Eight things I learned in the first two weeks of publishing
When I first started writing seriously about six years ago, I had no idea what the publishing world was like. I thought that as with many pursuits, if one had some ability and worked diligently at it for several years, that success, at least in some reasonable form, would happen.
I did learn, rather quickly, that this was not the case. That there were literally hundreds of thousands of people with the same goals with respect to their writing that I had, competing for the attention of limited readers.
I reset my expectations a bit. And, not surprisingly, as I work my way through trying to achieve some success in writing fiction, I continue to have to adjust my expectations.
Two weeks ago, I published my first novel, A Pair of Docks. This was a learning experience in itself. Eight things I learned in the first two weeks are:
1) It does not take many sales to shoot into the hot new releases or into the top 100 in your category
When I first announced that A Pair of Docks had been published, of course my wonderful friends and family, as well as a few acquaintances, rushed on-line to buy it. On the first day of sales, I managed to be #1 in the hot new releases in my category on Amazon.ca, which meant that I was featured in that very desirable side bar so everyone looking for other books in my category can see my book. I took a screen shot. On the second or third day of sales, the purchase of a few e-books on Amazon.com, launched me as high as #7 in hot new releases in my category and #38 overall in my category. I also took screen shots of that let me assure you. The important thing to note here is that it did not take that many sales (at all) to achieve this, which tells me that the Amazon algorithms are pretty elastic and that when people boast about their achievements in their categories, I am not sure if it means much (although I will still keep the screen shots).
2) It also does not take very long for your Amazon rankings to drop once your sales fall off
Once the rush of friends and family was over, I managed to hang onto my hot new release and top 100 ranking in my categories for about 36 hours. Not long. My brief shiny moment of success had ended. Those darned elastic Amazon algorithms.
3) Without reviews, your moment in the sun in the hot new releases will not likely translate into sales
What is the first thing you look at when trying to decide whether or not to buy a book by someone other than your writer friends? A lot of people look at the reviews. In my rush to get my book out before Christmas (because that’s when people buy books, right?) and make sure it was completely error free, I did not even think about the importance of reviews. I have subsequently learned that other writers actually quietly publish their novels and then spend several months acquiring reviews before officially announcing that they have published. Thus when there is the initial rush to buy their book and they show up on desirable Top 100 lists that get them noticed, they have reviews to spur more purchases. Lesson learned. If anyone wants to review my book now, that would be great.
4) Some people will like your book, but they won’t often post official reviews, and just so you know, some people won’t like your book
In the past week, I have heard the following:
“Brilliant! Loved it . . . Looking forward to the next one, don't keep us waiting too long.”
“It's a great read!
“It's a bit of a page turner. . . A little sleepy today!"
“I've finished the first chapter and it is great. Already looking forward to the sequel!”
Great okay, love you guys, can you post that on Amazon please? Then there are the people you don’t hear from and you lie awake at night wondering what possessed you to send your sh-- out into the world. Maybe they haven’t read it yet – I mean really, my reading pile is so high that sometimes it takes me several months to get to a book and a few weeks to get through it when I do. But you know some of them have read it, and they didn’t like it. And they are now looking at you funny, and you won’t get invited to as many parties, and they will talk about you and your dumb book at the parties you’re not invited to, and you will wonder why you did not remain a project manager who organized community playground installations (which definitely lands you on the A-list party circuit let me tell you). Seriously though (although that was a bit serious), it takes awhile for a book to develop some momentum. Be prepared for that and don’t hope too much in the first two weeks.
5) People will congratulate you and think your accomplishment is really exciting
I was not prepared for this. In my mind, I have only accomplished something if people buy my book and LIKE it. I have received many hugs in the past two weeks and I come away from each and every one of them a sicklier shade of grey. Thank you so much to the kind and lovely people who were congratulating me, but writing a book is easy – that’s why the market is flooded. Writing a good book that people like, that manages to rise out of the vast swathe of books and be successful is hard. I can’t believe how many people have said to me – you must be so happy. Um, yes happy that I never have to proofread the *&^% thing again, but not really otherwise. I’ve just taken the biggest public leap of faith in my life – happy doesn’t really come into it. If I win a Nobel Prize for Literature some day, then by all means congratulate me – we can have a super big party with gin and tonics all around. But right now, I'm just hoping that you don't look at me funny. What I really want is for people to respect my crazy-assed choice to try to be a writer, know that I am doing my best to do good work in a virtually impossible field, provide feedback (good or bad) on the quality of my work (so I realistically know whether to stick with it or quit), and understand that many good books do not become bestsellers. It’s also okay to say nothing (and think nothing). NB: Also, no need to pity me if I fail. I went into this knowing the odds. It would help to remember I have a day job where I am an experienced professional and do really good work (just so I can salvage some small sliver of self-respect).
6) You will have to sign your book
I was also totally unprepared for this one. Since I type a lot (read all day, every day), my handwriting is a bit rusty. It would be a good idea to think about this in advance – what pen are you going to use, what are you going to say, and where are you going to sign? Practice signing a few blank sheets of paper. Trust me, it will save you a couple of nights of sleeplessness worrying about how you botched up your friend’s book with your hopeless donkey scrawl.
7) You will be torn daily between the decision to write your next book, promote your existing book or go skiing
Okay you might not be tempted to go skiing, but…okay I just went skiing…but now I'm back and really focused. I was told once that once you have a book out, your time should be 30% promotion and 70% writing your next book. Others say the best promotion for your existing book is your next book. Yet others say you must do a fair bit of promotion to get your book noticed…and in case you haven’t noticed there are a lot of people promoting their books (so you are competing with a heck of a lot of noise). Your existing book is unlikely to get noticed unless you do some marketing, but how much is enough and what kinds are successful? These are the subject of raging debates in all corners of the Internet these days, and there are no easy answers (although I will post about my experiences in a few weeks). We have all been pummeled by the “buy my book” tweets. Kristine Kathryn Rusch has an excellent article on the challenges of discoverability. She goes with the WIBBOW philosophy, which is an acronym that stands for Would I Be Better Off Writing and claims that in most cases, you are better off writing your next book than promoting your existing book. Which is great because that brings me to my next point.
8) Self-promotion sucks
Yup, there is no way around that. Every time I send out a tweet about my book or post something on Facebook I cringe. I probably won’t get better at it. I should probably just spend my time skiing because much of it does not work. But more about that soon.
So help a writer out. Buy my book. Read it. Tell me what you think. If it sucks, and the next one sucks too, please tell me and put me out of my misery. If you love it, tell me. You don't have to post a review (although it would be much appreciated), personal emails will do very nicely - either way.
Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight