Writing my first book was scary—just as it was for everyone, I imagine. In today’s world of Kindle Direct Publishing, we’re told it’s easier than ever to get published (and that’s true, to an extent) but it’s also a lot of work—particularly in terms of the non-writing tasks self-publishing authors must take on. Because it’s all so new, aspiring authors end up scouring the internet and bookstore in search of helpful resources, but it can be easy to lose your way down the rabbit hole.
Writing is such an individualized, creative process; it can be difficult to figure out whose advice to follow and what approach to assume. I by no means believe I’ve got “this author thing down” after writing one collection of short stories. However, I think it’s interesting to put together a list of the top six lessons I’ve learned from this very first experience while it’s fresh in my mind as I wish I had had more resources like this one when I started how. Hope it helps you!
1.) Writing the book is LESS THAN half the battle: Inherently, I knew there would be a lot of work outside of simply writing the book but, when you’re in that creative process it feels like the only thing that matters. My first book was a collection of short stories and so once I had the eight stories that I set out to write finished I felt incredibly accomplished.
It took me six weeks to write the first two drafts of my stories and so I expected I might need two to four weeks to work with Beta Readers and hammer out the final drafts. I had already done the hard part, the rest would just be tweaks…so I thought. I imagined editing would be the final stretch but, little by little, it stopped feeling that way.
Eight stories (and mine were long, generally between 20-30 Kindle-formatted pages) was A LOT for people to read and so it took time. Life popped up for all of us along the way. Impatience, apathy, and procrastination popped in for me as well. Finally, I got it all edited and final manuscript was ready! Again I thought, I’m practically done. Again, I was wrong.
Even though self-publishing greatly reduces the time between finishing your manuscript and getting it out there for readers, if you want to do it well there’s a lot more in between. You have to think seriously about marketing, create a following (ideally across a couple social media platforms and through an author mailing list), and you need to put a lot of thought and effort into how you launch your book.
Personally, I wanted to get through that final stretch ASAP and so I allowed myself only five weeks between finishing the manuscript and Launch Day. When I do it all again, I’ll at least double that time frame as there’s a lot more that goes into the marketing game than I anticipated (and if I have time to kill I can certainly just start working on my next project)!
2.) At least when it comes to short stories, you don’t need to wait until everything is finished to bring in Beta Readers: This is something I wish I had realized at the beginning, but I didn’t. I wanted to be able to say I had a book (practically) ready before I asked my Beta Readers to be Beta Readers. I thought this would add legitimacy, showing that I had clearly invested a lot of time and was not going to just waste their time, but was truly going to follow through with publishing the book.
Now I realize that we all (myself very much included) would have benefited from taking it in smaller chunks. If I had been able to provide just two stories at a time (while I continued to work on the next two), we would have all rationed our stamina and drive better. I can only speak for myself, but around six stories into the long drawn-out editing phase (in which I wasn’t really creating anything but instead researching while I waited on feedback) I lost my momentum and, if we’re being honest, also my interest in the collection at hand.
With downtime, my ideas started spinning. I started brainstorming themes, storylines, and titles for my next collection of short stories. I had a major brain burst one day and hammered out a synopsis of an entire novel I plan to write after that. I was starting to get excited about these creative things and that only made slowing down to edit that much more boring.
In the future, I believe cycling through two or three stories at a time would help me stay focused and excited about the project at hand. Under those circumstances, the creative juices would be flowing right back into the same collection of short stories, rather than flowing away.
3.) Research is important and necessary, but it should be targeted and organized: As you can tell by now, I paired the editing stage with researching self-publishing to understand Amazon Kindle Publishing, writing an author page, writing a book description, creating a book cover design, etc. Overall, I do not think this was a bad idea because there is a lot of time spent waiting on feedback and it should be put to good use. Still, I wish I had been more pragmatic at the start.
For my first two weeks of research I just hopped from one YouTube video to another, one blog post to another. It’s easy to do so, because everything you read/watch seems to recommend another topic that you realize you need to learn about. The result, though, is that I plowed through half a notebook of disconnected notes and later found I was reading the same resources a second time. I got lost in the rabbit hole.
That’s when I decided to get more organized and spent a day writing down ten topics I wanted to learn about (I’ll include these in a future post) as well as going through the dozen tabs left open on my web browser day after day and saving the links under their particular category in a Word document. From that point forward, I would only read up on one topic per day, saving the links to any useful resources that were not related to that topic for the future.
