In contrast, the first person tense (I, we,) is commonly told in the simple present tense in fiction.
Of course, the reader, as with third person point of view, can only know what the viewpoint character knows – no extraneous background information should be added if the character wouldn’t already be thinking or experiencing it. It can help a writer think in terms of ‘showing’ the reader the story rather than ‘telling’. ‘Showing’ often makes it easier for the reader to invest themselves in the characters and events, while too much ‘telling’ can instead render readers as idle observers or magnets for excess information.
It can grant a situation direct immediacy, and can be quite engaging and exciting to read. If the reader can develop a connection with the character or with intriguing events, it can prove to be effortless to absorb. If there are a lot of exciting events that are closely related to a single character or between one or two characters, then first person can deliver the message of the story concisely and directly, focusing only on the perspective of the character/s who matter, where lives come into contact. It’s good for putting the reader into the character’s shoes, and makes them feel as if they are there, watching events unfold.
One of its disadvantages, in my opinion, is that it can be quite simple and one-dimensional. Readers can’t penetrate to the depths of a character’s thoughts or to past events with ease without breaking from the main narrative. When the author does break from the main narrative, it can often at first seem as if they are interrupting a perfectly absorbing scene with unnecessary information, which can be distracting. It can express a limited range of meanings, and only in the context of what is happening or what a character is thinking at any given time. It’s my belief that the restrictions of first person make stories linear A–B plots, but I’m sure there are many writers and readers who disagree.
It can be a problem working out how much time to spend on writing, what comes before writing with planning, and what comes after with the tasks related to improving writing for publishing such as reading, self-editing, and rewriting. A lot of thinking may be involved even when you haven’t made any concrete progress. Fitting writing into a busy schedule can feel impossible at times, or undesirable when your work tires you and you want to relax, not think about something that will tax your brain further, even if you do enjoy it.
How do you view your writing?
Do you view your writing as a hobby that you spend a few hours on occasionally, only for the sake of happiness?
Do you have grand writing goals that will require a consistent effort per week?
Is writing a serious vocation that will require a schedule with both writing and author tasks?
Not enough time to write
Many of us can’t get enough time to write and explore parts of our imaginations, but it doesn’t mean we have to forget about writing completely.
Setting a short amount of time, such as ten or twenty minutes, can be enough to get a pen and paper and write down some of your ideas. If you persevere with this, you could end up with a two-hundred page planning fact-file after six months. I did this!
Spending just one hour on your computer or paper can be enough to get at least 500 or 1,000 words jotted down. In another hour you may even reach 2,000 or 3,000 if you’re a fast typer or the ideas are strong. This is tremendous progress. Keep slotting in a period of two hours over two months and you’re looking at the first draft of a novel.
Too much writing
After having experience writing full time, concentrating on writing many hours during the day to the exclusion of many other activities or engaging with people is not healthy because it doesn’t give you that break from yourself, and your creativity and inspiration may dry up, only having your own mind as a resource.
This is more the case if you’re writing for yourself and not anybody else such as an agent, publisher, or client: where you’re expected to produce a story within a deadline because you know you’re obliged to do so, even if you enjoy it at the same time. When you’re writing for yourself, left to your own devices and detached from any external concept of obligation or accountability, you can overdo it.
If you have days where you’re writing 6,000-8,000 words a day then that is a lot of writing.
If you’re spending your break days worrying about writing then it may start to become unhealthy.
If you’re getting tired of concentrating on your writing, you’re overthinking it, or it’s affecting other important tasks, including daily life, then this is a clear sign for you to stop and do something else for a few hours, few days, or few weeks.
If your writing is exhausting you and distracting you then you’re spending too much time on it.
If you don’t have any other hobbies or vocations, except writing, then this is a sign your life is not balanced.
Writing shouldn’t be a priority if it’s a hobby; it should be done for enjoyment. When you obsess over your writing, or put it before everything else that you could be doing, it’s when it’s on a path to taking over your life. It’ll damage you and it’ll damage your writing when that happens; you’ll notice when you reread it. I’ve had experience of this myself, and I think you have to be in the right frame of mind to produce writing that you will be happy with. Something to look out for is if you’re tense when you’re writing! You should not be tense when you’re writing and you should not convince yourself that being tense is normal because you’re letting out so many ideas …
How I balance writing and work
I enjoy writing best as a hobby, but I do have goals that require a consistent effort, which means I try to set it off from work-related tasks and make time for it. It has to be different to work, in my mind.
