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Newbie authors' expectations vs. reality

Success on a level such as that realised by J.K. Rowling and E.L. James, whilst it happens, is rare. There’s no reason why you can’t acquire a publishing deal and build a longstanding writing career, but there’s no guarantee this will happen. Self-publishing has empowered any author to chase their dream, and their readers. Though it has its own pitfalls, ‘do it yourself’ has welcomed a tide of new writers and their work.

It’s important that your dream of writing a book has some grounding. It takes hard work and continuous self-promotion to find and keep a readership you’re able to build on. Much of an author’s success can be down to chance, the right connections and a story that fills a gap/sparks a trend – these are all things that can make the difference between the average career of an author and the household names you read about.

Many authors don’t start to see continual revenue from their writing career until their seventh book. The first release has to work on finding some visibility, although the release of the second helps in this regard. By the time the third book is published, previous buyers of your book will have decided if they’re loyal to you, and your name will also start to become more visible to the wider world. If you’re still writing and continuing this momentum, by your seventh book, you’ll likely to have passed the tipping point, where you can spend more time writing than promoting, and a steady income comes in of its own accord.

For most, the writing of the book is the easy bit. Finding a voice and any sort of notoriety is the challenge. Fans on social media sites mean nothing unless they’re putting their hands in their pockets. Reviews are only useful if people see your book’s listing in the first place. My advice would be to try everything and measure what sticks, which is what marketing is largely about.

The promotion of your title can be helped if you understand your book. Yes, you wrote it, but by doing so, you can never put yourself in the position of your reader. However, you can try.

Ask yourself: why should someone pick up your book? What does your book say that another doesn’t? What do you bring to a subject that hasn’t been said time and time again? Perhaps your book is a ‘romp through time and space’ – so are thousands and thousands of others. ‘It’ll make you laugh; it’ll make you cry’ – so what? Isn’t every book’s mission to move, evoke, touch, inform, educate or entertain? WHAT MAKES YOUR BOOK SPECIAL?!

Who will read your book? What’s their age, social group, status or stature? Are they time-pressed, or do they enjoy long stints by azure pools? What do they look for in a book – knowledge, a thrill, to work out 'whodidit', or just some escapism from the barbarity of life?

I’ve heard some wonderful claims from authors:

'Should I order 10,000 copies or 20,000? It seems silly to order too few when I’ll be back within a month ordering another 10,000.'

'I don’t have to know who will buy my book – it’s one that’s suitable for everybody.'

'I don’t like selling.'

'I don’t want to use the internet to sell my book. I’ll just stick to other methods.'

To the first: If you want to actually use your garage whilst you slowly get the message about how hard it is to sell your books, be my guest. Personally, I’d order 150 and see how you go.

To the second: Oh dear. Marketing to everyone will be less successful than picking a particular audience and talking to them one-on-one. But you’ll find this out yourself, eventually.

To the third: If you think of it as selling, you won’t ‘sell’ any books. If you think of it as telling someone who might be looking for a book just like yours that your book exists, then you may find things a little different.

To the fourth: Good luck! Though I always advocate building a network of readers, book buyers/shops, and influential contacts offline, ignoring the online world is crazy in today's world.

I know I continually burst people’s bubbles about how harsh authorship is, but I feel it’s necessary. Otherwise, people could waste thousands of pounds, unnecessary time, and swathes of effort as they find this out for themselves.

Reining in your expectations will get you to that ‘seven book tipping point’ far faster than if you wait for the jackpot, a la Ms Rowling and her more successful peers. Chance and fortune don’t strike that often, best opt for Plan B.


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