I've been quietly writing and not posting my usual weekly blog posts. But yesterday, as I was gearing up for the release of The Decoy on my one year publiversary (March 24), I started to get sentimental. It's been quite a year and a crazy journey, so far. I saw a post from a newbie author in a group this week. It made me want to share the lessons I've learned this year. So, here it goes. My top ten lessons from my first year as a self-published indie author.
10) If you need a break, take a break!
When I geared up to publish my first book, I was completely overwhelmed! I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I had just found some writer and author FB groups, and the amount of information I was getting was insane. I felt like I knew absolutely nothing (Oh, because I didn't know anything). I didn't know all the acronyms (D2D, HEA, MC, AMS...yeah, I was totally green). People were talking about things that I had never even fathomed. I quickly realized that I was as knowledgeable as an infant (minus that sponge-like ability to soak up new information). Plus, I also learned that I wasn't just an author now, I needed to become an expert at marketing and sales, social media, finances, covers, blurbs, takeovers, signings, networking, and a hundred other things.
Once I finally released my first book, the thought of having to do it again was terrifying. I wasn't sure I could. And the book world is a demanding one. Readers want books, and they want them quickly (and hey, that's a good thing...we are operating a business where we need people to read). So, I caved to the pressure and put out three more books in the course of three months. I was EXHAUSTED! I was busy being a mom, a wife, and a having a full-time day job/career on top of writing and publishing my books.
After that, I decided to take a few months off from writing and publishing. I stayed active on social media, but I took some 'me' time, and it was awesome! It re-charged me and allowed me not to feel the pressures of my small business, because really that's what being an indie author is, you are the CEO of a small business. So, moral of the story, if you need a break, take a break. You are the CEO, you can give yourself a vacation when you need one. A burnt-out author isn't going to do their best work; we need breaks too! If readers like your book, they will wait!
9) You are the captain of this ship!
Yeah, so to follow up on #10, you are the CEO! Congratulations, you now own a small business, whether you're a sole proprietor or you've decided to incorporate yourself (if you don't know what I'm talking about look that up). This means you get to be the jack of all trades, or you need to hire experts to help you. Once again, I was clueless. I am a law/public policy/communications person in my day job, so much of this was a very steep uphill learning curve.
Covers...didn't have a clue. So, I hired a cover designer after looking at some recommendations. I needed one that I could afford, who had the time to work with me (i.e. don't wait too long to get a cover, I learned the hard way that some cover designers are booked out for six to twelve months).
I needed an editor, again editors book up quickly.
And a promotion company, you're talking at last 6-8 weeks in advance. I now understood how fellow authors had spent a year plus planning their first book release, but noooo, I stupidly had given myself three months. #themoreyouknow
Once I got my basic contractors in place, I started to figure out that maybe I needed to learn to make teaser graphics and book trailers or hire someone to do it. I also learned that I might need to hire a professional review service to get more book reviews...yeah, readers don't always leave reviews...ugh!
Plus, I had to chat with my accountant, decide whether to incorporate myself, figure out all the laws for being a small business, get a PO box, make business cards, order swag, order books, learn I could send books via media mail for a fraction of the cost...the learning curve, did I say uphill, I meant Mount Everest. But hey, I'm a CEO, so I guess I'll figure it out! Sink or swim!
8) Not everyone will love your books. (And that's OK!)
That first 1 or 2 star review...ugh! I'm not gonna sugar coat it. It hurts! Like your soul was just ripped out and stomped on, hurts. But then your friends tell you how every one of the greatest books ever written has 1 or 2 star reviews. And that sometimes bad reviews help sell your book, seriously, it happens.
So, do what I did. Follow your read of the bad reviews with some reading of the good reviews. Then maybe don't read any reviews for at least a few days. (I added some wine during that hiatus...) Remind yourself that not everyone will love or even like your book and that's OK because hey, at least they bought it. Right? Maybe, have a glass, or two, of wine as I noted above. Spend time with the people you love and remember why you started this journey, to share your story. So what if a few people end up not loving it? You can't please everyone all of the time! Move on, take any constructive criticism and work on improving your writing, and don't spend time dwelling on harsh reviews that don't offer you anything that can help you grow as a writer.
7) It's the little things.
Following up on #8, sometimes the smallest of things will make your heart the fullest. It might be a good review, or maybe, it's a new reader. It could be a fellow author asking you to be part of their release. Maybe, an author you admire likes your post or follows you back.
I've learned to enjoy these little milestones or moments because really, the connection with others is what it's all about, right? We are here to share stories and connect with readers! Don't let the big giant ocean of indie author stuff, swamp those small milestones and happy moments. And remember them when things get tough!
