A writer's progress, or 'Do not despair'

2012 PR shot

It’s ten years since I started thrusting books on the world and I’d like to I share some expurgated diary extracts and experiences with you.

But first, a word of motivation…
You know how they say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something? If you take a working day of 8 hours, that comes out to 1,250 days. Suppose we work 5 days a week, i.e. a 40 hour week (Haha!) that comes to around 250 weeks or 4.8 years.

A wise entrepreneur once told me it takes about 5 years to get a business off the ground and into profit. So theoretically, I should have got hold of this writing business. I couldn’t possibly comment…

It’s actually quite hard to get ideas out of your head into an arrangement of words on a page that you feel satisfied with. But be comforted – perfection is impossible. That’s almost the first helpful lesson you learn. Some readers will rave about your writing, others will be left cold. But as a writer you feel compelled to keep trying, however tired your fingers are or how ever much your back aches, however many times you feel discouraged by others’ success or your own lack of it. But if you do the very best you possibly can, then give yourself a gold star. Being bloody-minded and persistent also helps…

So how did it all go for me…

August 2009: A really bad film sends me to my desk, and within 90 days, I have churned out a story of 90,000 words. No clue what to do with the finished manuscript, but it’s bound to be snapped up and sold in every shop and airport.

2010-12: A humbling apprenticeship. I discover I know nothing about the book world or novel writing craft despite being a life-long avid reader. Although ‘high concept and well-written’ according to professional assessors, my story is covered in layers of wishy-washyness and meanders all over the place – certainly not ready for agents, publishers or unprotected readers. I start a blog, though (https://alison-morton.com), as I knew from my business days that you need your own wholly-owned presence in cyberspace.

Nicola Morgan, Alison Morton, Liz Harris sharing a good joke in 2010

I join a writers’ circle, acquire a critique writing partner, go to conferences, read craft books, study on courses and in classes, and hone.

And I mean hone. You have never seen such scalpel action on a writer’s work. I put it through professional assessments – tough and even tougher. At last, a reasonably manuscript emerges.

My desk isn’t visible through the layers of multiple rejection letters saying, ‘intelligent and well-crafted, but we don’t know how to market it’. I despair. But feedback from many quarters said the story was of publishable standard so I take heart.

During this ‘apprenticeship’, I make connections including the late Carole Blake, the agents’ agent, who becomes a friend and mentor. We discover we both have a lot of opinions on everything. 😉 I come across publishing experts of all stripes in person and virtually including Sam Missingham. My business brain clicks into action and after consideration I decide to research the self-publishing sector. My brain hurts but I draw up a short list of experts to help bring my novels to market in the best possible presentation and grill them for two hours each.

2013: Structurally and copy-edited, proofed and put together beautifully by SilverWood Books, INCEPTIO hits the world. PERFIDITAS follows six months later (It’s fully drafted by the time INCEPTIO came out, so I’m not being super-productive!). Am taken aback by the amount of PR/marketing needed: blog tours, reviews, guest posts, competitions, talks, local radio, let alone feeding my own blog. (Aaaaargh!)
Join the Alliance of Independent Authors – lifeboat.

2014: SUCCESSIO comes out in June and I’m interviewed by no less a person than broadcaster Sue Cook!

I start to get onto the speaking ladder at conferences – panels and talks – very exciting!

Publishing collaboration panel at the Romantic Novelists’ Association 2016 conference with Dominic Wakeford (Piatkus), Carol Blake (Blake Friedmann Lit Agency), Katie Fforde, Nicola Cornick (Vice Chair RNA), Donna Hillyer (publishing consultant)

But I realise my writing life has to change. It’s the fine choice indies have to make – writing or marketing? The answer is both.  Planning is key whether it’s speaking, attending, selling your books, requesting reviews, running your social media, writing guest posts, packing your exhibition box or considering next year’s events.

And you learn to write on planes and trains.

