Writing can feel very lonely at times, and while there are a million manuals and handbooks and how-tos, there also…isn’t. So much of becoming an author is trial and error, figuring it out along the way, and trying not to make the same mistake twice. I certainly experienced this as a new writer and then an author, and it’s the biggest reason why I spend so much time helping new authors today. One of my favorite parts of my “job” (because is it really a job if you love it so much?) is helping new writers and giving advice when I can.
So, I’ve decided to start a new series of articles for my blog here! It’s called “Things I Wish I Knew When I First Published“, and the focus will be on quick tips from bestselling authors on things they wished they’d known back when they first started. This series will be all about the mistakes we’ve made–raw and honest. Hopefully, it’ll save you from the same pitfalls we’ve experienced!
To kick things off, I’ll start and yes, it’s going to get embarrassing.
Bad Reviews Are Actually Good
On my first book, a blogger left me a scathing review that was very emotional because of how deeply they hated my book. At the time, I was so personally offended, as well as terrified that their review would tank my book sales, that I emailed the blogger and asked them to change/remove their review. Yes, I did that, and yes, it was very wrong. I made it okay in my head by saying that I just wanted them to remove the curse words and the parts that were personal attacks on me. As you can imagine, this blogger did not take my “request” well, rightfully so, and I ended up burning bridges with a blogger who (though I didn’t know at the time) was very big and influential in the industry. That mistake would cost me for years to come.
Looking back on it now, I’m embarrassed by my behavior and wish I could apologize to said blogger. Their review was passionate and real, and reflected their emotional experience reading the book. Knowing my book can evoke such emotion (even negative) is actually a huge compliment, and I wish I’d been able to see that at the time.
Also, now that years have passed and I’ve grown in my ability as a writer, I’ve realized that some of the things she’d complained about were spot on. She was so right, and if I’d taken her words to heart, I could have grown as a writer quicker.
From a business perspective, I’ve realized that bad reviews actually HELP with book sales. Sounds counterintuitive, I know, but what one person hates, another person might love. That negative review has actually brought me a lot of sales on that book–crazy, right?!
This understanding doesn’t necessarily make getting a negative review a pleasant experience for me these days, but it does help me put it in perspective. I’m able to learn from the negative reviews now, or at the very least, hope that someone will read it and want to buy my book because of that.
Bad reviews are never fun, but it’s also not the bad, terrible, scary thing I once thought it was.
Every Author Is Not Your Friend
Writing is personal, but publishing is a business. Just like you’re not going to be friends with all your co-workers in an office, you’re also not going to be besties with every author out there either. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t work together, respect each other, and help one another.
When I first started publishing, the indie world felt like a high school with cliques and groups I’d never be cool enough to be part of. It was intimidating and terrifying, and I felt so discouraged and rejected all the time. Until I realized that it doesn’t have to be like that at all, and what I was experiencing was all MY FAULT.
I was expecting everyone to love me and want to help me and want to be my best friend and believe in my books, because I was excited and eager and ready for the world to revel in just how amazing I am (ha!). But that’s just not realistic, and it’s honestly quite intimidating to other authors to have a newbie thrusting all their hopes and dreams on them.
I was putting so much of myself out there, that when I was “rejected”, it felt like who I was, my very soul, was being rejected, too.
I’m embarrassed to say how many times I made this mistake, and how many times I tried to make an author my friend who had no interest in me. I gave these people way too much of my souls, and it turned into gross online dramas when it all exploded in my face and readers suffered for it. I felt betrayed and taken advantage of time and time again, and while there were certainly times I was badly wronged by another, never once was it all their fault. I was making mistakes left and right too, and my biggest mistake was naiveté.
Today, I have a few close authors friends–enough to count on one hand, but that’s it. Then I make sure that I am a friend to everyone who asks, but not to the point where I’m losing myself or giving more than I have to give. I’ve picked 3 things about myself to share online–my “brand”, essentially–that are all truths about me, but that are all I share. The rest, I keep private and for the people I know in real life who love me for me. I offer help whenever I can, but I try not to feel guilty when sometimes I just don’t have the time, or desire, to help on that particular day. Sometimes I just need a break, and I have to realize that that doesn’t make me a horrible friend–just a human.
