2020: That Writing Year That Was

Cue the obligatory look back on the writing year that’s been… 

A better title for this post might be The Year That Never Was, given how disrupted all our lives have been thanks to a certain contagious virus that’s still doing the rounds… Yet, for all the disruption I still managed to achieve some of the goals I set for myself this time last year. Not all of them, but some of them…

The Website:

I’ve done some basic housekeeping on the site and some tidying up. Overall, it remains pretty much the same with the addition of new pages for The Paradox Club series of books. And I need to tidy up the Videos page as well, so that’s my next job.

The Blog:

This continues to be a an occasional “hello there!” rather than a weekly update. Time spent blogging about writing is time you’re not spending writing. And I’ve got a lot I need to write in 2021…

My Books:

The Valentine Trap is finally out and yes, I have sales! Not that many of them, but they are in double figures, so that’s good. Considering that The Valentine Trap wasn’t promoted at all, as They say it’s a mistake to promote your book without first building your audience, the sales figures aren’t too shabby. And it’s only the first in the Paradox Club series, and since They say a series always takes a while to take off, usually at least three books in, I’m just happy that it’s sold at all! Still no reviews though…

The Next Prime Minister still needs updated, something that I held back on doing until the Brexit negotiations were concluded. Now that they are, there’s only the final outcome of the 2020 American Presidential Election to keep an eye on. Although the election was in November, the ongoing dispute over the result looks likely to rumble on for a while. The Fat Lady hasn’t sung yet, so until she does I’ll keep working on it until it finally gets resolved.

Fan Film Book 2 is currently being written up from the Temi recordings I made, which saved me a lot of time typing. Work on it got shelved as My First Novel took up all of my time and attention but the plan is to finally get it out of the way, along with the Updated 2021 Version of TNPM

A Fan Film Adventure In Space And Time! still needs an audiobook version, which in all honesty may not happen now due to lack of time. It certainly won’t happen before I’ve finished writing the sequel. Time management is more of an issue than ever now, given how much of it The Dreaded Day Job is taking up…

Promotion, Advertising & Marketing:

Didn’t do any, spent nearly all my time either writing or attending online webinars and summits on writing. Not exactly a priority right now. But I do have Melissa Storm’s Author Engine to refer to, a good resource and her Quick Tip Engine is free to use and recommended.


Although becoming a BookTuber was part of my plans for 2020, it didn’t happen. Too busy writing My First Novel and trying to get better at being organised. So that’s still on my To Do List. That said, I have finally uploaded my first two videos to the Bryan Mack Books YouTube Channel. So that’s something.

The channel was created quite early on this year but I never got round to creating any actual content. Then, in preparation for this post, I had a look at the post I did this time last year about what I wanted to do this year. And realised I still hadn’t uploaded the interview I did while I was at Uni with the actress Blythe Duff, who you’ll probably know from TV’s Taggart. But I have now!

Back in 2013, I had the idea of doing a video project on Cumbernauld Theatre for my Final Submission. It had recently been announced that the old Theatre building was going to close and be replaced with a new one. As readers of A Fan Film Adventure In Space And Time! will know, I was part of Cumbernauld Youth Theatre back in the day and so I thought it would be a good idea to mark the Theatre’s passing with some interviews.

I knew Blythe a bit from when I helped out on a production of John Godber’s Shakers that she was in and then thirty years later she came to UWS to give a talk to all us Screen Acting students. I introduced myself, she said she had thought I looked familiar and then I mentioned my interview idea…

The files had been gathering digital dust on my Hard Drive ever since they were shot and Shona Wallace convinced me to use a cut-down version of the Fan Film as my Final Submission instead. I’d done some preparatory work on the videos but December 31st 2020 was my last chance to get them online and fulfill at least one part of my 2020 plans. So I have. All I need to do now is amend the Videos page on the site to include them.

So what did I learn in 2019?

Writing A Novel: Well, the first thing has to be that writing a novel really is as much hard work as They say it is. Even when your enthusiasm and passion for the project hurtles you towards the finishing line. But then your first time doing anything is always the hardest it will ever be, so My Second Novel should be an easier publishing journey then the first one.

Aside from the tricky business of choosing Amazon Categories, something made easier thanks to David Gaughran‘s advice in Amazon Decoded, probably the biggest learning curve was Self Editing.