2015: AURELIA comes out, the first of a new trilogy set the late 1960s. Originally, it was going to be a single sequel, but I have too much story, so another trilogy. That will be it. Or so I think. I go to the US and chair the indie panel at the Historical Novel Society conference. This is also the year for a marketing makeover for the blog. I split it as I was aiming at two audiences – my Roma Nova readers and other writers. Now I have a writing blog as well as the Roma Nova book one (https://alisonmortonauthor.com). (What am I doing???)

2016: The year the Ryanair crew recognise me when I came back home to France from my tenth gig in the UK.  I’m doing too much, including a major conference in France as well as several in the UK. Still, I’d chair the indie panel at the 2016 HNS Conference, launch my fifth book, INSURRECTIO (endorsed by Conn Iggulden!) at the London Book Fair (left) and speak at an event with Kate Mosse!

2017: RETALIO comes out in April followed by CARINA, a novella, in November. I only achieve this by gluing myself into my chair and doing fewer events, although I had the pleasure of speaking in Dublin for the first time.

2018: Persuaded by the dynamic force known as Helen Hollick, I move several light years from my comfort zone and write a short story for 1066 Turned Upside Down alternative history collection. No problem with the alternative history side; this is the genre I write in – I give talks in it – but a short story? Um…  I write 90-100,000 word books. But somehow it works.

This impels me to publish a short story collection of my own – ROMA NOVA EXTRA. Oh, and I represent the indie writing world on a panel at CrimeFest.

2019: The great change in Roma Nova: reorganisation and brand new covers! Each heroine now has four books – three novels and a novella to their name – and the series will split into the Carina and Aurelia strands.  I published NEXUS in September, the novella that completes the Aurelia strand. In my spare time, I write a short story for RUBICON, a collection of Roman stories published for the Historical Writers’ Association, and a 17th century Roma Novan story will be out in December as part of Helen Hollick’s Story Song month.

Ten years later, I’d say the writing process itself doesn’t get a great deal easier but some aspects of writing life do. You’ve gained expertise, knowledge and valuable contacts. You have a better idea of what you’re supposed to be doing, and have (hopefully) gained a sense of proportion. And you’ve learnt that change is the only certain thing.

So, nine Roma Nova books, one history book, a new writer’s guide later, I’m not super-productive by some standards, but I still feel that urge to write, to put those words out there. Where next? I’m developing a new series – a first draft completed and the second started… Yes, the itch is still with me.

Update December 2021: And two books in that series are now out – Double Identity and Double Pursuit. You have to do something during yjr pandemic lockdown. 😉


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series.Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. Double Pursuit, the sequel, is now out!

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines and taste world the latest contemporary thriller Double Identity… Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

8 comments to A writer’s progress, or ‘Do not despair’

  • lesley2cats

    I feel positively faint after reading that! I really admire what you do – I couldn’t!

    • Alison Morton

      That’s very kind of you to say so, Lesley. I have been a bit slower these past 12 months because of three operations, but hope to bounce back next year. The important thing is to keep going at whatever level or pace is best for you, but only if you want to…
      I suppose one day the itch may fade, but I really hope not.

  • Charlotte Betts

    An interesting post, Alison. It’s always fascinating to see read about other authors’ experiences!

  • An inspiring and impressive record, Alison. And a tribute to tenacity. I wish I had half your energy!

    • Alison Morton

      I do like a challenge. 😉 I think I’ve been wanting to tell the story of Roma Nova for so many years that it’s burst out and once begun, the journey has been fascinating.

  • Julie Stock

    Lovely to read about your writing journey, Alison, and so glad you’re still at it after 10 years! That’s a great achievement 🙂 Long may it continue for you.

    • Alison Morton

      Thank you, Julie. It’s a little strange to look back as I tend to be focused on the future. However, I think we need to record our foul-ups and our triumphs to get a bit of balance.
      Yes, ten years – almost impossible to think it’s been that long. I’ll just keep counting the wrinkles…

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