WARNING! LONG POST AHEAD WITH LOTS OF INFORMATION! READ WITH CAUTION AND THEN READ AGAIN!
Before I get started here, know that I am not pointing fingers at you as an author. But there are many offenses on this list that I have or still do commit. I see it all happen over and over again, but I don’t think people really feel they fall into this category of authors. Well, I’m sorry. But most likely, you do. If you have not experienced any of these issues, my hat is off to you. You fall in that minority of writers.
The thing about publishing the first time is that you are so worked up and energized about getting it in front of people, you don’t think about this whole deal as a business. Unless you just write and e-publish your work for #free, you are in it as a business. You wouldn’t open a store front with no plan or making mistakes left and right, would you? If you do, I promise you won’t be in business long. The same mentality applies to writing books.
Now, hear me out:
1. High Expectations with Little Effort: So you punch that last period of your manuscript. Congratulations! Visions of holding your book in your hands fills your mind. You envision signing your contract with a huge publishing house and shaking hands with your agent. You see book tours across the world, signing the pages with a fancy pen, and staring happily into the eyes of your potential reader who has stars in their eyes. Oh! Wouldn’t all that be amazing?!?
Chances are, you are like millions of other writers who see all the same things. You want to sign with a huge house, sit back and watch your bank account grow. Am I wrong? What you don’t stop to realize is that publishing houses are hurting…so much that even bestsellers like John Locke have turned to managing their own publishing affairs. They take high commissions and can’t guarantee your success. If you want a publicity team to do your footwork for you, this is not the business for you. Like any venture, writing and publishing take enormous amounts of time and sometimes even money to pay off. There is no sleeping in and enjoying coffee on your balcony overlooking the beach…at least not in the beginning.
2. No Game Plan: So once you realize that your dreams were just playing with you, look at your game plan, aka Business Plan. Oh! You don’t have one? Never thought of your hobby being a business entity? Okay. Stop! Writing is a business. Businesses without a plan fail. Do you want to be in that category? As a failed business?
I was there, people! I have several books out on the market and I’m still correcting my mistakes. My publishing journey began in 2006 with the acceptance of Noble Courage through a publishing entity called “Publish America”. Yep, that’s right, I fell for their approach. They did hold up their end of the bargain, but I knew absolutely nothing about marketing or selling books. I thought I would get it out there on the gigantic world-wide web and be a smashing success!
If that had happened, I wouldn’t be here writing to you right now with advice on not making my same mistakes. The publisher, I will get to later. I registered with Author’s Den right out of the gate, at the suggestion of my publisher. I spent the money upgrading my status with them to get onsite ads for my work. This was before Kindle was big and definitely before ebooks became the rage. My paper copies sold for $29.95 for a 480 page softcover.
I did booksignings. The chain of media stores called “Hastings” was very hospitable to me. I bought loads of books for these signings. My first signing was the best where I sold 17 whole copies at $29.95 each. Hastings took their percentage, did very little work on my behalf, and I went on my way. As subsequent signings yielded only a book or t laswo, I simply stopped doing them. One book sale is not worth the preparation, the buying of the books, or my entire day to do them.
I used Myspace a little bit and loved being able to customize the appearance of my own page and being able to play appropriate music for visitors. Then Facebook blew up and the only place to be was there! So I shifted to the more “real time” media exposure Facebook yielded.
My point is, no one ever sat down with me and said, “Now that your book is done, what do you want to accomplish?”… I flailed around like a child thrown in the lake for the first time. I did not swim…I sank. That led to me giving up on my dreams completely. DO NOT LET THIS BE YOUR STORY! There is so much more to this business than booksignings and Facebook pages! I want to be able to help aspiring authors figure out their plan by using my own failures as an example. How else can you learn?
3. No Branding or Cohesive Presence: Creating a logo did not even occur to me until last year. So from the time I started my process until last year, I had no logo to define myself. There was no visual besides my book cover to associate me with any work at all. That was wandering around in the dark, pretending I was all that, for six years. I had no purpose and no direction and no logo.
