I’m about a month late posting this, but better late than never, eh? Or something like that.
In May 2014, I pressed “Publish” on Amazon, launching my debut novel out into the wild less than twelve hours later. When I first published He Found Me, I’ll be completely honest: I had absolutely NO idea what I was doing. I didn’t have any author friends to go to for advice, I didn’t have a mentor to guide me. None of my close friends were readers and I kept the news of my upcoming debut largely silent until it was go-time.
I was absolutely all alone. I learned a lot over the course of the last year, having published three novels and completed four manuscripts, so I thought I would share some of my experience. Please keep in mind that what I’m going to post is my experience and my advice is probably more similar to assvice and experience varies from author to author. But here’s my assvice for your reading pleasure, illustrated with somewhat appropriate Parks and Rec GIFs.
- The biggest one: do not expect to get rich writing. I do fairly well, considering I don’t have a huge marketing budget. Right now, I probably spend 50% of my gross income on marketing. That’s GROSS income. As in, not including the taxes I’ll have to pay on this income, which is a significant chunk. Some authors will probably be horrified at the amount I spent on marketing and some authors might think I spend too little. Again, this is just my experience, but I do recommend meeting with an accountant so you aren’t stuck with tons of taxes owed.
- Pimp your shit. I cannot stress this enough! I hear from SO MANY AUTHORS who want exposure. Guess what? You have to work for it. Yes, there are people who get discovered by bloggers and/or other authors and they explode, but that is the exception, not the rule. I’m not saying to flood everyone’s newsfeed with your book; no one likes all that noise. But this market is crazy over-saturated and you’re not going to find your audience by sitting on your hands and waiting for them to stumble upon your book when there are literally millions of ebooks for sale. The month I published my biggest-selling book, Ten Below Zero, I spent thousands on ads and giveaways. Thousands. It paid off for me, but that is a lot of money to gamble with when you’re not guaranteed profit. Bottom line: do not expect anything if you aren’t willing to work for it.
- One of the greatest things I did for my sanity (and my blood pressure) was ignore Goodreads reviews. Why? Because I’m not afraid to say that Goodreads isn’t the kindest place on the Internet. I see enough vitriol in my every day life that going on a social media site that is wracked with policies that need major change (for example: the ability to rate a book that hasn’t been written yet? That’s insane – especially when there are profiles dedicated to rating every book 1 star with no review). I could go on and on about Goodreads, but instead, I’ll say this: if you find yourself feeling upset, worthless, or like you need to quit writing due to a negative review – STOP READING THEM. The only reviews I read are on Amazon, unless a reader specifically links me to their Goodreads review with a tag on Twitter or Facebook. Some readers don’t want to be approached by authors whose books they’ve reviewed on Goodreads – whether the review is negative or positive. Plenty of authors will disagree with everything I’ve said, and that’s fine – but I’m telling you my experience so you’re prepared. That being said, I think the majority of authors will agree with me on this: do not ever engage with a negative review of your book. Ever. It doesn’t end well. Luckily, I’ve never had this experience myself, but I’ve witnessed it enough to know that it’s always a bad idea.
- Another thing: so much of writing, at least for me, is like opening up a secret inside yourself and exposing it to the entire world. That in and of itself is terrifying, but when you realize that people will have opinions on what you’ve bared – it’s mind-numbingly horrifying. Anyone who kindly buys your book is entitled to their opinion and they might HATE it. They might mark it as DNF. They might blast it on Facebook as the worst book they’ve ever read. But, as cliche as it sounds, life goes on. I never expected to have people comment on my Facebook fan page, or tag my fan page, and blast my books as being “fucking awful.” This kind of criticism, when it’s directed at you, hurts. We’re all human, we all bleed. I’m a glass-half-empty kind of thinker, but I force my attention to the people who love my books, who follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. The people who email me and pour their hearts out to me. Those are the people who I want to focus my energy on. I’ve found that no matter what energy I feed, it grows. Positive energy, when fed with attention, expands. Negative energy festers. I’d much rather give attention to the positivity in my life.
- When I was writing my fourth manuscript, I asked a loyal reader to read an early draft of it. I picked her out of dozens of others who have loved all my books. Why did I pick her? Because she didn’t like one of my books as much as the rest. So even though I just said to ignore negativity, make sure to keep perspective. I’d much rather hear constructive criticism from someone who isn’t afraid to be honest with me about things they do and don’t like. But that’s the key: constructive criticism.
- Do not lose sight of why you wanted to write. For me, it was because I wasn’t being fulfilled by what I was reading. I craved books that made me feel something, so I wrote something that made me feel something. It’s easy for me to lose sight of that when I’m surrounded by the many frustrations of being a writer (another post for another day), so I try to treat myself here and there – usually after I finish a manuscript, even if it’s something small (hello, mini bottle of wine!). I usually take a mini break in between manuscripts, so when I dive into a new one it’s with excitement.
- Engage. With readers, bloggers, authors. Tweet them, comment on their Facebook posts, reply to their emails. I fully admit I get so swamped that it’s hard for me to keep on top of these things, but I try my best to engage with the people who take the time out of their lives to message me or comment on one of my statuses. I love, love, LOVE my readers and my close network of bloggers. They are the ones who buy my books, they are the ones I can afford to write – so I try to come up with new ways to thank them as much as I can, even if that means just responding to their messages. If you read a book that you loved, share your love for it on social media. Share the book with your readers. When an author loves your work, it is immensely career-affirming. Return the favor, when you can.
- My final piece of assvice: don’t forget there is a world outside of your computer. Maybe you have family or friends, or a day job that frowns if you’re checking Facebook throughout the day. Those things matter, too. I worked my ass off to complete three manuscripts in six months, but at what cost? I was working two jobs (one of them full time) and I have two small children. I feel like I barely saw them during those six months, and I regret that deeply. Set aside time to write, if you can, so you’re not sacrificing time with the people who need you.