The Making of A Novel: Debut Experience

Jay Penner
Jun 2 · 5 min read

Here’s what it took me to debut my first ~100K word novel called The Atlantis Papyrus. I am an engineer and an MBA (sorry!) with no background in Literature, History, or English. I started with a concept and persevered through my very first 100,000-word novel, published it, and it’s now making steady “real” sales. Real in that buyers are not family, friends, or acquaintances.

It’s been quite a journey.

This post takes you through the highlights of the journey. Don’t worry; I’ll keep it concise.

The Writing

Back in 2017, my high pressure and high travel work spurred me to pick up a hobby. I love history and reading, and I figured I could try to write. I began with a very vague outline in April 2017. The story had something to do with Alexander the Great and some treasure. I still have the original plot page that I jotted on Microsoft OneNote. It’s funny to look at it — the story changed almost entirely though looking back I did use many of the elements in the original plot line. I have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote “150 pages?” — the book eventually was about 400 pages, on paperback size.

I wrote 80% of the book between 5/2017 to early ’18. Life got in the way mid-2018, and the book went into cold storage for a few months. I returned to the book in 8/2018 and completed the full version by 10/2018. In this entire period I held on to my belief I was writing a book worth putting out to the world. I got feedback from a couple of fantastic beta readers between 10/2018 and 3/2019 and incorporated changes based on some great observations.

I was ready to publish my first book-baby by mid-March 2019

The Publishing

I did the book cover (see the evolution here, it’s quite entertaining) and blurb myself. I began these efforts around May 2018 and continued until the day of publishing. For those curious, I used Affinity Designer and some market purchased images to design the cover.

A cover designed by my own hands

I finally published in early April 2019. My family, friends, and acquaintances do not know that I write, so all of my sales have been truly organic and marketing driven. It is exciting and fulfilling to know that there are people out there that went to my Amazon page and decided that they should spend their money on my book.

I also wrote a 30-page “History behind the book” mini-book for readers curious to know what’s based on known history.

The Book by the Numbers

  • ~99K words/ 41 chapters in three parts
  • ~words per chapter = 2408; longest = 9435, shortest = 228
  • 8 POVs, with the lead character taking up 85% of all words
  • Past and present tenses, and first and third person POVs
  • Events take place in 12 locations and span about 10 years

Takeaways and Challenges

  1. Discipline — When I couldn’t write, I spent time on cover, blurbs, marketing, and research. Even though this was my first book, I never gave up and persevered through it. I guess believing in your work is key. I now make every effort to average about 1,000–1,500 words about 4 days a week.
  2. Independent thought — I did not get hung up on various “absolutes” (like “first book is always trash” or “don’t write in X tense”). My readers so far haven’t thought it’s trash. I don’t think it’s trash. I believe that what matters is what you write entertains the reader.
  3. Good beta readers — are worth their weight in gold. Find one or two that give honest, encouraging, and useful feedback. Getting feedback doesn’t mean you have to act on every piece of feedback, but it is critical to pay attention to themes that get repeated.
  4. Research is an asset — my work is a Historical Thriller/Mystery. I spent considerable time trying to bring some accuracy to major events, and so far the few reviews and emailed feedback suggests readers loved it and that it was hard to distinguish fact from fiction
  5. Grammar is a pain — I struggle with grammar and tense. I’m getting better. The first book went through multiple grammar and style iterations. I haven’t had anyone complaining, so it appears I did OK.

Was it worth it?

Was all that work worth it? Am I making tons of money and getting ready to buy an island? The answer to the former is, “Yes, absolutely.” The answer to the latter is: depends on the size of the island and where it is.

I picked writing as a hobby to de-stress. And I realized over time that I love building a story. My readers are those that like vivid fast-paced thrillers, backed by good research, and set in an ancient world. One of them noted it as “Game of Thrones and Indiana Jones.” It’s fun to get an email with “I loved it.” A month+ in, I wish more people left reviews on Amazon, but all veterans tell me organic reviews is a slow process. Please, my readers, leave a review :)

Preparing the pipeline

The idea for Wrath of God was ready by Jan 2019. It is already at about 60% and I expect to release it later this year. The book is set in the Pharaonic era around the time of Ahmose I. I also have a rough outline for the next two.

Finally

I’m really glad I picked up writing. If you’re curious about the book, head over here.

Thank you!


I maintain an active blog at https://jaypenner.com and you might enjoy some of my popular posts.

Jay Penner

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https://jaypenner.com | The Atlantis Papyrus, The Wrath of God —Fast-Paced and vivid Historical Thrillers