Many writers are comfortable scheduling writing in, and indeed have to in order to get it done among many other commitments. I don’t schedule in writing in my break, though I often do write. If I scheduled writing in it wouldn’t feel pleasurable to me, and I wouldn’t get the full satisfaction. I like writing to be my escape and not something I feel I must do and keeping this in mind keeps the process enjoyable for me. That’s my personal preference.
Motivation is a key barrier against making progress when you spend a lot of time working. When you’re tired you just want to lay back and watch a film or zone out, check messages or become engrossed in something mind-numbing. If you have the time to write, you tell yourself you don’t have the energy.
When I’m determined to complete a project I have to make a conscious effort to get in the right frame of mind before attempting to dive in to the intellectually-demanding yet pleasurable writing process, and to stop myself from resorting to the easier option of doing something else. Writing has to come first if I’m serious about it.
There are a lot of different opinions on the value of writing muse. It’s my view that although relying exclusively on writing muse and when it decides to pop up is a bad thing because it means your writing commitment is sporadic, equally problematic is the reverse: pressuring yourself with targets or sticking to models of writing that are what works best for other authors.
Some of the problems that can affect writing muse:
Feeling pressured to write all the time, for the sake of it.
Feeling pressured to meet word count targets, deadlines, and publishing schedules.
Applying other professional authors’ writing approaches because you believe they will work for you instead of relying on your own instincts and how you write well.
Over-planning and overthinking writing instead of getting down to it.
Relying on ‘good excuses’ for why you can’t get down to writing instead of doing it.
There is no compelling reason to write all the time
Beyond enjoyment, if you’re not a career author who earns a living then there is less pressure on you to deliver a number of words by a specific time. It’s probably at this time you need to ask yourself why it is you’re writing: for the deadline, for the income, or for the enjoyment. Perhaps it’s all three, but if it’s only for enjoyment and time is on your side, why pressure yourself to write all the time, no matter what?
Regular breaks from writing can put things in perspective more and you can be more in tune with the feeling rather than the pressure you may be imposing on yourself.
Not every writer is on a publishing schedule
Not all writers are at the stage where they must publish a book. If they believe they should feel forced to churn out maybe 1,000–5,000 words at least three or four days a week, then it’s a big commitment to writing: a toe dip in the deep end of the pool for the writer who is struggling with muse and whose writing is negatively affected by pressure and demands on time. That example was a bit ambitious, yet I’m of the mind that many writers are ambitious in wanting to make regular substantial progress and be published authors, and this system may not be conducive to their growth as writers.
Writers who advise you to write all the time have to write all the time
A lot of writers who are career authors and are on publishing schedules and deadlines will advise you to ditch your writing muse and to stick to a schedule for the completion of your story. It works for them; they can complete stories using this method. They ‘have’ to complete stories using this method to meet deadlines, and many are sick of listening to new authors speaking about how special their writing muse is when they have a job to do.
If it works for you or you want to complete your stories to a deadline, using a schedule like this can help. Its advantage is in making regular progress on the word count, in a first draft, and not relying on any perceived excuses that prevent you from getting down to the business of writing.
The disadvantage of this method is that sometimes you find yourself automating the writing process, as you would a job, to meet a schedule or deadline, and this can detract from the enjoyment if you feel ‘compelled’ to write rather than you ‘wanting’ to write.
This is how many professional writers say it works with writing muse: after a specific length of time you’ll run out of ideas and be left lost, and you’ll ‘never complete that story’. The word count stops, there is no writing routine to get the writing done, and you end up convincing all your friends you will eventually get round to some writing or to completing that story. When the muse comes you spend a full two weeks writing a twenty-thousand-word story, but it’s not complete, and the process in the above paragraph repeats itself. I have experience of this cycle!
Your writing muse is blamed – the very thing that got you writing in the first place. The writing muse is squashed; it’s not working or expanding in the way it did at first and you’re confused and frustrated why. There is all this pressure to be the writer you were or know you are, and naturally you blame the muse for not delivering results.
