If you are a first time author, or aspire to be, strap in and bookmark this blog article, because I’m going to give you the straight shit about everything I experienced as a first time author. From pre-planning all the way to post distribution, I’m going to share every single thing I’ve learned in hopes that this can act as a resource to help others make the right or better decisions along their first time author journeys.
But first, a little backstory. I was a stone’s throw away from going to film school back in the mid 90s, but ultimately decided to stick with my public university education. I think about that alternative path quite often, but regardless, have always had numerous ideas for movies or tv shows. Over the past 20 years I would right out a synopsis of these ideas, but usually that was about it. The ideas evolved, some merged, and in 2017, I finally figured out a path to doing something with one of them…thus my novel MIRRORS was born.
It was an incredibly arduous task taking vast amounts of dedication and determination to see it through. I was helped by the fact that my journey was not financially motivated, so I took the time necessary to get the story right and make good decisions along the way. I learned quite a bit and below are some of those learnings that I hope may help others in their journeys to becoming a published author.
- Self-Assess. Figure out what you have and what you’ll need. This is a very important step. You need to determine what skills and resources you have available to you during this process, and where you’re going to need assistance. In my case, I knew that I was a great story creator, but I was going to need some help with fleshing out scene descriptions. My brain visualizes things as movies, not books, so I needed to find a good writer/editor who I could lean on to help fill in some of the gaps. I knew if needed, I could handle designing a book cover, and I definitely could market the book myself. Make sure you go through this personal inventory so you can plan accordingly.
- Find Your Daily Writing Hour. Writing a book is HARD! It requires an incredibly level of dedication and persistence…especially for a first timer. You have to write every day, or at the very least, every weekday. And in order to do so, find your writing hour. Find the time during the day where you can unplug and concentrate on writing for at least an hour. Build the habit, stick with it, and you’ll be much more likely to reach the finish line.
- Determine Your Publishing Path. Look, as a first time author, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to find a publisher for your book. That being said, here’s the breakdown of the different types of publishers I was able to experience as a reference point:
- Traditional – As a first time author, it’s not likely you’re going to be able to land a traditional publisher, but it’s worth noting that it does happen. Usually it involves knowing someone, having a tremendous story/book idea, and/or incredible tenacity in your pursuit. Probably all 3. In most cases, you’re better off with one of the other options.
- Hybrid – A hybrid publisher is a blend of traditional and self-publishing. Typically a hybrid publisher will help you with a variety of book tasks such as design, editing, printing, marketing, distribution…they all vary in what they offer, but they all usually involve you still being heavily involved in many areas of the development of the book, and in most cases having to still invest in the creation and distribution of it. Hybrid publishers are as stringent as traditional, but will still be selective in who they work with. This is a tough area to navigate because some of these are just looking to have you spend some dollars with them to print copies of your book and are not true partners.
- Self-Publishing – For many first time authors, self-publishing is the most available option. There’s nothing getting in your way other than yourself. It’s more work, and requires a bit of leg work, but at the end of the day, you can have your book, out in the wild as available as any other book that has or will be published.
- Crowdsourcing. Perhaps you just don’t have the funds to make a book happen. Or you just need a little kick in the butt and need some accountability to fuel the process. For me the latter was the case, but regardless of yours, crowdsourcing can be a great way to help make your book a reality. Their are traditional crowdsourcing tools like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, but I stumbled across a nifty little alternative called Publishizer which is geared specifically for books and authors. It’s an interesting platform and for the most part, I had a positive experience pre-selling 250+ copies before I had even put pen to paper. However I don’t recommend that approach as I learned the hard way. In addition to being able to crowdsource your book, Publishizer connects you to potential publishers if you’re able to put together a good proposal and show a high level of interest of your book through pre-sales. The best approach is to be at least a good way into your project before launching a campaign so that you have something to show folks as well as potential interested publishers.
- Have some sort of budget. Unless you’re one of the lucky few to somehow snag a traditional publisher as a first time author, you’re going to need some money to see this through. There are ways to keep your cost down, but you’re going to have to plan for a variety of hard costs such as:
- Legal – ISBN numbers, trademarks, copywriting, etc. Whatever you’ll need or are wanting to protect your ideas.
- Design – if you don’t have the design chops, you’ll need to spend a few bucks designing your book including the cover and potential layout options.
- Editing – You’re going to save a few bucks for an editor to help polish your book prior to publishing.
- Printing – In many cases, you’re going to need to fulfill orders outside of online and you’ll want copies of your book on hand regardless.
- Marketing – Depending on your level of marketing savvy, you’ll need to spend a few bucks promoting yourself and your book.
- Marketing. Speaking of marketing, whether you’re comfortable with it or not, you’re going to have to become your own best marketer. Especially if you factor in crowdsourcing.
- Social media – It goes without saying that you’ll need to leverage your social media accounts to promote your book. Even beyond just posting to your channels, connecting with other first time authors, finding potential early readers to your book…you need to be an active participating and join in on the conversations with the audiences that make sense and align to the type of book you are writing.
- Email – By far, email is going to be your most effective tool for selling copies of your book. You need to find every single email address you have of anyone you’ve ever been connected to, and send templated (but still personalized) emails asking support for what you’re doing. This by far netted me the most amount of book sales along the way.
- Blog/Website – You’ve got to have some sort of landing page or destination for what you’re doing that you can point people to. Even better is regularly blogging about your author journey and providing folks insights into your work and what you are experiencing.
- Facebook Messenger – Another great tool almost as good as email is directly messaging your Facebook Friends. Anything personal and one to one is going to be much more effective in follow through. Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortably pestering. Most of the time people are interested, but just busy and need a reminder.
- Special Offers – This typically applies only if you crowdsource, but package your books with other giveaways, services or extras that are unique to you or the story. This allows you to sell more books to people by packaging them with other things that are of value. Doing this single handedly contributed to over half of my pre-sales.
- Fiverr. Sometimes the Fiverr marketplace can get a bad rap as some people think it’s cheap labor so cheap quality. I’ve had great success in using Fiverr as a tool for small tasks such as help in designing small things, finding folks to read, edit or critique, or provide any technical help I needed along the way. It’s fast, affordable, and a very reliable source for tasks you need support with.
- You’re going to need an editor. No matter how talented you are with language or the written word, you’re going to need another set of eyes on your work, and someone who’s got the patience, experience and know how to help make sure your book reads as well as it can and with as little to no errors as possible. I learned this the hard way. I wish I had spent a bit more in this area, because it is a very tedious task and requires someone who really knows what they are doing.
- Formulate a book team. Everyone needs help in a variety of ways, and having a few of your closest, trusted friends, family or colleagues along the way can make a huge difference. Identify 3-5 folks in your closest inner circle that can act as your book team. They’ll help you proof, give opinions, but most importantly be your advocates along the way in helping spread the word. Make sure you set aside the right thank yous (preferably in the book!) and rewards for their time and effort.
These are all the things that helped me publish my first book. By no means an exhaustive list of everything, but certainly the things that stand out that took me from idea to finished book. It was never about money for me and all about just the accomplishment, so it’s hard to say if I’d do it again, but I do have multiple story ideas that I desperately want to tell, so I figure it’s just a matter of time before I take it on once more.
I hope that this was helpful to anyone out there considering writing a book. Regardless of whether you’re in the idea stage, the writing stage, or successfully published yourself, I’d love to hear about your stories in the comments below or feel free to reach out directly to share or ask any questions you have.
In the meantime, if you have any interest in seeing what the finished product of MIRRORS turned out to be, I’d love for you to give it a read!