Becoming a Writer

By Neal James
Headshot4The lure of writing, for me, came with the hair-raising prospect of actually getting something not simply published, but also in the display window of a major book store chain.
I do believe that more of us have the ability to write than the supposed experts give us credit for. I once read part of an article by a well-known writer which contained what I thought was a piece of sheer arrogance. Paraphrasing, this person said that there is an assertion that there is a book within in all of us and that, in his/her opinion, that is precisely where it should remain. The unfairness of this piece of rhetoric stands alone in its starkness.
I started in 2006 with a manuscript full of family life stretching over a period of 30 years or more. It was prompted by a major family event, and spawned a flow of short stories which were published on a succession of writing sites across the world. This is where a writer cuts his or her teeth.
Places like that can be brutal in the honesty of their members, but anything of quality will survive the harsh, but ultimately fair, critique; fair because you are judged by your peers, and honest because there are no axes to grind.
Imagination is the key – this is a highly fertile ground for the seeds of any story to germinate, and all that you have to do is to give it free range. Each of us has an imagination, and we are limited only by our ability to give it the time and space to blossom. As an example I was asked, a week or so ago, to come up with a piece of flash fiction of around 400 words on a theme of my own choosing. Flash is not a style which comes readily to me, but an idea popped into my mind and I ran with it.
The story, ‘Wendel’s Love Match’, has been posted on Facebook and you can read it by looking on my FB Profile. The start was a simple idea of an individual who had never before been in the situation which now started him in the face. It ends in a most unexpected (for the reader) manner. My point is that forcing a story is never a good idea, but running with an idea when it crops up can be highly satisfying.
Finding a publisher/agent is the nightmare which besets all those whose dream is to see their work in print, and it’s a very hard road to walk. Agents are reluctant to take on new, and therefore ‘high-risk’ writers, and the large publishing houses are loathe to become involved unless you have an agent. See a trap here? You need a huge slice of luck to break into this relationship, but there are other alternatives which bear varying levels of risk. I’ve looked at them all.
Self-Publishing is an option which I explored early on with Lulu. The site was easy to use, the costs transparent and the online help very good. There are other sites (Smashwords, Createspace) and these are a good grounding area for budding writers. However, if you wish to expand with them, you will need to finance projects yourself and have a significant level of expertise in the formatting of publication text.
Vanity Publishing/Concession Publishing is an area which, after a brief exploration, I walked away from. There are many companies out there, and you can see opinion all over the internet, offering services for a fee and who make it appear that you can succeed with minimal effort – beware. Some (Dorrance) are clear and upfront about what it is that they do, and I found them to be helpful with the advice offered; sadly they are in a minority.
If you are really lucky, as I was, you find a small but traditional publisher operating in the Print On Demand sector. Pneuma Springs are such a company; their operation can and will print a single copy to order, and this reduces the incidence of funds ties up in shelf stock, thus retaining precious cash flow – as an accountant I realise the truth of this philosophy.
Together, since 2008, we have published four novels and an anthology, and I have nothing but praise for the skill and expertise which they have offered to me. This is not a shameless plug, merely an indication of what can be achieved if you are fortunate enough to come across the right opportunity at the right time.
Never believe that literary fiction is easy to break into, but always hold on to the dream that you (or I) could be the next Dan Browne or J L Rowling – they both had to start somewhere.
For more information on Neal James and his work, visit his website:


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