‘Muse writer’ changes into a ‘proper writer’
If you just pulled yourself together and wrote like a proper writer, then it would be fine. In fact, you realise you need to re-learn how to write, away from instinct, feeling, and art into the realms of craft, template, strategy, demand, results, word count, and deadlines. You now know how to be a ‘proper writer’, measured by results you achieve and the demands expected of writers in the publishing industry, be this traditional or indie.
Writing with muse completes stories?
It’s time for a change of perspective. What if the muse was developed instead?
It’s the word count that may be the problem, and the reason why you blame yourself and your muse for not completing your story: that pressure you put on yourself to complete a 60,000 or 70,000-word novel or more.
If you think about it, a novel is a huge beast to tackle, and this is why all writers tackle it in smaller pieces. When you stick to a schedule, you’re getting the words down, and it all adds up. You may be aware you’re only working on a first draft, and getting those words down is acceptable, but you can lose motivation with a schedule as much as with relying on writing muse. You can argue that this is why you have made a schedule, but it may not make a difference to you when you want to write what you enjoy, instead of expecting yourself to write what you ‘should’ be writing.
I favour a step-by-step approach to writing, based on enjoyment and inspiration, and being in tune with my development as a writer. When we lose all three of those things, it’s the path to writer’s block or seeing writing purely as ‘work’; something that has to be done for a specific purpose. After having lost the foundation that got me started writing in the first place, I didn’t want to lose it again.
Writing with muse completes stories too. I wrote my first four self-published novels with my muse, and I’ve five unpublished drafts that I continued with my muse, at the time of writing this book. When I stop going where my instincts take me, or I tell myself I have to complete a specific number of words in a specific timeframe, then this is when I have problems and my writing grinds to a halt. It has happened every time, now I think about it.
I think the pressure is a problem, which is sometimes perpetuated by writers and industry professionals who are under pressure themselves. It creates generations of insecure writers who are too afraid to share their writing, be published, or to go with their gut feeling.
Third person is written in the simple past and past perfect tense.
Modern fiction recommends one character’s point of view per scene, and usually in the third person (he, him, his, she, her, hers, they, them, theirs).
The third person is used to convey the main characters’ experiences, as if they are the narrators of the story and are reporting what has already just happened in the form of thoughts and relevant experiences.
Something to keep in mind when writing in third person is not to write anything else except the viewpoint character’s thoughts and experiences, so that the reader can only perceive events from the character’s perspective. Unless you’re using third person omniscient, it could be a mistake to add other information about your story in between the character’s perspective to satisfy the reader’s curiosity, for doing so may take the mystery away from the scene and will interrupt the flow of the viewpoint character. And most of all, the inconsistency will be noticeable.
Third person is written in anticipation of building up towards present events, which are usually written in first person in the form of dialogue or internal dialogue (protagonist thoughts). First person is also used for italicised text in fiction, such as in the case of internal dialogue.
One of the advantages of the third person point of view is the flexibility to switch between tenses: simple past, past perfect, and simple present. The writer has the freedom to express a wide range of closely related circumstances that had occurred, have just occurred, or are occurring; and yet are written in the same scene or chapter. It takes skill for even experienced writers to master the tenses in such a way that is both correct and can relate a story’s events in an interesting way.
The disadvantages of the past perfect tense in third person
The past perfect tense can sometimes, when used excessively, become a platform for exposition and reader bombardment, which all writers should strive to avoid where they can. This tense can be rigid to read: ‘I had done’, ‘but when he had gone to the store’, ‘before he had thought about heading out he forgot to spend his money’. If you have to digress into background events, try to keep them at a minimum or at least directly relevant to what is happening in any given scene.
In this sense, try to limit the number of passages you write in the past perfect tense, or don’t use too many ‘hads’, which may hinder the reader’s enjoyment of the story. Instead, once you have introduced the tense with ‘had’, in a given paragraph, you are free to continue writing in the simple past and the reader should still understand what is meant. The same goes for background events that occur while the writer is already relating background events. As long as you introduce the tense with a single or a few ‘had’s’ to relate the most important immediate events in the first few sentences, then the reader has been informed of the tense and knows that what they are reading occurred in a time earlier than the time currently being discussed. It requires a bit of skill, judgment, and practice to use effectively, but that’s what writing is!
