If you're reading this, you're either thinking of publishing a book or already walked that road and just want to gain more knowledge. I'm glad you stopped by. I promise to share all the grit and sweat that went into becoming a published author.
My journey started when I finally had a whole free week to sit down and write a story that was brewing inside my head. I was so excited when my rough draft was finished. "Being an author is fun!" I thought. But what I didn't realize is that I was at a starting point of a long-distance race... and nobody fired a pistol yet.
Over the next year, I struggled to figure out what to do with my "book." I kept beefing up the chapters, adding more details but didn't really know what to do next. How does one actually get the book to the readers? How do I even know if the story is ready to be out in the world? Will anyone like it? Should I just hide it and pretend this never happened?
I'm sure you had questions like these yourself. So, let me share my personal takeaways. I learned them the hard way, but hopefully my bumps and bruises will accelerate your race to the finish line.
1. Being an author is a profession that requires continuous learning.
Somewhere in the Universe, there's a common misconception that goes like this - creative people need talent, period. Well, the truth is - it's actually a comma. It looks like punctuation matters after all.
More on creativity myths in my other blog post, but here I just want to say that writers have to study and learn new skills like any in any other profession. And learning never stops. Education is also not free, even though there are a lot of free resources to start with. Here are the ones that I found helpful:
Podcasts and blogs for authors. The Creative Penn podcast and website, The Self-Publishing Show, Self Publishing school podcast and blog, Kindlepreneur with Dave Chesson blog. There are many more. Learn from the folks who'd been in it for a while.
Authors' groups. What propelled me the most is hanging around other authors. Writing is definitely not a lonely endeavor, and most people in this industry are more than willing to help each other along. Some of the groups are not free but worth joining. Self-Publishing school mastermind tribe has been great. There are many others on Facebook. Twitter has the best #writingcommunity. If you seek you shall find.
Beta-readers. Getting feedback on your writing is gold. I can't say enough about how helpful my early readers are. Family and friends could suffice, but it's hard to get their responses in a timely manner. Exchange work in progress with other authors or try to pitch your book on beta-reading sites. There are also paid services on Fiverr, but reciprocal approach has been working well for me.
Courses for authors. Lots of them online. You'll have to weed some out, but there are plenty of trusted names in the industry with great classes both paid and free. I'd taken a few on Udemy. Some authors have their own online schools. Make a list of topics you want to learn more about and do your research.
Online conferences. Last year I attended two online conferences absolutely free and they had multiple speakers with a ton of great information. My goal for the upcoming year is to go to a live conference, but virtual ones are great too. Brian Berni had an Indie Novelist Summit. Women in Publishing Summit was nice as well. Flourish writers also had a very uplifting conference. You can follow me for updates on new ones.
Phew, point one took me a while to get out, but hopefully it was useful. A note of warning - double check before you buy anything. There are many products for authors, useful and not so much. It's easy to get yourself into financial hole or buy things that don't add any value to your writing journey. Start with free resources, ask others, only get what's necessary.
2. Successful authors have more than one book and had been in the industry longer than a few years.
I already psyched myself up that I'm in this for a long haul. At this point I'm treating my writing life as an expensive hobby like my art and not quitting my day job any time soon. But if you think you're going to make it big after finally getting your one precious book-baby out, you're most likely wrong (the odds are probably the same as getting into the NFL for all the high school football hopefuls). So get more of those babies out! That's my goal.
If you're serious about writing career, you can't be like elephants, giving birth to one book every six to seven years. But also don't be like rabbits. I can't imagine these will be quality books. (How did I get on this topic of fertility anyway?) Somewhere in between is ideal productivity, but it's different for everyone.
One person who's been in the industry for 50+ years said that authors can't make a living by writing one book a year (ouch!), even if one of them is a New York Times bestseller. From what I've seen, authors do well enough after about 10+ books and 5+ years. I'm just starting this journey, but here's what I've learned so far about being successful:
Write series (at least three books) and research your genre - some books are more popular than others.
Write non-fiction even if you're a fiction writer and create other products that go with your book.
Figure out how to write faster - schedule regular writing time, keep track of your progress, set goals, try dictations, don't get stuck in the editing phase (preaching to myself).