6) The Golden Rule.
There always seems to be some crazy drama in author world (don't worry every industry has drama, we aren't unique). Whether it's plagiarizing or trademarking scandals, there's always something. And sometimes, people are just plain mean! I mean, really, really mean.
I've worked in the political field, so I'm not naive about people being nice. What I've learned is that being mean or backstabbing people never works out in the end. Karma is a beotch! Plus, why not be nice! You never know who might be able to help you someday.
Even if someone isn't nice to you, you can just ignore their meanness and go forth and be the bigger person. I feel for all my friends that have had someone say or do something unjust to them in this industry. But like the rest of my life, I'm trying to steer clear of the drama as much as possible.
So, in summary, be nice to people. Treat others how you'd want to be treated. (And if someone really messes with your business, then get a lawyer, fight them in court. If something really bothers you about the industry, write to the lobbyists, your political representatives, but remember to be civil because the court of public opinion is a brutal one.)
5) Don't forget to sit back and enjoy the journey.
Sometimes, I'm so busy writing, publishing, advertising, etc. that I forget where I started at and how far I've come. When I look back at myself a year ago, I want to put my arm around myself and say "there, there, it'll be alright." Because it will. Not every book will be a success. You likely will need to have someone who can help pay your bills or you need to keep that day job or find other forms of income because being an author for most of us, especially in the beginning is not exactly lucrative, and it may never be. And again, that's OK. It's a business. If you want to do it full time, keep writing, keep publishing, and keep improving yourself. And every once in a while, take a moment to remember how far you've come! And don't forget to give yourself a pat on the back! Go you! Just publishing one book is a huge accomplishment!
4) Never stop learning.
Now, this I can't take credit for because my really, really wise Great Aunt Lillian told me this when she was about 96 years old. She said many wise things, but this is one that's really stuck with me in life. You are never to old to learn, and you should never stop learning!
In author world, things are always changing. It sort of forces you to constantly be learning something new. So, when Amazon or Facebook change something, don't freak out and throw in the towel. Take a few hours and learn about it. And then start to master it, knowing that it will change again...deep breath...and that's OK! Because you can keep learning!
3) Don't take things personally.
This one is hard for me. I'm a tiny bit sensitive...hehe...understatement of the century! So, when your author friends all seem to be getting big breaks or everyone gets asked to be part of a release party except you, don't take it personally. Because nine times out of ten, it's not personal. I have not so quickly learned that many of my fellow newbies are much more connected in the book world than I am. Some spent a long time preparing for this journey, while others were already part of the book community and thus came with a built-in network. Not gonna lie, I've had to fight that green jealousy bug off my shoulder more than once, but it's important to recognize that not all authors starting out are starting out at the same level.
I started with almost zero knowledge. I mean, I thought I knew stuff, but I knew nothing. My first year was a lot of learning mistakes, a lot of learning from others' mistakes, and a lot of highs and lows. So, don't take it personally if you don't get an agent or publisher right away. Don't take it personally, if you see others succeeding while you are floundering. Don't take it personally, if your book doesn't make it to number...ever. I've come to realize that indie book world is a lot like a marathon, yes, you are competing against others for readers, but mostly, you are competing against yourself.
2) Find your tribe.
This was advice I got within the first eight weeks of joining the author world online. And it was one of the best pieces of advice. I networked on some FB author groups and soon found some kindred spirits. We formed a little group, which mostly is now a group text that acts as our group therapy and personal focus group. These ladies are some of my closest confidants, and I truly cherish their friendship and support. I've also found a few other awesome author friends on various social media, and they are also a great support system of cheerleaders when I need them. Don't be afraid to chat with other authors on social media, be friendly, make connections because that's what social media is about (also, don't DM them and ask them to read your book as soon as they become your friend...give it some time...seriously...I hear complaints about stuff like that all the time, so you've been warned). And you can also connect with readers! You might find yourself a reader tribe too, who will be your biggest cheerleaders! So, again, be nice to people, because they may become YOUR people who help you get through the best and worst of times.
1) Be yourself.
Just be YOU! Most of our connections with fans and fellow authors or folks in the book business are online. It's easy to try to be someone you're not, but at the end of the day, people on social media want connections with real people. We are all unique, and we all bring something different to the table. So, take that special something, that unique 'you-ness' and share it with the world. No, not everyone will want to be your new BFF, but I guarantee, the ones that do, will totally get you. You will find that tribe from #2 above, and it will make your life that much better!