The publishing journey, regardless of how you go about it, is a challenging route to march. As I start the next phase of my journey by getting my second book ready for publication, I felt it was a good time to reflect on what I have achieved so far and the lessons I have learnt. Many of these lessons will not trigger epiphanies, they will often be self-evident, especially to other writers who have traveled along this path. What I hope you get from reading this is some comfort that other people have, and are, experiencing the same challenges as you are in your writing journey, and hopefully some helpful tips or ideas that will help you. Very few people understand the pain and struggle of getting a book out into the world, and we need to stick together to overcome the roadblocks and ogres we run into along the way.
Prepare for amazing highs
After struggling for years, spending many early mornings and late evenings hiding behind a computer monitor and scribbling in notebooks, the book you have brought to life is in your hands. This is an amazing high which is hard to describe. All the self-doubt and obstacles that tried to bring you down suddenly don't seem so bad when you can leaf through your own work. Embrace the feeling and revel in your success. But as gravity teaches us, what goes up must come down. Don't let yourself get so high that you lose sight of the ground, because you will eventually crash back down to it.
Prepare for amazing lows
Just as holding your published work provides you a high, it will also provide you with soul crushing lows. The first time you get a bad review, when you don't hit a sales goal, or watching your posts about your amazing work receive little attention can send you into a spiral of depression. Be prepared for this. Brace yourself for these lows so they do not overcome you. Treat every low you have as an opportunity to improve. When you don't hit your sales goal, accept the disappointment and critically analyse why you fell short and find the next opportunity to improve. Some bad reviews will just be from sad little people with nothing better to do than to tear others down - ignore these people and recognise them for what they are. If there are critical points for improvement in the review, take on what they are saying and work to improve without letting it get you down. Remember, the work you have put in to reach this point is beyond what most people are capable or prepared to do, something that is worth celebrating when you hit these lows.
Expect hidden costs
There are always hidden costs, no matter whether you are an indie author or traditionally published. Make your budget realistic and ensure you have a little extra stashed away so you can manage the unexpected costs when they pop up. These costs are not always monetary either. Every time you take an opportunity, you are potentially sacrificing something else. You only have so much time and effort available to apply during your publishing journey. For this reason, you need to be critical about where you expend your resources, and always keep a little in reserve. My final point on cost, is stop seeing them as costs. Particularly for your first published work, change your mindset and view it all as an investment. Everything you do, all the time you spend, all the money you commit, is an investment in yourself as an author. It’s an investment in your future as a successful author to help build your platform and fan base which is critical to continuing success. Keep some reserves, but invest heavily.
10 lessons from my publishing journey
Expect to send more follow up emails than initial emails
I have lost count of how many emails I have sent. I have sent emails to bookstores, libraries, fans, media outlets, other authors, and so many more. Very few people respond to your first email. When you publish your first book, you are an unknown and therefore people are unlikely to jump to reply to you as quickly as they can. Therefore, you will send more follow-up emails than you will initial emails. The key here is to be tenacious without being a nuisance. Carefully craft your emails, wait an appropriate time without reply, and then send a carefully crafted follow-up to prompt a response. I have found that most people will reply to a second email as it shows you are truly seeking engagement from the recipient. I have a self-imposed limitation of sending two follow-up emails to avoid becoming the nuisance. I have no metric to prove this is a good stopping point, so take it as you will. Be prepared for rejections as well. Even a negative reply is still a reply. Keep these people's email so you can try again down the track, potentially with your second book or as your success builds. People may be unwilling to engage with an unproven author, but this will likely change as your success mounts - people are always happy to grab onto the shirttails of successful people.
