Five things I’ve learned as a published author

My book Song of the Sea God has been out in the world for more than a year now so I’m in a position to compare my naïve beliefs about being published before it happened to what I’ve learned since. Here are five things I know now that I didn’t know before.

Some of the people you expect to care that you have had a book published won’t care at all.

Boeken_Kringloop_Woerden_03You might think your friends old and new will all gather round and be incredibly supportive about your book when it comes out – and generally speaking, of course they will! But you might also find yourself surprised that this isn’t uniformly the case. If you had written a list before publication of people you felt absolutely certain would buy a copy of your book then examined it later you would find some of those names didn’t show the slightest interest in doing so.

What I’ve learned is not to take this to heart. The truth is that some people just don’t care about your book – it simply isn’t their thing, maybe books generally aren‘t their thing either. And, just because they know and like you, have a connection to you, doesn’t mean they are going to buy your book, plus an extra copy for their partner, rave about it on Amazon and make it their life’s work to promote it. They are going to ignore it, and carry on as if nothing has happened. And it’s probably best if you do that too!

Some people you hardly know, or don’t know at all, will be incredibly supportive.

The flip side of the coin is that some people who are only vague acquaintances, and many, many people you have never even met, will support your book. They will buy it, they will give it positive reviews, they will wax lyrical about it to anyone who will listen. These people might live on the other side of the world from you, they might have an entirely different life experience, but they will have found something in your work which has chimed with them and they will be generous enough to tell you about that – and to tell others.

I suppose the reason for both this point and the previous one is that, outside of your immediate nearest and dearest, basically people are supporting the book, not you. Which brings us to point three…

You are not your book, your book is not you.

So it pays not to get too upset if someone doesn’t like it – and indeed not too puffed up with how wonderful you are when someone says it’s a terrific piece of work.

387px-Rudyard_KiplingAs Kipling said – you need to:  “meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same”

I’ve been lucky so far not to have had any negative reviews for Sea God. I suppose one could say it’s been a kind of cult success in that not that many people have read it, but those who have done so are often very enthusiastic.

There’s no point me wringing my hands and worrying that it hasn’t sold like Harry Potter – I made a fair fist of writing it, I’ve done what bit I can to promote it – as have my publishers. After that it’s on its own and there’s no point me worrying about what I can’t really control.

Overall the world is benignly indifferent to your creation.

To me, and I’m guessing to pretty much any author, having a book published is a pretty special thing –  we work hard to learn to write, we work hard to write a book worthy of publication and we wade through the rejection slips until we find a home for it with a publisher. Maybe the book you finally get published isn’t the first you wrote – I know it wasn’t mine, (I have another three sitting in my bottom drawer) so there’s been a whole weight of expectation on your part.

Bearing that in mind it could  come as a surprise, maybe even a disappointment, to realise the world really doesn’t care about your pride and joy.  On the whole it’s an uphill battle to get any attention for a new book – and I suppose the basic reason for this is that there are so many books out there, and more arriving by the day – which brings me to number five…

Seemingly everyone has written a book

I didn’t really know this was true until I started on Twitter. I had no idea that there were so many writers out there. I suppose it’s the self-publishing revolution that’s lead to these huge numbers. In the past the only real route which was to do what I did – write, submit your material to publishers, get rejected and then do it all again until finally you found a publisher. Now people can be their own publisher and the old adage that everyone has a book in them has turned out to be true! It’s a great thing in many ways of course – more choice for the reader, more opportunities for the writers. But it does make it more difficult to get your work noticed.

I’ll be back another time with five more things I’ve learned since I’ve been published!

Tell me – what have you learned about the world of books and publishing?

Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

56 thoughts on “Five things I’ve learned as a published author”

  1. The biggest surprise I received was how many people will actually insult you for trying to be polite when promoting books. For example, someone compared my decision not to pester people to repost their review everywhere to deliberately gouging out my eyes with a spoon.

    It is possible I am worrying a little too much about not being an irritant, but I was surprised how aggressive some people believe authors should be.

    1. It’s a difficult balancing act isn’t it Dave? I try not to be too spammy about directly promoting my book as that is a big turn off for everyone. But equally you have to let the world know it exists otherwise it is invisible.