Incorrect use of point of view and tense are commonly picked up by fiction editors. Part of the confusion is that both point of view and tense are in many ways linked: first person with present tense and third person with past/past perfect tense. This link is strong when writers keep their stories consistently in one person and tense, and want their readers to enjoy this consistency. There are circumstances when they’re not linked, to convey more meaning and depth or when we need flexibility to convey an accurate timeline of a character’s perception of events. Sometimes we drop the rules to ensure we don’t bombard the reader with unnecessary words.
However strong the person-and-tense association is, there aren’t always black and white rules on, for example, always keeping first person with present; first person can often be used deliberately with past to tell a certain type of story by a character-narrator who is relating past events. It can often depend on the style of the story, who is narrating, and from what point of view that can guide a writer in their story and how an editor works on it.
The problem with point-of-view slips
When point-of-view slips occur unintentionally, they momentarily confuse readers and can look out of place. These slips do appear more often with inexperienced writers, as you could guess, but while working even experienced writers can occasionally forget who the viewpoint character is supposed to be in a given paragraph or sentence and exactly what he/she should be thinking and experiencing. It’s a lot of information to retain, and not only in a first draft. In other words, the point of view can slip your mind.
In third person past tenses, inconsistent use of tense can make the viewpoint character’s understanding of what happened when unclear, such as how understanding of past events has developed, or is developing, into present circumstances. And in first person present tenses it may be unclear why some sentences, paragraphs, scenes, or chapters are written in past tense because there is no way to translate the meaning, and it can leave the reader with a bizarre sense of displacement, a feeling of inconsistency, or jarring confusion.
How to correct point-of-view confusion
It’s a headache when you feel you need to delve into all the ins and outs of point of view rules to get the answer you want that applies to what you’re trying achieve in your story. All of a sudden you see point of view as a complex alien technical term that you’ll never be an expert in. However, the term is literal, meaning the point of view of the narrator or the character – whoever is telling the story. I find it helpful, bearing this in mind, to decide what the focus of the story should be, as a whole or while looking at individual chapters. Having this prior think can make all the difference when implementing or correcting point of view.
Asking that question ‘why am I writing this story with this point of view style?’ can give you a reasoning that can help guide your decisions on your story, and even aid you in knowing what to research if you want clarification on whether you’re using the right point of view, person, or tense.
Do you write a lot of words in one day or do you set limits?
For a long time, I wrote as much as humanly possible in one day, time permitting, in the worry I’d run out of writing time in the future. During this time the word count was the sole way of measuring my progress and forward momentum. This mindset can be understandable: after all getting enough words down to equal the size of a novel is one of the biggest challenges facing writers. I was of the mind that by keeping writing going, I was on track, and I think this is true to some extent.
Now I like to think it depends less on how many words I write as it does on what progress I’ve made in terms of thinking, planning, and moving my story forward. As a result, I’ve felt the benefit of limiting how much I write each day. Keeping 1,000/2,000-word limits sustains my interest in the story and ensures I’m not exhausting my mind, imagination, and interest. I hope this method can improve my first drafts. However, one disadvantage of this is that I do need to keep regaining my bearings in my story, from where I left off, which is more of a problem than when I was writing thousands more words each day.
Because of the need to regain bearings, it can often be a good idea to keep a plan, or a few notes that are relevant to your current position in the story, such as any facts to keep in mind and where you intend for the story to go in the next scenes.
Tackling a large story by thinking of it in terms of word count is possible; I’ve done it myself. Indeed, the story’s completeness can be measured by the final word count. However, I feel the approach can be stressful, exhausting, and time consuming. In the end you’re left with a mess of a first draft that could have been avoided with patience and planning. In contrast, thinking of a story in terms of tasks to do that can be done one at a time takes the pressure off, and some of these tasks lead to a few thousand words or more anyway and the word count builds automatically, and at least this time you’ve put more thought into the story in advance of the writing sprint.
What is meant by quality writing, and why should we, as writers, aspire to write quality?
