Pretty much since the day I declared myself an indie author, I have received emails and social media messages from inquiring minds and aspiring writers. I am by no means a publishing expert but for what it’s worth, here are my answers to some of your burning questions, based on my own personal experiences in the indie publishing world thus far:
1. How do I get started as a writer? Where do I begin? Are there special tools or software for writers?
Write. Write every single day. I know that sounds simple to some and daunting to others, but it is the single most important thing you can do. First of all, if you haven’t read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Outliers, read it. One of the things I learned from his book is that it takes at least 10,000 hours to become a master at something. Gladwell says that’s how five novice musicians became The Beatles, and how a handful of nerds became the pioneering leaders of silicon valley. He also supports the idea that preparation (aka 10k practice hrs) + opportunity (right place, right time) = exceptional outcomes. If you’re not ready to let anyone else read your stuff, blog privately, write in a journal, whatever. Just write.
Special tools? There are tons of great how-to books available at your local library. Subscribe to Publisher’s Weekly and Writer’s Digest, or at least their e-newsletters. Writer’s Digest frequently offers webinars ranging from free to a few hundred dollars. I wrote using Microsoft Word for a long time until another writer suggested I check out Scrivener. I LOVE it. It keeps everything organized and makes editing so much easier! Best investment yet. (I got mine at writersstore.com). (I have not been paid for my endorsements and I do not work for any of the above.)
2. Should I get an agent or an editor? One, both or neither?
It depends. Who is going to read your stuff? If you have hopes of being traditionally published, then you’ll likely need to work with an agent and an editor. You can write query letters, pitch in person at a conference, or both. Once an agent agrees to work with you, they may suggest an editor who has experience with your genre/subject. If you plan to publish on your own, you definitely want to hire an editor who is specialized in your genre and target audience. As an indie, you may or may not need an agent. Initially I did talk with an agent who wanted to work with me, but decided I would wait. (I hope I end up needing her–that would mean I’ve been contacted for international distribution, movie rights, or some other contractual thing that is way above my head.) Don’t skip the editor. No one likes to read a book with typos, plot issues, or other poor quality issues. If you find a glaring mistake later, there’s no taking it back. I’m told that if your first book lacks quality content or is poorly formatted for e-readers, it affects subsequent books, and I tend to believe this is true.
Personally, I’ve stopped reading in the middle of a book and avoided the author’s next book. There was one traditionally published bestseller-turned-hit movie-starring-one-of-my-favorite-actresses, which I really really REALLY wanted to like. I forced myself to read through over 300 pages of style and grammar issues until I got within 4 pages of the end and hit my breaking point. Another traditionally published YA author wrote over a dozen thin books in a series, which I feel could have been combined into three or four longer books. When I’d read my way about halfway through the series, I simply couldn’t take it anymore. A better editor would have advised her not to milk the series to death. PLEASE hire a good editor.
(Yes I am aware that I often break all the rules in my blog, because I write differently here than I would in a book. More free flow, stream of consciousness, and conversational.)
PS. If you’re an indie, pay the extra for a quality cover design by an artist familiar with your genre and target audience. People do judge books by the cover. If your cover looks unprofessional or doesn’t stand out in the sea of thumbnails online, readers won’t bother. I initially designed my cover, which worked just fine for my kickstarter campaign, but when you see my final professional cover design you’ll see what I mean. It conveys the story, and invokes curiosity from the intended audience (I hope). The original thing I made didn’t do either of those things, but it did stand out because it was a dark color.
3. Should I go to a writer’s conference? Should I join a writer’s circle?
Yes. I went to a small writers conference. It cost about $150 for a day full of informative and inspiring workshops, agent pitching, lunch, networking and new friendships. It was well worth the money and time. You can read about my experience here. I also joined an online, closed group of fellow YA fantasy writers. I know other writers who meet in person with a trusted circle of writers on a weekly or monthly basis. Getting feedback from other writers breathes life into your writing and helps you make sure readers are receiving your story the way you intend for it to be received. I gained perspective, support, and inspiration to keep going when I felt like giving up.
I’ve also learned to read my stuff out loud to myself. I catch mistakes that spell check doesn’t catch and fix funky wording that sounds great in my head but not aloud.
4. How important are reviews? Should reviews be included on the book cover or other promotional materials?
I sincerely appreciate professional reviews written by The New York Times, USA Today, Oprah Magazine, and especially BookPage (free at my local library). Most of the time I read a book because of word of mouth–usually a friend recommends it or an author I respect recommends it.
I don’t think I have ever read an online book review. However, when so many of you kept asking me about online reviews, I thought maybe I was out of the loop so I asked friends, neighbors, family, social media…overwhelmingly the response was that online reviews rarely influenced their choice of books. If you don’t believe me, try doing your own poll and see if you get similar results.
This issue has weighed heavily on my heart as I’ve witnessed several of my favorite authors go through some awful circumstances involving online cyber bullies disguised as reviewers. I was appalled to read Anne Rice’s recent Facebook post about having to spend hours deleting all of her past comments on an online review forum due to nasty behavior and harassment from others. Yes, THAT Anne Rice. Queen of the vampires, lovely authoress who so candidly interacts with her fans and encourages writers like me to pursue our dreams. Another author is pursuing legal action! Good grief! I have yet to decide if I will invite or include anything other than professional reviews on my website. There will not be any reviews on my book cover for The Recollection of Trees. This is my recent post on my decision:
5. What is the author’s platform? Do I really need a blog? Do I have to tweet?
The platform is how you will sell your book. It is how readers find you, and how they get to know you and your work. I checked out books from the library on social media, websites, blogging, you name it. I highly recommend Sell Your Book Like Wildfire by Rob Eagar. I first checked it out from the library, but then I ended up buying my own copy. Worth every single penny. (Again, not a paid or solicited endorsement.) Bottom line: you must have an online presence if you want to sell books. Period.
If self-promotion isn’t your thing, you might want to reconsider being an author. I’m not kidding. It doesn’t matter if you want to be traditionally published or an indie. Either way, you’re the promoter. The agent doesn’t do that. If you’re lucky they may help you figure out your initial message or press release, but they don’t usually sit around tweeting, posting, and sharing on your behalf because they usually have other clients. In the heyday of traditional publishing, authors had a publicist as part of their team, and the publicist scheduled a book tour. Those days are mostly long gone. You can hire a publicist or publicity firm, but it will cost you. It’s up to you to schedule your own book tour, blog tour, and public appearances.
Again, I’m no expert, but I blog about once a month, tweet and post on social media daily, and manage a “fans only” email list. I learned about keeping an email list from another successful traditional-turned-indie romance author. She said she only prints books as promotional materials for giveaways and appearances, and emails her large list of fans whenever a new e-book is released. They are loyal and buy her books the day they’re available, directly from the email. Targeted, inexpensive social media ads are another effective way to reach your audience.
In truth, I’m hoping to achieve at least the level of success that I can afford to hire a personal publicist. It requires a lot of effort and discipline on my part to stick to a schedule for book writing, blog writing, and social media interaction, and it’s too tempting to choose one and neglect the others. I have resorted to setting a timer.
The burning question I get asked most often is: when will The Recollection of Trees be released? I’ve already announced a release date and had to take back, which was NOT my favorite thing. As such, I am not ready to announce another specific date yet. Please pardon my superstition but I don’t want to risk any further delays or jinx myself, so that is all I am willing to say for now.
Fingers crossed, and lucky Halloween socks on my feet, I promise you, when the physical book is in my hands, you’ll be the first to know!