Friday, 6 December 2013

How to become a published author (by telling bedtime stories)

First, write a book.

Picture copyright: SammyDavisDog

Sounds obvious, I know.
But it’s surprising how many people who want to be writers don’t do it.

Did I take the advice? Well, not for a long time. Oh, I was writing. Lots and lots. I just didn’t finish what I started.

I was never going to become a published author (let alone a BESTSELLING author) by not finishing anything.

Sound familiar? Maybe this is you, too.
Sitting here now, with a trilogy of children’s books being read by people all over the world, I can smile wryly to myself at what a fool I was for so long. (I’ll be telling you shortly how you can download all three of my children’s books from Amazon for FREE. You love FREE books, don’t you? Course you do.)

But back before my personal journey brought me to where I am now, I was blind to this advice.
For five years I’ve been writing Bookengine, writing about other people’s books, profiling the most wonderful children’s authors in the world. People like Philip Reeve, Curtis Jobling, the late great Robert Westall, Barbara Mitchelhill.

Stuck on the hamster wheel

And all the while I was harbouring my own ambitions of being a children’s author.
But with a full-time job as a newspaper journalist and the demands of a busy family life, I just never seemed to have the stamina to sustain my enthusiasm to finish the books I was writing.
Dreams of seeing my writing published, of readers enjoying my stories, perhaps even making some money were very much on hold.
I had ideas for books. Plenty of them.
What I lacked was the motivation. Something to get the juices flowing. The words on the hard drive.
I always had faith that it would come good in the end. And when the answer did materialise, it was the most obvious thing in the world. Simple. But how often in life is the solution to a problem staring you in the face?
If I’m being honest, I had become a little discouraged by the whole traditional publishing process.
Write book, query agent, wait an age for a judgement like a condemned man waiting for a reprieve from the gallows. Then celebrate or commiserate.

In my case, no exception, it had always been the latter. Which was then followed by a period of despondency, from which I would have to pick myself up and start over.
Over the years I had experienced the usual rejection letters from agents for the novels and scripts I’d sent out. Looking back, the reason none had successfully tempted any to represent me was because they weren’t good enough. I accept that. I was learning how to write.
But as you will see, when I finally did finish something I was happy with, I was feeling less than excited about the long wait involved in dispatching my magnum opus to agents.
What I didn’t realise was the solution to this second problem was also right under my nose.
So, to recap. I was feeling a lack of motivation and drive in my writing. And I was more than a little discouraged by the traditional agent submission route to publication.

So, how did I finally break the writer’s block and finish a book?

Inspiration at bedtime

The motivation to push all the way through to the end and not sabotage my own endeavours through a feeling of inadequacy came when I was telling my children a bedtime story.

As well as reading books to them, I’ve always told them my own stories, completely off the cuff, pushing myself - like a tightrope walker - to see how far I could get before I fell off the highwire.

Using the well-oiled tools of conflict, suspense and resolution - put a character into a dilemma, make it worse, draw out the suffering before bringing it to an end either happily or otherwise - I could keep the story going over several nights.

And my children loved it. They begged me to keep going. The sound of ‘aw, Dad!’ as I said ‘to be continued’ and switched off the bedroom light became a nightly chorus.

That’s when it hit me that I should be writing a story for my children. I had a ready-made audience, and I enjoyed the pressure of having to create new chapters each night. I couldn’t ditch the story half-way through because the prospect of seeing two disappointed faces staring back at me would have been too much.

There was plenty of precedent for parents turning bedtime stories into successful books.

Roald Dahl’s children were the first to hear about the BFG. A A Milne based Winnie-the-Pooh on a teddy bear belonging to his son, Christopher Robin, who famously became the human hero of the classic tales.

Kenneth Grahame first recounted the Wind in the Willows stories to his son Alastair, while the Rev W Awdry came up with Thomas the Tank Engine for his son, Christopher.

James Bond creator Ian Fleming was recovering from a heart attack when he conjured up the tale of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for his 10-year-old son Caspar.

My first children's book
I, too, found myself scouting round for ideas for stories to tell my little ones. I’ve always been a lover of heist movies - Ocean’s Eleven being a classic example. I don’t know how - perhaps I was tinkering with the name Ocean - but I came up with the premise of a gang of starving alley cats attempting to raid a fishmonger’s shop.

And that’s how the idea for The Great Stinky Fish Robbery was born. It took a long time to get the story right, and I tried out the different elements on my children in embryonic form for some time before I finally wrote the version that’s now in the hands of readers.

A publishing revolution

It so happened that this Eureka moment coincided with the explosion in self publishing on Amazon Kindle and other ebook readers. Suddenly, anybody could publish a book. No longer did you need to jump through an agent’s and publisher’s hoop. You could do it yourself at the click of a button.

What also convinced me that I should have a go was reading about the glut of self-published authors who were having huge success through their ebooks (and seeing their bank balances swell in the process).

The second book in the trilogy
The success of independent authors like John Locke, Amanda Hocking, Sean Platt, Joe Konrath, Kerry Wilkinson and James Oswald convinced me that this was the way ahead for new authors, particularly those jaded by the traditional ‘gatekeeper’ system of agent and publisher. (I believe a hybrid approach - a mixture of self-publishing and traditional publisher-author relationship - will actually become more common, but that’s for another blog post.) 

If you are a wannabe author, I heartily recommend you click through on the authors’ names above and study their stories and learn from what they did to find success.

It could be the best thing you ever do in your writing career.

Now, I promised you FREE books earlier, didn’t I?

Well, for a limited period, beginning Saturday, December 7, 2013, you can download ALL THREE of the Archer trilogy of books for FREE at Amazon. Yes, that’s all three: The Great Stinky Fish Robbery, Archer’s Great Escape, and Archer’s Rise To The Top absolutely FREE.

Just click on this little link:

The final book in the trilogy
That will take you through to my Amazon author page where you can download each book individually for FREE.

I’m still very much on the first rung of the self-publishing ladder. But I can’t tell you how excited and energised I’ve become by taking this path.

I hope my story inspires you to pursue your own writing dream.

Good luck and maybe you’ll turn your dream of becoming a published author into a reality. Just take a look at those bedtime stories you’re telling your kids.

P. S. FREE ebooks at Amazon:


  1. And thank you for visiting Bookengine - much appreciated.

  2. Thanks Jeremy for the read, re - juvenates my motivation to write and keep at it!
    For those who have not yet made the 'jump' to writing and/or self publishing, I heartily recommend it.
    Best wishes,
    (self-published author of the Cassy Kindly adventures and The Weird and Wonderful Onesie)