Just as Acting has become a Middle Class profession, with talented Working Class kids missing out on the opportunities afforded their better connected and well funded Middle and Upper Middle Class competition, so it is with Writing. At least that’s how it looks to my Newbie eyes.

If you have a spare grand lying around that you can chuck at getting someone to do you a Proper Cover and someone else to do Proper Editing, then that’s great. But if you’re a Zero Budget Author then you are forced to Do It All Yourself. Which in my case meant doing my own cover as well as my own editing…

Self-Editing: Working on the text of your novel is hard work, but even more hard work is the revision you need to do after The Final Draft is done. Since I wanted to get The Valentine Trap out as soon as possible, I did multiple passes in quick succession. These were The Big Font Pass, which is where you increase the font size in the expectation that any errors you have made will be easier to spot. Next came the PDF Export Pass and The Kindle Previewer Pass, which is where seeing your text in an unfamiliar format can help you spot errors you might have missed doing the initial Big Font Pass.

But the best Editing Pass is the one that’s done with a pair of eyes that aren’t yours. Your brain is so used to looking at the text that it fills in the gaps, overlooks formatting errors and fills in what’s missing. So if you’ve ever done this yourself, you can tell where this is going…

Having spotted all the errors I’d made I hit publish, got my Author Copy and guess what? Mrs Bryan Mack Books spotted a total of five mistakes that I had missed. Nothing major, mostly missing words and incorrect punctuation. So from now on, she’s my first port of call to catch my future mistakes!

The hard lesson of this was that it’s a complete pain in the arse to have to re-upload your amended book file to KDP and wait for them to approve it again. Especially when the Mrs spots a sixth mistake on her second reading and you’ve already bought Author Copy Mk2!

So the best thing you can do if you’re forced by a lack of finances to Self Edit your book is to get someone else to read it before you hit publish. Not for creative feedback on your writing but looking for errors. And if you can, put it away for a while before you look at it again. Which is probably what I should have done…

Hint: A fresh pair of eyes will spot errors that your familiarity with the text will blind you to, no matter how many times you look at it…

Plotting, Planning & Getting Organised: One of the main things I did this year, when not writing, was to invest time in as many online instruction sessions as I could manage and as many writing tools as I could afford. When it comes to webinars etc I attended the following:

Fiction Marketing Academy with Ray Brehm, which was good but the videos are only up for a day at a time, making it challenging to watch all the ones that are of interest. Still, it was a worthwhile event and I’m looking forward to the next one.

Escape The Plot Forest with Daniel Wallace was another good one, with Derek Murphy being the standout contributor for me. The reason he seemed familiar was that I’d already bookmarked his CreativIndie website and bought his Reach Your Readers course as a result of his seminar.

How To Write A Bestseller with Suzy K Quinn was another course I enrolled in, thanks to good old Mark Dawson and his Self Publishing 101. Very in depth and highly recommended, if a little pricey. Luckily there’s a Pay Monthly option for us Zero Budget folks.

Story Coach: Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction with Daniel Schwabauer is another good one. Got this as a result of attending the aforementioned Fiction Marketing Academy. 

Alessandra Torre did a couple of really informative webinars which resulted in me joining her Inkers Facebook Group.  Facebook groups isn’t something I really do, but this one is fun to be part of. A lack of competitiveness and self-promotion is probably why… 

Plottr: A sound investment, this is a great tool for plotting your novel. If you’re a Mac user you already have something similar inside of Scrivener 3, but those of us who are on a PC still have to make do with Scrivener 2 and so have to purchase this as a separate programme.

The upshot of purchasing Plottr was that it finally spurred me into getting more organised. That not only meant cleaning up my PC & external hard drives, but sorting out my bookmarks and my writing notes.

Most of my notes were, and still are, in Evernote, a leftover from my days at Uni when it was the recommended utility for keeping track of your research. But, as time has gone on and I’ve had more and more ideas for The Paradox Club, things are getting harder to keep track of, even with tagging. So I’m in the process of moving my notes from Evernote into the individual books that I can create folders for in Plottr.

Plottr allows you to plan your entire book series as well as the individual chapters of each book, so when I come across a note of an idea, I put into the book where it seems to best fit. Which makes planning things out a lot easier!

NEXT: 2021, More Writing Adventures In Storytelling

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