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Friday, March 2, 2012

What I've Learned After Six Months As a Published Author


This week marks a big moment for me: the six-month anniversary of publishing my first novel, “A Soul to Steal.”

I honestly had no idea what I was getting into.

It was, in retrospect, a last-minute decision. The manuscript for the book had been sitting on a shelf for a few months after an agent told me the novel was excellent, but was going to have trouble finding a market in the current environment.

After that experience, I had no idea what to do. Like a lot of others, I saw a New York Times story about Amanda Hocking’s success and thought, “What the hell?” I had always been convinced self-publishing was an act of desperation, the kind of thing that would make you untouchable as a potential “real” novelist. But the world was changing, and Amazon’s platform seemed like a great way to get the book out there without someone charging me thousands of dollars.

I did some prep work, making sure the book was clear of typos (the novel had long been edited and proofed before I sent it to the agent, so this was a final check), asked a friend of a friend to make me a cover and created a Facebook page.

That was about it. I had no blog, barely any Twitter presence and no friggin clue how I was going to sell any books. I wasn’t naïve—I knew this was going to be tough—but I figured I could learn everything I needed to know on the fly.

What have I learned since that day? Here are a few highlights:

1)      People are awesome
I had a lot of fears about putting the book out, the strongest of which was what you would expect: I worried people would hate the novel. It didn’t fit neatly in any genre, combining elements of mystery, suspense, the paranormal and even urban fantasy (a genre I didn’t even know existed.) Would people get it? Was it any good? The response, I’m happy to say, has been overwhelmingly positive. Book bloggers were very positive, readers have been kind and, in general, I’ve received a lot of nice compliments on the book from people I’ve never met. They have also been remarkably supportive, urging me to keep writing, offering comments on the blog, and filing reviews on the novel. My book now has an actual audience, and its fans are growing.

2)      My novel is not a Halloween book
Since my novel climaxes on Halloween night—and centers around the origins of the holiday itself—I wanted to publish it well before All Hallow’s Eve. In theory, I thought I would sell a lot of books in the lead-up to the holiday, and then watch my sales disappear right afterward. I was so convinced of this that I consoled myself on Halloween night that I had a great run and would do even better next year. But do you know what happened? Sales actually increased after Halloween. November was better than October, and January ended up being better than November and December combined. February, which started as my slowest month, was a new monthly sales record. My point? People want to read scary books regardless of the time of year.

3)      This is like a second job
I look back at the me from six months ago and wonder – if I had known what I was getting into, would I have still done it? When I published, I thought I could query a few book bloggers, sit back and wait for sales to roll in. I didn’t understand the time and energy I would invest in getting the book launched—and then maintaining it. I ended up querying hundreds of bloggers, 30 of which agreed to review the book (and only half of which ever did). I spent hours perfecting Facebook ads and then reaching out to various Facebook sites for books. I started a blog, joined Triberr and then KDP Select. I’ve read dozens, if not hundreds, of blog posts from others on how to maximize sales. I’ve also been working on a sequel every day. In short, novel writing has become another full-time job. So would I do it all over again? Yes, in a heartbeat. In the past six months, I’ve become a bonafide bestselling horror and suspense novelist. Just to watch my book ranked on the Horror bestseller list near Stephen King’s excellent 11/22/63 was the thrill of a lifetime. It didn’t stay there forever, but it doesn’t matter. I got a taste of what success can feel like. And it felt pretty damn good.

I don’t know what’s in store for the indie author community, the book industry or, for that matter, me. But looking at how many indie authors are on the Kindle bestseller lists, I can say this: if you work hard at this game and produce quality novels with eye-catching covers, the future looks pretty damn bright. 

14 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your insights, Rob. Congrats, and keep it up!

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  2. Very inspiring. Thanks so much for sharing. As an aspiring author myself it's wonderful to hear how other authors find success.

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  4. My message was published before I meant it to be.

    Thanks Laura and Crystal! Appreciate it.

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  5. Congratulations, Rob! I've got your book on my Kindle, in line behind a few others. Can't wait to get to it! So happy for your success, and I truly appreciate all your helpful advice and tips. All the best to you for continued success!!

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  6. Well done, Rob. This is encouragement to keep plugging.

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  7. @Jo Thanks, Jo! I hope you enjoy it.

    @Alana I believe in Konrath's statement: "There's a word for a writer that doesn't give up... published."

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  8. It was refreshing reading this candid post, Rob. All things I have wondered about. I admit, it is danged intimidating just thinking about going it alone. I have told others for several months now that it is another full time job, building a platform...and learning the ropes, and editing...

    My first book out will be through an indie publisher. Even so, not much about what you have posted here changes by that difference. Indie publishers are little guys with no promotion budget (either) :-) Yep...full time job.

    Congrats on your achievement. I cannot imagine...next to Stephen King. Kudos to you! :-)

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  9. Thanks, Teresa.

    I feel fortunate that I didn't know what I was getting into. That said, even if I had known, it still would have been worth it.

    Good luck on your book!

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  10. hearing people talk about your book is truly an awesome feeliing. Congrats!

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  11. thanks for sharing! Good to know, as an aspiring writer myself. :)

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    1. There are a lot of blogs I could have read that would have given me a good idea of what to expect. I recommend Joe Konrath's "Newbie's Guide to Publishing." It's entertaining and good, though Joe is more successful than the rest of us (he also has 50 or so books out there).

      Good luck with the book!

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  12. Some of those bloggers who agreed to review your book MIGHT still intend to, so don't count them out just yet! We tend to take months to get to our review piles, but we always, ALWAYS remember every book we agreed to review.

    I'm glad I decided to read your book early. You got me right before Halloween, so I couldn't resist reading it in-season.

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  13. Cathy,
    You may be right about the blogs. A few of them told me very specifically that they would be a long time. And a couple have told me recently they still intend to review it.

    Now that I'm out there, I do understand just how many others are out there as well. I honestly could never be a book blogger simply because I would be overwhelmed by the requests, etc.

    I do appreciate you taking the time to review the book when you did. It is more fun to read it around Halloween.

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