Get yourself branded! That should be one of the very first thing you do before starting a business! When I help people publish their books, I make sure they get a logo and that they love it enough to grow with it and never tire of it. The last thing you want to do years from now is go through a logo redesign. If you don’t like it, propose an idea that you do like. Or get opinions from other authors on what they think. A good author or business owner would be happy to do this for you. Take all suggestions to heart and make sure it fits well with your personality and your genre. I would be more than happy to help you with some ideas. I am no professional at it, but I love my logo. I love Twisted Willow Press‘ logo. And I love Cheryl Alleway‘s logo. I feel they all capture the essence of the person! Use this logo everywhere you possibly can to train people’s eye to recognize you in mere seconds.
4. Poor Editing: I think this one applies to 98% of all new authors. I did it. I received manuscripts from other authors who hadn’t done it. Work with someone who will not impose an impossible deadline on you. I was given 10 days to edit a 500 page book, I worked a full time job and then some, I was about to get married so I was planning a wedding, and then we had a long honeymoon all happen at the same time. My deadline was impossible. Therefore, I re-wrote the first few chapters, skimmed the rest for squiggly lines in Word and sent it back a total disaster. Sound familiar at all? Well, it happened to me that way and I have read countless other manuscripts where it was equally as terrible. I sighed in disappointment and prayed that my story would shine through, for I do believe I have a very epic one! Alas, it was not the case and here I was, trapped in a 7 year contract with no option to correct my errors. My publisher was just fine putting sub-par work out there with their name on it. If a company doesn’t care, why should you?
If you can possibly find the means to do it, hire an editor. At LEAST use an editing program like “grammarly” to help you find glaring problems. However, a program may not be able to decipher between the words strait and straight. So another trained, impartial eye would do you well in sharpening your work. Still think you don’t need one? I guarantee you…you do. Even if you hold degrees in literature and grammar and all that, you will not see your own errors. Nothing in this world is more disheartening than an awful review based on your mechanics. Spare yourself this personal defeat and just have someone else help you make it perfect!
5. Take a Good Look at Your Options: There are so many options out there in the publishing world. Send a million query letters if you want to, but while you are waiting for a response, I will be selling copies getting a head start on you. If you sign with any house, be sure you understand the terms of your agreement. Most are there to merely put your words onto paper and bind them into a book. That’s it! Some lock you into very long contracts. Now while it takes a minimum of a year to establish yourself and get the word out, it will take another to build your brand up to be recognizable. This is if you don’t waver one step of the way. I can tell you that the frustration you feel when those sales numbers aren’t where you want them to be will wear on you over time and can lead to your demise. Find a publisher who will work with you. One that will help you learn promotional skills. One that will raise you like a child until you are grown up enough to work on your own! Do not fall into this “pay me $500 and I will publish you” trap. On the other hand, don’t fall for the “I will publish you for free, but I will mark up the price of your book so you go bankrupt buying them” scam either. There are good and reputable companies out there…just remember that what you put into that experience is what you will reap in return. Publishers are not there to help you and have you abuse them in return. Make a conscious effort to do what you are asked to do in order to be successful. If there is no mentoring, suggestions, or help whatsoever, that company should not be your choice. Twisted Willow Press was created to help authors get off to the best start possible. I know, because I created it. Recently, I passed it to a great editing friend of mine who has taken it over, but the mission is still the same.