If I knew writing requires such commitment, I might have never started to meddle in it. But I am helplessly addicted, so too late for me. If you're just starting out, just know that making any income as an author will take lots of your time and effort before you'll see any results. Buckle up and hold on to your "why".
3. Writing is also a business, and there is nothing romantic about that.
Not only did I have to learn more about creative writing itself, I also needed to find out how to manage the business side of things. Boring stuff, if you ask me, but authors are self-employed entrepreneurs. Most of us are self-published as well, and if you ask me, that's the way to go. But even traditionally published authors have to find a readership and market their product.
How many people read your book depends on how much effort you put into promoting it. I personally hate this stuff, but I remind myself that if I don't do the marketing, my book won't make any impact and won't change any lives. It won't last a day in the Amazon "jungle", descending into oblivion. Wilderness survival skills are required. Here are a few:
Either learn how to do Amazon ads or outsource the task. Kindlepreneur has a free course on it - take that first, then move on to the paid ones. I'm currently letting someone else do the ads while I learn. There are also Facebook ads, Bookbub, etc.
Work on growing your mailing list. Everyone says that it's bread and butter of authors. I believe them. Have free novels or novellas to give away in exchange for the newsletter sign-ups. Collaborate with other authors on promotions. I am trying bookfunnel and storyorigin at the moment. Works great so far.
I find that my creative muse shrivels and dies in the corner as soon as my practical mind turns on, so I have to separate business management from my writing time. Joanna Penn even wrote a book about it, but I think that a good start is to have scheduled days each week to research, analyze and work on ways to get your book in front of the readers. Just don't let it get in the way of writing more books.
P.S. I will do another post about counting the costs of self-publishing a book.
4. Launching the book out into the world takes preparation and planning.
One thing I learned this year was how to release the novel into the public successfully. The Seven Lives of Grace was an Amazon bestseller. Whether or not you care about the status, the e-commerce giant does look at how well you do in the first month. A very mysterious algorithm determines whether or not your book gets in front of readers among millions of others. You can google "book launch", but here are my five cents:
Start building the mailing list before you even publish the book & ask your subscribers if they want to be on your awesome book launch team.
Ask everyone you know and their grandma to be on your launch team - you never know who might agree. I was surprised myself. It's painful for introverts but do it anyway.
Let people know that their honest reviews on Amazon are important and to please post one. Bug them. There are a lot of great articles and youtube videos on the topic.
Utilize free and 99c promotion sites within the first few weeks of publishing your book. Here are a few I'd tried: www.ilikeebooks.com, www.booksbutterfly.com, www.writtenwordmedia.com. You just have to try and see which ones work.
For more information on what to do before your book is ready to be published and how to self-publish it successfully, check out this article. Just don't ask me about query letters :). Why wait for years if you can do it yourself?
5. Self-published writers have to learn how to produce high-quality books.
There are lots and lots of books out there. Why would someone want to read yours? That's the question I constantly ask myself, and the answer is - because I have a great story to tell and I packaged it well. Hey, it even rhymes!
Both the package and the content matter, but readers look at the package first. So, if you're doing it yourself, knowing how to wrap it up is your job. Don't try to wing it. Let the experts do their job. Here are a few things that either need to be outsourced or researched well:
Hire a professional editor - don't go cheap on this. I had an editor from Fiverr that did well, but I also had professional editors among my beta-readers. English is not my first language, but even if you have a degree in English, you'll make mistakes. Have several people comb through your book. (By the way, if you find an error in my blog, feel free to send me an angry e-mail and point it out. I will appreciate it greatly :)).
Hire a professional book designer. Don't try to do it yourself. A great book cover is a must. Readers have certain expectations. It's the first thing they will look at.
The hardest thing for me was to write a book description. There is a great youtube video by Bryan Cohen on the topic or just let him write one for you.
If you have a mac, Vellum is awesome for book formatting. Otherwise, you have to hire a formatter as well. You can also research how to do it yourself or use a template.
There are a lot more things I learned while publishing my own book, but it would have to wait until the next blog post. Sign up to get updates when I write one. You can also connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
I want to finish with the quote by Octavia Butler:
"You don't start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it's good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That's why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence."
So, don't give up too early.
Read another blog post:
Why Creativity Requires Courage and How to Get it
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