Happy Birthday Shards of Glass! Exactly one year ago today, I published my first novel, effectively making me a published author. I was blown away by the support I received from friends, family, and even complete strangers.
If you’re considering a venture into self-publishing, here are 10 Things I Didn’t Do, That I Wish I Had:
10- Create a Logline
As soon as you tell someone you’re writing a book, they will ask, “What is it about?” It took me forever to come up with a succinct way of explaining Shards of Glass (It’s about a girl who is forced to live with her father, that she hasn’t seen since he abandoned the family when she was little), and I still haven’t figured out a good way to sum up The Owens Chronicles.
This question is your chance to entice people to want to read your book. If you’re confused and can’t tell them what it’s about, they will most likely lose faith in your storytelling skills, and have no interest in reading your book. It would have made my life so much easier if I had a clear, one sentence description of my story that I could share the many times people asked.
I am really glad that I chose to publish my books in multiple formats. A lot of new authors will start with only ebooks, then slowly add paperbacks if the demand is there. Since most of my sales were to people who know me, a large majority of them were paperbacks and hardcovers. Holding the finished book in my hands also went a long way to making me feel like a real author.
One format I didn’t release my books in is audiobooks. I had planned on it, from my first book launch, but never followed through. It’s kind of ridiculous when you consider that I’m also an actress, and so many of my friends have taken to narrating audiobooks while we wait for the industry to bounce back from COVID. This one might be a confidence thing, but my goal is to start releasing audiobooks within the next year.
Professional editors can be pricy, but that was mostly the excuse I gave myself for not using one. The real reason is that I was terrified an editor would read my book and tell me it was terrible. Then I would never publish anything.
This is a horrible mentality and not at all helpful if your goal is to release the best possible book you are capable of writing. Because self-publishing isn’t actually supposed to rely entirely on the self. It’s still a team effort. If I could go back in time, I would either invest in professional editing, or find myself a multitude of critique partners and beta editors to catch all of my mistakes.
My mom is absolutely amazing. She is not afraid to tell me when there are issues with the story that require an entire rewrite of my novel. But she is a reader, not an editor. I still need to go back and change the dialogue tags on my first two books, because I was using them wrong. Your average reader might not pick up on it, but any editor or writer would stop reading.
And, contrary to my initial fears, using an editor is actually the best way to make sure that your book doesn’t suck. So that you can publish it with confidence.
7-Promote Books to Target Audience
My main marketing methods for most of my publishing career have been Facebook, Instagram, and my Blog. While these are all excellent tools, they work better if you build them up beforehand. If the only people who read your blog are your friends and family, then the only people buying your book will be your friends and family. While their support is instrumental and warms my heart more than words can say, it might be detrimental to book sales if they’re the only ones buying. The Amazon algorithm will see that your boyfriend, who only reads non-fiction, bought your book, then it gets confused and starts showing your book as an also bought for The Four Hour Work Week or something like that. Plus, friends and family are not enough to sustain sales and give your book the organic exposure it needs to sell.
My goal would be to send all of my supportive friends and family free copies of my books, rather than relying on them for the majority of my book revenues.
6- Stick to one Genre (at least at first)
The more research I did, the more people recommended you use different pen names for different genres. But, by the time I saw this, I had already put my second book on pre-order. While all of my current books are considered Young Adult, Shards of Glass is very dramatic and contemporary, while The Owens Chronicles is Urban Fantasy.
Knowing myself and my personal tastes, I would never be able to stick to one genre exclusively, but I could have published at least a few books in the same genre, so I would have time to build a bit of a following before switching to a new one.
5-Write All the Books in the Series and Rapid Release
This one has two parts. First, as far as marketing goes, a lot of people will say that nothing sells your book better than your next book. That’s because amazon’s algorithm favors new releases, so every new release gives you extra exposure. If I had written all the books before publishing the first one, I could have created a launch plan, released the books within weeks of each other, and hopefully enjoyed a special boost from amazon.
Others have pointed out that unless your first book is selling well on its own, releasing a second book won’t help. Either way, I would definitely like to try this out and see what magic could happen if I don’t make people wait so long between releases.
Second, even though I had the story planned out before I started writing book 1, things change as you write. There were countless times while writing books 2 and 3 where I wished I had waited to publish book 1, so I could change a date or a name or even the tiniest little thing that ended up making my life harder later on. Not to mention reader comments. Once people read the first book, some of them shared their opinions with me. I was so touched that people cared that deeply about my characters, but it may or may not have influenced how the story was supposed to unfold.
I mentioned earlier that my launches would have gone a lot better if I had built up a mailing list before releasing my books. Instead of having a collection of emails from my family, I would have had a list of people who enjoy YA Urban Fantasy novels. I could have launched my books to people who were excited to read my book for more reasons than because they love me.
