Yup, this month marks four years of publishing for me. I’ve written for far longer than that but when it came to officially publish my books on a site like Amazon, it’s been four years.
I remember making $5 that first month, roughly two books sold given that royalty was about $2.77 per book. After discovering a typo on the first page the following January (shudder instead of shoulder), I unpublished it only to publish it (after editing again) in March 2015.
Since then, I’ve learned a few things as an author, some painfully:
- Have thick skin. While reviews can be lovely, some can be brutally honest. Don’t lash out at the reader. Just go and do something else. Play Candy Crush or something. Write the next book.
- Put out the best work possible. That doesn’t mean waiting until it’s absolutely perfect like I did with Loving Riley, released a year and a half after the editor said it was okay to go because I was too scared about revealing a darker side of Ashe Hunter’s character and fearing what readers would think. Refer to #1.
- If you’re not happy with your final product, make it better. Change the cover, run it through editing again, rewrite it, even. It’s one of the perks of self-publishing your own books: you don’t have to wait until the publishing house says when. I go by what bestselling author Russell Blake says about why it’s important to get that book as perfect as can be, even if it means fixing it after you publish:
- Write in a series. Yup, you heard me. Write. In. A. Series. That could mean holding off releasing the first book until the series is complete, that way, you can release the next book thirty days later or less. Create that momentum with your new readers and give them the next serving as soon as possible but not more than 90 days. Readers have short attention spans and with the barrage of new authors entering your genre (mine is romance), your books can easily get lost in the shuffle.
And when you think about it, if a new author’s book has you furiously flipping the pages for what’s next, wouldn’t you want to buy whatever books he/she has to offer? What happens when they realize that you’d only written one? There’s a 50/50 chance you’ve lost that reader… unless you’ve got a good CTA at the end of the book.
- Have a good CTA – Call to Action. As soon as the story ends, have a note that thanks them for reading your book and say something about the next one coming up. This is where you can either provide a link to the next book or your newsletter.
- Make friends with authors of your genre and other genres. Just make friends. Writing is such a lonely venture anyway, so might as well be lonely with other people like you. Meeting other authors will allow you to brainstorm new ideas and share the highs and lows of being an author. Many co-written projects have come from authors just networking online long before they’ve even met each other in person. There are groups on Facebook that’s just for authors – boy, there are LOTS of them! There are also others off Facebook behind a paywall like Dirty Discourse (and don’t let the cover image fool you into thinking they’re all just erotic romance writers either. They’re from many other genres as well).
- Make time to market. This doesn’t mean you’re going to be tweeting Buy My Book! ten times a day or telling everyone to buy your book every time they see you on social media. Yes, you need to make time to market but first, you’ll need to learn how to do it effectively. It means investing the time, money and energy to learn how to market. You can lose your shirt paying for expensive courses, but you can also start by reading the following books, some of which are free. Nick Stephenson has a free book called Reader Magnets: Build Your Author Platform and Sell More Books on Kindle and it’s a good start. To learn how to create effective newsletter campaigns, there’s Tammy Lebrecque’s Author Ninja: How to Become An Author Mailing List Expert. While Mark Dawson’s course is the go-to for Facebook ads, he’s got a free book so you can start building your mailing list, Mastering Simple Facebook Ads for Authors: Find Readers and Build Your Mailing List. There is also Michael Cooper’s Help! My Facebook Ads Suck and for AMS ads, there is Brian Meeks’ Mastering Amazon Ads: An Author’s Guide and M.L. Humphrey’s Easy AMS Ads. If you don’t have a Bookbub author profile, now may be the time to set one up and check out their Bookbub Partners Blog where they feature marketing tips.
- Try not to be jealous. This is probably one of the toughest things I’ve had to learn. I was so jealous when I first saw how other authors were doing, especially when I started on Facebook three years ago where everyone just seemed more successful than I was and I just hated feeling so unworthy. They had more followers, more fans, more books… just more of everything. One thing about being jealous of another author is that you truly don’t know what that person is going through in their personal lives. At the end of the day, being an author is a business and you’ve got to put your best face forward even though your personal life might be falling apart. I’ve known authors who were going through chemotherapy while still trying to engage with their readers because it took their mind off the stuff their body had to go through. Some were struggling with raising their family while also devoting time to their author careers while others were going through divorces, and some recovering from accidents. You never know. Envy still hits me sometimes but I just move on to something else instead, like writing my stories.
- Learn how to plot. Or not. But seriously. And this is from a self-confessed pantser. Remember the advice about writing a series? Sure, you can do it without outlining a thing, but it’s a lot easier when you make one. So try it out. Learn how to outline your stories and plot what comes next. Break it down. Make a timeline. Check out the Mac OS app Plottr which is saving my ass right now because I can finally see the forest for the trees with the many storylines and timelines I’ve got going between all my series that actually intersect with each other. So, yeah, outline. Plot. Just try it. It just might work for you.
- Take a break. Sometimes you just need a break for self-care. Do it. Don’t worry about the word count. Take care of you first and then come back when you’re ready. I’ve taken breaks. Heck, I’ve taken long breaks, like years and when I returned, I did so with a vengeance. Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder to take long breaks when you want to keep up the momentum of your books though but you got to do what you got to do. Unless you gotta James Patterson the hell out your business (a line I just stole from Michael Anderle), you got to take care of the main employee first – YOU. Hang out with friends, take a walk or a hike, see a movie with your kid, knit a scarf, read a book. Just take a break.
- Know that being an author is a business. The act of writing your book is an art. Selling it is not. It’s a business. Specifically, a retail business. That means knowing which hat you’re wearing when you write, market, promote. I still remember the days when I’d say, “But writing is my passion! I have to write! And I want to write whatever I want to write!” These days, I still write what makes me happy – love stories, sexy stories, steamy and sometimes suspenseful stories — but there’s also that part of me that makes sure that there are hungry readers waiting for that next story. One way I learned how to figure that out is Chris Fox’s Write to Market: Deliver a Book that Sells. And no, don’t froth at the mouth. It’s not THAT writing to market. It’s still about writing what you love, just fine-tuning it to where there are voracious readers.
- Write that next book. Being an author is tough. You wake up, check your sales and wonder why you’re still doing this when you’re not making enough to live on, but at the same time, you know you don’t want to do anything else. Find your reason for writing and if it’s to be happy, go for it. If it’s to make enough money to send your kid to school, go for it. If it’s to heal the inner scars you carry, fucking go for it. Life is too short not to do it if this is what you really want to do. Find your joy and do it.
Anyway, I better end at twelve or I’ll end up writing a novel. There are many more things I’ve learned, of course, but this is a good start. I also have a book to write (see #12).
What about you? If you’re an author, what have you learned? Care to share?