When I started out in this industry a few years ago, I knew one thing and one thing only: I wanted to see my book in print.
Fast forward to today – 3 years later – and I have 5 books in print now and a 6th due for release in October. You might be thinking to yourself, “Wow…she must know what the hell she’s doing.”
What I’ve learned in the past few years has not been without a lot trial and error. More “error”, actually. But along the way I’ve picked up some handy pieces of advice and am slowly figuring out my way through this vast land of self-publishing.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share this advice with others out there like me.
Believe in yourself. I may not be a perfect writer, or even a perfect marketing guru, but I do believe (most days) that I was meant to be a writer and I CAN DO THIS. The other days? Well, I drink a lot of wine and cross my fingers.
Don’t believe everything you hear. Good or bad, people will like to offer you their opinion on your writing from the moment you put it out there. I’m not saying don’t be happy about positive feedback, but take it with this in mind….for every person out there who loves your book, there will always be someone else who doesn’t. You have a 50/50 chance of people liking your work, not because you’re not good at it, but because reading (like art, music) is subjective. Tuck away the positive feedback and pull it out on those days when you get a crappy review.
Edit, edit, edit. I’m currently reading a book that is published by one of the BIG publishing houses. In this book (which I’m enjoying, but not loving), I have found close to a dozen errors (missed words mostly). Nothing major, mind you. Nothing that will keep me from moving on with the story. My point is that even those BIG publishing houses, with all their editors and proofreaders, STILL make errors. If they can, you will too. I cannot reiterate this enough….PAY FOR AN EDITOR. Don’t be cheap…save your money and spend it wisely on what matters…making your story shine. Please don’t insult your readers by doing a half-assed look through of your manuscript, then asking your best friend to give it a once over. THAT IS NOT EDITING. This, however, might be….My editing process begins with at the very least 2-3 full read throughs of the completed first draft. I then hand it off to 2 or 3 people to look at, get their feedback, and make changes. Then I print it out, go through it the old fashioned way with a red pen; make changes, drink too much wine, and send it off to my editor. She’s a great gal but she won’t BS me…if something is stupid, she says so. If I’m not making sense, she calls me out on it. I’m madly in love with my editor but there are days I despise her….because she holds me accountable…she makes me think deeper about what I’ve written. And when all is said and done and I have my beautiful baby back from her, I still go through it twice more…just in case. My long way around the bend here is that you need to edit, really edit. You need to ask others to edit. Then you need to stop being a cheapskate and pay for professional editing. Sounds easy. It’s not. It’s expensive and time consuming. And every person that picks up your book will thank you for it.
Read your book out loud. This invaluable piece of advice came to me on my Twitter feed one day. Honestly…I thought it sounded dumb, but I thought ‘why the hell not give it a try’. Can I just say….OMG! My words suck when I hear them out loud…not all of them, but many. What a difference voice brings to those perfectly crafted words. Especially when you’re writing dialogue, this piece of advice is of most importance. Proper cadence, phrasing, slang, etc. can only be picked up when you HEAR what you’ve written.
Try printing your MS on colored paper or use a different font. If you’ve ever read your book so many times you can recite it, take note. Our brains are funny little organs….when we’ve looked at the same thing SO many times, we begin to miss things that we’d otherwise notice. Colored paper and/or a different font will actually help your brain see the words as “new”. Another brilliant piece of advice I picked up on Twitter, by the way.
Surround yourself with brilliance. It took a while to find just the right designer, editor and formatter, but now that I have I’m not letting any of them go. This team of 3 is the reason my pretty book is sitting on my desk today. They are the experts in their chosen fields, and their advice and guidance has been priceless. Get out there and find your perfect team of people; folks who “get” you. They will make the entire self-publishing experience so much easier.
Understand that it is work. As with writing itself, self-publishing is a 24/7 job. Yes, you heard me right, IT IS A JOB. You have to be the one to get out there and network with others. You will choose the cover for your book. You will create your perfect website. See my point? This is all on you if you want to succeed. And even when there are days you simply can’t stomach doing anything other than writing, you know you have to. This is your brand, your work. Your job.
