Category Archives: Things I Wish I Knew When I First Published Blog Series

Things I Wish I Knew When I First Published: #1 NYT Bestseller Rachel Van Dyken Talks About Her Biggest Mistakes In Publishing

Sarah Robinson: Guys, I looooooove Rachel van Dyken. She’s been a friend to me since the beginning, and I’m so honored to know her. Not once has she ever let me down, and she often goes above and beyond helping…anyone!

She is an inspiration. Plain and simple. The woman has written ~55 books in 6 years, while somehow managing being a wife, a mother, going to events, and being a cross-fit queen. All of that would be impossible for literally any human being, and yet, Rachel makes it happen!

I’m super excited to announce her as the next author in the “Things I Wish I Knew When I First Published” blog series where bestselling authors confess their biggest mistakes and what they learned from them! If you missed the first article, see it here

Buckle up–this is going to get sassy!


RVD Is Here, The Party Can Start!

Rachel van Dyken: I think my tale is pretty much like every other authors out there. I started off completely clueless and most days I still feel that way. What worked five years ago doesn’t work now, and what I thought was so totally AWESOME back in 2011 when my first book was published, has me widening my eyes going NO, NO, NO, DON’T DO THIS, DON’T DO IT!


So here’s a little note to myself and to any new or perhaps seasoned author out there of the Things Not To Do.

Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

1. Don’t Respond to the Negative

Don’t, just don’t, respond to negative reviews. Negative reviews are like bad colds, or the fact that Brussel sprouts, no matter HOW MUCH GARLIC you put on them, smell bad. They just do. It’s a fact of life. And even though it seems justifiable to hop on Amazon and respond in a totally logical way to someone who “just didn’t get the book” or who “clearly didn’t read it right,” or someone who was obviously just having a “really rough day.”

I can guaran-freaking-tee you that no reader is going to be like, “Gee, Rachel, I totally get your point, how could I be so blind? I mean. Am I even existing?” And then I’ll be like, “It’s okay, we all make mistakes. Hey, you want to get coffee.” *Cue joint laughter* End scene.

This is not your reality. It will never be your reality.

Even if you’re super nice, it still feels like an attack and it’s still wrong. Stay away. Stay away from it all. I know Sarah said something similar in her blog post (read here!), but bad reviews make you a better author. Yup, you heard it here too. My worst reviews have helped me write the BEST books, at least in my mind. 😉

Insert story time. There was once a book I was proud of, I mean, okay so I’m proud of every book. But I BLED all over this one. It was before mafia was big again and I was so pumped to write a book about mafia about an Elite school ran by the mafia, SHEER GENIUS *pats self on back* a publisher picked it up. And in my mind I was like this is it…and I had so many. SO. Many. Bad reviews. And not just from readers, no, because that would at least keep me from sobbing into my pillow at night, but actual PEERS! Authors that I later found out were running those blog sites were like yeah this is basically the worst book ever published. I was crushed. I mean, their words MEANT something to me and mine? They meant nothing to them! HOW CAN THIS BE? This, dear author friends is what I like to call, being human, having an opinion and not being a sheep, or a goat, or a robot. It’s okay if not everyone loves your book. It’s okay if only grandma buys it then forces people at the check out line to buy it too b/c she won’t stop talking and she won’t stop pointing at the poor checker with her broccoli.

My point? It’s okay! Get back on that horse and write another book, alright? Do it because you LOVE IT, not because you need approval from everyone. Thats why we are in this business anyways, because we love it!

2. YOU. ARE. SWITZERLAND.

Everything you do can, and WILL, be used against us on all social media sites at all times. I KNOW it’s hard to keep your well justified opinion to yourself and I get that authors are people I DO, you know, since I’m a person, a mom, a wife…I feel you. I do. But do yourself a favor and just write the books. Give yourself a few seconds before you post that rant, talk it through. Thats what friends are for right? Happy  hours? Wine days?  Okay maybe not days.

But the point is this: whenever Im frustrated with publishing or with anything I have a few key people I KNOW that I can trust in my life that are absolute vaults. Use those people. Don’t use your own timeline because yes you may have some people that are like RIGHT ON but in the process of getting that stuff off your chest, you’re bound to offend readers, readers who may take that and go NOPE never again. And that sucks. It sucks for everyone. Is it fair?  No. But thats life. So please, promote the happy, again isn’t that why we’re authors in the first place? To make the world a better place? To offer and escape from reality? Be that escape. Don’t be the reminder.

