002. The Plan

Updated: May 24, 2021

Last week was one of huge transition for our family and a significant milestone for my writing career.

The staff where I work were told that I would not be returning to work, even if I got better, and that I would be pursuing a career in writing. Packing my desk on Saturday morning felt very significant, especially after seven years working for the family business where I was certain I would see out my working days.

My son went back to school on Monday, following two months of home schooling. It was with mixed feelings I dropped him off at the school gates. In some ways, I was sad. The two months we have spent together have brought us very close and, although I ran our home-schooling sessions like a military camp, we had some great fun together.

I know I will look back at those times with fondness, but seeing him embracing his friends at the school gates, fist bumping, hugging and shouting together made me realise that whatever I could offer him as a makeshift teacher, I could never replace the social interaction with his peers which, at his age, is equally critical to his development.

The other benefit to him going back to school is that I can now re-focus my efforts on transitioning from a writer to an author. But to do this, I need to write some books and I need to get them published. So, what’s the plan, Stan?

I am currently working on three projects simultaneously. Time will tell if this is an effective way of writing, however, I noticed when starting out on this journey that sometimes my levels of enthusiasm for one project were quite low whereas I was itching to write about something else and this could flip around totally the next day. I concluded that having a range of different projects on the go allowed me to head to where my creative juices were taking me and thus maximise positive output.

The projects

One afternoon, at the beginning of October 2020, a migraine struck me (on top of everything else) and I went for a lie down. This was when the first big idea dropped into my head. A children’s story about a normal boy who had super-powers but with a twist (I’m keeping secret for now) which held endless possibilities. Instead of going to sleep, and recovering from my migraine, I was lying there with my head spinning with ideas.

Around the same time, I started writing about Fantasy Premier League (FPL) which is a game I love and have been playing for 17 years. Writing non-fiction differs greatly from writing fiction. Creating characters from scratch and trying to string together a plot is very enjoyable but mentally draining. Writing non-fiction, particularly about a subject which you know a lot about, is not as exciting but much easier from a continuous flow of words perspective. It’s more like brain dumping than creating.

Another thing which popped into my head was the old Fighting Fantasy books by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson. As a teenager, I used to love them. Being able to choose my way through the story was empowering. Should I go left or right? Should I fight the monster or run away? Should I rescue that character or leave him behind? I realised I had never come across any of these types of books for much younger readers, so I wrote one for my six-year-old son and tested it out on him. It was about 10,000 words and had 50 ‘choices’. He loved it.

I tried it out on some of his school friends, and the feedback I received from their parents was outstanding. And so, the seeds of an interactive fantasy series (Adventure Quest) were sewn.

Where to next?

With my super-hero kid book, I wrote a first draft and edited it to death. I sent it off to a few beta readers and got some really useful feedback. After much self-editing, following each round of feedback, I eventually settled on the completed manuscript and, being very new to this, sent it off to The Literary Consultancy who arranged for a proper manuscript assessment by one of their ‘readers’. I was assigned to Martyn Beardsley, author of the Sir Gadabout books which were turned into an award winning series for CITV.

Over £200 lighter, I received a four-page assessment of my work. The feedback was honest, detailed and very helpful. I have heard horror stories of people wanting to tear out their own eyeballs with rage having read a manuscript assessment, but I found Martyn’s review of my book to be fair and well-informed.

Without getting into too much detail, his feedback was mostly positive. He liked the main idea, characters, humour (although he wanted to see more of it), and agreed that the writing style was appropriate for the target audience. The main problem was with the plot, which was more of a series of vaguely connected events rather than the traditional (hero has a goal but there’s an obstacle) structure. Consequently, I am looking at a substantial re-write before this can go anywhere. A valuable learning curve.

With this book, I plan to go down the traditional publishing route; getting a literary agent and agreeing a subsequent book deal. I am under no illusions as to how difficult this will be.

For my FPL book, I will be publishing this myself as it is an extremely niche topic. Having finished my manuscript only this week, this is now in the hands of my editor (Ian) who I also found via The Literary Consultancy. I plan to publish this when the football season ends (May/June) and avid FPL players are looking for something to fill the football-less void.

For my Adventure Quest stories, I decided to go down a more DIY route and will be producing these myself with no professional intervention, bar the cover design. I have very specific ideas about how these books will be formatted and they will, deliberately, not use the traditional convention of indented paragraphs.

I believe younger children, particularly reluctant readers, are intimidated by huge blocks of text. I have therefore decided that in these books, I will separate the text into digestible chunks (much like in these blog posts). The feedback I have received is that this has gone down really well with the children who have read it.

I have also decided to forego illustrations in these books, bar the one on the cover. I want the focus to be on children using their imagination to form images based on the interactions and choices, rather than having the pictures provided for them throughout the book. This has the obvious advantage of keeping costs down whilst increasing the speed at which I can get the books on the market, which will be crucial at this early juncture. I will keep an eye out for reader feedback on this.

So, there we are… my current plan in a nutshell.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please drop them in the comments section below.

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