6. Obtain a .com Address for a Static Website: So I learned this the hard way. I had a website that had an extension on it. You know, the http://daishasbooks.thiswebsite.com. There are several issues with extension addresses. First, people would not take me seriously that I was a “real” author since I didn’t even have my own .com on my business cards or my bookmarks. Think about this: Would you take your car in for repairs at a place who’s website was http://hotrodrepair.webs.com? Does that scream unprofessional? Does it lead you to believe that they must not be very good if they can’t afford their own .com address? That made me think really hard and I ended up purchasing my own domain name for my STATIC website. That is a website that is up for informational or purchasing details only. There is no blog on my website anymore. I get traffic there because of the .com and I get blog readers on my separate blog because WordPress is so awesome. Yes, that means I have two sites for the same purpose. But my website needs little updating to stay current and I can focus on my blogging here!
When you decide on a name, please remember your branding and your logo. Make them match or mesh together. Make it memorable. Okay, so I have a hard name to remember. But if you type in my name off of one of my books, my website will show up because my name IS my website: daishakorthbooks.com. Be sure that potential readers can find you easily by having an easy name in your address. Here is a great article on domain names!
7. Please Read your Manuscript One Last Time!: If you end up with a press who forces you to buy volume, take the time to read through your manuscript once more. Nothing is worse than purchasing several hundred books by contract and realizing there are awful errors that were never caught. Then you have 500+ books in your inventory that you are ashamed of. I was there, but I only sat on about 20 books. Still makes you feel stupid. If you do a POD company, be certain you can upload a new version of your book at any time to fix errors. Buy what you need and fill orders as needed after that until you are pleased with the final product.
8. Have a Flexible Release Date: Here is one scenario that really sucked. I went through a submission, worked out the details with a contract, and edited the work. However, my changes were not reflected by saving because I downloaded a program to open the file and it was not saving my progress. I sent it off to the author after hours upon hours of work that was all for nothing. I told her to be sure to read through it to catch errors and gave her a deadline of a month. She was on the ball…well, she seemed like that to me, but she never read through the work and sent me her okay to sign off on the project. I was all happy and uploaded it all to the printer and ordered her a copy. We had set a release date and started creating buzz about that day. We were so excited! So imagine this author’s horror when she opened that beautiful book and it was full of errors! She emailed me in a panic and I ripped into the manuscript to find none of my changes had worked. It was a mess and the release date was probably 10 days away. I wanted to throw up…truly. I cried for hours. I couldn’t breathe. There was no way I could re-edit the whole thing in that small amount of time! Had we kept the date more of a mystery, we could have averted it and fixed the entire book as it should have been in the first place. Until you KNOW for certain that everything is perfect, do not commit to a release date! Keep it open ended. It is much better to shoot for a date and miss than to put out bad material.
9. What’s that on your Cover?: You think you know exactly how you want your cover? Awesome! But send your concept in to your publisher, design your own, or hire a professional to get it done. However! Spend time perusing covers on Amazon, looking at bestseller formats or themes and really think about it. Releasing a second edition with a new cover is inconvenient at best and readers are thrown off. Choose your cover well and be honest if you HATE it! Be wary of houses who won’t work with you on the design. Most will tell you that they have the last say in what goes on your book, but a good house will listen to you as the author. You know your book inside and out. That includes the visual representation of your book. Run as fast as you can from ANY house who will not take your personal thoughts and feelings into consideration. Here is a great example:
10. Lack of Marketing: New authors are often overwhelmed. If you are new to marketing and promotion, research it! Get ideas! Add these to your plan…your business plan. I see authors all the time who will rave about their own book non-stop, but they don’t take a moment to use a great tactic of helping their competition.
Food for thought: There is no way in this vast universe that you can corner the market on books. If you are fantasy, other fantasy readers will flock to you. Being marketed by an author who writes Sci-Fi will introduce your work to their audience and a small fraction of those people will even consider reading outside their genre of choice. But that small fraction has a circle of friends also…and so on. My point is, helping another author find a larger audience will not reduce your sales. You are not keeping any secrets from these people and you will NEVER dominate every audience in the world. Don’t be afraid to help other authors market their work. Your audience will always love your work, but while they patiently wait for your next smash hit to hit shelves, they can enjoy another’s work as well. Don’t be that stingy!
