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10 things authors often learn the hard way

Writing workshops and books, professional advice, even Google, won’t answer every question an author may have. Some knowledge can only be gained by personal experience. The following list stems from genuine reports by authors I’ve either spoken to or worked with, across the globe. Individual points are not meant as sweeping statements; there may be a good portion of authors who have different outcomes and opinions. Nevertheless….

No one but you cares as much about your book

Agents, publishers and publicists – and especially readers – don’t have the same emotional investment as the author of a book. They might just as easily prefer another book on the same subject, or easily forget your title altogether; with over 18 million books to choose from, that yours will be the best, most unique book they’ve ever come across is unlikely. Dump the ego, and work on enticing them to look at your book in the first place. Help them to make their buying decision, don’t just assume that once seen, automatically sold.

Traditional publishing (TP) is not better than self-publishing (SP)

Yes, TP has a lot going for it, but it also has its downsides. Sacrifices to become a TP author may include your book no longer being recognisable to you; little control over the book’s aesthetics; a long, long time to market and vastly reduced royalties. That’s not to say self-publishing doesn’t have any cons; TP and SP are essentially just different ways to publish that should equally be investigated thoroughly.

Traditional publishers commonly display shiny book syndrome

Your book’s out, you ride the publicity wave for a few months, then…..nothing. Though your book will be in the publisher’s back catalogue, and will undoubtedly have a strategy behind its continued promotion, your publisher will switch their attention to their newest author, time and time again. Neither can you pick up the mantle; your contract with them may restrict the marketing you do off your own back. A Catch-22 situation indeed.

The premise that all a self-publisher needs is a Facebook page and an Instagram feed is wrong…

For some, this may be enough. But one thing that’s missing is the right mindset. Use either of these platforms with a ‘me, me!’ approach and you’ll not get far. And just because there are many ways to promote your book online shouldn’t mean offline opportunities are out of bounds. Working out how to snare the interest of your readers (i.e. determining who they are, where they are, why they’d read your book, what competition you face for their attention) will go some way to effectively using social media as the tool it is. The relationship with your reader is the most important thing – you’re not selling cabbages on a market stall, so shouting about what you’ve got won’t work. Treat your readers as people, work out what makes them tick.

Success is not guaranteed

You’ll find many blogs and articles bemoaning the life of an author, and how hard it is to gain any sort of traction. Maybe it is. But most writers write because they have to, not because they feel success is owed to them. Both traditionally published authors and self published authors have to release a good handful of titles before they see financial reward, unless Lady Luck intervenes. Most authors have to play the long game, building up trust with their readers that every story they put out will be of the same calibre.

Publishing is an unscrupulous business

Vanity publishing, scams, fake competitions, companies only looking to make money out of you….there are many of them about. If your gut tells you it doesn’t feel right, it most probably isn’t. It’s very, very rare for a traditionally published author to financially contribute to their project (usually, only when certain copyrights or research needs to be obtained), and it should also be clear to a self-publisher what their upfront costs of production are (it’s actually not as expensive as you may think). If you’re quoted a price above a couple of thousand run it by me – or just run.

Your first book will not be your best

If you take your writing career seriously, investing time and money towards honing your skills and getting the right kind of feedback will make a difference eventually. Your first works will, at some point, appear to have been penned by a primary school student in comparison. Every writer goes through this process, it’s all part of ‘the journey’.

Your life story is not unique

You’ve done ‘x’, you’ve seen ‘y’, you’ve been to ‘z’. It’s easy, because humans look at the world from their perspective, to think your life story is one everyone will want to read. People go on treks in faraway countries and achieve personal goals, but this still doesn’t mean other people want to read about it over other things they can do in their daily life. Most memoirs are read by people who have done similar things, or have the inclination to want to do similar things. Memoirs live in a market the same as any other; authors need to find their audience and woo them.

PR, appearances in the media, television exposure….rarely do these make an impact on book sales

That’s not to say they shouldn’t be done, but the direct impact of such exposure on sales is low. What media interest does, however, is increase your visibility. Maybe a completely new reader goes on to notice something else that features you, or they make the move to follow your Insta account. A relationship takes time to develop; few readers rush straight out to buy a new book if it concerns a topic they’re not interested in, or it’s the first time they’ve heard of it.

Authors don’t make a living from their royalties…

This may be controversial, but I believe it’s true. It’s the ‘extras’ that make an author their money: the appearances, the talks, the merchandise, the ‘experience’ they offer. Now that digital books all but eliminate production costs, and authors have to battle against their peers who offer their books for free, royalties have declined, as have advances.

The above may sound depressing, but I think that’s personal opinion and perspective. The impact of new authors flooding the marketplace and the sheer flexibility self-publishing has brought was bound to have an effect sooner or later. Instead of seeing this as the death of books and the end of penmanship, we should see this as the road to a new industry, one that makes its own rules.


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