Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Lists of Lessons and Lesions You'll Want to Know
AND get your FREE Indie Pub Plan Template too!
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.
Copy Editing: I listened to lots of podcasts etc, but copy in the broad sense (subtitle, back cover, Amazon ads) have taken me many iterations to get right. Besides the front cover, these are the items readers use most to decide if they are interested. I suggest working on this early and often, and consider enlisting a pro.
Line up Reviews: I'm not talking about Amazon Reviews. My efforts to enlist influencers and some review services to get professional reviews in advance of launch was weak. I just prioritized other things. But this can have an impact and is worth considering.
Technical Issues: As an Indie Publisher, I was doing a lot of new things. I'm proud of all the technical items I learned. However, when trying to order my Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) in December, I accidentally published my book on Amazon, months before launch. My book was thus labeled a 2019 publication (until I changed my subtitle - see #3 - and republished in the spring). No one can expect to be perfect, but a dose of patience (to ask the experts how to do it) would have saved me some grief.
IV. Should Do's: I hate to say anyone "must-do" anything. This is your path and you can do as you like. But if you want to publish a book that meets all professional standards, here are some suggestions:
Have a Plan: whether Indie or Traditional publishing, there are lots of moving parts. It can be overwhelming. Have a plan. On a spreadsheet list all the activities you need to do to write, publish, and market and plot them on particular weeks. There's no way anyone can remember all the steps without documenting them, and just putting it down gives you a level of control. A plan can/will be adjusted, but you'll never get to the finish line without a plan. Send me an email and I'll send you my Indie Pub Plan Template for FREE!
Establish a Website Early: again, this is your home base for engaging with fans, marketing your book, and connecting with other resources. You can do it yourself without huge technical prowess (I did), but you may consider a pro (I did a year later) so it doesn't look homemade and is a great experience for your guest.
Pro Editing: I swear I read my manuscript a dozen times. I edited each time, making smaller changes along the way. But you need a new set of experienced eyes to find the incongruities, not to mention the grammatical and spelling errors. Even the pros miss somethings, but I knew it wouldn't read well without a pro to at least do a content edit. I also had a line edit but chose to skip the proofreading edit.
Pro Cover: many people do their own covers. There's a ton of images for free or cheap on the internet. But in my opinion, they usually scream of amateurism. For little money ($100-500) you can get a pro to bring you options (to solicit opinions from your fans) and you'll be proud to show your cover from then on.
Pro Typeset: there are many programs that can do this I suppose, but I've seen many bad interiors (off-center, dangling lines, inconsistent headers) so I think it is well worthwhile to have a pro do it (at the very least for the first time).