To me, quality writing is about checking and editing it to ensure the message we wish to convey is apparent to us and other potential readers. Checking and editing can be done at the appropriate time.
We should aspire to write quality to avoid vagueness and having to clarify something. When we’re not clear with our writing it can waste time trying to get our message across, with the discussion of errors, and it can confuse other people with possible double meanings.
What do you do, specifically, to improve the quality of your writing?
The first thing to do, for me, is quite simple. I take a break from it after I’ve written something. This works wonders in giving me distance from my own material. Then, I think about anything I may want to add, in the next few hours, or the next day.
If I think it’s almost complete in its content I’ll leave it for a few more days, then I’ll give it a final proofread or make minor additions or changes to the text, to avoid the possibility of introducing further error.
When did you start focusing on the quality of your writing?
When you’re a writer, you’re usually at least slightly conscious of the fact that somebody else may be reading your writing, if not immediately, then in some point in the future. I think this was the same with me, and I made minor changes all the time to improve consistency or the way the text was presented.
A more concentrated effort to improve the quality of my writing probably came with the realisation that I could improve my writing, after repeated first drafts and enough time reading back my own work. This happened during 2016, I think, as I was trying to ‘write better novels’ and it’s a process that has lasted to Summer 2018 so far.
Do readers judge writers on the quality of their writing?
That depends. Friends or readers who are more interested in supporting you as an author than giving critical reviews won’t judge the quality of your writing in their reviews. They may privately have thoughts relating to the quality of your writing, and if you notice a lot of readers don’t read further books in your series this may be a sign, but more often than not it is normal for friends and writer acquaintances to read just a single book of yours.
Reviewers are another matter. If more than a few reviewers have been unhappy with the quality of your writing, and they’ve said as much then it’s a sure sign that readers do judge writers on the quality of their writing. There are a lot of discerning reviewers out there too. Sometimes it’s personal opinion, but more often than not there is truth in personal opinion, if it’s constructive.
What can writers do to be conscious of the quality of their writing?
I think this doesn’t necessarily have to be difficult.
1. Keep writing.
2. Read and edit.
3. Look at your writing from different angles, using different methods.
4. Keep your plans simple.
5. Take a break.
6. Get feedback.
Writing my first book was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, where the imagination opened, amid a rush of emotion. You’re exploring that coursing emotion through you and words are pouring out of your mind through your fingertips. There was no hard thinking at this stage, just a titanic release of thoughts, images, and exploration in a fascinating setting. But make no mistake, the journey doesn’t happen in one day!
The intent to write a book is a strange thing. Many people are determined to write a book, on their preferred topic, but sometimes that determination can override the natural unfolding of happiness and exhilaration you experience when your intent is more concerned with feeling than it is with mental intent. I experienced this much later, when I tried to think too hard to write a book.
My first book was a good example of a natural intent developing over the course of a few years. It started as an image in my mind of the setting of a desert planet, where strange beings interacted, and because the idea took hold of me it stuck there. It was a fixed intent that I was absorbed in. I had both the focus and the creative element intertwined. I was ready to move forward.
As I may point out in a few other resources or blog posts, planning isn’t essential, but for my first idea it was. I had to write down some specifics about the characters if only to get a vague idea of who they were and what they were doing in the setting. It didn’t matter too much to me if I changed my mind when I started writing, but writing specifics on paper enabled me to take more of an interest in the development of the idea, which would fuel my writing later on.
I went through a few planning and writing phases. My first drafts would appear horrible to me now, years later, but at the time they were a massive achievement and I was proud of myself. If you’ve never written your own story in chapters before and you just have, you’ve done very well. As Obi-Wan Kenobi would say, ‘You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.’ During this time there was no compulsive need to keep writing or planning. I simply noticed there were things I could have done better when looking at my drafts, or at the accuracy of my plans. My drafts weren’t long enough, for one, and the characters in my plans were robotic. Seeing these problems inspired me to re-plan and to change the focus of the story in a way that was more exciting and familiar to me. They say that writers often do write what they know best, and I think I instinctively did this.
