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What I’ve learned my first year as a published author.

Today is a major milestone for me. A year ago, my first book, Into the Dark, was published by MuseItUp Publishing. Since then, I’ve become an independent publisher, releasing the first two books in the Delta Crossroads Series, Tin God and Skeleton’s Key. It’s been quite a year, with many ups and downs.

I never expected to be a success out of the gate–that’s a rarity and usually happens to someone with major house backing. My goal was to put out the best books I could and continue to improve my craft. After hiring a freelance editor who worked with Penguin NAL, I know I’ve done that. And every day I focus on putting out better stories. That said, there are those days when I wish for the big numbers of my more established peers. I do believe the key to building an audience lies in writing more books, and that much of the time and money new authors spend toward marketing is a waste, but that doesn’t stop me from sometimes feeling like I’m still on the outside of the ballroom, hoping to be allowed into the exclusive dance. That said, I believe in my writing 100%, and I have big plans for 2014.

So after a year in this business (and don’t get me wrong, I’m still very much a newbie), what would I tell someone getting ready to publish their first novel?

  • If you’re independently publishing, put your money into editing. Do your research and hire a developmental editor – one with experience editing the genre you write. A critique partner is NOT the same as an editor, especially for a newer writer.
  • Hire a separate line editor. This is different from developmental editor. This is about sentence structure, grammar, etc. A good line editor is worth the investment because they can prevent a lot of the grammar issues that seem to be a major issue with independently published books.
  • If you’re going with a small press, make sure their editing is top notch. Read their books and look for quality of plot and grammar.
  • If you’re going with a small press, stop and think about that decision. In this digital world, unless you go with a small press that has some pull with bookstores or marketing, it might not be the best investment of your money. Depending on the press, you won’t have much control over pricing and sales, and that makes a big difference. A huge part of the success of many independently published authors is working their prices and staggering their sales.
  • Understand cover art and hire an artist who gets the differences between genres. This was a major mistake with my Delta Crossroads Series. The original covers were beautiful and professional, but they didn’t fit in with the suspense genre. My new cover artist finally told me that my books resemble Lisa Gardners, and asked if my covers looked like hers. When I realized that huge difference, the genre thing finally clicked.
  • Don’t spend a bunch of money in marketing. I’ve learned the hard way that there isn’t much point in investing a lot until you’ve got at least three books out and if possible, an entire series. Readers are so inundated with options many don’t want to invest their time and money in an author until they have more books, and an entire series is available to them. I don’t read like that, so it was hard for me to get that mentality. But after taking a step back and listening to established (and successful) indie authors, I had to admit this was absolutely true.
  • Write the next book. Invest your time in coming up with great plots and characters.
  • Read a lot. It really does make a difference.
  • Study what your peers are doing. Look at authors who’ve had successful book launches and see what they are doing on Facebook.
  • Be accessible, and be grateful for every reader. Most of us are starting from the ground up, building an audience reader by reader. Embrace that. Get to know your readers and make sure they understand how important they are to you.
  • Start a mailing list. Give those readers something special. You may have to play around and figure out what that something special needs to be, but a mailing list is a great way to build loyal readers.
  • Keep writing. Don’t get boiled down in numbers. Don’t check them half a dozen times a day. Keep writing.
  • Whether you have an agent and are seeking traditional publishing or publishing independently, you are a brand and a business. Don’t make decisions based on emotion. Do what is best for the long term career you’re after.
  • This is a business. Most success stories don’t come overnight. WORK HARD. Be a student of craft and of the industry. Realize this is an all hours a day job.
  • Stay positive. You are lucky to be following your dream and brave to be embarking down this road. Good luck!

Don’t forget about the Kindle Giveaway to celebrate my one year in publishing! Contest ends December 13th!


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3 comments on… “What I’ve learned my first year as a published author.”

  1. Great post and great advice. I agree with it all.

    The only thing I’d add is this:

    1) If you’re planning to independently publish, get 3-6 books ready to go (editing included) and release them over a period of several months while you work on the next book. Right now, I’m struggling to keep stuff coming out on a regular schedule.

    2) Do work at building a brand and having a presence on social media. But don’t let it become ALL you do.

  2. I don’t have much money to spend so I don’t market a whole lot. One thing I did learn was and is similar to what you say is to keep writing great books. The more books you publish the more successful you will be. I am working on finishing my series — hope to finish by next summer. Congrats on your first year! I have read a couple of your books and plan to read more.

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