Lessons Learned About Becoming Published
by Kathleen Shoop
1. One of the biggest lessons I learned about becoming a published author was that the “quality” of a book doesn’t guarantee a book deal—quality is not objective. I’m not talking about quality that applies to unedited, unformatted work or books that boast a sloppy cover where there is little attention to the writing at all. I’m talking about people who think romance is frivolous and therefore the books are junk or that historical fiction is too serious to enjoy with all that realism, so those books stink. That type of sweeping critique is troublesome to me. Yes, I know that professors and agents, editors and even readers will brand one book as great and another as crap and many times there is wide and deep agreement on such an assessment, but really? I’ve read some “fabulous” books that I could barely get through. Crap is subjective, talent, skill, viability in the market—it’s very subjective. So, take this seriously, write the best book possible then sell it.
2. I learned that writing the next book is an author’s best marketing. Quality matters in the sense that you have to pay attention to every single detail a big-time publisher would. You want a great editor, a fabulous, insightful cover artist, a plan to get your work noticed…but when readers begin to see you have a stable of fantastic books, they tend to buy more and spread the word. Write, write, write. It’s central, it’s the key to building a career.
3. With that said, my experience has shown me that I still need to do other types of marketing (than writing the next book). If I don’t have 10 books out to start things rolling, in my opinion, I need to do something to draw attention to my work. Others say no, just write and it will take care of itself. But I needed some validation, I am insecure, I needed readers in order for me to say, okay, this is worth, my mind, my heart, my soul, my sanity every day. So, gently spread the word through social networking, and save up some money for a stronger sell—hard-working marketing plans. Groups like Fostering Success require a miniscule fee to join and they teach you to market smartly. BUT, I’ve also learned there are many experiences with this…some people don’t market and sell beautifully!
4. I found out that every reader wants quality work—whatever that means for him or her—at a good price, but most don’t give a damn who the publisher is. It takes some time to make the shift from dreaming of a traditional deal to going full force into self-publishing, but once you realize it’s readers you want, you realize it’s the book that matters, it’s getting it to readers that counts.
5. I’m sort of shocked to find I’m satisfied with indie/self-pubbing instead of traditional publishing. Every bit of work I did up until I started writing was accompanied by an institutional hallmark of success…bachelors, masters, PhD…I get the whole validation by “the system” type of thinking…I wanted that so bad! But, I’ve found that being able to call all three of my books bestsellers, to have two of them be multi-award winners, to know that readers do connect with my writing—all of this has soothed my need to tether myself to a big publisher. I’m not totally anti-traditional. I see the value in their work, what they lend to writers. But, when the choice to toil away for years and hope a publishing house sees my novel as its needle in the haystack goes up against the choice to actually get my work in front of readers, I’ll take the readers every time. That was a big lesson for me.
6. Even with all I learned in number 5 up there, I still, at times I feel the old credibility issue creep in. I’m surprised there would be a tiny part of me, a sliver that is affected by the fantasy related to traditional publishing. It rears its head when a fellow writer dismisses my success because it was done the “easy way.” But, I simply sit quietly and reflect on what I’ve done and my goals, meditate a bit and voila! I realize yet again, it’s the readers, dummy, that’s why I write.
7. I can’t believe the networks I’ve formed in the last nineteen months. Being the type of person who keeps to myself in my physical world, I am stunned at the extent to which I’ve found that I work with/support/am supported by such an incredible, and selfless network of writers, that people are so damn savvy and willing to share their knowledge. If I reach out and reach back, there are people willing to lend a hand up and many who need my help as well. It’s an exciting, entrepreneurial time for publishing.
8. The flip-side of that is I’m equally surprised that some people are heartless and will gladly, selfishly harm other writers just because they can. I hate to even think of it. Moving on…
9. I’m irritated and pissed that I’ve had to learn that even I (reserved girl who holes up in her house to write at the expense of real social activities) can be so suddenly distracted by chores unrelated to actual writing. I’ve learned that even I have to actually work at putting my ass back in the seat to write after NEVER having a problem belting out word after word for years! There’s a lure to marketing and networking—the results that come from it. None of that matters if there’s no next book.
10. Publishing is AWESOME if you’re willing to be flexible, exposed, and do all the things you dislike along with the things you love. I think any writer will feel vulnerable to the hurt that comes with the opinions of others no matter which publication path is chosen. And no, we shouldn’t look at reviews…but when you’re indie, you have to monitor your marketing and the sales rank is right there in the same cluster of review numbers, your eyes will stray…and then, well, once you know there’s a new review to read, you can’t quite stop yourself… You can’t write if you don’t put your ego and sense of self at risk of the opinions of others. But, as I’ve said above, all the negatives have taught me about the business and myself. And truly, they pale in comparison to the contentment I feel at being able to put my work into the world. Flexibility, vulnerability, willingness, all play a role. I think that’s what I’ve learned so far…
Genre – Women’s Fiction
Rating – PG15