Wow! Has it really been a year since I published my first book, Life in High Def? You don’t have to answer that. It’s a rhetorical question. I definitely know the answer to this one. Yes, one year ago, I fulfilled a lifelong dream and went from dreaming about being a writer to being an actual, real-life, honest to goodness, bona fide author. Woot! I’m livin’ the dream!
Sometimes, it feels like it was just a minute ago. Other times, it feels like forever ago. So much has happened since then—lots of good things, a few bad things, life, whatnot—but it’s pretty cool to know that I’m really an author. I did it. I wrote a book. In fact, just this month I published my second book, Chasing Mercury. Not only that, I’m almost done with the first draft of my third novel, Without a Net. It sort of feels like I’m bragging, but really, I’m just amazed I’ve done it. In a way, it makes it real. I’m not just a fly-by-nighter. Not a one-and-doner. I’m a legitimate author. If I say it enough, it might sink in.
A question I have been asked a lot lately is what I wished I had known before I started this whole thing. The answer is easy – everything. When I started out on this writing thing, I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. I simply had this idea and I had to get it out. But there are a few things that stand out, things that might have prepared me a little more for what I was in for. Not that it would have changed anything, really, except maybe a little less cursing.
Things I wish I had known before I decided to publish my first book
- Finishing the manuscript is only the beginning. You did it! You had a great story, you wrote it down, you wrapped it all up in magic, and made it into a brilliant book that everybody is going to want to read! You did what so many people only wish they could do! You wrote a book! Take a moment to congratulate yourself. This is a big, big deal. Phwew! Undoubtedly, you’ve already done a few passes at self-editing. Hopefully, you’ve had a couple of people read it because beta readers are wonderful for getting some honest feedback. Now you have to figure out what to do with it. Will you seek out a publisher? Will you self-publish? Either way, once you’ve incorporated what you want to of the beta readers’ feedback into the manuscript, you’ll want to get it professionally edited. I love editing! I really enjoy getting into the meat of the book, dissecting it, rising to the challenges that my editor puts me through. I really do! Others hate it. Either way, it’s really important, so don’t skimp on this part. Now, either route you take—seeking out a publisher or self-publishing— is going to take some time. Pitching your book for publishers is a hurry-up-and-wait game. You send in your baby and you wait to hear back. Maybe you’ll get lucky and the first publisher you try picks up your novel and thinks it’s the next New York Times bestseller. But, more than likely, you’re going to submit to several publishers before your book is accepted. Self-publishing also takes a lot of time. All of the things a publisher does, you get to do. From getting ISBNs, engaging cover designers, and picking the font that you’re going to use, to uploading the digital formats, reviewing the first physical book, and ordering your author’s copies. There is a myriad of steps that go into publishing a book and every one of them requires some of your time, and it’s always more time than you think it will be.
- Publishing the novel is not the end. So, now your book is out. Now you get to sit back, watch people buy it, and anxiously await the reviews! Except, people need to know it’s out there before they’re going to buy it. Hundreds of other authors are releasing their books on the same day you release yours, and millions of books are out there waiting to be bought. You need to figure out how to get the readers to buy your book. You need to market it. Even if you have a publisher, you will still need to market your book. Publishers do very little to promote individual books unless you are one of their top sellers and to become a top seller, you need to get your book in front of as many people as possible. You will use social media, you will advertise, you will do press releases, you will tell all of your friends, you will do book signings and readings, you will do everything you can to make your book visible. And this, my friend, never stops. As soon as you stop telling people they need to buy your book, your book sinks down to the bottom of the stack and it will eventually be buried under all of the newer books that are published every single day.
- Marketing is hard and there is not a single best way to do it. There are a million and one ways to market a book. I already listed a bunch of the ways you can get your book out there in front of people—social media, advertising, public appearances. Authors are always finding inventive ways to get eyes on their books. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to do it all, too. My advice on this point is to make an exhaustive list of ways you can think of to promote your book. List it all. And then pick the ones you want to do. Reach outside of your comfort zone a little. Make one of your list items about getting your book on the Oprah book list. Because it’s a possibility. It’s probably a long shot, but a person can dream, right? Then start doing it. Do all the easy stuff first. Then start aiming for your stretch goals. Shoot! Send your book to Oprah. Maybe she’ll love the cover and give it a shot. Your book is good enough. She’s gonna love it! Just keep on moving through your list. But don’t get hung up on one of the list items. If it’s too hard, takes too much time, or costs too much money, skip it. Just don’t stop. And when you get through the list, start over.
- Reviews will vex you. The bane of every author’s existence. Not just because they can be bad and they can hurt your feelings. I’d be a liar if I said that I didn’t take bad reviews personally. I do. But I try not to dwell on them. Reviews are what show readers your book is for them. Reviews are also the metadata that tells the on-line book sellers what to try to sell to the buyers. The more reviews you have, the higher you get in the search results. The higher you get in the search results, the more eyes see your book. The more eyes that see your book, the more of your books get sold. Let’s be honest, you didn’t write an entire book just so your Aunt Alice and that weird kid you haven’t spoken to since second grade who likes all of your posts on FaceBook can read it. You wrote it so gazillions of people will read it. And get this—bad reviews aren’t really a bad thing. They actually lend a certain legitimacy to your book. When a reader sees ten good reviews and one bad one, it tells them that you didn’t just have a bunch of your friends write up a few reviews for you. And the bad reviews still count as a review, so when the on-line seller uses the number of reviews to determine what books to promote to buyers, it’s not looking at the number of stars, it’s just looking at the number of people who were interested in the book. With that said, it’s important to get reviews. Do whatever you can do to encourage your readers to post reviews. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for them.
- Networking is the best way to keep it all going. I can’t say enough about networking. Get involved in reader’s groups. Get to know other authors. Attend conferences, join groups, get out there and get to know the industry. The more you know about the industry, the more ideas you will get about how to sell your books. Being more integrated with the whole writing world will also keep your creative juices flowing. It will lift you up when you’re feeling down. It will take you higher when you’re feeling good. The writing community is one of the most supportive and creative places I’ve ever experienced.
- Through it all, you must keep writing. Above all else, a writer must write. The business of writing can sometimes get in the way of the actual writing. A true writer must write so that they don’t go crazy, at least that’s how I feel. And the best thing that sells a book is another book and another book, and so on, because when a reader likes a book, the first thing they do is look for more by the same author. So, always find the time to write.
There are probably a dozen things I could add to this list, but those are the main things I think that I would have liked to know when I got started. Not that knowing any of this would have changed anything, except maybe reduce the number of curse words I’ve uttered in a lifetime by a fuckton, which is just a drop in the bucket for me if I’m honest.
Anyway, I don’t think I’m an expert at this. Not even close. I’m learning something new about this author gig every day. That’s probably one of the things I love so much about it, aside from the way I get to bring my imagination to life, that is. Being a writer is pretty cool like that.
Kimberly Cooper Griffin is a writer who doesn’t take herself too seriously. Something she does take seriously, though, aside from her loved ones, is writing. Oh, and coffee. And, once in a while, a good glass of wine. Ah! And of course, her readers. She totally loves her readers!