Hindsight is always 20/20 as they say, and there are plenty of mistakes I made early in my career that I would not suggest new authors repeat. We also must consider that I published my first book back in 2014 when there really wasn’t a whole lot about indie publishing online and nothing as organized as we have now. Since 2014, I’ve published 7 books, 2 boxed sets, and 2 short stories, and have learned quite a bit about what not to do. My hope is that some brand new authors or authors early in their indie author careers will learn from my mistakes.
For simplicity’s sake, I have decided to number these:
- Start a newsletter before I published– A lot of authors resist having a newsletter because it’s more work or they don’t know what to say, but just keeping a very basic release update newsletter will help you down the line. Building a newsletter can be a slow-go, so having people involved from the beginning and funneling them to your newsletter in case your social media goes bust is a fantastic idea. I know this from personal experience after having my FB and IG hacked, locked, and eventually deleted. Any social media account can disappear at any moment, but a newsletter list can be downloaded regularly just in case.
- Know what constitutes a good audiobook narrator before producing one– This goes for any part of the publishing process you don’t understand. Ask others who do like that thing and see if they think it sounds good. I don’t think my first audiobook narrator was necessarily the best because I didn’t listen to audiobooks and didn’t understand what people like in an audiobook narrator. My narrator was more suited to nonfiction than fiction. I’ve since learned.
- Ask people involved in a program, promo, etc. about their honest experiences- sometimes a program sounds fantastic on paper when in reality it has a a lot of problems or limitations. For instance, Kindle Unlimited sounds like a great idea (exclusivity as a trade off for voracious readers). If you’re in the right genre, it can be great, but if you aren’t in a genre where people read voraciously, you may not gain the same traction and your exclusivity may not be the pay off you think it is. There’s also the trade-off of losing traction or not gaining it as fast when you go wide because you don’t have the same preorders and release push that you would if you published your books there for the first time.
- Invest in good covers that fit the genre from the start– I was lucky enough that my partner is an artist, and he was able to make me a halfway decent cover for my first few books. While this was great for my budget, they were not the best in terms of marketing since they didn’t fit the genre at all. If I was doing it over again, I would definitely invest in a professional cover that fit the genre conventions (aka look at Amazon best seller listings and comp titles ahead of time instead of making something I liked).
- Not publish a large series as a first project/publication– When I first wrote The Earl of Brass, I had no idea how long the series would be, especially since I started branching off into other couples. I don’t think I ever anticipated it being 6+ books long. The problem is that people need to read book 1 to read the rest of the series, and by the time you hit book 6, you’re writing is A LOT better and readers are still judging your series based on book 1’s writing. I definitely wouldn’t suggest going beyond a trilogy for your first/early major project because you will improve a lot and the difference will be stark from the beginning to the end of the series.
- If you were in an MFA program, you may need to do some re/de-programming– I graduated from an MFA program where some professors were very supportive of me writing genre fiction because, to them, good writing was good writing, but there were others who were vocal about how they thought it was garbage and that literary fiction was the pinnacle of art. Despite writing and publishing genre fiction out of spite during my time in grad school, I definitely picked up some bad habits and self-loathing. If look back at old blog posts from 2015/2016, I definitely got hung up on “upmarket” fiction and speculative fiction, which are nice ways that lit fic authors/publishers relabel what should be genre fiction. I came out of grad school ready to start fights over genre fiction’s merits only to find most people were totally cool with it and loved it. The difference was stark, so I wasted a lot of time trying to make my writing (as a product) sound good to lit fic people when they were not my audience at all. I think no matter the program, there will always be bad habits or bad thoughts you will need to un-learn as you grow.
- Learn that other writers are your coworkers, not your competitors– What I mean by that is, don’t treat other writers like people you have to one-up or beat. It just sets you up to feel like shit and to potentially treat others like shit. Early in my career, I felt jealousy keenly when other writers who started around the same time I did got traditional publishing deals or appears at cons or had opportunities I couldn’t get. When I started to have some success and felt people do the same to me (being bitter and suddenly treating me differently) as I did to others who got ahead of me, it was a wake up call to knock off the behavior. It was ugly and unnecessary, and I shouldn’t have had to feel it turned back on me to stop. It’s perfectly normal to feel pangs of jealousy, but you have to remind yourself that they may be ahead in their career overall, they may have different connections, or what they have looks good but wouldn’t be good for you. You have to feel that jealousy but still be happy for them. Trust me, you don’t want to be that person who alienates their writing friends when they get a whiff of success.
- Have a plan before publishing– This one seems like it should be obvious, but oh, dear reader, it is not. As someone who struggles to plan things because I have zero chill, I have launched books early or with little preamble because I was so excited for other people to read it. That was not a solid business plan. If you’re just publishing as a hobby, that’s fine, but if you’re trying to grow your readership and make some money off of it, publishing on a schedule or launching a series x amount of months apart is a much smarter idea than releasing a book because you cannot contain yourself. A lot of indie authors now have made videos and resources about creating a pre-launch plan and how to best utilize the push from pre-orders and pre-marketing. I wish there was more of that when I was a baby indie back in 2014. It would have been a major help to me.
There are plenty of other f-ups I have made along the way, but these are the ones that I think have had the biggest impact, whether I realized it or not at the time. I hope these help you if you’re a newbie or just starting on your indie publishing journey.
If you’re already an indie author, what are some things you would tell new indies to do differently? Drop your suggestions in the comments.