts I wanted to further enhance, and some elements from my fanfiction I liked the idea of. (That was a 200k torrent of bullcrap, but at least some parts of it got revived into this world.) It took me six months to work out some kind of storyline, and some kind of world. The fantasy world I had made from my teenage years was still viable but would need a complete rebuild to be even close to ready. I had learned an awful lot.
I will not lie in that this was a gigantic undertaking. It has gone through many different forms. I originally was going to write a massive epoch exploring the politics (using Game of Thrones as heavy influence) on all the manners of Harloph (The birthplace of my fantasy world, and the hub of this series) before the Great War which develops between the Bale Empire and the United conglomerations of the Selpvian Dominion.
This was the early idea before I realized in late 2013 that it was way too ambitious. For my first novel, and when I had no clue what I was getting myself into, this was out of my league. I got about 30,000, maybe 40,000 words in before I hit the wall, so I decided instead to scrap all of that for Counterbalance, and decided to focus solely on the final year of the threatened Great War, which leads into the Counterbalance series for real. It is cool seeing all my notes and watching how it all evolved, however.
(Disclaimer. I’m aware I’m still probably out of my depth. My very first book is now a six-book planned series. Whoops!)
The Abandoned Storylines
So, I really bit off more than I could chew on the original plot. A massive combination of politics, archaeology and civil war might have worked for a more experienced writer, but for my first go? A tad too ambitious. I recognized this and decided to reign it in just a little bit. Here was the overall gist of Alpha Counterbalance, as I now like to call it:
- The gradual immersion of the scholar/archeology school in the city of Valare, which eventually links into the Counterbalance storyline. It was going to use a lot of ideas that were taken into the new (published) version and also go into Valare’s history and detail a bit more. Tyrone Cessil and Tyir the necromancer were created around this point.
- The Kahal Civil War in which a fierce rebellion against the Pharos Order is underway, with three POV’s in an intersecting account of the war itself. This ended up being placed in the background.
- The Empire and its politics, culminating in Lance Ironheart’s manipulation of the Empire to fight a war it cannot win.
Yes, one of my major protagonists in the real Counterbalance series was originally going to be a villain. Some elements of this were taken and refined, but I had to scrap it in the end. It just felt too complex, you know?
Now, here is my main piece of advice: KEEP ALL OF YOUR WORK! No matter how bad it may be, keep your work! I have never deleted a single word of my writing throughout my 4-year long adventure, and for how many years I have left, I will not delete anything. Save it. Put it aside. You’ll never know how useful it may be for later!
And this is exactly what I did. The first version of Counterbalance was shelved, but all of it was kept in separate folders. I have already planned on writing a novella based on one of the key plot arcs from that alternate timeline because it happens in the lore around 20 years before the events in Counterbalance. It explores the Kahal civil war and the rebellion of the Kahal tribes against the might of the fanatical Pharos Order. It was meant to have two POV’s on either side of the war, and alternate through the storyline as it went. While this won’t happen in the new Counterbalance, it is still an important part of history and lore, and it shapes tons of the characters even into this day.
Then I went through two years of writing the new and improved Counterbalance. Originally just one whole book (A stupid idea since I was around 140k in, with no end in sight) I was getting there, but the work was awful. I freely admit that! I still have the June 2015 version of Counterbalance before my huge overhaul, and it is a load of bollocks. Just look at this bit:
Hardenne looked about himself nervously, as he waited at the foot of the stone steps; shivering. There was an ominous chill, and he didn’t like it. He felt something brush against his ankle and he started, his hand reaching for the sword by his side, but he found the tail of a rat slip past, and felt his face reddened with embarrassment. Coward, he berated himself, half amused and half annoyed with himself. What was making him so jumpy? He never liked the shadows, even as a child. When he was twelve years old, he and his siblings used to explore the caves and rooks of Bawsor, stepping into the deep underground tombs of the capital. He always hated it, found the catacombs terrifying. They laughed at him for that. He looked up above his head at the midnight sky, a beautiful, cloudless night, but he could feel the bite of the cold even through his woolskin tunic. Hurry up Aldmer, he thought irritably. Why did he want the council to meet in here of all places? He was an elite member of the high council, not a gutter rat.