      1. It is. And, having never worked in sales, I didn’t expect it not to be.

        I just wish the parts of the writing community who have the One True Path were slightly less strident about how not following all of it is idiotic (especially as their One True Path usually contradicts someone else’s)

        In my more phlegmatic moments I wonder if ignoring advice from people who annoy me is a sound strategy, because techniques that cannot sell a sales strategy to me might well not work on the sort of people who form my audience.

      2. It’s funny – there are ‘writers’ out there who seem to spend more time trying to sell their skills as marketers to other authors than they do actually writing anything.

  2. My first book was about a family adventure and I had difficulty getting the family to read it! Fortunately other people read it, not many but some. It’s an interesting ride.

      1. A thick skin should come with every box of pencils.
        I enjoyed your essay and I’m pleased you found a publisher….. success gives me confidence, even if it isn’t mine. Be well.

  3. Hi Chris. Interesting post as always. I had my first (non-fiction) book published last year and it’s been a huge learning curve. I think there comes a point after the promotion you’ve done (along with your publisher) where you want to step back and let the book find it’s own level. When it engages with someone and you get a lovely response, that’s heartwarming; that’s the true reward. The negativity or lack of comment, especially from people you know…well, I’ve found it’s best to let that go. It says more about that particular person than it does about your book. It’s a very subjective field isn’t it?

  4. Great blog….and the comments equally so. My best friend has not bought my book, and won’t. And I’m fine about it. Another ‘best’ friend thought fit to do an almost page by page crit!! As you say, life. The unbelievably nice people on social media and the feedback from readers way compensate for this. I have learned that there are an unbelievably nice lot of people who care and help (when I was in hosp with the cancer, I really learned that). Onward through the fog…oh, when’s the next book again?

  5. I nodded at every one of your points here, Chris. I’ve read before about the fact that people you think will care don’t and vice versa, and have found it to be very true. All you can do is take encouragement from where it comes and not let the indifference discourage you. Having just published a book, I know not to expect a digital stampede to Amazon, or to any of the other outlets. Despite the support of a publisher, none of my other books has sold ‘well’, but the fact that those who have read them seem to have enjoyed them and been kind enough to let me know is the best reward for me. I won’t deny I’d be delighted to have a hot seller, but that isn’t why I do it. From what I’ve gathered with all the other really nice people and writers I’ve met on blogs and Twitter, it’s not why they do it either, so it’s really great to have encountered such a lovely community of supportive and like-minded people on the Internet. It certainly stops me from feeling isolated in my writing world.

  6. Your first point is a very important one – and one I try to stress to all writers. If you rely upon friends and relatives for sales you are going to be sorely disappointed. It also applies to musicians putting out CDs and albums and I found out the hard way long before I had a book out in the world. People who had encouraged me for years to do something with my music couldn’t be bothered when I put something out – in some cases not even a free song download. Others I felt absolutely sure I could rely on would just ignore the achievement completely – including close relatives. You can imagine that if people can’t give 40 minutes to listen to a CD – it’s even harder to get them to invest a few hours into reading a novel. Plus, people tend to listen to, or read, only household names that have garnered popularity among their peers or have made inroads through corporate media. It’s a tough lesson to learn but I found quickly that there are thousands of other people that go through it. I have talked to musicians who have hundreds of unsold CDs piled up in their garages – or to authors that spent weeks peddling their new book only to receive a half dozen sales. Self-marketing is a tough and lonely process and you have to develop a thick skin quickly. Send the word out to friends and relatives then forget about them – instead concentrate on getting your book to that group of people with a passion for literary discovery and willingness to read unknown authors. Nowadays its much more gratifying to sell a CD or book to complete strangers who bought it through actual interest – rather than going to your friends house and seeing it still in the cellophane wrap or being used as a coaster in the man-cave.

    1. You are right Daniel – there’s so much more satisfaction to have readers you don’t know personally who you know are just reacting to the work rather than doing you a favour!

  7. For me too, a very interesting post, though I’m not an author but a reviewer. I’m simply a humble reader and love to talk about books. Since starting my book blog and looking more seriously at books, publishing etc , me too, I have been astonished by how many authors are out there. And even more so, by the great quality of the books I’ve read for review so far by first-time authors, often better than what some of the well-known names are coming up with.

  8. Crossing The Line has been out for about a year now also and all five of your points are true. I learned them all plus – I learned that many people just assumed that because I wrote a book, it was about me! They put me in the main characters spot and asked oh so many questions – personal ones. They just didn’t get it was fiction and no, you don’t have to live it to write it. I think I’m wearing them down though. 😉

    1. That’s funny – at least I’ve been spared that one as my book’s quite strange and I don’t think anyone is really likely to mix me up with a wannabe god or a mute dwarf. Still it must be quite a problem – especially if there are things in your book you’d rather not be personally associated with!

