On a warm summer’s night, my little sister wandered into my room in her pajamas and as she couldn’t sleep, asked me to tell her a story. Rather than reel off a classic fairytale, I thought I’d make one up on the spot.
The next three hours were spent with me manically waving my arms around and telling Masooma about the adventures of a boy called Arias Archer, and how he had to rescue his sister’s soul after it had been stolen by a deranged King called Kazzabus, in a fantasy world called Falasia. I made sure there was a clear message of courage, love, and determination woven into every beat of the story.
When I finished, Masooma paused and said ‘that was really cool. You should write it down.’
A few months passed, and I left for university at Leicester. One weekend when I was home, Masooma casually asked if I had started writing my novel yet. I laughed and said I hadn’t, and that it was just a bedtime story, nothing more. She looked at me with utter seriousness, and said ‘no, you should definitely write it down.’
The Golden Notebook
I travelled back to Leicester that week and walked into WHSmith, and bought a golden notebook. For the next year, I wrote the entire plot of Arias’ adventures in the notebook, scribbling away furiously during my English lectures when I had a new idea.
I soon realised that I had enough material for around 10 books, so I made a draft on my computer of Book 1. I called it ‘Arias Archer & the Shadow Cloak’. I had no idea how to write a novel, or how challenging it would be.
The premise was the same- Arias would rescue his sister’s soul when the tyrannical King Kazzabus steals it, and he’d travel to the fantasy world of Falasia to find her. There, he would meet bizarre characters, complete life-threatening quests, and discover that only the mysterious ‘Babbling Warrior’ could help him defeat Kazzabus.
The story focused on the power of the soul, and the pure bond between a brother and sister, while packing in lots of action, suspense, and plot twists. It was a blend of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Narnia, as I’m a huge fan of all three series. The version I wrote down was also a LOT darker than the bedtime story I’d told my little sister- I guess I got a bit carried away.
Throughout my university degree, I wrote short stories in my lectures to flesh out the characters and give them all backstories. I wrote over 20 short stories to make sure every character in the book was well-rounded and multi-dimensional.
Key Messages in my Book
It was also so crucial for me that this wasn’t a male-focused story of a guy rescuing his little sister, as so many books, movies, and TV shows marginalise female characters and give male protagonists the limelight. I ensured there were strong female leads in the book, who without which Arias would never have even made it through the first chapter.
The second important theme in my book was mental health. Although it’s an action-packed fantasy novel, Arias suffers from anxiety, and is generally terrified throughout the book, with regular bouts of uncertainty and stress. I wanted my fantasy book to have the craziest and most entertaining elements in it so it’s fun to read, but to also show it’s okay to crumble sometimes, and that being fearless isn’t what makes you a hero, but acknowledging your fears is sometimes the strongest thing you can do.
The Big Crunch
So I finally finished my book in 2015, a full five years after deciding to write it. I sent it out to dozens of agents and publishers, and to my disappointment, I had no response.
Not a single publisher wanted to publish my book.
A few came back and asked if I could change the plot to make it more ‘dystopian’ or ‘a bit more girl on the train’, as that was a huge trend at the time, but I refused and said the story wasn’t ever going to change.
I was disheartened at the lack of interest from traditional publishers, as I had spent years writing this novel and poured my heart and soul into it.
I thought deeply and decided that maybe this was a blessing in disguise, as ‘self-publishing’ was really taking off at the time.
So I used my own digital marketing company, Regent Branding, to self-publish my book. It was a long process of editing, compiling, illustrating and proofreading, but after another few months, it was finally ready.
The Digital Revelation
I released my book on Amazon, gave my friends and family signed copies of my new novel, and after a few weeks, sales started to creep up. Random people around the world started reviewing the book positively, and I did competitions on my facebook page to create a loyal audience too. This worked amazingly well, and after another few weeks, I had 5* reviews from people I’d never met before, which was so humbling. I used super fans of ‘Harry Potter’ as an audience to target on facebook ads, which worked tremendously well, with 95% of them showing a clear interest in my book. I also ensured all my adverts for my book on facebook just showed on mobile, as that’s the way my target audience spent most of their time, and the retargeted the audiences who engaged with me to further promote my book.
I was invited on the radio to talk about writing a novel, and a school in Burnley were also kind enough to invite me in to speak to their children.
I remember sitting in the classroom, and when all the kids came in clutching their own tattered copies of Arias Archer & the Shadow Cloak, I got quite emotional. They then started talking about the plot with such excitement and passion, reeling off words like ‘Falasia’, ‘Zivaluni’ and ‘Kazzabus’ with no hesitation whatsoever.
After having the story live in my head for nearly 10 years, seeing these children talk about it with a spark in their eyes made me feel a huge mission had been completed for me. Well, I felt that way until they all said ‘sir, when are the next 9 books coming out?’, and I decided to begin writing the sequel with a renewed sense of purpose.
So that’s my story of publishing my fantasy novel. If you’re a budding author, or just interested in being published, here are 3 tips you should keep in mind:
1) Read. If you’re serious about writing, you need to read as much as possible. It keeps your mind sharp, exposes you to different styles and can inspire you in the most unexpected ways. Even if it’s a short story, make a habit of reading as much as possible.
2) Forget perfection. Many authors hope to write the perfect novel and send it out into the world like a precious paper lantern. In reality, editing and proofreading is a messy business, so just get the ideas in your head down on paper and start moulding them. Over time, you’ll create an amazing story, but it must start out as a weird lump of an idea that you’re dedicated to nurturing.
3) Product, not art. Again, many authors (myself included) are very attached to their novels and ideas, which is quite natural. But once I personally stopped looking at it like a piece of art and more like a ‘product’ that had a target market, social media plan, and customer funnel, sales skyrocketed, as I understood my audience and why they liked my novel.
Find a copy of “Arias Archer & the Shadow Cloak” here!