On October 1st 2014, my debut novel WALKING UP A SLIDE became available on multiple platforms (and paperback), and I achieved something at 33 years of age that I dreamt about as a kid, when the internet was a gleam in its father’s eye, and self-publishing was seen as a shortcut for failed writers, rather than a golden opportunity for authors to take charge of their own publishing destinies.
The novel has been out there for a month now, and it’s been a mixture of extreme highs and lows, confusion and frustration for a number of reasons. It is for this reason that I wanted to share some of the insights I’ve gained from the experience in such a short amount of time. If you want to add some insights yourself, leave a comment and I’ll add them to a future post.
For now, this is just a get-it-off-the-chest moment after month #1 of being an indie author.
#1 – Time slows to a crawl
This first month has been the longest of my life, and it’s mainly because I purchased Twitter campaigns, sent emails out to Amazon reviewers and GoodReads friends in the hope of getting some quality (and honest) reviews and a number of other services. I sent press releases out to my local newspapers and heard nothing back, and then followed them up and still heard nothing back. When you’re juggling so many things and living in the moment with something that means so much to you, time really does seem to stand still.
The only good thing about this is that suddenly you are bombarded with everything all at once, and then you wish you had more time to do it all. Silver linings.
#2 – You can become obsessed with stats
My wife has had to wean me off the Amazon rankings and CreateSpace sales page, and it is just as well she did. I would be in rehab by now otherwise, and I’d be counting book sales instead of sheep in bed every night. You can drive yourself crazy worrying about rankings and sales, so the quicker you learn to put that stuff to one side (because let’s face it: it’s meaningless) and roll with it, the more you’ll enjoy it. When you stop checking stats and sales charts, you free yourself to do the important stuff, like marketing your book and writing the next one.
#3 – People surprise you
The people who have bought my book and let me know about it are awesome, but there are certain people who shouldn’t surprise you when they buy your book: Mum, dad, brothers and sisters, cousins and best friends are all obligated to a) buy it, and b) tell you it’s the best book ever written with the exception of every book you write afterwards.
What is amazing is when old friends and people you haven’t heard from in years buy the book, read it, and then let you know that they enjoyed it. That’s really cool, and one of the best experiences I’ve had from this process so far.
#4 – Reviews from strangers make you do a little dance
The Amazon.com listing of WALKING UP A SLIDE has three 5* reviews on it, and they’re all from total strangers from the other side of the pond. The first time I read them, I did a little dance. Nothing is better than reading nice reviews about your book, but what trumps that is when your British rom-com resonates with American readers. That tells me that the themes of my novel are universal, not location specific. I did something right.
#5 – The inevitable lull kicks in
The moment I sent WALKING UP A SLIDE to my two editors, I started writing my second novel, which is a kid’s book that I’ve had in my head for five years. This kept me from climbing the walls and counting the clock, and prevented the inevitable lull from striking the day after I sent the third draft to be edited.
However, once the editors got back to me, I did a few more passes, then I sent it off to be proofread and edited one last time, the lull really did hit me. All of my insecurities and doubts came to the surface, and I started to wonder why the hell I thought all of this was a good idea. It wasn’t until I saw my finished book cover that I pulled myself out of it, and by then, the book was ready to release and the second novel was ready to be seen by my editors.
I think the key to battling the lull is to keep busy, either by writing your next piece or to occupy your time in other ways. Just make sure that you keep smiling and don’t let those negative thoughts creep in and steal your victory away from you.
#6 – People expect you to become J.K. Rowling overnight
If I had a book sale for every time somebody asked me how much money I’ve made from the book, or how many sales I’ve made, I would be hot on the heels of Hugh Howey. I understand why people ask these questions, and they don’t annoy me, it’s just hard to give the right answer. You either come across as a failure or an asshole, and I kinda hope I’m neither. I have been called worse though.
I’ve started giving a generic answer, and one that is 99% true: It’s all about raising the profile, and getting my stories out there. If I can showcase my writing skills in a variety of ways, it doesn’t matter how many books I sell. Books are just one side of my writing, and hopefully one day it will be lucrative.
After saying that, I have a shot of espresso and a lie down, and the person who asked has either fallen asleep or said “A simple ’100 copies’ would have been fine” and walked away.
#7 – You need to bottle that euphoria and use it to stay motivated
In his Member Spotlight interview with CreateSpace in 2012, Hugh Howey said that “the best marketing is to get busy writing the next work”, and I have always agreed with this. I am a fast writer, but I’m easily distracted and I struggle with crippling bouts of self-doubt from time to time. But when WALKING UP A SLIDE came out, the euphoria and sense of achievement I felt was incredible, and I used it to start writing my third novel (my second was with editors already) and I plotted out my fourth, fifth and sixth novels. They’re now ready to be written, and I plan on starting a new book every time that another one is sent to my editors, and again when the book is released.
I’m nervous that if I stop, I’ll never get started again, and the moment will be lost. It’s this fear that keeps me energised and on schedule, and as long as it works and I don’t turn into a basket case, long may it continue.
#8 – Marketing Tools are Hit and Miss, and there’s nothing wrong with that
Like so many first time self-published authors, I paid out for a wide variety of book marketing tools, and not all of them have generated book sales. Not all marketing tools should be about that anyway. My book trailer was created to give a flavour of the kind of humour to expect, not just from the novel, but from me as a person and as a writer. I’m in this for the long haul, so it’s just as important to give readers an insight into who I am as much as it is to become a faceless, self-promoting book monkey.
I believe that this game is trial and error, and it has as much to do with luck as it is to do with talent or anything else. You can drive yourself mad reading countless articles and ‘how to’ guides on which marketing tools you should use, but all that really matters is that you’ve written a solid piece of professional writing with a great book cover, and you’ve placed it in the right genres on Amazon and the other booksellers. Everything else will depend on your readers, reviews and the work you put it on social media, blogging and getting the word out there. Just remember to have fun with your book marketing, because there’s nothing more soul-destroying than when something you love becomes a chore.