Four Years: Four things I did right, four things I did wrong

I've been a published author for four years, which is pretty cool. On May 17th, 2014, I pressed PUBLISH in KDP and watched my book sell 42 copies on release day. I was THRILLED. Especially since I didn't know what the hell I was doing! Wheee! By the end of May, I'd sold 108 copies in two weeks and I was stoked. Four years later now, that book has hit 60k Kindle accounts, between free books and full priced books. Which isn't incredibly impressive, but not too bad considering I stopped advertising it more than three years ago and it hasn't been on sale since 2015. Which is one of the things I did wrong ... but we'll get into that. 

I want to begin the nitty gritty of this post by saying that I am not an expert or a bestseller as far as any major lists go. I am just a woman who wanted to write the stories stockpiled inside of her and this was my experience in self-publishing those stories. The things I share in this post are unique to me and should not be taken as advice for you. But I think being honest about our failures as well as our achievements can be strangely uplifting! Yay, failure! It's the best place to grow from, am I right? Let's start with the shit I did WRONG. 

Four Things I Did Wrong:

  1. I did not take advantage of my backlist as I kept publishing. I just published my tenth full-length novel, which means I had nine books before it. I have a bad case of imposter syndrome every time I publish a novel. I'm always convinced it's the worst piece of literature out there, and I have no doubt that some would agree with that actually. Haha. (I can laugh now!) But because of that doubt, the moment my books are released, I cut the umbilical cord and move on like they don't exist. It's a funny analogy, because I have two kids and I can't ever imagine treating them like I do my book babies. I'm incredibly self-critical of the things I write. I mean, I would rather spoon my eyeballs out and microwave them until they explode than re-read my novels. It makes me CRINGE SO HARD. That doubt made me too fearful to advertise my books, which means I had completed novels just sitting on the table, doing nothing. I could've tossed out an ad here and there as I wrote new books, but nah. I just let them sit there. This isn't true for every novel, but for most of my backlist, I just stopped advertising it, as if it was an expired product and not something that could still sell. My goal for the rest of this year is to bring those babies back into the spotlight. 
  2. I didn't learn ebook formatting sooner. This is a BIG ONE for me. Luckily, I have an incredible friend who did my ebook formatting for me, but that meant I'd have to bug her every time I had a tiny change, like updating the back-matter for my books whenever I released a new one, or fixing a typo in a book that was 3+ years old, or adding bonus content in the back -- any of it. And because I don't relish being a pain in the ass, I just didn't ask for those tweaks. I believe this largely prevented me from reaching new readers because I didn't have a way to lead them to a new book by putting in an excerpt at the end. I have published a mix of standalones (4) and duets (3) and again, all of those books are just sitting there without me directing readers to them. UGH. FACE PALM. In 2018, I finally started doing my own ebook formatting and I schedule one day out of every month to update my back-matter across my books and keywords in KDP. 
  3. I didn't hire a professional editor until I was three books in. This is probably the BIGGEST mistake I made. I hired an English teacher to help with editing, which she did, but there were SO MANY TYPOS. It's embarrassing to admit now, that's why editing and cover design are where I spend the most of my money as far as book production goes. I also use between 3 and 6 proofreaders for my books and it is worth every penny. I don't hire any proofreaders for my blog posts though, SO ENJOY THEM AS I AM SURE THEY'RE EVERYWHERE. I want to reiterate here that there are plenty of authors who get away with not hiring professional editors and their readers don't seem to mind. But the biggest flack I got in reviews were about the typos and they were right! That being said, rarely do I come across a typo-free published novel (even in traditionally published books!), so if a reader finds a typo in a book that's several years old, I don't break out into the sweats anymore. It happens. But it shouldn't happen on every.single.page. (face palming myself)
  4. I didn't reach out for help. This is kind of something I did right AND wrong, actually. When I published my first novel, He Found Me, I had joined one author group on Facebook and asked ONE question in there (which, admittedly, was a really dumb one) and I got a lot of sarcastic answers. That experience was enough to send me deep into Google hunting for answers and by the time I published my first book, I didn't know what the hell I was doing and made a million mistakes: discounted my book too soon, didn't advertise it, didn't do any giveaways, read Goodreads reviews (again, this is *my* personal experience with Goodreads -- it's a no for me) and got butthurt and self-conscious. If I'd had people to lean on, maybe I would've started off better. But the day of my cover reveal for my second book, I still didn't have a single author friend. Not even an acquaintance. I was Tom Hanks in Castaway, thrilled for making fire (my novel), without realizing everything else to come. 