You are one among many. There’s this awful statistic that says 4,000 books are published every day. If that is indeed the case, you have a lot of work to do to get yourself noticed. I write in a genre where there are a million books just like mine, so getting people to actually pick mine up is rewarding on its own. I may not sell hundreds of copies, but I do sell some…and that’s better than nothing.
Network, network, network. As with editing, this piece of the pie is invaluable. Here’s the thing….these folks you network with will probably never pick-up your book (they’re too busy writing to read). They will, however, cheer you on when you’re ready to give up. They will easily, eagerly, and freely offer to help whenever possible. They will offer gentle advice that you will take because you’re smart. They will ask pointed questions about your work; make suggestions that might hurt your feelings. My point here is that networking with other writers, poets and the like, is a requirement if you want to retain any sanity. Think of yourself as the quarterback…and they are your teammates. They’ve always got your back.
Get yourself organized. I don’t care if you keep everything in a notebook, but get your writing business organized. Keep folders of new ideas, things you’ve posted online, hopes and wishes for the future. Put up a calendar and fill it with your things to do (items to post online, blog posts to write, shout outs you want to mention online to others who have helped you). Getting yourself organized will make it feel more like a real business, and not just some hobby you do whenever you feel like it.
Trust your instincts. This can’t be said enough. And it goes along with…if it sounds too good, it probably is. There are slimy people out there who will try to sell you a bill of goods, reinforce it with some pretty words to keep you enticed, then leave you swinging in the wind when you take them to task. Be smart. Ask questions. Trust in your gut instinct. And when all else fails, ask one of your author buddies online what they think.
Remain a forever student. To learn is to do…or so I’ve heard. Keep being open-minded about the art of writing. Continue to ask questions and learn from other’s mistakes. Take classes and read blog posts and continue to be that student on the first day of school; wide-eyed, optimistic and anxious to learn.
Self-doubt happens. Sad to say, but I believe we writers will never be satisfied. Because of that, we are constantly in doubt about what we’re doing, what we’re saying, what we’re putting down on paper for the world to see. Self-doubt is as necessary to the craft as the words themselves, because it keeps you humble and continues to push you forward to do better.
Surround yourself with support. My poor family…I’m sure they get so tired of hearing about my writing dilemmas. But, as always, they are gracious as ever…nodding, glassy-eyed, with the occasional ‘uh-huh’ thrown in. Writing or the business of writing may not be for everyone, but surrounding yourself with people who understand that this is your job - your world, your great love - does go a long way toward remaining sane in an otherwise insane world. Absorb all the wonderful things they say about your work (even if they say it solely because you’re family and they’d never say otherwise). Let them be there for you on the days you suffer writer’s block or get that 1-star review. Share your pain.
It may not happen. Even those with the perfect cover art, flawless editing and beautifully scripted words will fail. Or…as we say in this business, never reach “best seller” status. Sadly, in this industry, you have a better chance of NOT making it on that list than you ever will of making it. Understand that success does not equal money, and only selling a handful of books is a success. We write words to reach people, to move them, to offer them an escape from their otherwise hectic lives. If we’re able to do that with one person, we have succeeded.
Your feelings will get hurt. I admit, I loathe reviews. I know they are a necessary evil, but seriously…people are far too free with shoveling out pain these days. They throw down a few words like, “I hated it”, and somehow feel that’s being constructive. IT’S NOT. As I said before, reading/writing is subjective. What you may love, I may hate…and that’s okay. That being said, I will never understand people who are blatantly hurtful with their reviews. Do they not understand we are human? That aside, if you do read reviews, prepare to be hurt. (a bit of truth here….I don’t read reviews. I avoid them like the plague).
Learn by doing. If you’ve ever read over something you wrote years ago, you will quickly realize that writing can always be improved upon. You need to write if you want to get better at it. I am NO expert writer by any stretch of the imagination, but I literally die laughing when I read back over something I wrote 20 years ago. On every page, my heroine is crying. I’d waffle from first to third POV. My sentences made zero sense. But as with most things, you will improve the more you do it. Keep writing! Write poetry…write short stories…or stockpile novel manuscripts as I have done. However you choose to do it, just keep doing it. Even writing a blog post is forcing your writing muscle to strengthen. Just keep at it.