Writing and self-publishing CHROMA HEARTS, my romantic psychological thriller, was the best decision I’ve ever made as a writer.
To think I almost didn’t push through with it.
In this article, I am going to share with you how I managed to do it despite many odds. I’m also going to share a few valuable lessons I learned along the way, some tips on writing and publishing a thriller, and a printable Self-Publishing Checklist. Stick around till the end, and you will get the first chapter of Chroma Hearts as a bonus.
First, a brief background about me: I’m Mayumi Cruz, a Filipino indie author writing diverse, cross-genre fiction. That means I don’t limit myself to one genre. My stories are always a combination of one or more genres and subgenres of fiction. I self-publish my books and sell them on Amazon and the Philippine market. To date, I have self-published ten books and co-authored three anthologies, including Silver Linings published under LitArt Hub Publishing, which I co-founded.
You can get a glimpse of my books and writing on my website: www.mayumi-cruz.com.
About the Book
Chroma Hearts is a dark, emotional psychological thriller with a multitude of themes: mental depression, family dynamics, relationship, friendship and moral issues, among others. Here’s the blurb and an excerpt:
Chroma Hearts was awarded 2019 Best Published Story by Penmasters’ League, a community of authors, writers and publishers headed by Ms. Emerald Blake at the 2nd Gawad Parangal sa Mundo ng Literatura held on February 8, 2020, where I was also recognized as 3rd Best Published Author of the Year. For a full list of winners, click here.
Chroma Hearts’ Journey
I’ve never made it a secret that Chroma Hearts was originally a fanfiction I wrote in Wattpad way back in 2016. Back then, I already knew it wouldn’t pass traditional publishing standards. It was essentially a first draft.
I revised it many times and tried my luck in submitting it to literary agents and publishers. Each time it was rejected, I read and polished it. It wasn’t fun to be rejected, but I used it to look at my manuscript with new eyes. I would have continued querying, if I didn’t notice that most agents required me to answer questions such as how many copies of my book/s have I sold, and how many followers I have on social media.
It was then that it hit me: the merits of my story weren’t enough to get accepted. There were other factors being considered, of which I was sorely lacking. I was downhearted, but I realized this is how the publishing world works. I don’t have anything against it; it’s just the way it is.
But being a middle-aged, hypertensive-with-a-host-of-other-illnesses-writer whose self-esteem was hanging by a very, very thin thread made me rethink my options. I can spend my days sending out my manuscript and waiting for a response until my dying breath, or I can take matters into my own hands and create my own path.
That’s when I decided to self-publish.
But I was still new then on self-publishing. Although I had previously published one book, a romantic comedy, I knew I still have a lot to learn.
This was where Cindy Wong’s 8Letters’ Indie Publishing the Write Way online course really helped me a lot. I learned about writing a blurb, editing my manuscript, formatting and publishing, including costing and marketing. Not only that, you get Cindy’s genuine guidance and all-out support. I highly recommend this course to aspiring authors for its comprehensive, practical and motivational tutoring — unlike some courses and writing communities which are more interested in getting money out of writers. In addition to the course, I also read up and did my own research on publishing.
Do you know I almost didn’t complete the course? There were bumps along the way, a.k.a. my fears and self-doubts. If you care for the full tale, read it here. But eventually, my book was finished.
In the end, Chroma Hearts had evolved. The final word count is almost tripled from the original draft, my characters’ names have changed, I added more scenes and dialogues, and covered all the plot holes. Back then, I proof-read and edited it myself. I must have read and re-read the book a hundred times, I even dreamt about the scenes on some nights! I also made my own book cover and did my own formatting, which I still do up to now. Then I self-published it through a cost-effective printing company, JMD Printing by Ms. Joy Aspa. I promoted the book in my social media accounts after a successful book launch hosted also by 8Letters, and sold more books than I expected — ebook and paperback combined.
When glowing reviews started to trickle in through my social media accounts, and then from Amazon, Goodreads, and some bloggers, I was on cloud nine.
Imagine my shock when it won 2019 Best Published Story, when I wasn’t even too active in engaging with the writing community because of my being a super introvert. For this, I am also grateful to Ms. Emerald Blake, President of Penmasters’ League for giving new writers like me a chance for my book to be judged based on its literary merits, not because of peer connections. I hope more writing communities like Penmasters’ League emerge and prosper in the Philippines.
All these meant I wasn’t wrong in bringing the story of Erica and Melvin out to the literary world, and all my efforts paid off. It was a feat I never saw coming. I was both awed and humbled.