Writing a first draft was the exciting bit, and I mean really exciting. It was the first time I had written so many words, and momentum led me on. I didn’t stop. I had to know what was going to happen in the story. I was as immersed as a reader is at reading their favourite book, even if it was my own. I didn’t understand back then that I could have written different types of scenes and eventualities in the same story. No, I thought the way the story unfolded was special somehow; that there was one way it was meant to be told and I had to know all the answers, so I continued writing, thousands of words. It took me three whole months, but I had 120,000 words at the end of it, and more importantly, I had the end of the story.
What I wasn’t really aware of was the funny thing about the way you tell your story, as an individual human being, by writing purely from instinct in a first draft. You put it together in a haphazard jumble. Every scene you write is like a first scene into a new world, though they relate in sequence and character names. It’s a mess, but it was your best chance at getting that first draft down onto digital paper and that was what mattered, and it is somehow special in that sense. I made the mistake of hugging onto that first draft format too tightly for a period of time, which is a classic amateur writer mistake. Save your first draft, and then rework changes into a new file. Don’t resist positive change and suggestion ‘because it wasn’t the way the story was meant to be told’. Tell yourself that and hear how foolish it sounds!
Self-editing and publishing preparation
Self-editing wasn’t really something I thought I would want to do and its importance, even when I was doing it, wasn’t apparent. The motivation was the need to prepare my book for self-publishing, and changing my first draft was an extension of this motivation. Even amateur writers know it’s not recommended to upload the first draft to be published as it is. There comes the fearful thought: what if the public sees my story and it’s in a mess?
Years down the line, the better I was at seeing my story from more distance and different angles, I realised it was published as a bigger mess than I thought. But I don’t regret this because I made a solid effort at writing, preparing my writing for publishing, and then self-publishing it. After all, my efforts at self-editing my writing did make a difference and gave me skills I didn’t have before, such as how to see the same sentences from different angles, identify spelling corrections, write blurbs, gain feedback and knowledge from the process, format a manuscript into an ebook, and decide which changes should be made for the sake of my readers. Yes, just as with writing, preparing a book for publishing is about vision, having a product the way I wanted it, and good organisational skills helped with this.
Publishing and marketing
Publishing was quite easy, at the press of the button. What comes after publishing is left to your imagination if you didn’t have a plan. Finding opportunities was instrumental in getting the word out about my book and this involved blog posts; booking stalls at steampunk, comic, craft, and book fairs; social media posts. There is no news quite like new news and announcing to the world that your book is available is exciting news to deliver.
Ordering physical books was a key part of having stalls, and sometimes I over-ordered. It’s good to have an idea about demand for books and to visit events as a customer before being a stallholder, for this reason.
Your first book can become your signature story, as it did with mine: the book you are known for or that is bought more often than others. First impressions matter, a lot.
The journey to my first book was one of great anticipation, where I learnt new skills, motivated by the reality of becoming a published author. The power of hope and fulfilment was combined. The journey didn’t even stop after I had published my first book; it continues in different forms as the years go by and defines who you are. It was well worth it!
This article was first published on 30th August 2016 on my other website, but it has been of great help to writers, so I thought I’d repost it here.
Are you a writer looking for reviews or thinking about getting published? Actively approaching reader communities is a good way to get feedback on your complete story, or for a sample or excerpt. Engaging reader community websites might be your next step towards adding those finishing touches, reaching new readers, or getting published. The following blog post will cover my experience of data-driven publisher and reader community Inkitt, and their recent Story Peak Contest, where three writers can win a publishing offer from them. I’ll address the positive and the negative aspects of the contest and what my thoughts are on Inkitt as a publishing company, which will hopefully give you some insights into how to make the most of the contest in achieving your writing aims or book marketing aims.
Should I enter the Story Peak Contest? That was the first question on my mind. A little research on Google on what other sites say about Inkitt leads to quite mixed results, and there wasn’t enough convincing information on either side to encourage me to fully decide one way or the other. The sites that were positive cited how amazing the platform was for connecting with readers and getting their stories noticed, and that some writers were going to eagerly upload their latest story to future contests. However, I spent more time looking at the negative points on sites, to see if there were any valid concerns before I entered their latest contest. Some cynical sites will tell you they are notorious spammers, that you’re giving away first English language rights by uploading your content to their site, or that it’s silly to ‘publish’ your story on Inkitt for them to maybe offer you a ‘publishing’ deal afterward. Some of us have become so suspicious of new start-up publishing companies that our attitude is to dismiss them out of hand, and based on what I’ve experienced or seen I can understand.
