I am a chronic flitter. I love working on several different creative projects at once, as it keeps things interesting. Over the last two and a half years, I’ve been working on a children’s book – a ‘choose your own journey’ style novel, to be precise.
Starting to write a multi-pathed book
When I first started work on this book, it was a bit of a craic. It was a collaborative effort, working alongside an illustrator. We launched in with much enthusiasm, with three main goals:
- To create an interactive book that kids would love
- To write something educational, without being dry
- To do something completely freaking different
Not a bad place to start, you might think. And to be sure, for the first few months, everything was tickety-boo. Then I realised what I’d let myself in for.
The unique challenges involved
I’d had some vague ideas about how I was going to keep track of the different plot-threads. Those went out of the window pretty early on.
In my head, the multiple plots of this sort of book had looked like a tree, with the branches gradually spreading towards the end. The reality of it is more like a hugely complex river delta, with streams snaking off in all sorts of unexpected directions, only to rejoin with each other in random places.
It was an unwieldy creature. But nonetheless, I persevered.
Getting to the editing stages
After about a year, I’d got the first draft down. I literally felt like I’d just wrestled with the world’s biggest, wriggliest multi-headed snake. Celebrations were due, I thought.
Then I started the editing. Oh boy. Oh boy.
If the initial plotting had been tough, the editing process was brutal. Over the course of eighteen months I discovered plot inconsistencies (hardly surprising, when three different paths lead to one location, for example), paths leading to completely the wrong place, and random sections that didn’t connect to anything at all.
It was like someone handing me a Rubik’s cube made up of thousands of blocks, and asking me to figure it out. Fortunately I did, but it took AGES.
The publishing stages?
We had a lot of interest from publishers for this book. So many compliments about the concept, the approach and the ‘fun factor’. But ultimately, we kept getting a ‘no’.
It was baffling, to say the least. Then one kind literary agent finally threw some light on the matter for us. In basic terms (and this was something we’d had no idea about), these books are regarded as nightmarish by publishers – for one main reason. Editing them is hellish, and takes about twenty times as long as a normal book.
The truth of it sunk in. It suddenly all made sense. I thought of my own experiences, wrestling with the editing, night after night, and nodded. Of course publishers didn’t want to hand this sort of thing over to their editors – it was seen as too great a risk. I got it.
Stepping into self-publishing… with trepidation!
With that in mind, myself and the illustrator decided to step bravely into the unknown and publish it ourselves. Which is slightly terrifying, as we don’t have a clue about the self-publishing industry.
However, we’re looking forward to it. Sadly, there’s a stigma about self-publishing (largely because there are some sub-standard books out there that ruin it for the high-quality self-published efforts). But we’re confident that this is a stand-out book. It’s certainly had the effort put into it – blood, sweat, tears and a large portion of my sanity too!
Lessons learnt about writing a ‘choose-your-own-path’ style book
- Plot it out roughly first. I don’t think you need every little detail, but you need to have rough ideas about each major plot strand
- Identify your target audience – just as you would a standard novel
- Realise that you’ll struggle to find an agent or publisher to take it on – for the reasons outlined above
- Make it fun. These books are all about the enjoyment factor, and the thrill of being actively involved
- Be frightened by the editing. It will take longer than a normal book, but it’ll be worth it
- Make it too over-complex. I went in waaaay too complicated to start with, and it ended up running to well over 110,000 words, which is too long for a kid’s book
- Be afraid to try something new. It’s always a gamble, but these are the books that stand out from the crowd
Watch this space
I’m not going to reveal any further details, because the book won’t be out for another couple of months at least. And I like to do a big reveal; it’s all part of the fun!
On a completely different note – The Hanged Man and the Fortune Teller will be hitting the shelves in September. Very exciting stuff.