Apokeri Bay novel propped up against gold and white flower motif cushions

One year as a published author and what have I learned?

‘It’s a year ago this week since I published Apokeri Bay,’ I remarked while unwrapping an Aldi Titan chocolate bar. An amusing name for a treat that would fit snugly in a gnome’s shirt pocket.

My partner lounged on the sofa, watching another rerun of Would I Lie To You, and barely raised his head. ‘Really. It seems far longer.’

I opened my mouth to deliver a pithy response but paused. Maybe my horizontal beloved had a point. For the author’s nearest and dearest (or for some maybe just nearest) it probably does feel far, far longer. They are there at the idea’s inception and then the initial draft, countless re-drafts, edits and re-edits. Until the author is so utterly sick of the sight of their novel that they can do nothing more except send it to a professional editor for them to work their magic. And then it’s returned to be assessed and reworked until at long last the publish button is hit with an enormous dose of trepidation, relief, satisfaction and excitement (well that was my story, not sure about anyone else).

I read an interview by an author who kept her novel secret from everyone, including her husband. That was never going to happen with me as I took the brave (some might say ludicrously stupid) step to quit my job and plunge head first into writing my first novel. I’d have had a bit of a hard job keeping that a secret, pretending to toddle off to work while slipping away to the library. It’d probably make for a good story and anyway I’d never pull it off as I’m a crap liar (I leave that entirely to the characters in my novels). Anyway, enough of my ramblings let’s get back to the point. Celebrating one year as a published author and what have I learned? Do I have any pearls of wisdom to pass on? And given the chance what would I do differently?

Believe the truth

You are not going to be a multi-million-pound bestseller with your first self-published novel. I can’t speak for traditionally published authors – any of those currently sunning themselves on their own private yacht after a smash hit debut feel free to share any tips. Yes, I know, I’d read the articles, I’d listened to the podcasts and watched the YouTube videos, so I knew it was a nigh on impossible task to sell hundreds of thousands of novels on my first outing. I’d have more chance of winning the lottery (which I don’t play) than making oodles of dosh with Apokeri Bay.

But secretly, deep down where it’s only you and your innermost desires, I thought I’d be different. And why? Because I’d worked really, really hard (as if nobody else had) it meant I was going to be the golden exception to the rule. But of course, I wasn’t a bestseller. I mean I might have been on the first day of publication in one of my chosen Amazon categories (back when you had seven to pick from). I might have been if I’d remembered to check my sales dashboard – which I didn’t.

That’s my first pearl of wisdom. Be realistic.

But hey, still feel free to dream and please let me know if you are one of those self-published multi-million debut novelists. Well done. I salute you.

Would I quit my job to write my debut novel?

One year on and in all honesty I still would. I’d saved and saved for years to go on a year’s motorhome adventure but instead it ended up being three months. And then we had Covid and couldn’t go anywhere or do anything. I therefore had the funds to support myself for a bit if I adopted an anti-social hermit existence. And that’s what I did.

It’s probably not for everyone but by utterly devoting myself to completing writing courses, undertaking writing research, editing knowledge and any other self-publishing information I could lay my hands on, it helped this author learn their craft. And I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote. The Apokeri Bay world was born and my stand-alone novel quickly developed into a series. And I firmly believe only by handing in my notice could that have happened. Saving Elora flowed easier as did my yet-to-be-published novella. I went back to work as I completed Saving Elora, and my writing pace has naturally slowed. But I wouldn’t have changed what I did.

Saving Elora paperback and ebook

Pearl of wisdom two – do what suits you if at all possible.

Passion is good. Obsession is not.

An obsessed hermit for months, I’d slip out of my shell long enough to take the dog for a walk and occasionally meet up with my (very understanding) friends and family. I’d spend hours and hours each day sitting at my desk writing and researching. And the result? I triggered a long-term back injury not once but twice in the first six months of writing. It set me back months and taught me an important lesson – take breaks and get the right computer setup. I now have a DIY standing desk which although probably wouldn’t strictly pass a DSE workplace assessment it does a brilliant job at letting me crack on pain free.

Going back to work had massive benefits (apart from the obvious money) I actually mixed with more than one human and a dog on a daily basis. I also realised if I didn’t buck my ideas up, I might seriously end up with no friends and family that wanted to talk to me.

Pearl of wisdom three – remember to make time for your loved ones.

But an addendum to that – do not endlessly talk about your book. Nobody will be as interested in it as you are.

Pearl of wisdom four – join a writing group to continue developing your craft but very importantly to be in the company of those with a shared passion (okay sometimes obsession).

Sometimes doing things by the book isn’t always the best way

My intention setting out was to sell my books online and physical copies would only ever be in libraries (it’s really important for me to support libraries as that was where my love of reading and then writing began). But one day, on a whim, I walked into a bookshop and asked if they’d consider stocking my novel. I’d paid for a professional book cover and a professional editor so hoped that would help. I left my copy and a little while later they said yes. What a high. It gave me the confidence to approach other bookshops who also said yes. Afterwards I read an article about how you should approach bookshops – I’d done exactly what they said not to do!

Pearl of wisdom five – sometimes it pays to do things differently but always be friendly and polite.

Jackie Watson holding up Apokeri Bay novel outside the bound bookshop in Whitley Bay

It’ll always take longer than you think

I come from a family of list makers. From those ones scribbled on the back of envelopes to the various To Do, Doing and Done cards on Trello. Ticking things off brings me a wonderful sense of achievement but I never give myself enough time as I keep adding and adding to a never-ending list of tasks.

Pearl of wisdom six – factor in more time and set sensible targets on what can be achieved or otherwise you’ll get downhearted.

Social media is both a blessing and a curse

Now this is a big one. Social media connects you with so many wonderful people who are willing to share their expertise, you can swap ideas, build connections and friendships, tell your author story and gain inspiration from others. Many people are brilliant at social media and their personalities snap, crackle and pop (anyone fancy a bowl of Rice Krispies right now?).

Wait for it, there’s a humongous but coming. Social media can suck up huge amounts of time. Hours can whizz by as you like, comment and share content across multiple platforms to the detriment of why you became an author in the first place – to write amazing stories!

Pearl of wisdom seven – set yourself time limits on social media.

Be prepared for an almost vertical learning curve

Like I said before I knew it was going to be tough to be a self-published author, but I didn’t realise how tough. I have strengths which help in some areas but huge weaknesses in others where I have to work much harder. The list of things to learn keeps growing but I’m smart enough to know when I need an expert (IT, editing, book cover design to name three) and will invest wisely in those. But until I have the funds, I’ll have to figure out the rest as I go. However, never underestimate the wonderful writing community who will have huge amounts of experience and guidance you can call upon (just remember to give as well as receive).

Pearl of wisdom eight – you will suffer setbacks.

In conclusion – was it worth it?

One year as a published author and what have I learned? I’ve learned that yes I would definitely do it all again despite not getting it right all the time. I’ve created something where there was nothing before. The characters of Apokeri Bay are now real and are out there for the whole world to enjoy, should they choose to.

I did something a few years ago I would never have thought possible – that I would have the ability to write not one but multiple novels. The ideas keep coming and I’ll keep writing because I love it and judging by your lovely reviews and comments you love reading them too.

Dramatic white cliffs coastline of Lefkada

Final pearl of wisdom – go for it because you never know where it’ll take you.