Before I entered their contest, I asked a few questions to see if they could clear up some of my concerns about the above points. The responses I got were prompt and friendly, though perhaps a little vague. Sometimes different people would answer my questions, which was confusing, but at least they had names and job descriptions. I was soon wondering if I was asking stupid questions. The reason for this is because the instructions on their website are short and simple, Spartan one might say, and we writers like to ask questions and worry about the details. A few things came back to my mind to reassure me: All Rights Reserved was posted beside the writer’s name on every story uploaded to the Inkitt website; and on the few occasions in the past when they have contacted my writer website, they have been friendly and reasonable. I haven’t been spammed by Inkitt on Twitter.
I entered the Story Peak Contest early August 2016, with my title Kroll: Magnificence, in the hopes of getting feedback from prospective readers. In the contest, only 100 readers can reserve copies of your story, so if you’re concerned that the entire reading community out there are going to read your latest creation, then don’t be. Those who don’t reserve a copy can only see a short sample. Your job is to build your readership from the ground up, persuading your already existing fans or maybe new fans to reserve their copy, read your story, and leave feedback on the Inkitt site, in the space of about a month. No, you don’t have much time, and if you haven’t got many friends and family who are willing to read your story, you’re going to really have to put in the legwork if you’re going to get anywhere. Indeed, my experience in this contest taught me the same lesson again about reaching readers: the onus is on you. Readers aren’t going to magically gravitate to your story, and then go out of their way to read your story and leave feedback; they need a reason and you need to give them that reason. As a result, getting through the ‘first round’ is not the cakewalk you’d expect it to be. 15 copies of my title disappeared like hot cakes, and I had a real belief I was overtaking the other titles and would get through with ease, but I was wrong. After my preliminary efforts, only 3 more copies were reserved for the remaining three weeks, and I only had myself to blame for my lack of effort. I don’t see it as a failure because it gave me an excuse to ask for feedback on Kroll. More on that below…
Okay, so the positive
Inkitt do take on board writer feedback. Their contest rules, including prior and existing contests, have changed in response to writer feedback, which shows they are prepared to listen and adapt accordingly. Despite their supposed reliance on an objective algorithm, they aren’t uncompromising with writers.
During the contest, I was emailed to be informed I was given a second chance to build my readership when a ‘second round’ to the Story Peak Contest was going to be added, extending the contest. Inkitt also gave writers more control over who was allowed to reserve a copy, encouraging a system whereby only those who submit feedback/reviews would keep their copy. I welcomed this change because it meant writers could control their involvement in the contest and build reader loyalty. After all, 100 readers is the official aim of the contest, but reviews are the main goal of every writer and could well determine success if you manage to get your 100 readers and move to the second round.
Inkitt does provide a handy dashboard for analysing your analytics, and a promotion to-do list that points writers in the right direction to build a readership. It encourages you to succeed, and doesn’t discriminate (at least until the second round).
Whenever I asked Inkitt questions, the people responding would reply in a friendly and efficient manner, and were happy to address my issues. I was under the impression Inkitt were a writer-friendly company determined to adapt to succeed. Though some have doubted their publishing experience and background online, they have a drive to succeed by interacting with a multitude to writers and they seem to be catching on how to we think and responding positively to our needs by changing contest models.
Entering the contest was a worry for me at first. Do I upload my whole unpublished story? Is it wise to do that on a website I know so little about? However, it gave me the motivation to ask friends and family for feedback, and some were more than happy to be asked, for which I was thankful. In a publishing industry where there are no guarantees with book marketing, the simple goals of the contest gave me the push I needed to make an effort on my own behalf to get some reviews. Thanks Inkitt! I went into the contest with nobody having read more than a chapter of Kroll, and came out of the contest with over five people having read at least five chapters, if not the whole thing. It doesn’t sound vastly impressive for a writer, but considering Kroll: Magnificence is an unpublished story that I haven’t shared, I did feel I made reader connections with friends and that I came out of the contest with a sack (of reviews).