Realizing that made me realize that other authors feel the same way. Okay, so Author A forgot to read and blurb my book. She’s busy with her family and her writing, and I’ve done that too. Okay, so the Author B said they don’t want to share my book on social media. She probably has her reasons–there are books I don’t want to share either. Okay, so Author C had a huge release party and didn’t ask me to be part of it even though I’ve involved her in all of mine. Big deal! There’s limited spots and tons of other authors just as deserving as me. Okay, so Author D is spreading cruel lies about me to my publisher. She’s just a jealous b–
Wait, scratch that last sentence. Sorry, I’m supposed to be growing as a person with this post. Still a work in progress. *embarrassed grin*
Anyways, it took me 3 years, but I finally learned that the publishing community isn’t a group of close friends–it’s a business. It’s a professional world, and you’re expected to act as a professional business woman.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
In fact, it’s a goddamn relief.
It’s A Numbers Game
You might have written the best novel of the century. Pulitzer prize worthy, in fact. And yet, maybe you still only sold a few books last week…or less. What? How? Why don’t people understand how talented I am?! This book is GOLD!
Publishing is a numbers game, y’all. It’s about algorithms and timing and tech and retailers help and social media and word of mouth and bloggers spreading the news and how many reviews you got and how quickly you got them and fifteen other things that are only partially in your control–and that can be frustrating as hell!
In order to be successful, you’ll need to be a bit of a nerd.
Getting 50+ reviews on Amazon on release day, or the first few days of release, gets you bumped up quickly in their algorithms, allowing more customers to discover and buy your book. Having a lot of newsletter subscribers is more valuable (for now) than a lot of Facebook followers, but if those subscribers aren’t real sign-ups than you’re just wasting your money. Facebook is only going to show your posts to 2-3% of your followers, and you’re going to have to figure out how to get around that the best you can without spending every dollar you have. Sharing other author’s books helps your books show up in the “customers also bought” area on Amazon. That’s just a few examples of things I wish I’d known at the start.
There’s a million little tips that work some days, and don’t on others, or that work for some authors, and not others. To get your book out there, you’ll need to be constantly figuring out what the next platform is, the next trick for exposure, and the how to get your book in front of more eyes. Marketing will be half your job (unless you’re that lucky unicorn, in which case, this post isn’t for you and also, tell me your secrets!).
You can’t just put your book out there and expect people to buy it, like I did when I first started. You can’t be hurt when you see no one clicking “buy” and you just don’t understand why because you wrote it, and it’s amazing, and it’s out there, so why isn’t anyone buying it yet? You also can’t expect other people to be able to do it all for you–like expecting one blog tour to make you big sales. In order to get out there, it’s going to be a million different things together and what works this time, won’t next time. I wish I had an answer to give you on this one, but I’m still trying to figure it out myself!
So, be a nerd and train yourself in how to use these markets and retailers to your advantage. Then, make sure to pass the tips along to your fellow writers because we’re not in a competition.
So, What’s the Point?
Well, the point is that it’s really fucking hard to publish a book and make a ton of sales. It’s not just going to happen (again, unless you’re that unicorn, in which case, PLEASE EMAIL ME YOUR SECRETS!), and you’re going to make mistakes. I certainly did! And dollars to donuts, I’m going to make more mistakes in the future.
But learning from those mistakes, and from other author’s mistakes, is key and hopefully by sharing a little bit of my experiences, this post can save you a lot of the heartache that I’ve had to experience myself.
Best of luck with your book! It’ll be the hardest thing you ever do, but you won’t regret a second of it.
PS: Check out the next author in the “Things I Wish I Knew When I First Published” series–she’s a big fish…aka #1 New York Times Bestseller big!! Read her post HERE! Also, I’ll send these out via my newsletter as well, so subscribe HERE in case you miss it!
PSS: I’ve got an entire advise page on my website for writers, but I can also be reached via email for any new authors who want help or advice or whatever! firstname.lastname@example.org
PSSS: Feel free to comment below with your tips/tricks and thoughts to help each other!