Abandoned POV, 2015.
Really. What the fuck was that? First draft, but it was pretty appalling. Right up until June 2015, I was making slow progress, but I really did not have a clue. During my parent’s holiday away during the summer of 2015, and while my girlfriend was staying with me (I usually stay home during their little jaunts.)
Then everything changed.
Slow but Steady
So, 2015. Counterbalance was still going. Slowly, but it was getting there. Or so I thought. I look back and laugh now at how naive I was at the time, because it was barely worth a first draft, let alone be anywhere near publication – worthy. It was bad. On a level of Ride to Hell: Retribution bad. Yes, I went there. I still have that 2015 version. I might even show it in future.
So, it was June 2015, and my girlfriend Vicky was staying over at mine for the week while the old ones (the mum and dad) were on holiday. It was an ordinary day, and I came across a post on a random Facebook writing group I was on from a certain Michael Kobernus (of Nordland Publishing). A small writing press, very small. As I say, this was completely out of the blue meeting. He was wanting to know about people’s writing, because of a lot of Facebook groups just have people spamming their book links. I posted regarding my book being 140k and “no end in sight.” I hadn’t a fucking clue what I was doing.
Naturally, he was intrigued and we connected on messenger, where he told me a bit about himself, Nordland and wanted to know more about my writing. Finally, someone else can rip apart my stuff and give me the kick I needed to improve! Poor Vicky spent three hours downstairs on her own while I went on Skype with Michael. She is amazing, she is. (She knows where I live. I must be nice.)
Strictly put. I had a lot to work on. And I mean a lot. My chapters were terrible, the opening had about 6,000 words of nothing before anything started. I barely had any meat on the bones throughout the “book”. Remember, it was barely half done. I had so much to do. Michael kindly but firmly advised I make it a series, split it and strip it all down from the beginning. It was exactly what I needed and wanted to hear, and the long journey began from there.
The Rocket into the Limelight
I took advice and split the novel from one book into three. It involved stripping the whole book and rewriting pretty much everything. It was the hardest lesson, but I cannot enjoy it more. The book turned from something which was a fragmented mess, into a (still in my eyes) fragmented mess, but one which is far superior to what it was.
It eventually turned into publication, and without that initial support, I probably would still be floundering like a fish in a dry pond. The Thousand Scars launched December 7th, but not before I got to meet one of my inspirations in Brandon Sanderson the week before. I got a photo of him with my book!
My First Year: Struggles, and Fighting from the Brink
Now we come to the main event.
After everything, The Thousand Scars launched, on December 7th 2017. I did it. I achieved what I set out to do from that dark place in 2012. Somehow, I managed the mindfuck.
Then the Launch Party happened on Facebook…and it fizzled. Barely anything. I messed up. I put a ton of attention on the Cover Reveal the week before and in honesty I should have just made the Launch it. I didn’t do any ARCs and it was a struggle getting the manuscript ready for launch. So it ended up launching with barely any fanfare, a mistake on my part.
I should have been happy, or proud, or elated. Instead I just felt exhaustion, numbness. I even felt deflated. I remember doing the launch reveal and just being so drained I ended up cutting the livestream early and going to bed. There weren’t many people watching it so I don’t think it mattered.
I achieved what I planned, but now what? Then the doubts started. Did I release it too early? Did I know what I was doing? Was the book any good?
The first few months were rough. I was trying to market, but it was tricky. To make money you need to spend money, generally through ads. I didn’t realize how expensive and vital the marketing was going to be. That’s a luxury I don’t really have. Of course, this was something I learned from this year, a painful lesson, but one worth learning. Connections and community building is something I’ve worked on for years, but perhaps I was in the wrong places for that. I’ve done a lot this year to contribute more to the community that matters, and I think it was working.