The negative parts
When you have your 100 readers, and hopefully, some well earnt good reviews, you advance to the next round where Inkitt will decide who gets published based on their algorithm/system for measuring reader engagement. ‘Algorithm’ can be off-putting for writers, who may mistrust exactly how Inkitt will perceive your story’s success to make it more of a success… Furthermore, it is a source of anxiety what will become of your story if you make it to the next round. Do you just sit tight and wait, and how long do you wait for? How will the second round be carried out? These questions are not answered on the Inkitt website.
Personally, I like to see a publishing company that specialises in certain types of books because it gives me the confidence that my story, and me as a writer, would fit with what the publisher stands for or publishes. Inkitt’s positive every-writer-is-welcome was nice, but if I was offered a publishing deal would I be convinced I was with the right people and company? In their contest description, they do imply they can act as a bridge between A-list publishers and writers, but there are no guarantees here. I’m sure the arrangement would work very well if your story has an exploding readership. Coupled with Inkitt’s promotion, it could work to your advantage. But if readers and reader engagement ebbs then you’re going to see the contest, or your efforts in promoting the contest, as being the main reasons you built a decent readership. I suppose in some ways it depends on the publishing contract and what they can do for you.
Some readers I was in communication with felt it was inconvenient to read from the Inkitt website, which is a problem that may be somewhat rectified once the Inkitt app has been released. Some also were put off by the idea of reading a whole story in approximately one month, but for the sake of a contest I don’t see how this feature could be improved.
On the Inkitt website, I had overlooked the fact that they imply that in a publishing contract you would give your rights to Inkitt, presumably instead of licensing them, and you would get them back if Inkitt didn’t sell 1000 books in twelve months. Some writers might be uncomfortable with this arrangement, but this is only if you are offered a publishing deal. To reiterate, you don’t surrender any rights by uploading your excerpt or your entire story onto the Inkitt website.
The people who work at Inkitt are writer-friendly in that they listen to writers’ needs, change their contest models, and are happy to explain any issues with prompt replies. This gives me confidence and trust in their company. Their contests are amazing concepts for bringing readers towards their website, and therefore for fostering a future reading community, like Wattpad perhaps. Not only are the contests improving, but they keep targeting different types of readers, which is smart of them.
The people I reached out to were curious about Inkitt, and wanted to learn more. Writers end up being advocates for Inkitt in the hope they can translate this into advancement in the contest, and crucially, more feedback for their complete story.
If you’re looking for a fast way to gain new readers automatically, forget it! You must put in the time to promote your story and reach out to existing or new readers, even if you’re using Inkitt’s handy dashboard. Though it doesn’t state that the reader must read the entire story to write a review, I would recommend asking them to read the first five chapters, especially if they have to read on the Inkitt website.
What happens if you have 100 readers and some decent and positive feedback, after all your efforts? You might get a publishing deal with Inkitt, which might be a good thing, once you’ve seen what it entails and how they can help you reach even more readers. They do the editing, design, and even run the marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, more details or at least an FAQ section isn’t available to view, so I’d recommend to Inkitt that they write something to that effect. Their new website design states that they are a revolutionary literary agent, which is a well-considered angle, if they hope to pitch your story to A-list/traditional publishers, where your story would be published a second time and Inkitt would be the middle-man. If you trust Inkitt, they could work well as literary agents, but you need to be sure they can deliver as literary agents, who usually have a lot of connections and past experience in publishing or are members of an association. They also need to write why they are best placed to become your literary agent. At the moment, there is no guarantee that an A-list publisher would make an agreement with Inkitt, though they have done for past titles published by Inkitt (Bright Star by Erin Swan for example) as is currently visible in a slideshow on their website. As a writer I assumed popularity would interest A-list publishers, but exactly how much popularity is necessary? No, I’m sorry but we writers need more than just a “maybe” made clear to all of us. We need to know in detail what’s great about being published by Inkitt, what’s great about Inkitt as our literary agent, and what’s great about our chances of being published by an A-list publisher in terms of what they can do for us. It might give us writers more motivation to succeed in the contests.