I knew this was something I should do, so I set up a MailChimp account and put a sign-up on my webpage. After a year, I had 13 subscribers. Three of them were me. Building an audience just seemed like such a complicated and daunting task.
Enter StoryOrigin. Currently free, it is a platform where authors can organize newsletter swaps, join promotions, and create reader magnets. Within two weeks I was up to 50 subscribers. (I switched to convertkit after watching a webinar from Tim Grahl, and so far I love it). Had I discovered StoryOrigin and set this up earlier, I could have launched my books to a much wider audience.
I put Shards of Glass on sale this weekend to celebrate its one-year anniversary, and used a bunch of promo sites, Facebook ads, amazon ads… I spent a lot more on marketing that I made in sales. That being said, of the 3 sales I did make, one was from my own newsletter and the other two were from newsletter swaps. They’re magic!
I mentioned building your mailing list with a reader magnet. Originally, I thought this meant putting a link at the back of my book, where you can get a bonus scene in exchange for your email address. That’s how I got 3 more of my 13 subscribers (the other 7 were my parents, my grandfather, and from a link I added to my Facebook page).
The new, magical way to do a reader magnet works wonderfully with StoryOrigin, but it also works as a sign up on your website, Facebook page, the front and back matter of your book, etc.
Basically, you write a story. It can be novel length, or it can be a few thousand words, as long as it’s a good story and a testament to your writing abilities. A lot of people use a prequel to their series, but it should at least be in the same genre and subgenre you usually write in. Next, you make a landing page where people type in their email address and your newsletter provider will send them your Reader Magnet.
Not only does it build your mailing list, but it also lets people get a taste for your writing, so they will be more inclined to buy your next book.
StoryOrigin comes in for newsletter swaps. Through the website, you can choose other authors whose books you will mention at the end of your newsletter. In return, they will mention your reader magnet at the end of theirs. Everyone loves a free book, and if you chose your authors carefully, you know that they are already fans of your genre. True, you are giving a book away for free, but if you build an audience of people who will continue reading your books for as long as you publish, you are way better off than a potential one-time sale.
2- Find a Writing Community
A lot of the things I was missing out on, I learned through different Facebook groups. I was listening to a lot of podcasts, so I knew the basics, but reading other people’s struggles and success stories gave me more information on how to do things, and showed me they were possible.
When Covid started, one group had a thread of authors offering their services to other group members, just to help out. One author offered to Beta Read. I took her up on it and she ended up doing an entire first pass edit for me, for free. (She is how I finally understood what I was doing wrong with dialogue tags) There were pages of comments and suggestions, that required an extensive rewrite of the third act, but she also gave me the confidence to publish.
If your editor is any good, they won’t say, “This sucks,” and walk away. They will show you what needs work, tell you what they love, and help you so that it doesn’t suck anymore.
I still lurk way more than I engage in all the groups, but they have been so helpful and inspiring. I have had people help with my blurbs, with cover choices, and gained a wealth of information.
Having a writing community makes it so you’re not alone on the journey. You have a bunch of people who are going through the exact same thing as you, with the added benefit of people who were you a few months or years ago, but now make over 5k a month and love sharing what they did to get there. It’s an amazing resource, and you won’t regret it.
1- BELIEVE IN MYSELF!!!
I think most of the items on this list could be summed up by me believing in myself more. When people asked what I was writing, I was convinced they would think it was stupid, so I mumbled some bit of information that made little to no sense. I worried people would hate my voice so delayed recording the audiobooks. I was afraid my books sucked, so I avoided having editors read them. Then didn’t make a big fuss of promoting them. I didn’t go after people, I just released the books and allowed people to find them. I kept to myself. And I did not invest in myself, or my career.
Every time I needed a class or headshots or anything for my acting career, I made it happen. Yet when it came to my writing, it took 3 phone calls with my mom before I bought 300$ software that saves me 100$ per book for formatting. I saw writing as a dream, or a side hustle I shouldn’t be pouring money into unless I knew it could give me a return.
I’m not saying I’ve completely changed and think I’m the greatest writer of all time, but I do think I have a more realistic understanding of my skills. I am much better at accepting criticism and I will continue to improve with each book. I’m in this for the long-haul, and it’s time to start acting like it.
Even with these things that I wish I had done differently (like imagine if I had started publishing back in 2003, when I first started writing Shards of Glass?), I am so happy, and proud of myself for the way things turned out. If I had waited to have everything figured out, I would still be rewriting Shards of Glass, dreaming of someday being confident enough to publish it. Instead, I have now published 3 books, with a 4th coming out in September. I have sold over 125 copies of my books with 10 000+ page reads. In the author community, this is peanuts, but I am so proud of myself and these books. I was expecting to sell maybe 5 copies to people that weren’t related to me. And even when it comes to family, I never could have imagined how many people I know who surprised me by buying my books, sharing my posts and being my unlikely cheerleaders. It amazes me and I am so grateful.
Here’s to more books and learning from my mistakes <3