I’ve been blessed to have a tremendous first year of dedicated self-publishing, but I also know what it’s like to have not-so-great years. I started self-publishing in 2010, but because of my traditional publishing career, I never fully committed myself or my writing to it. The time just wasn’t there frankly, which I think is purposeful on the side of traditional publishers. They want you too busy to try out the indie side of things. (Because the indie side has cookies. But I digress.)
For those of you on the hybrid fence, I can tell you being full indie has been life changing. But I suppose that’s a post for another day. ;o)
In the year (14 months, really), that I have been full indie, I’ve learned a lot. And because I like to see everyone do well, I wanted to pass on some of the things I’ve learned that might be helpful to those of you just starting on this journey.
1. Be humble
If you’re coming out of traditional publishing, it’s easy to think you know what you’re doing, but indie publishing is a different venture. In some ways, very different. In others, not so much. You have to be more disciplined, in my opinion, because you’re solely responsible for your own deadlines.
And if you’re starting out in indie, you might think you’ve read everything you need to read, bought all the indie publishing how to books you need to buy and talked to all the people you need to talk to, so much so that you’re sure you know exactly what you need to do.
Whatever your starting point is, you’re still behind the curve. Keeping an open attitude about that is important. Sit at the feet of those who have the kind of career you want to have and soak up whatever they’re willing to offer.
Learning the market is a great example of this. What NY thinks is dead could be (and often is) thriving in Indieland.
2. Be teachable
This goes hand in hand with being humble. If someone who’s been at this longer than you offers you some advice, listen. Eagerly. Ask questions. Take notes. Truly consider their words. See how you could put their advice into practice and make it work for you.
If someone with some knowledge tells you that your covers aren’t quite right and takes the time to show you better examples, don’t respond with reasons why your covers are fine. If they want to help you re-write your blurb to make it catchier, see what you can take from that to write the next blurb better on your own.
Accept help when it’s offered. Trust me when I say those people are giving you the gift of their time and energy and in self publishing (and hello, life), those are two things that can be in rare supply.
3. Be grateful
When you get a gift of help from an author you respect, appreciate it. Saying thank you is a good start, but go above and beyond. Buy them a little gift certificate to their favorite coffee shop. Better yet, buy that author’s book, read it, then promote it on whatever social media you use and leave a good review. Yes, I said a good review. If you don’t think the book deserves five stars, then don’t leave a review that’s less than that. (And if you don’t think the book deserves five stars, why are you taking their help in the first place?)
If someone whose help you don’t want offers, you should still thank them kindly as you decline. You never know when you may want their help in the future. People who burn bridges without building ships don’t make very much progress.
Beyond the business side of things, when you start getting fan mail, respond. A reader who took a few moments to tell you how much they liked your book deserves a personal note back.
If you don’t appreciate your readers, you don’t deserve to be in this business.
4. Be patient
Success rarely happens over night and it rarely happens on our timetables. Don’t freak out if the first book you release isn’t met with instant buzz, best-seller status and a shower of dollars. What accompanies most book releases is the sound of crickets.
Don’t despair, give up writing, or complain about how readers don’t get you. (If you must do the last one, do it off-line.) Most series take several books to build to a sustainable level. Understanding that can save you a lot of heartache.
You also need to be patient when it comes to putting that first book out there. Just because you typed The End doesn’t mean it’s ready for public consumption. Books need to be edited and polished and failing to do so can cause irreparable damage to your brand.
(Don’t think you have a brand? You do, trust me. You’re building it with everything you publish and post.)
5. Be prepared
I’m not talking about goals, but those are HUGELY important. (And yet another post.) I’m talking about being ready for publication bringing you either success or failure.
How? Start by defining those two words.
What does success mean to you? For me, it was a certain dollar amount per month per book. I had a bottom line for whether or not I’d continue my Nocturne Falls series after three books. As book five is set for release in about two weeks, you can assume I met that goal. Decide what your success goal is so you have a benchmark.
Failure might then be defined as not reaching that benchmark. Okay, what then? Be ready to autopsy the situation and see what went wrong. Look at your cover, your blurb, your available sample. Are they all on point? If one of them isn’t right, it can ruin sales. Really. (Those things are all fixable, by the way.)
If you can’t figure it out, don’t be afraid to ask other authors you trust and respect for their take on what went south, but if you do that, please re-read the above.
6. Be focused
Distraction is the enemy of success. Being focused means learning to say no to all the things that aren’t going to move you closer to achieving your goals. This sometimes means turning down great stuff like anthologies, box sets, etc.
It’s okay to say no. In fact, it’s important to say no. How else will you protect your writing time? There isn’t an app on earth that’s going to give you more than twenty-four hours a day. Time is finite. And when you start out, you need to be using the time you have to get your books done.
There will be other opportunities. I promise. What matters most when you’re new is building your back list, getting books out there and establishing your series. Publish your first three books, then re-assess. How are they doing? Are fans clamoring for more? Do you have time to write that novella for the charity anthology? If so, go for it. If not, don’t feel bad about turning it down.
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Whatever you do this year, I hope it’s a smashing success. I believe a rising tide lifts all ships.
Happy writing and happy reading!