  9. Please do write more of this for us unpublished wannabes. What five positive and surprising things did you find out? I have certainly had a similar experience regarding how many people are writers. Sometimes when I (tentatively) reveal I am pitching my first book they confess to being a published poet/author or unpublished author as if it is a guilty secret only revealed to others afflicted. Weird! My mum refuses to read my writing as it is, she says, ‘too sad’ which is kind of the point (it is a Misery Memoir)!!!! Thanks Chris. Sometimes wannabes get support from unlikely sources too…:)

  10. I am working with Doris the terrain of on a illustrated childrens book and your advice was timely . My new mantra will be – This book has been a journey for me and its publication signals the arrival at my destination. In short the sense of achievment will be enough.

  11. I am not necessarily a self-deprecating person, but as I approach my publication date, I am trying to set my expectations low. Rather than expecting to get a ton of people interested in my book on my cover reveal day, I said to myself, “If I get just one more person to add it to their TBR list on Goodreads, I will be happy.” The final count was 23, so I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot.

    Of course, it’s never enough. Questions lurk in the back of my mind: Why wasn’t it more? Some of those people were critique partners. Some of those people are my relatives. So do they even count? Why didn’t some of the people I talk to on Twitter add it?

    But you know what? We must be thankful for whatever we can get. And that is now, when we’re still fledgling authors; when we all make it big, hopefully we can continue with the humility. 🙂

    1. I think that’s a very good attitude. Low expectations mean you quite often exceed them! Personally I don’t think I will have much trouble maintaining my humility – I have much to be humble about 🙂

  12. I recognised everything in your list, Chris, and had a good chuckle!
    For me, though, the support of readers has been the biggest surprise.
    I began my writing career as a ghost, writing novels for big names and handing them over as soon as they were finished. I never had any contact with readers, although I could peek at the reviews and forums to see how they were going down with fans.
    But when I published fiction under my own name, I was unprepared for the ways people would respond. Readers would write me detailed emails about how I had explored a hidden, raw side of their lives – the kind of conversation that you’d usually never have with a stranger.
    As you say, this unexpected contact, often from unlikely quarters, is one of the great and rewarding surprises of publishing. While so much of what we do is a struggle, I try to remember this essential – it is all about the flow of experience between writer and reader – and, if we’re lucky, back again.
    Nice to have found your blog! I passed you in flight on Twitter.

    1. Thanks Roz – I couldn’t agree more. One of the curious, and satisfying things for me has been seeing the reader take my book in new directions by thinking about it and writing about it themselves. Sometimes I come across quite detailed analysis and discussions on the web about my book from people I didn’t know had read it. They may be examining a particular theme or issue from it which has struck them. It’s as though the book has taken on a life of its own outside of me.

      1. Oh yes indeed, Chris! I put reading group questions in the back of my latest novel, but couldn’t at all predict the questions people actually asked me. Our books become richer as our readers respond to them and make them their own.
        I heard Donna Tartt interviewed recently in front of a studio audience. She was asked about the meanings of certain plot events and she replied: ‘The book is yours now. It belongs to you.’

      2. Thanks Roz – very kind of you to download the sample, please let me know what you think, I would be fascinated to hear.
        I do like that Donna Tartt quote, I might start saying that, not least because it gets me out of having to explain aspects of the book which I don’t quite understand myself!

  13. My experience deeply resonates with this article, Chris. The last people I even wanted to read my book or even know too much about the business of writing were my parents. They’ve always considered my brand of imagination as weird and worthy of professional examination. Also, I opted to use a pen name. Not only do they love my pen name, they’ve both purchased their own copies of the book. They’ve even been helping to promote it.

    There have been some people who I expected to buy my book and didn’t. There were some I wished hadn’t bought my book, like my best friend, because I wanted to give her a copy. But I’ve learned to embrace the recurring sentiment here, focus on who is giving you support and ignore everyone else.

    Love your articles, Chris!

    1. Thanks Kit that’s very kind – I know what you mean about not actually wanting some people to read it – I’ve felt the same way. I suppose in the end it kind of finds its own level – and there’s not a lot we as authors can do to effect that once we’ve finished writing.

