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I’ve written a few books in my time. It’s a daunting, arduous task that takes countless sleepless nights and the ability to be antisocial for years at a time. And the rush of pride when you write the final sentence is nothing short of amazing.
I wish the hard work stopped there, because it really is hard work. But it doesn’t. People liken writing a book to running a marathon, but in truth it’s closer to practicing for a marathon. What comes after—publishing, marketing and selling your book—is the true slog. And it’s where most people will drop out of the race.
This is a lesson I’m slowly starting to learn. Like many authors, I wanted quick and easy success after I wrote my first book. This actually led me initially to vanity publishing, which was an awful (and costly) mistake. Never again. But even after I took matters into my own hands, I realized that frankly, I didn’t know what I was doing.
Selling a book, in the broadest sense, is essentially a business. It requires planning, budget, marketing and brand awareness. If people don’t know who you are, they aren’t going to buy your book. But how will anyone know who you are, if no one is reading the book?
I can’t pretend to be an authority on this matter; my sales of 22 Scars are in the double digits so far. But I am learning, and here’s what I’ve discovered so far.
- Plan a budget.
- Most indie authors are not rich, and planning a budget for editing, publishing and marketing is essential to making sure you get the most out of what you have.
- Do not rely on friends or family to edit and proofread. It isn’t their job. Hire an editor.
- If you can’t make your manuscript look beautiful, both digitally and in print, hire someone for that as well.
- Your manuscript must be perfect (or close-as). Self-publishing is not an excuse for sloppiness, and will detract from your sales.
- Don’t send out advance reader copies or review copies until it’s capital-D Done. Their reviews can be influential, and you don’t want a review of a copy that isn’t at its best.
- Don’t be tempted by “high-impact” reviewers like Kirkus Indie. They feel good when they’re positive, but they’re expensive and don’t really help.
- Advertise, but judiciously.
- Some advertisement outlets are lucrative, but many others aren’t.
- Don’t expect sales from adverts—not to begin with. Instead, look for brand awareness. Get likes. Get followers. This is much more important.
- It will take years. This is a hard pill to swallow for many, but it’s truth. The number of overnight successes are few and far between; 99% of us will languish in obscurity for many years before becoming recognized at all.
At the end of the day, it really depends on what kind of writing you want to do, and what you want from your readers. My own work tends to be slow-paced and intricate (for fantasy) and emotionally raw and hurtful (for YA). These aren’t easy things to write, nor easy things to read, and take time. I don’t have the option to churn out a thriller every four weeks. It took ten years to write 22 Scars, and it will be some years before my next book is ready. I have to make do with what I have.
If you’re trying to build readership and find yourself struggling, the most important piece of advice I can give you is this: don’t give up. The longer and harder you work at it, the more followers and thus readers you will gain. And each reader you gain doesn’t replace another—it only adds to the following.
So keep at it, and keep fighting the good fight: we’ll make it in the end.