What I’ve learned while writing a Series

The first time I thought of writing The Currents Series, I was seated at Java in Kisumu with a friend. We had just ordered some mocha (I love an iced-mocha) and he was telling me about how frustrated he was with his parents especially his Dad for expecting so much of him. He had school, piano lessons and was also working part time for the family business, and it was taking a toll on him.

He said, “It’s like his business is some throne that I’m supposed to sit on whether I like it or not.”

And that’s when I thought of writing about a young prince who had to rise to power, and take after his Father whether he wanted to or not. I remember scribbling a text and saving it as a draft.

I did not think about it for the next three months.

Then one day, as I was in a matatu making my way from work, I heard these two women talk about a Nigerian movie where the Prince was forced to marry and abide by the customs but he chose not to and instead married a blind girl whom he truly loved. I remember thinking, that could be a great story line- but when I arrived home I was too exhausted to do anything but sleep.

I did not think much of the idea until the next Saturday morning when a friend asked me if I was still writing.

So, I started by writing bits and pieces of the story. I started with the names of the kingdoms and the characters. I went with Kiswahili because each name represented something, and as days went by I carried a notebook where I would write down scenes and phrases that came to mind. I sat down one weekend and typed it all.

When I was almost done, the lights went out and I had only saved half of the work. So, I resumed my typing the next evening.

I procrastinate, and I come up with many ideas while working on one- which often causes me to lose sight of what I am working on, so I had to set up an outline (thank you Stephen King but some discipline is needed!).

I had this structure that included a sequence of events that I had to follow while writing, and I stuck with it. The best part of finishing that first book came in on December 27, 2014.

I remember holding my books, touching the cover and reading it in print and thinking, “this is what it feels like.” I mean, it was my first book in the Series, I had done everything from designing the cover, selecting the font and simply putting it out there.

But no one told me how to market the book. How was I going to get people to read it?

So, when my friends and family members bought it and read it- they started demanding for the next book. I was not ready. I remember thinking, “now what!” but the book was needed and so I had to write and I have been since then.

So, what did I learn while writing a series:

  1. Have an outline. Yes, there’s that whole Stephen King debate about plunging in- but it works for him, if you are writing and seriously considering publishing an outline is the best guide you’ll ever have. You need to focus on the plot and not lose track of the story line.
  2. Readers do not love you if you leave them hanging at the end of every book. In my case, I have done so gently, but I still got complaints of major cliffhangers! Each book in the series needs to highlight a major aspect of your plot while advancing it, ensure that your reader moves along with you…maintain a steady pace.
  3. Get an Editor. Yes, I did not have one for my first book and though it turned out well, it could have been excellent with an Editor. If you cannot afford one, look for your English Professor and ask him/her to read it, because you might not know the tiny mistakes that slip by while you write. An Editor is like a picky eater, they consume only what is necessary. You need to weed out unnecessary words and scenes in your book.
  4. Overnight success is an illusion. Write. If you think you’ll make millions in less than a year, well, let’s just say that it depends on what you are writing, but you need patience.
  5. Yes, and your friends and family may be great supporters of your work, but nothing keeps a book afloat more than word of mouth- or sharing buttons in sites! They should not just tell you they love the book. They should share the links on social networking sites, and write reviews to help spread the word.

This series was personal for me. I have written and submitted manuscripts to publishers before and never got any feedback. There was one time that a publisher called me to say that he wanted someone less “White” and more “African.” His words were “Your story is good, but the English is just not like our people, you know…we are looking for something more African.” I have written articles and I decided it was enough when I read my work under someone’s name. It hurt even more when I wrote three articles only to be paid for one under the guise of inadequate funds. I remember sitting at home and looking at the MPESA text on my phone and thinking, “I get paid this little for that much work?”

So, I have never submitted any of my works to any publishers here since then.

I am writing the final book in the series, and I am not yet a millionaire, but my journey has been worth that idea, the blackout, and the frustration of editing and revision. Though I am not so keen on writing another series, but I would most definitely write a romance novel…I love a good romance.

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