  14. It’s a strange world. I also recognise many of the points you mention. And it is a wonderful moment when somebody you don’t know feels strongly enough about your work to writer a review or contact you personally. Even if it doesn’t happen very often. I agree with Peggy though. Since starting publishing and connecting with new authors I’ve read many relatively unknown authors and been pleasantly surprised by the quality and imagination evident in the books.

  15. Wonderful blog, Chris. I will agree with your first two points completely, and am glad I ordered the extra thick skin suit before publishing. The other thing I learned is that even with the best connections and reviews, steady sales are not guaranteed. I have to admit I am rather horrid or at the very least inconsistent at self-promotion (coupled with a full-time teaching job that leaves me short on time), but even with a very targeted plan early on for my rock novels that included interviews with music magazines and a few well-known podcasts, a website that has lots of musically-driven content (concert reviews), a blog on a classic rock radio station from a deejay who has since become a friend, and all sorts of copies given and well received by people within the musician/radio/music community, you can still have a hard time moving your books. I also noticed it made no difference whether or not I had all sorts of followers on Twitter, or spent crazy amounts of time there promoting, cross-promoting, etc… Perhaps rock fiction as a genre is not yet widely spread enough, or perhaps it is something you have to do continuously or in a more interactive manner with readers, but the time to do that is just not possible for me if I want to keep writing. It’s enough for me that my small readership loves them and that I never considered doing any of it for money.

    1. True Anne-Marie – the whole marketing thing is very much the dark arts isn’t it? I’m not even sure marketing people can really guarentee a level of success, though, of course, the bigger machine and the more money you have behind you the more successful you will be. Personally I have found social media is a help and without my little army of Twitter followers and blog visitors I probably wouldn’t even sell the few books I do!

  16. I’m writing about my family. My brother predicts that one or two people will read the book and tell the others what’s in it. And. . .they’ll all expect free copies, of course!

  17. this certainly resonated with me… it is all true! I find when doing signings it becomes even more apparent. People are strange -some are shocked that you are the actual author, some dismiss you because they have never heard of you, some love you because you are a writer and others pick the book up and ignore you completely. But the best part is during the lulls (unless you have massive queues-and if you do-are you JK Rowling?) you glance around the shop and notice just how many books there are on sale and wonder what on earth would make yours stand above the rest and make the browser buy! Its not all a bowl of cherries, is it?

    1. Thanks Gill, that’s really funny 🙂 I remember a signing I did people we’re asking me where the John Grishams were etc. not only did they not know I was an author – they thought I was a member of staff at the Waterstones.

  18. You’re so right about all of this – it’s why I always suggest to new authors that they get an author page on Facebook, rather than keep banging on about their books on their personal page, as at least 50% of their friends and family won’t be interested, and will be actively put off by it. As for the people you expect to be interested not being so, and finding interest in unexpected places, I first noticed that syndrome when going through a bad time emotionally, many years ago – the people from whom I expected support didn’t give it, and I got it, instead, from others.

    As for people not being interested – there is no more reason why anyone should be fascinated in what you do, anymore than you are fascinated by their job. One of the mistakes I’ve seen some new writers make is to start ‘acting the Big Writ-or’. Other people paint, take great photographs, make music, or are gifted at DIY, or create a spectacular garden, or are fabulous cooks. We all have our talents. It’s best not to assume self-importance. I’m sure you agree. Excellent post 🙂

    1. I certainly do agree Terry – and I think there’s nothing like having a book published to remind you how insignificant you are in the grand scheme of things 🙂

  19. Hi Chris, great post! A reality check on what it’s really like – and even though I am not yet published, I identified with quite a few things in it – especially about support. I often hesitate to tell people i know that I’ve written a book. But then I learnt about platform creation and all that blah! (God I am so not good at it! lol) And started peeking out of my shell, to make it known, and I was surprised at people’s reactions – those I expected the least to be interested – read through my MS and critiqued it and others, couldn’t care less! So yeah, I am already getting a thick skin about it all. And I am just about beginning to get the hang of twitter – and boy the writers are there by the thousands – it’s kind of scary! Thankyou for sharing 🙂

  20. Having had a book I co-edited subjected to a sustained on-line hate campaign (by a very articulate reader/reviewer, piqued because he wasn’t listened to when he was part of the editing team himself), I take Kipling’s advice through gritted teeth. But I take it.

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