3. Invest In Yourself

You have to believe in yourself first before anyone else is going to follow. It’s true. I wish it was a lie. My husband preaches this to me on a daily basis. You HAVE to invest in your own stories. I’m always reminded of this, if my story isn’t a sacrifice of my time, my energy, my emotions, my  money, then why put it out in the first place?

If its not a sacrifice to you, if its not absolutely terrifying to you, causing you to emotionally unravel and stand naked in front of everyone–it’s not going to impact them. Period. If that means waiting a few months to release, well than thats the way it goes. If that means re-writing something. Rewrite it.

*cue, the Full House Dad talk music*


When I first started writing, I was working three jobs, making around $21,000 a year…and thats me being generous, my husband had just gotten injured at his awesome job, making him jobless, and me the bread winner. Um yeah. I worked at a non profit and I worked for the state. Things were not looking up, but I KNEW I had to write. It was this burning thing in me that I couldn’t ignore. Husband, in all his wisdom was like you have to do an ad, otherwise people won’t see you. Meanwhile I”m like? Um, groceries? LIVING? We were making it, but just barely.

He gave me $50.00 and was like I keep seeing Facebook ads. Do one of those. And I was like I don’t even know how to do this. And his answer was, invest in your dream. It will pay off some day. I remember having tears in my eyes as I looked back at him like, you don’t think I’m losing my mind? This isn’t stupid? I mean it’s a romance novel and he was like yeah but I love you and I love what you love…meaning, I love your romance novel. I did it. I spent that fifty dollars, and the next month when I got my $10.00 royalty check, I re-invested it, and it turned into a snow ball effect. Spending what at times was around 6 hours on social media alone, collecting, slowly but surely, readers who would give me feedback and agree to be on my street team.

4. Which Brings Me To My Next Point…

STOP COMPARING YOURSELF!
Yes, I all capped this.  It’s a marathon. Not a sprint.

I know. I know. It’s so easy to compare yourself to other people and go WELL they had INSTANT success, but we don’t know those people right? The every day struggles? You have NO idea if they have been working on that novel for 20 years were rejected by hundreds of publishers only to throw their book out there and list.

The point is this….Focus on you and KNOW without a doubt that it’s not a sprint. It’s a career right? Meaning, it’s a marathon, with times you want to quit, times you want to slow down, times you want to stop running all together. You don’t WANT to be the sprinter that wins the race only to be forgotten tomorrow. Be the marathoner, slow and steady, be the person who builds and builds and builds their brand, not based on one book but based on multiple books, multiple genres.

Do that. And you’ll find success, which brings me into my last and final point…

5. Stop the Negativity

Dream Big. Speak it into existence–use your words! I know I may sound crazy, but I grew up with the whole mantra, dress for the job you want not the job you have. We’ve all heard this right? I think the same goes for writing. DREAM BIG don’t let your current circumstances dictate your future. And if that means literally sitting in front of a mirror like a crazy person and going, “This book is going to do great. I have words to say. This is going to be a success. This is going to impact people .Someone in the world NEEDS these words.”
Do it.

I’m not even ashamed to admit how many times during the day I’m with my son and he’s talking gibberish to me and I’m all like, “This book may only change one life, thats enough, right buddy?” He makes some noncommittal sound lol but the point is this. Envision success, envision what you want as an author, envision the way you want your readers to see you and do that!

In ending, I could literally talk all day about the things I do wrong. The things I still do wrong. The lack of branding. The fact that I can’t focus on one thing at one time without losing my mind. The fact that I get down on myself. I overwork myself. I stress out. I order pizza more than what’s natural. I cry over reviews (still) even though I know they make me better. JUST KNOW, this career is rough.

It is. But it’s so worth it.

Because words matter. Your words matter. I can’t stress that enough. It’s not about fame. It’s not about money. It’s about being a world changer, and ain’t nobody gonna do that, but you 😉

Hugs,

RVD

PS: Feel free to leave a comment with your own experiences, or with comments for Rachel! 

PSS: The blog posts in this series will go out via my newsletter as well, so subscribe HERE in case you miss it! And I’ve got an entire advise page on my website for writers!


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Rachel Van Dyken is the #1 New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author of regency and contemporary romances. When she’s not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor. She’s written 55 books in 6 years, and reached #1 on New York Times TWICE. She’s also the sweetest author I’ve ever met.
Shop her books on Amazon here.

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Things I Wish I Knew When I First Published: A New Blog Series for Writers About Mistakes We’ve Made And Want You To Avoid

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! booksbysarahrobinson@gmail.com

PSSS: Feel free to comment below with your tips/tricks and thoughts to help each other!

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