Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Lists of Lessons and Lesions You'll Want to Know
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This past week I officially launched my debut book, In Search of Courage: An Introvert's Story, my memoir about growing up as an introvert in an extrovert's world. The party was delayed since March due to COVID-19 and was virtual to ensure everyone's safety.
The party presented a great opportunity to reflect on my journey and pass on some of my lessons and scars - to fellow writers through my five lists of five.
I. Writing Best Practices
Determination: writing is a long, arduous process. You must be determined. Have a dream. Envision holding that book in your hand. Too many great ideas languish on the PC half-written forever. Don't listen to the naysayer in your head.
Don't Get it Right, Get it Written: basically, writing includes two parts - drafting and editing. They are fundamentally different. Drafting taps the creative right side of your brain and editing is the structured left side. You need both to finish your book, but don't mix them. Get all the creative stuff on paper. It may feel ugly but celebrate. It's the first step in sharing your story with the world. Editing will bring it into focus later. Mixing the two impairs the creative juices and the great ideas will struggle to get out. Every time I sit down I remind myself it won't be perfect - write now, improve later.
Flexible Writing Schedule: writers put too much pressure on themselves to write at a certain time, in a certain place, so many words per sitting. Be flexible. When you feel it, crank it out, spend hours. If it's just not there that day, pack it up, go on a walk, and come back to the table, chair, park, coffee shop, or hammock the next day. Writing is supposed to be fun.
Coaching: especially for newbies, I highly recommend a writing coach. They aren't too expensive ($75-100/hr) and you don't have to use them often (monthly/quarterly) but they impart a lot of wisdom and you know you are not alone. It's like someone is holding your hand, answering your questions, and guiding you along this mysterious path.
Just Write!: don't just write your manuscript, find time to journal (Mari McCarthy has some great advice on CreateWriteNow!) and/or write a blog on your new website. Writing is easier with practice and you can often overcome obstacles by thinking, and writing, about them.
II. Publishing & Marketing Success
Learn: there are so many resources out there including books (3 best are Stephanie Chandler's The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan, Mike Kowis' Smart Marketing for Indie Authors, and C. Hope Clark's The Shy Writer Reborn), podcasts, local and national organizations (my two favs are Nonfiction Authors Association and Author Marketing Guild), not to mention plenty of other writers willing to share their knowledge. It's a great way to climb the learning curve fast.
Indie Publishing: Indie publishing is not for everyone. You need to have some time, interest to learn new tasks and organization skills. But for many the creative control, much shorter timeline, and higher royalties far exceed the possible advances and glory of sitting on a B&N bookshelf. It's definitely worth considering the pros and cons. More including cost estimates here!
Solicit Opinions: involve fans, website subscribers, target audience members in your cover selection, and in Beta reading reviews. It's great feedback and builds some interest in your project.
Early Website: setup your website 6-12 months before book launch. It will provide a landing spot for people interested in your story and the beginning of the all-important email list engaging.
Authentic Marketing: there are so many sources of info out there (see #1). Listen, learn, and filter. Don't get overwhelmed by the hundreds of ways you can market. Select the ones that feel right to you and that you have the time to do right. Just because some marketing guru is yelling on the podcast that "you must do this to sell books" doesn't mean you need to do that at all. As a matter of fact, you may want to run away from those people.
III. Painful Mistakes
Target Who?: We hear it all the time - know your target audience. It may be more difficult with a memoir. I felt my target audience was me. But it's always "you." I hadn't figured that out until I had already set up my website. I think I needed to continue the reflective nature of my book for a while. Now I've shifted to serving my audience and my marketing and blog readership is growing.
Beta-Blockers: I made the good decision to enlist Beta readers. However, I didn't select target audience readers, I didn't charge them with pointed questions, and I didn't feed them a chapter at a time. I dropped the full book and it was overwhelming for them and thus most of the comments were underwhelming for me.