Having published two full-length novels and always being on the lookout for interesting marketing/promotional ideas I decided during this summer to try writing a novella. People like things to be cheap, right? So if I could put out a piece that only cost about 77p/99c it would entice a lot of new readers to check it out and, if they enjoy it, they’d buy my other, full-price, books. Simple eh?
I would base it on one of the characters from my novels (the Hospitaller Knight Sir Richard-at-Lee) and use the shorter format to do something a little different. For me that meant introducing a touch of the supernatural and taking the action from my usual setting of rural England to the sweltering villages of medieval Rhodes.
Writing it was easy. When you have a target of around 100,000 words the end can seem a long way off, especially when you work a full-time day job and have a young family. But when you’re only aiming to write 20,000 words or so your target is very clearly in sight and it’s much easier to keep pushing on towards it. For that reason I completed the first draft in just a few weeks, and I had great fun exploring the supernatural theme.
However, it wasn’t very good. My debut novel, Wolf’s Head, took around three years to complete, and the follow-up, The Wolf and the Raven, took a year. I had a lot of time to reflect on what I was doing between writing sessions with those books and I also had more time to plan things before I put pen to paper on each section. I thought both were very good when I read their completed first drafts.
With Knight of the Cross I barely had time to breathe before it was finished. And it suffered for it, as I realised when I read it through for the first time.
There’s devil worship, sleep paralysis and ancient evil come to life in there, but the most terrifying thing about the first draft was the fact it wasn’t very good.
I actually started to think it had too many faults and I’d be better just quietly binning it and moving onto the next Robin Hood adventure, but I’d been telling my readers how great Knight of the Cross was going to be; I couldn’t back out now!
This is when beta-readers and editors really come in handy – if you’re a writer and don’t employ either of these, you should. First off, Robin Carter, who reviews historical fiction under the name Parmenion Books, read it through and gave me some harsh but very insightful feedback and I gladly took his suggestions on board. Next I sent it to my usual editor and again a long list of improvements came back. I knew myself the early versions of the story were poor, but I hadn’t realised there were so many holes that needed plugged. I set about the task and, eventually, started to think maybe, maybe!, it would be a good read after all…
At last it was done and I had the final draft saved on my hard drive, ready to go.
It’s always a nerve-racking time when an author sends their “final” draft out to people to either beta-read or review so, although I’d tried my best to work on the faults in the early manuscript, I still had no idea whether the final version of Knight of the Cross was any good or not. It was a HUGE relief then when the first few beta-readers came back to me and said they loved the completed tale. One even said he thought it was better than my full-length novels. Phew!
This is the thing with being an indie writer: we don’t have a clue if our work is any good until it’s pretty much out there. We don’t have the benefit of an editor to hold our hand all the way through the process, a copy-editor to fix our formatting mistakes, or an agent to tell us the book is saleable. We rely on the honesty of beta-readers and, if we can afford it, a good editor to look over our first draft and give us some pointers.
Knight of the Cross comes out on September 19th and I’m relieved to know I’ll have some first day five star reviews from my beta-readers to entice other prospective buyers. From a first draft of 17,000 words to the completed version at 23,000 words plus, it’s been a short journey but it’s been hard work – much harder than I’d anticipated when I decided to write it. I enjoyed the process though, and I think you’ll enjoy reading it too.
Now that I have it all ready to go I’ve been able to send the manuscript over to Nick Ellsworth who narrated my Wolf’s Head audiobook and he’s going to bring Knight of the Cross to life for those who enjoy having stories read to them by a real master of his craft.
People are already asking which of my characters I’ll base my next novella on. I think Friar Tuck might be interesting. What do you think? Maybe Little John would be good? Or a “baddie” like Guy of Gisbourne?
Hmmm, now that really would be something different…
Steven A. McKay is an independently published historical fiction writer and musician from Old Kilpatrick, Scotland. Steven’s outstanding novels, Wolf’s Head and The Wolf and the Raven are finding an appreciative audience, and there are many well deserved amazon reviews. Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers published a richly deserved positive review of Wolf’s Head, and we look forward to interviewing Steven about his recent release The Wolf and the Raven and his upcoming novella Knight of the Cross. Steven’s vivid adult themed retelling of the legends of Robin Hood are well worth the read, and buzz over his novella highlighting Hospitaller Knight Sir Richard-at-Lee is highly positive. For more information, visit Steven’s website at http://stevenamckay.wordpress.com.
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