The lessons I am sharing with you are more generalized rather than specific, because general truths withstand the test of time while specifics tend to change with time and people’s preferences. These lessons are the most valuable ones I learned, and I always bear them in mind in every book I write and publish anew.
Believe in your story and work on it. The first and most important lesson I learned is to have absolute confidence in your work. I remember gritting my teeth and almost crying at 3:00 a.m., frustrated, thinking how to cover a plot hole I just discovered yet again. I asked myself: Will this never end? How many inconsistencies will I find and how am I going to fix it when I’m pressed for my personal deadline?
But even the prospect of more hard work and editing weren’t enough to shatter my belief in my story of a married couple’s intense love emerging triumphant against mental depression and a psychotic killer. This gave me the courage and strength to trudge on, however slow, through days and nights of editing and research, until I saw all the pieces fall neatly together in place. That was when I knew, deep in my heart, that I had written a cohesive story that could resonate with readers.
Finish what you start. There’s a quote attributed to James Scott Bell, bestselling thriller author, winner of the International Thriller Writers Award, and author of the book, The Art of War for Writers.
Truer words were never spoken.
If you don’t finish your book, you’ll never learn about those pesky plot holes and inconsistencies. You’ll never learn that your characters need more personality or agency. You’ll never learn that your grammar needs more fixing and there are more creative ways of constructing a dialogue or a scene. You’ll never discover the fonts, paragraph spacing and chapter headers that will give the best reading experience. You’ll never learn that the book cover you had in mind didn’t fit the market. You’ll never learn what printing company offers the best deal for your money. You’ll never realize the most effective ways to promote your book with least or no cost. You’ll never learn the better keywords and categories to make your book become visible to readers — and a host of other things.
You can read volumes upon volumes of books and articles, enroll in courses and join writing communities, and learn everything from seasoned writers and authors. But in the end, it all comes down to this truth: Have you applied what you learned?
If you haven’t, you’re like a person looking through a mall window from the outside, not entering the building for an exhilarating shopping experience. Unless you go in there, you’ll never learn that the dress you wanted so badly does not look good on you, or that there are pretty shoes on sale, or that you have to save more to get that awesome bag.
In like manner, we can only experience the ins and outs of writing and self-publishing from the inside, when we immerse ourselves in the system and in the process — after we write “The End.”
Never stop learning. Every book is a new adventure. What worked for one book may not work with the next book. There is always something to learn. Markets change; new platforms to promote to and get reviews from come out; reader preferences change; bookstores, whether online or not, modify their policies; writing styles change; new players, new authors, new bookstores, new platforms rise. When these happen, what do we do?
We can stick to what we’ve been familiar with and work our way around these changes, or we can study the trends and learn new tricks.
Either way, we adapt. But we never stop learning because change doesn’t stop, either.
Tips in Writing a Thriller
Do you know there are several types of thriller? Here they are:
- Psychological thriller
- Legal thriller
- Science fiction thriller
- Action thriller
- Crime fiction
- Political thriller
- Mystery thriller
- Spy thriller
The tips below, however, can be applied to all these types — and to almost all genres.
Start with a bang.
Begin your story with someone getting killed, missing, in the middle of an action, a sticky situation, or a mystery. Wow your readers and make their hearts pump from the very first page. World-building is a no-no, unless you want your readers to fall asleep, or worse, throw your book away.
Create three-dimensional characters.
Readers tend to believe and relate more with characters, whether protagonist, villain or secondary characters, that are three-dimensional. This means describing them not only by physical appearance, but by their unique personalities, motives, and backstory; specifically, their secrets. Flawed characters tend to resonate well with readers, leaving an impression they won’t easily forget. Three-dimensional characters also elicit emotion and build tension, with readers empathizing with them and waiting avidly how they would react to certain situations.
Create plenty of twists, turns and cliffhangers.
I am guilty of always, always thinking of how to twist all my stories. For a thriller, this is especially important. Think of ways to make your main character suffer more, for your villain to escape, introduce another problem, or raise the stakes — all with the goal of moving the plot continuously forward. If you can, end every chapter with a cliffhanger, or leave the reader asking more questions and wondering what will happen next. Keep them guessing. Keep their brains working.
It helps to remember this when writing a thriller: make your reader turn the page, making it impossible for them to put down your book.
I hope you’ve learned something from this article. Most of all, I hope you’d write and work hard on your story, finish it, publish it, and hopefully, win an award! But award or not, nothing is more rewarding to a writer than bringing your labor of love to life, to be read and appreciated by people who deserve it.
You can print this checklist and make this your guide. I really hope this helps! There’s also a PDF version.
Bonus First Chapter
As promised, here’s the first chapter of Chroma Hearts.