There is an endless supply of valuable information out there and I was researching for five or more hours a day at one point! I know that I was learning a lot but, at the beginning, I could never sum it up into one succinct topic. Focusing my approach—and taking notes on different topics in their own, separate notebooks—made a world of difference.
4.) Consider your author name early and often: This will become helpful so that you can get your author email address, author website, social media accounts, etc going as soon as you’re ready. I personally found myself at a standstill when I finally felt that I had researched enough to get started with those things, but then had to put it off another two weeks in order to hem and haw over what my name should be.
Ideally, you’ll want to have the same author name from the beginning of your author career in order to gain followers, readers, and visibility. You can (and many authors apparently do) use different names for different books. However, I personally felt that this would lead to me needing to do all of the branding and marketing work again and again instead of building it organically.
Choosing your name can be a very soul-searching dilemma. Personally, it had me digging into those deep questions of “Who am I?” and “How do I want the world to know me?” It’s a lot of pressure to put on just a handful of words, but I knew I wanted to stick with the same name for a long time so it was a huge decision for me.
I can—and have—write an entire blog post on this topic. For now, I’ll simply say that this is something I would recommend others think about before they even have a book written as you can at least start using it on your social media accounts and start “adopting your author persona” sooner than the crunch time right before your Launch Day (as I did).
5.) Decide what you want to invest your time and money in (and what you DON’T): This may seem obvious now, but once I was down that rabbit hole, it got really blurred. As you read about all the fancy tools that are out there for writers and self-publishers and read all the advice about when you should hire a professional, you start doubting yourself. I forgot that my plan was to publish a low-budget, low-key first collection of stories simply to have my name out in the market and really build from there. Suddenly, I wanted to follow ALL of the advice.
What I forgot was that a lot of that advice was to help you become a best-seller and that was not my original plan. Not for this first book, at least. Maybe you only want to write one book that you’ll forever be known for so this is the big kahuna and you should invest a lot of time and money on professional editors, cover design artists, ads, etc.
Personally, I wanted my book to be and look the best that it could, but I already envisioned this only being my debut novel. Ideally, something that surprised people because it’s “good for a first-time author” but that my readers will discover ten years from now and also think “wow, her writing’s come a long way.” I like to envision the long-game, you know?
Anyways, I doubted myself a lot about whether or not I should invest in a professional designer for my book cover, a professional editor (instead of my awesome family members who dedicated their time to this pro-bono), etc. Of course I could have done those things and I’m sure they would improve my success. However, that was never my plan and so I eventually convinced myself to agree with myself.
6.) Of the same token, do what feels right for you: With this reasoning in mind, I decided to invest my time and money into the long-term tools and skills that would help me build my foundation rather than throw time and money at the one individual book.
This meant that I did choose to invest in a couple of things that I felt were not too costly and could have lasting effects—Kindlepreneur’s Amazon Publisher Rocket ($99) and Reedsy Discovery ($50). I went for the Publisher Rocket because it is a tool that aided me in choosing the best category and keywords for my first book, but also one I will now have for use on all of my books going forward. I submitted to Reedsy’s Discovery in order to boost my chances of getting a review for my book before Launch Day as well as extra visibility on their site. I can certainly speak more about these resources and my experience if anyone is specifically interested.
I also chose to invest my time (a lot of my time!) in building a presence on Instagram because it’s the social media platform I’m already familiar with because of the Sincerely, Spain blog. I also spent some time getting a Goodreads account and learning a bit about how that platform works because it’s a site that genuinely intrigued me. However, even though Twitter is apparently the place you “have to be” if you’re an author, I chose to leave that and all others social media for later—or never. Just because it’s advised to do something doesn’t mean that YOU have to put your money or your time there.
My goal with this first book was to simply write and publish a first book. It was not to be become an overnight sensation—which is a fallacy anyways—and so it wasn’t necessary to bend myself out of shape to try to “do it all.” It was not always easy to remember this (see point five), but it was an important consideration to come back to each time I got overwhelmed.
Again, if your goals are different, your approach may be different. However, if you’re looking at writing as your long-term career, I believe this long-haul approach will help you and I hope my personal insights can be of service.
Please let me know if you have any specific questions about my process, experience, or reading/writing in general. I’ll be sure to answer you in the comments or write a follow-up post!