Technically that headline is a lie. I’ve been self-published since 2014, but it’s only been two months since I published Message Bearer, which is my first novel-length foray (and my best, hopefully!) and so felt more appropriate this time round.
Some may also think that two months is waaaay to soon to have lessons learned, but, as with any venture into something new there’s lessons to be learned at various points along the way, they just change depending on your experience.
Anyway, in bullet point form, please see below some key things I’ve learned (both “do’s” and “don’ts”) in the past couple of months.
- DON’T keep checking the Amazon sales dashboard every five minutes. Unless you’re the Next Big Thing and people are buying your books like there’s no tomorrow, there’s going to be little movement in that red/blue line between 14:02 and 14:03. Trust me. I’ve done it, especially in the early days where my eyes were glued to that cursed dashboard. Now, I’ve managed to limit myself to 3 views a day – first thing in the morning, half way through the day and last thing at night. As most of my readers seemed to be in the U.S the sales seem to start coming when my american cousins are up and about.
- ENGAGE with the community. Now, when I first heard this piece of advice (and it’s repeated widely by those with much more experience than I) I didn’t really buy into it. What’s to gain by posting in forums, twitter, facebook etc? How would it help sales? And you know what? I’m not sure it does. However, what it DOES do is give access to many talented and friendly people who are happy to give their time and knowledge to help newbies like me in this scary new world. Everyone has their own experience, their own advice and so forth. Some of it won’t work for you, but other stuff will resonate and you can add to your own portfolio. And most importantly, you make new friends who understand the challenges of indie publishing, who can emphasise with the fear of that empty page or the damage of the plot doubt monkeys. Do it. It’s worth it.
- LEARN from your peers. Find other indie authors who’ve done the job well, especially those in your genre. See how they promote, see how they engage. Look at their covers, their blurbs. I’m not saying copy them, I’m saying stand on the shoulders of giants and learn from those who’ve walked the road already. It will save you time and you will learn a lot.
- MARKET. But do it intelligently. Look at the Self Pub forums on Absolute Write, see what sites are recommended for promoting work. When you do run a promotion, monitor the impact it has on sales whilst it’s running. Learn what works and what doesn’t. I’ve made the mistake of running multiple promos at once so it was hard to track which one was working (or were they all working?) and which wasn’t. Retweet when your book is featured, Like it on Facebook. Let your followers know. Don’t spam. DON’T SPAM.
- KEEP READING, but try and avoid your genre. In my last post I talked about the plot doubt monkeys that arose when reading in my genre whilst working on book 2. Others may disagree, but I still stand by this. Read, and read widely, but do it in different genres. I’m currently reading a crime whodunnit and loving it.
- BE PATIENT. Don’t fret. Rome wasn’t built in a day. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I’d insert another wise statement but I can’t find any more. The point is, don’t fret about slow sales, no reviews and all that. It will come, but this kind of thing takes time, it’s organic. People will read, they will spread the word, but it won’t happen overnight. When you read about the latest overnight success I suspect if you look deeper you will see said author has been plugging away for years before they finally struck gold.
- KEEP WRITING. KEEP WRITING. KEEP WRITING. I felt this one was worth repeating. I’ve written several novels and many short stories over the years. Only a handful I felt were good enough to self publish and many of the others now reside in digital heaven (a bad usb stick and a bad backup strategy on my part – don’t ask), but the key thing above all else I’ve taken from the release of Message Bearer is to KEEP GOING. I’ve continued into book 2. I’m still talking about and plugging Message Bearer but if I’m serious about this writing game I need to get more work out. It keeps the writing muscles honed and you feel like you’re progressing. My writing is improving every week and it’s nice to see how it’s evolving.
- WRITE EVERY DAY. Now, this advice is nothing new, but it’s so relevant. It really is. Perhaps not even every day, but try for at least 5 days a week if you’re serious. I try for 1000-1500 words a day, which I fit in after family and work. Sometimes it’s bloody hard, but what I’ve found works is that even if I get one line down, one sodding line, it has a psychological impact that I can’t explain. You feel like you’re making progress, even it’s just a few words that day. I’ve found that if I stop writing for one day, then it easily becomes 2, then 3, then a month, then…you get the picture.
Hopefully these lessons will resonate with some of you. In reality what I’ve said is nothing new, and there’s a plethora of more experienced and talented writers than I who will tell you the same. Check out Absolute Write and KBoards. There’s lots of support on these sites and advice (and tough love, if you need it) and they’re well worth a visit.
Anyway, good luck, and keep writing!