My family and I were sick almost the entire month of December and when we weren't there were school obligations, Christmas-type obligations and other things that needed tending to. But I had been working on this post piecemeal and I think it's complete! So here goes:
So it's been a little over a year since my first novel was published. It has been a wild ride. As you know if you've read my blog for any length of time, my road to publication was long and torturous. Four and a half years on the agent search with more close calls than I care to count. (I still can't decide if it's great to get so close and then not get the prize or completely devastating to get so close and be passed over.) Then eighteen months on submissions with publishers basically saying the same thing that agents said: we love this book. It's great, but NO. Then finally, Sapphire Star Publishing took a chance on me and made my dreams come true. As most of you also know, publication has been my dream since I was eleven years old.
It hasn't been the way I always fantasized it would be--the way every writer probably fantasizes it will be, but the market has changed tremendously since I was eleven! But it has been, without a doubt, awesome.
So I thought, what can I tell other authors about this journey? I kept trying to fashion some kind of Top 10 List or some other clever way to deliver my thoughts, but it hasn't happened. So basically, here's a bunch of random stuff from inside my head:
(DISCLAIMER: this is all based on my experience only. Other authors have different experiences. I am only speaking for myself.)
That moment when you hold your book in your hands for the first time--no matter what happens after that, nothing can change the sheer awesomeness of that moment. No one can take that away. It is like this golden moment suspended in time that you'll always look back on when you want to feel all warm and fuzzy.
Great reviews will make you happy. I personally love the long ones that are detailed and well-thought out. Those are my favorite. Bad reviews like 1 and 2 star reviews--they really do sting at first but after awhile you're all *shrug* meh, can't please everyone. Sometimes, though you'll find that the occasional snarky review is really annoying. For me, the most frustrating thing about critical reviews is that people are usually complaining about something that agents and/or editors made you change. But again, you can't please everyone! Oh and the words "review to come" really mean "no review forthcoming".
Signings are a mixed bag. I actually have a separate blog post prepared on this topic which you can look for within the next few weeks. My launch was successful because the majority of the people there were people who knew me; people I invited. Events after that were really fun but didn't help with sales. And also, people kept asking me, "Is this available in ebook?" That said, I'd never turn one down cause I always have a great time and always end up meeting great people.
There are a ton of things you think you absolutely must do when your book comes out, but in retrospect, they really weren't helpful. Like book trailers. Don't get me wrong. I LOVE my Finding Claire Fletcher book trailer. Love, love, love it. I would still make a book trailer in the future just because I think they are cool, but they don't do squat for sales. Not that I can see, anyway. Also blitzing the entire world with your book cover and synopsis on release day. Sure you might get a small spike in sales, but I think it's better to build slowly, over time, than to put all your eggs in the release day basket. If you're doing your own marketing, think long term. Six months, not six days. I have, however, personally found press releases to be extremely useful. But do NOT, I repeat: DO NOT pay someone else to write them. You're a writer, after all. You can do it. There are free and very low cost sites where you can have them distributed, but write your own. Google press releases, do some research, ask your other writer friends for samples and write your own.
There are a buttload of great ereader sites out there where you can advertise your book, and many of them are very reasonable. Kindle Book Review, Digital Book Today, Lendle, etc. Again, if you're doing your own marketing, you should look into them. Jade Kerrion has a great post on this kind of thing.
Traditionally pubbed, small press authors make woefully little money on their books. For a long time I thought I made the smallest percentage of all per book until I realized my agent actually makes the smallest percentage. But the author percentage is small. I'm not knocking it; I'm just saying, it's a fact. That's just the way it is. Publishers put up all the costs to produce your book up front so of course they take a large percentage. The reason I bring this up is just because I feel like first time authors are shocked to their very core when they get their first royalty check and it's not even enough to buy a cup of coffee. Which leads me to my next random thought . . .
Selling books is HARD. Yeah, like really hard. Like probably getting people to enroll in a pyramid scam would be easier. I've been extraordinarily lucky with sales, but I know many authors who are not. Authors whose books are much better than mine. (And yet, as I always say, I'm still not breaking any records. Not even close.) When you get your first royalty statement and you see just how few books you've sold in the last month, it can be very disheartening. This is something else I think that pre-published authors have a lot of misconceptions about. To be fair though, my genre seems much harder to sell in than others.
If you're published by a small, independent press, you're going to be treated like a self-published author. Mostly this means that major reviewers, press outlets and yes, even bookstores will close their doors in your face. The good news is that we are living in the age of the Rise of the Indie Author and the ever-growing ebook market which means that more and more really great writers are abandoning the traditional route and self-pubbing. It also means that there are more and more services available to Indie authors that help them to make their books better and their presentation more professional. I think one day we will come to a point where very little, if any, distinctions are made between Indie authors and a legacy authors. Anyway, what I have learned in the last year is that readers don't really care how your book got into their hands--they just want it to be good.
Small presses offer little or no marketing support. I actually consider myself lucky that my publisher set a few things up for me here and there. What I have heard repeatedly, over and over, in the last year through the grapevine are a lot of angry, disgruntled small press authors complaining that their publishers are not doing anything for them. Small presses have small budgets. I don't know why this comes as a surprise to people. A publisher with 30 authors who are each selling 5-20 books a month is not going to have tens of thousands of dollars to put behind your book. Even if they have one or two authors who are selling 100-200 books a month, they're still not making very much. Not enough to throw thousands of dollars behind books that are struggling. That's just the way it is. A large publisher with a Stephen King or a James Patterson in their stable may have that money, but a small press will not. It may suck, but the reality is that if you want more exposure, you're going to have to find it yourself. If you're not published yet and you're considering a small press, you better ask them right up front just exactly what their marketing plan is before you sign on the dotted line. The days of authors being recluses and doing nothing but writing are over. Today your time will be split 80% marketing activity and 20% writing. I don't like it either, but that's how it is.
Also, there will be mistakes in your book. No matter how hard you and a large team of editors, beta readers and critique partners try--there will be mistakes. And readers will call you on them. Some of them will be typos. Others will have to do with authenticity, and even when you've done your research and had an expert--or two experts for the very purpose of ferreting out exactly such mistakes--read your manuscript, things will fall through the cracks. Luckily in the publishing age that we live in, it's not too hard or too costly to upload a new, corrected version of your book. Although everyone who bought it before that will still think you're a flipping idiot.
You must have swag on you at all times. I've sold a tremendous number of books just by having a bookmark in my purse to give to people when the subject of my book comes up. I always carry bookmarks, postcards and business cards. Invest in swag. It works.
The number one thing that readers told me in the past year was that they loved how short my chapters were! I mean I heard this from well over 200 people. So that is something to take into consideration when writing!
Finally, your writer friends are the ones who will get you through every low and boost you even higher for every high. I simply could not do this without all the wonderful, amazingly talented writers who I am privileged to call my friends. You know who you are. I love you and am so grateful for all of you!
Again, I'm so sorry to have been remiss in my blogging duties the last several months. I have been working feverishly on getting book 3 ready for publication and I am 40,000 words into book 4 so I have a good excuse!
Good stuff to all!