Reviews and feedback were few, sales even fewer. I started wondering if it was even worth doing anymore. Publishing The Thousand Scars nearly broke me emotionally. Then I did the stupid thing of comparing myself to other authors…why did I do that? I needed to focus on myself.
The Thousand Scars was selling poorly, but feedback at least was mostly positive, for a first book by a new author I guess. I’m not in this for money otherwise I’d just do a standard job so money is not my motivation. I wanted to show it to the world, but I was so drained by it and its lack of success that I was close to giving up. I still had the second book in the series to work on, and it was getting ballsacking difficult. I had few fans, but I didn’t want to let them down. I did get a lot of support from fellow authors in the indie community, urging me to keep fighting. I did so. I have severe ME, and job-wise I don’t really get many chances. Writing and cartography is all I know how to do. I couldn’t give up, not now. A word of advice to fellow writers. Connect with others and support each other. They are not your rivals, but your allies in this fight.
I wanted to go further. There had to be something I could do to pull me from the brink. I was so close to giving up. I have a world I love to write in, but did I have the ability to continue? That was my challenge. So I drafted ideas for another novel set in the same Counterbalance universe but a standalone, something different. Something to take to agents. Something to prove I have improved. I started work on it in April and it surprisingly began to take off. I made progress.
Then SPFBO began in its latest version, a massive blog-contest for debut indie authors founded by the awesome Mark Lawrence. I signed right the fuck up with The Thousand Scars, thinking that even if I didn’t have a chance of progressing, even a little more exposure would do the trick. After all, I had fuck all to lose at this point.
It ended up being the lifeboat I needed. I landed more connections, and my interviews for my fellow authors really helped increase exposure for them and myself. I even had a few people backing me for winning my group. . .*snorts out drink*
More people read The Thousand Scars. More people added it to their reading lists. It got some pretty damn good reviews and feedback. I made some Top 10 lists, got some stellar reviews on Booknest and Fantasy Book Review. I even got Longlisted in Booknest’s End of the Year awards for Best Debut! I still don’t know how in the name of Horse’s wrinkled ballsack I pulled that off.
Before SPFBO started in June, I had 6 ratings, 5 reviews and perhaps 20-25 people had my book added to their lists. By the time I write this article, I have four times the ratings, 12 reviews and the adds have increased tenfold. Still small potatoes, but a huge improvement on before. Connections change things. People got excited for me and my future. I’ve been learning a lot about self-publishing. I really didn’t know what I was doing.
I even successfully finished two full first drafts this year, one being The Aegis Mora, the second my standalone that I started in April. To give you guys some hindsight into my madness:
- The Thousand Scars took 4 and a half years to reach a finished first draft.
- It’s sequel The Aegis Mora? 2 and a half years.
- My standalone? 5 months, on and off throughout this year. It is a huge improvement.
In 2019, I have two major plans. Hopefully release The Aegis Mora, and get my standalone The Skeleton’s Eye ready to submit to agents. That is my current goal.
I have a new editor for The Aegis Mora in the awesome Tim Marquitz, and I’m excited for my cover design. Still uncertain who I am hiring for that yet. I have some really good choices. Things are looking up for me I think. This year I began mentoring other authors for the first time, something that has really taken off. Hopefully my Patreon and cartography services will continue to make progress as well.
As to The Aegis Mora, I will probably self publish unless I get an offer from a press. I feel sending it to agents will not work, seeing that The Thousand Scars has not sold well. Unfortunate. I have already started writing the yet untitled Counterbalance book 3, and I hope to have a finished first draft by the end of 2019.
The Skeleton’s Eye is something I am really excited for. With time, I wish to make it good enough to submit to agents. My target is the end of 2019.
Interviewing authors I will take to the next level, and for 2019’s SPFBO contest, I intend on applying for a judge position. I place myself at the community’s disposal.
It’s been brutal, but I’m still going. As long as ME doesn’t shut me down completely, I will continue doing what I do. It’s been a hell of a ride so far, and I’ll continue riding the highway.