I will do another post on some marketing ideas that will extend you beyond your personal circles. But for now, have a physical marketing plan and a virtual marketing plan. The physical plan involves your business card, bookmarks, and books. The virtual is all things done online like blogging and Facebook. Your books will not sell themselves, you must have a plan!
11. Review Swaps: Okay. When I was new to the industry, author review swaps were rampant. While this might seem like a great tactic, think again. I made a few friends by doing that, but there is a lot of sugar coating that goes on. I can honestly say that I really tried to be objective and not lead the author to believe that they were the next JK Rowling and I didn’t want to completely dash their dreams either. If I loved the story, I told that in my review. That’s what reading is based on…the story, right? Who doesn’t want to read a great tale even if it is riddled with errors? Once I found that positive note, there might be some constructive criticism and followed up by how much I liked my favorite character or how real the setting felt. But there was ALWAYS an accompanying email that explained where I felt they could improve. Often times it is the delivery of the message and not the message itself. But what I found happens is that there becomes the mentality: I don’t want a bad review so I won’t give one either. Then you get dishonest reviews from your peers hoping you don’t pick their book apart. If you get reviews, you do want them to be honest. You don’t have to verbally abuse an author to get your point across. There will be a little wounding of the pride that happens, but if they love what they do, they will pick up the pieces and do what it takes to get better at their passion. Offer free copies in exchange for honest reviews on Amazon. Just don’t say, “If you read my book, I will read yours” kind of stuff.
12. Price Point: My first book was an ebook on the market for $14.95 when ebooks were just getting popular. What a mistake!! I sold one copy! Argh! But as Kindle grew to be a hit, big houses were putting their ebooks up for anywhere from $8-$18. That was when it was cool to put your book at .99 for that extra affordability edge. Even John Locke sells his ebooks for .99 each. What’s good for a bestseller is good for me too, right? NO! I had my series on the KDP program at .99 a copy and would regularly put them on sale for FREE! Ugh! The regrets! But how was I supposed to know that a bestselling author would have a higher ranking to begin with, which gave him more presence and a lot more clout? To build the audience takes time and .99 books don’t do it. Anymore, readers shy away from .99 books of any kind…unless you are #1 on the bestseller lists and are well known. It has been a tactic for sub-par authors for too long now. Your time is worth more than fractions of a cent! Hold your head up high and demand that people respect your work! A modest price of $2.99 is a great place to start and while some will tell you that starting low and increasing the price is bad business, I believe that it helps create a base of readers. When you see a new product hit shelves, often times there is an “introductory” price. Once that introductory period ends, a higher price is assumed. If you didn’t buy it while it was cheap, sucks to be you! It’s the same with your work. Hey, if you didn’t get it at $2.99 when it was first out, you can shell out $3.99 for waiting. Sounds callous, but it is so true. Stop selling your work for .99, especially if it is a long story, a great story, and an addicting story. When you sell on Amazon for .99, you make a whopping .35 a copy. If you have 100 pages in your book, you literally make nothing per page. And how many hours did it take you to write each page? Do you really think that little of yourself and your talents? Readers will sense that so be confident. Not $14.95 confident, but at least $2.99 confident. You are more than worth that.
In my paper copies, the printer will take their commission so I adjust my dollar amount to where I make about $5 a book. That’s not much at all considering I generally write for a year per book. I’m good with that. Would it be awesome to be able to sell $7.99 paperbacks? Heck yes! But right now, it costs me $12-$15 a book through the printer, so that is impossible until I can figure something else out. I’m still learning…as is everyone else.
I apologize for the length of this post. It was a beast. But I feel there are some great points that can help you get a much better start than I had. Find a mentor and learn all you can about the business. You can always get me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always in for making new friends!
If you feel so inclined to read my books, you can find them HERE. I appreciate the reading! I do it all for you! Okay…I do it for myself too or my brain would implode. It’s a bonus for you!