Five years ago this week, I published my debut novel, Blue Sky Days. In the five years since, I’ve met so many incredible people, from fellow authors to bloggers to readers - sometimes even people who are all three. I’ve been very fortunate to make great friends, learn a lot, and grow as a person and as a writer. I’ve published several other books in the last five years, learning something new with each release.
Today I wanted to share five of the things I’ve learned in the last five years since I became a published author.
- Manage your expectations. It’s good to be positive and confident, but publishing is basically a crapshoot. You can plan and set goals and do everything you ‘should’ do, and you might not get the outcome you hope for. For example, the books I’ve thought would be my bestsellers haven’t sold as well as I’d hoped, and the books I was uncertain about have produced my highest sales. You just never know. For my first few books, I set my expectations high - too high. Over time I learned to keep my expectations in check, and go into publishing each new book with cautious optimism. I know I’ve worked hard and done what I could to write the best book possible and promote it, and the rest is out of my hands. You can’t force people to buy or read your book, just like you can’t force people to love it.
- It's important to become part of the writing community. You can find writers everywhere these days: blogs, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, forums, you name it. Find people who will build you up, encourage you, and support you. Surround yourself with positive, helpful people. If you remain genuine and are looking to make real friends and connections, it shouldn’t be hard. Some people will be interested in genuine friendship and may become lifelong friends. Others will be looking for a purely professional relationship, where they’re willing to read your work or help you promote in exchange for doing the same for them. Find what works for you, but don’t set out with the intention of only making friends with people who can do something for you.
That being said…
- Be careful who you trust. I would never want to make anyone paranoid, but I’m sure we’ve all heard horror stories about ideas or bits of writing being stolen, stories being plagiarized, etc. Make sure that your early readers - beta readers, editors, fellow writers, etc - are trustworthy and that you can count on them to not only keep your work private, but to follow through with their commitment. Don’t choose people to read your book who might make things personal in a hurtful way. For example, I had a beta reader who was a good friend, and who had read a few of my previous books. She turned each of them in late, which, when you're on a deadline makes things difficult and stressful. At one point, we fought - as friends do - but because this person tended to take things extremely personally and then punish people, when it came time to beta read my next book, some of her comments were obviously made with the intention to hurt. She then took things a step further and told several of her friends about the parts of the book she didn’t like, then they all tweeted about it, openly mocking my writing. I can take criticism about my work; I ask my beta readers to be brutally honest about what they think does and doesn’t work in each of my stories. But when you make things personal, it’s not only childish, it’s extremely unprofessional, and makes you untrustworthy. This was a hard, painful lesson to learn, but now I'm extra careful about who I trust with my work before it goes out to the public.
- Reviews are for readers, not authors...mostly. In the beginning, I read every review for Blue Sky Days. Some of them built me up, and others broke my heart. It was difficult not to take the negative reviews personally. In time, I got to a point where I could read them and learn from them. I discovered what did and didn’t work for readers, where I might have gone wrong with certain things, and it made me a better writer going forward. I continued to read reviews occasionally from then on, but found they were having too much of an effect on me. I could get ten amazing reviews and one negative one and it would be the negative one that stuck with me. Reading is subjective and I fully believe a) everyone is entitled to their opinion, and b) we all have different tastes, different likes, different triggers, etc. But when it's your own writing - something you've worked hard on, poured your heart and soul into - it can be difficult not to take the criticism as a direct hit. As a book blogger, it was initially my natural inclination to read reviews, but I had to stop. I was too focused on the ratings and reviews, and it was messing with my mind and my confidence. I stay away from reviews now unless someone points out a positive one to me. For instance, my critique partner sent me snippets of positive reviews for my last release, knowing I didn’t want to seek out reviews myself, but also knowing it’s a nice boost to know people are enjoying your work. I also have a friend whose husband sends her positive reviews of her book since she has the same problem I did. If it screws with your head enough that it affects your confidence or your writing, stay away from the reviews and concentrate on writing.
- Always keep going and keep growing. Read widely, and not just how-to or technique guides, but novels. Novels in your genre and age category, and outside them. Learn from others. Follow your favourite writers on Twitter - they often share great tips, plus motivation. Follow writing boards on Pinterest. Write for yourself. Don’t write with an audience in mind. Don’t worry about whether people will love or hate your book, as long as you love it and you’re proud of it. Don’t follow trends because you think it’ll make you a lot of money or get your book more attention. I’ve known several people who have done this, and it’s gotten them nowhere. Write the thing that scares you, write outside your comfort zone, write what’s in your heart. Just write, and keep writing.
Those are five of the many things I've learned in the last five years. I hope some of you have found this useful.
I'd like to sincerely thank the people who have supported me through this journey. It means the world to have such wonderful people in my life, encouraging me and cheering me on. Thank you to every person who has read one or more of my books and left a review or messaged me privately. Thank you to the bloggers who have spread the word about my books over the years. The time and energy you put into your posts is incredible, and it's greatly appreciated.
Last year was a quiet writing year for me, but I have a lot of things planned for 2017 and beyond. I hope you'll all stick around! ♥