How I Got My First Novel to Print

When I wrote my first novel, I was elated. It was in 1997, and I wrote it in under four months. I had always dreamed of writing a novel but always seemed to find excuses not to sit down and just write it. After a life-altering event, I re-evaluated my life and what I wanted to accomplish. One thing that I always wanted to do was write a novel. Actually, many novels. Becoming a writer when I retired was a long-held dream, but I was forced to reassess that long-term goal. I told myself, “If I don’t write the novel now, I may never write it. Life is too short to not follow my dreams.” That set in motion my dream of writing my first novel.

I had some ideas for a novel, but one idea lingered in my mind for days after I made the decision to write the novel. I wanted to explore an abused woman and the complexities of love and betrayal resulting from that abuse. I already had a character in mind that would be my protagonist. She was a tough woman, proud but angry and bitter, and she would endure some unbelievably distressing incidents in her life. I wanted to capture her spirit on paper and convey to the reader why she was a survivor.

As I decided on my protagonist, it wasn’t difficult to pepper the novel with other colorful characters to bring the story to life. To create convincing characters, I drew from characteristics of people I knew, their personalities, their special nuisances, and their quirkiness to make the story interesting and believable. I wanted the characters to ring true with my readers. I wanted the readers to care for the characters. I wanted the readers to want to get to know the characters, get inside their worlds, and feel their pain and sorrow.

After completing the novel, I felt I had achieved my first goal as a writer: to get the work down on paper. I did. I spent several more months tweaking the novel and making changes here and there until I felt I had said all I could say about the characters at that point. My baby was finished.

It was time to see what others thought about my baby, my novel, so I sent the manuscript to numerous book publishers only to be met with rejection letters stating my work wasn’t what they were looking for at that time. My first rejection letter floored me because I wasn’t expecting such a blatant negative response from the publisher. I did expect some feedback as to why it was not a fit, but that did not happen. So I shelved the book for a few years.

I realized there was a lot I didn’t know about the publishing industry, and before I set out to jump into those waters again, naked, I needed to learn a little bit more about a world I had planned to make a career. I read, researched, and printed every type of article from the Internet on book publishing. When I ran across self-publishing articles, I really took notice. At that time in the late 1990s, self-publishing required a huge investment of money. To have a small print run, you’d have to invest a great deal of money with no guarantee of making a return on your investment. I put that idea on hold and decided to continue focusing on the traditional book publishers for getting my book into bookstores.

I waited another couple of years and continued my research. I also decided to write a couple of more novels while I waited for the right time to get my books on the market. I researched the types of books that were selling off the shelves and decided to write some short stories in those same genres. I could always go back and develop them into novels if the notion hit me.

In 2004 I found information on Print-on-Demand publishers and decided that was the way to go. I could self-publish my novel without a huge investment and an inventory of books that I couldn’t get out of the spare bedroom of my apartment. I didn’t have that worry with POD publishers. I printed only what I wanted to sell. There was no backlog of books, and there was no inventory that I had to be responsible for selling to make back my initial investment. I could make back my initial investment with selling just 200 books. And I did.

I researched the POD publishers and settled on one out of Canada, I researched the website and the guidelines for submitting the novel for printing. I decided on the size of the book, 5″ x 9″ x 6″, and determined that I wanted it to be soft cover. I checked on’s pricing and chose the package deal that would provide an ISBN number for my novel. I would also retain all copyrights to the book. Through book distributors I could have my novel placed with book wholesalers, chain stores, online bookstores, and independent bookstores. I was well on my way to getting my book out there for the world to read.

I did, however, make some mistakes that first-time authors make. I didn’t get my book reviewed before going to print, so getting the book into key markets proved more difficult after the fact, and I didn’t reap the sales I had expected. I also didn’t plan a marketing strategy for my novel. I figured I’d learn it as I went. In addition, I didn’t promote my novel as best I could, mainly because I didn’t think I would have to devote all my time to promotion. I just thought the money would come falling out of the sky.

What a wake up call! The money didn’t come rolling in or falling from the sky, for that matter. I had to seriously rethink how I wanted to make this new career as a writer work. Being a writer was not simply about writing the book and getting it into print. To be a successful writer, I had to promote my book to keep it on the readers’ minds so that they would want to go out and buy it.

I learned that the hardest part of being a writer is learning how to promote myself. It takes hard work, perseverance, and most of all, dedication on the part of the author, namely myself, to get out there and let the world know that I have a book that should be read.

So now I trudge along.

Pungky Dwiasmoro Hiswardhani

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