It's a great movie though. 

Let it be known that those four things are not ALL the things I did wrong. Oh boy, no they are NOT. In fact, I bet I did more things wrong than I did right. Maybe on my 50th anniversary of writing, if I'm not rotting in a casket, I can start to talk about some of the stuff I did wrong -- by then, I'd have enough space. 

Four Things I Did Right:

  1. I learned shit on my own without relying on anyone else in the beginning. This was listed as a thing I did wrong as well, but in some ways, it's also something I did right. That's not confusing, right? (Hi, sarcasm!) Basically, I am glad I learned how to do everything the "hard" way, by doing my own research and not asking for hand-holding. I was running Facebook ads before I knew anything about Facebook ads and learned how to spend a lot of money the wrong way, which taught me what to do. I'm proud of my struggles in the beginning. That being said, don't be afraid to ask for help! But I do encourage doing some research first, because what worked for me doesn't necessarily mean it'll work for anyone else. Also, I ask for a lot of hand-holding now, in other ways. I can be quite needy.
  2. I didn't engage in drama/negativity. I think it helped that when I started writing, I had a job that required I be professional in all public avenues of my life. I have had falling outs and misunderstandings with other writers over these four years but I respect myself and them way too much to ever put that out for public consumption. It just isn't necessary and it doesn't serve anyone in a productive way. The last thing I want is to publicly drag someone who doesn't deserve it. I quietly unfriend and unfollow and keep my posts directed in avenues that best serve me. Also, I have a therapist and good friends and I hold those private spaces close. This is meant as no offense to people who do post things that are "drama," but merely to explain why I don't and won't. And I'm not talking about choosing not to take sides (there is a way to do that without making it negative), but my grandmother had strong opinions and didn't have Facebook and she managed just fine to keep that shit in places that best served her. 
  3. I wasn't afraid to write what hurt to write. What I mean by this is the duet I recently published, the Mad Love duet, are the books I am most proud of. I started those four years ago because they're a spin-off of my first duet and first standalone. Initially, I worked on these books for my agent at the time, with the intention of going on submission with them. When my agent and I parted ways last fall, that dream ended and I decided that four years of work was enough and released both of them in the last four weeks. They were hard books to write -- I don't think I'll ever be able to articulate just how hard they were for me. I'm still recovering from them, still crying that they're finished. I put my entire heart in those books, sacrificed so much of myself that I'm still mourning my missing pieces. The heroine became real to me over those four years and letting go of her has been hard to deal with. You might be laughing at me, which is cool -- I'd laugh at anyone else who said this same shit. But publishing those books felt like letting go of a friend. 
  4. I didn't give up. This might sound melodramatic, but I'm serious. I can name two specific points in my career where I wanted to give up: July 2016 and April 2018. Obviously, the latter of those is still very fresh. I was sitting in my therapist's office, sobbing over feeling like a failure and imagining how much lighter my life would feel if I just ... walked away. Writing isn't my primary income, but it does pay my son's medical bills. But it's more than a paycheck; it's another form of therapy for me. When I'm hurting, my characters are hurting. When I'm in a good place, so are my characters. And when my time and emotional and financial investments are not redeemed, it's incredibly difficult to decide to continue on. I spent a full week, imagining all the ways my life would become easier if I closed my accounts and said bye to the world. I didn't announce I was even considering this, I just let it sit with me for a while. And then I was rereading the first book in my Mad Love duet, trying not to imagine microwaving my eyeballs, when I stumbled across an excerpt about not wanting something because it was easy. Writing is not easy. It's challenging and empowering and validating and it's also really fucking hard sometimes. I'll leave the excerpt that reminded me why I write at the end. It's a conversation between my hero and heroine, with her asking him why he hasn't left her yet because she's so much work. Writing isn't easy, but -- for now -- I'll keep trudging up the hill. I'll keep working my ass off, because I don't want easy; I want this. 

“Why are you still here?” I finally asked. 

Without looking at me, Six said, “Because I want to be here.”

There was something terrifying and relieving about that.

“Why me?”

“I told you; because you challenge me.”

“Why would you want someone who makes you work so hard?”

This time he looked at me. “Why wouldn't you want someone like that?”

 

That's all from me, for now. I'm going to try to make these posts once or twice a month, so if you'd like to sign up to receive my blog updates only, sign up here