As a publisher, or rather, a publishing facilitator, there is no thrill greater than handing a first-time author the first proof of their first book. (Yes, I know, there’s probably at least one redundant ‘first’ in there, but I was having too much fun to consider leaving one out!) It’s a wonderful moment – a bit like delivering a baby. If all goes well, then it’s only a matter of days before that book is then unleashed on the world, along with ebooks, the author’s Amazon and Smashwords profiles, and a proliferation of posts from both of us on social media.
Giving birth to your first book is a recipe for post-publication depression. You have spent ages shaping it, crafting it, considering covers and fonts and page colours, all the while answering your friends and family, ‘How’s the book going?’ ‘When’s the book coming out?’ ‘How’re you going with your bestseller?’
Finally the big day arrives, the announcements are made, there may be a small party (or not, if you read my post on book launches here!), and then when all the hoopla is over, you go home and life returns to normal. Except you’re not the immediate bestselling author you hoped to be.
And it is just like having a baby, and not dissimilar to post-natal depression (PND). You’re back to your routine life, all the excitement which has been building for months and months is suddenly over, and you’re left holding responsibility for something which, no matter how much you tried to anticipate, isn’t quite as easy to nurture as you’d expected.
So what do you do? Don’t throw yourself off a cliff – your job has only just started!
First, please don’t ever expect to be a bestselling author in the first week, month or even year of your first book. Maybe one in 1,000 achieves a modicum of success in the first year with their first book, which means you are probably going to be one of the 999 who don’t.
Second, don’t give up. It doesn’t mean your book is bad (although it very well may be a stinker, but who’s going to know until people start reading it?), it just means that people don’t yet know about it. If you believe in your book, then make sure to keep working to market it – and marketing isn’t the same as trying to get sales. Marketing simply means raising awareness. You can do this with targeted Facebook ads, having links to where it can be purchased on your website (I know one author who took something like six months to fix his website up to mention his book!), making sure you enter writing competitions where you can include a reference to your book and your website, and do whatever you can to promote the book without forking out large sums of money, such as setting up a Goodreads account or listing your title on preview sites such as One Thousand Words Plus (insert shameless self-promotion disclaimer here!).
Third, keep writing. One lesson we stress to all our authors is that people don’t buy books, they buy authors. There is a reason we have one entire shelf dedicated to John Grisham in our house – my husband buys everything he releases. Yes, from time to time we will buy a book ‘on spec’, but generally only non fiction. When it comes to fiction, we both have favourite authors and they’re the ones we turn to first for our entertainment. I mean, when was the last time you forked out full freight for a movie when you didn’t know one single actor in it? Or even the director? My point exactly.
If you want to be a writer, be a writer and write. Write on social media. Write on blogs. Write on websites. Write for others. But write, write and write. And as time passes and you release your next book and your next, your writing will improve, and as people discover each book, they each become a free advertisement for all your other books. Dan Brown is evidence of this – his first three books languished until the release of Da Vinci Code. And he was published traditionally – not self published.
Serve your apprenticeship and the rest will follow. After all, no plumber’s apprentice got his ticket after digging just one drain. It takes several years of experience, supervision, and sheer bloody hard work to become a plumber, so why would you expect overnight success as an author?