What I have learnt since becoming a published author

My third novel, The Distance Between Us, is the first I have written since becoming a fully-fledged published author. (I still have to pinch myself!)
When I started writing my first novel, Just the Two of Us, back in 2014 it is safe to say that I did not have a clue what I was doing! I had a vague idea of the story in my head, and I thought it would be fun to try and write a book. I literally sat down one day with my laptop, an idea popped into my head for the opening chapter and off I went. 100,000 words later, I had the first draft of a manuscript in front of me.
Since then I have done a LOT of editing. I edited the book myself with help from my family, then I managed to get signed by an agent and we edited once again. From there, it was sent off to publishers, we responded to feedback and made yet more revisions, before finally signing a three-book deal with my publishers, Aria Fiction, an imprint of Head of Zeus. Since then I have been through the editing process with my fantastic editor, Sarah Ritherdon, three times. And I have learned a LOT.
Whilst my agent was busy submitting Just the Two of Us, I was writing my second novel, One Summer in Positano (previously published as It Was Always You.) When Aria offered me the three-book deal, they agreed to take on my second novel too, which was also greatly improved by the wonderful, challenging editing process. So, it wasn’t until I sat down to begin The Distance Between Us that I could really put all I had learnt from my fabulous editor into practice. And then I edited book three and learnt even more!
Here are the main things I have learnt so far about writing a book. Every author is different and works in a way that suits them, but this is what works for me:
1) Write down your synopsis. This may seem rather obvious, but I didn’t do it for my first book. It doesn’t need to be long – just a paragraph will do, though mine seem to be getting longer as time goes on! But it helps you get the overall story arc and will come in useful for step 2.
2) Write a chapter by chapter overview. My agent is a big fan of these and I have learnt that it helps focus my attention and breaks the synopsis down into manageable chunks. I am very flexible with this document, it changes all the time as my plot develops in my head. It is useful for keeping track of what is happening when. I write down what month/week I am in in each chapter. It is often colour coded, and I like to highlight the chapters I have written as I tick them off. When I finish a chapter, I look at the overview and mull over what might happen next in more detail until I sit down at my laptop to write again. I like to think of this part of the process as similar to when an artist sketches an outline of a painting; all of the colour and detail will be added at a later stage but it helps you get your bearings.
3) Write down your character list. I start with the main characters, their full names, age and relatives. I then add more characters as they come up, this helps me to find them quickly if I need to cross-check something.
4) When possible, write dialogue. I had to change chunks of my first book from telling the reader about a scene to letting the reader live the scene. This makes the pace much faster and keeps the reader engaged. I know this is something I will always need to work on, but as I wrote book three I was conscious of the feedback I could predict I would get during the editing process, which saved me a lot of time! My editor’s voice rings in my ears and I try to avoid the feedback I have had before. After all, that is the main goal: to continue doing what I love, and to improve with every book I write.
5) Don’t be too critical of yourself, accept that everyone starts somewhere and, above all, enjoy the process!

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