My Year as a Debut Novelist

Image-1I was waiting a long time to get my first “yes” on a novel. Now, a little more that a year past it’s release into the world, here are the top five things I’ve learned in my first year as a novelist:

5. Being with a small press is awesome. It is also terrible. It’s awesome because you now are, FINALLY, validated that you don’t totally bite as an author. Someone believed in your book enough to actually go through the process of giving it an ISBN and putting it into the world. Being with a small press is terrible because they can’t afford to give you the kind of support that a book needs to be really successful. Expect to be on your own more than you’re not.

4. Prizes are good, but, as with everything, there are qualifiers. It’s okay to dream big if you have an unlimited budget. Submit to every contest you can if money is no object. If, however, you do have to pick and choose your marketing dollars, be realistic. Look for contests without fees or with small fees. Think about the kind of competition you will be up against. Will you actually get noticed? What about your book will put it over the top? Spend your dollars where they can do the most good for you. And be careful of the costs associated with winning. Many prizes offer you fancy images, but if your publisher can’t use them with their printer, then you will just be wasting your money. Most likely, your publisher can pull the image for free from the internet if you want to update your book cover with it.

3. Marketing. Ugh. Don’t market on Facebook if your audience is on instagram. Know where your readers socialize and meet them there. Goodreads giveaways were a great way to get exposure, but starting this month, Goodreads will be charging authors a lot to run giveaways. It probably isn’t worth the new price if you are with a small press. Be careful of wasting money on things you don’t need. Look for local book fairs and library conferences to take part in. Don’t be disappointed if you only sell a book or two. You never know what contacts you may make that may help you get more books into the hands of more readers. Look for local or professional writer groups where you may be able to promote or list your book-especially if they are free, or you are joining a respectable organization like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

2. Amazon author central is really cool. You can see the geographic regions where people bought your book (thank you, Laurie, my best friend who lives in Johnson City, TN). It’s very exciting when your book sells in a region where you don’t know anyone. Yes- on rare occasions, people you don’t know will BUY your book, READ your book, and may even leave you a REVIEW on your book. That is awesome (assuming they don’t trash your book). BUT, most people who read your book won’t bother to leave you a review. So beg your friends and keep on begging. Because reviews matter. Mostly the ones from places like Kirkus or School Library Journal, but even the ones from your Uncle Ned. Although, you might want to mention to him that he doesn’t have to disclose that he is your uncle and therefore of course is not going to leave you a trashy review. Because,otherwise, he will probably mention with great pride that he is your Uncle Ned. And then no one will take his review seriously anyway. Also, as a side note on reviewers, beware people who say they want a copy of your book to review. If, like me, you have to pay a high cost per book, know that most of these people won’t come through for you. It’s frustrating, but true. They will promise you a review, you pay for the cost of your book and for the postage, and that is the last you ever hear from them. Take the high road, because there is really no good way to confront them. If you pester them, they may leave you a bad review. It’s a cost of trying to get reviews, so send them out carefully. Ask author friends for recommendations of people who have reviewed their books and done a professional job.  And then hope for the best.

1. Bookstores are afraid to take chances on small press books. This was a hard truth for me. I had always thought that indie bookstores were the champions of authors. That’s true, but only to a degree. Big bookstores don’t take risks on small press authors because they don’t need to. Indie bookstores don’t take risks on small press authors because they can’t afford to. If you want an indie to shelve your book, you’d better come up with a serious marketing plan first. Know their demographic. Approach stores where you believe you can pull customers in (cities where you have friends or other contacts who will turn out for you, or some other connection that makes your book an easy sell for them). Indie bookstores do support books that aren’t always from A-list authors, but those books that you see on an indie shelf that you don’t see plastered all over social media or the big box stores are still likely to be midlist authors from substantial houses.

If you are a soon-to-be published author, or if you are just planning ahead, I hope these lessons help you as you plan your debut year. We strive so hard to be published, but the truth is, getting your book into the world is only one part of the equation. If you actually want people to read it, you need to plan for a debut year of serious marketing. It’s great to have a published book, but if you aren’t with a major house, you’re going to have to be pretty creative in finding ways to get your book into the hands of readers. Best wishes!