Followers don’t equal sales
Before most people (myself included) even start along the publishing route, they are likely already trying to build a social following. Social media is an extremely powerful tool for creating a following and providing a message to the world. Followers will be attracted to you for many different reasons based on the content you produce, and some may only follow you for a reciprocal follow to make their own profile look better. Some will also only follow you so they can maintain the veneer that they support artists. Keep this in mind as you do your sales projections. The majority of your followers (unless you have managed to cultivate an extremely loyal fanbase) will probably not buy your book. They will send you token congratulatory comments on your posts, again, to maintain the veneer of support, but very few will actually take action. In short, just accept this as a fact of social media, you won't change it. What you need to do is engage and truly thank those committed followers who provide you legitimate support, try to pull more of these amazing people into your group, and don't waste effort worrying about the others.
Reviews are hard to come by
At the time of writing this blog, I have sold well over 100 books. I have 4 reviews across Amazon and Goodreads. Even if people are willing to read your book, even if they enjoy it, very few will take the extra effort to leave you a review. Be prepared for this to be one of the lows that I discussed earlier. Keep asking for reviews though. Don't give up on getting more, and try to engage those people that give you genuine support in a personal manner to ask them to post one. Once my book released, my DM's lit up with people and businesses on social media telling me they will review my book. What I will say here is beware of false prophets. They will all guarantee sales, tell you bestsellers do the reviews, and provide examples of how amazing their services are. There are definitely some that can follow through with this, but many that will provide a token effort and give you a large bill, with little to show for it. Don't shy away from opportunities from people reaching out to you, however, make sure you do your research on each of them before decided whether to accept or not.
There's lots of talk about support, there's less action
This is linked to my point about followers, however, extends beyond social media into the real world. The people in your life will constantly tell you they are there to support, that what you are doing is amazing and they will help you out. Again, much of this will be empty platitudes. Don't let this get you down, and always accept the offers of support, even if you know it won’t eventuate. Truly engage and thank those that follow through. These people are rare, amazing, and worthy of all the respect and thanks you can give them, they are the holy grail of supporters. For those that offer support, much like your emails, send a follow-up. Call them out and ask for the support they offered. Many times, it won’t eventuate, but sometimes it will. Commitment bias is a very powerful thing that you can use, just make sure you don't abuse it. True support is worth its weight in gold, forced support is not. Don't let the lack of action let you down, focus on those true supporters.
Bookstores are your friend
I have been extremely lucky to have quite a few bookstores take on books from me, extending my reach to an audience I would not reach on my own. This has taken a lot of hard work and initiative, as well as luck. It has also resulted in a lot of rejection. Don't worry about the rejections, keep those emails in your archive and try again down the track (I refer you back to my comments on success and shirttails). They greatest thing about bookstores, other than the greater reach they have, is their true willingness to support emerging artists. When you succeed as an author, they succeed because they can sell your book. If you remain engaged with them, they will often send you opportunities to engage with greater audiences or development opportunities. Many of the great things I have been able to take advantage of have come from local bookstores who have sent me follow-up emails with things they think I will be able to take advantage off. Bookstores are constantly engaged with the book community and will often be aware of things you are not. As such, remain engaged with them and cultivate these relationships.
Other writers are your friends
Don't view other writers as competition. Other writer's will be your greatest supporters. Find them, meet them, engage with them, and cultivate the relationships you create. Many of the points I have made above relate to other writers, so I won't say anymore.
Define your own success
It's easy to get caught in the trap of measuring yourself against the success of others. DON'T. Define your own success. The only person you are competing against is yourself. Learn from other people’s success, but do not be defined by it or you will get stuck in the lows I spoke about earlier. Success is different for different people, and success in publishing means different things just the same. When you define your own success, make sure you have a stretch goal; something big to aim for in the long term, but also have small, manageable goals that will act as stepping stones on the path to success. No one succeeds in one giant leap, despite what social media might tell us. Success is made from a lot of small wins and overcoming the failures you will definitely have along the way.
I could pontificate for days on the things that have gone well and those that have gone poorly for me on this journey, drawing out lessons’ ad nauseum. But this will do for now. Please, let me know if you have found this useful.
Keep writing. Keep succeeding.