My first novel was published in 2010.
It feels like an eon ago.
But I’m still learning lessons about how to be a “career” author and not just in that frenetic state that accompanies the release of your first (or second or even third) novel.
My husband and I discussed early on that having an author career is like a small business, and for every small business there are three critical stages: Getting Launched, Scaling Up, Staying Competitive.
Debut Author (Getting Launched)
The experience of your first novel depends somewhat on the path you take, but all first-novel releases come with bouts of hysteria, depression, and nausea (this publishing thing is not for the weak-of-stomach). The pre-release mania (OMG I’m publishing a book!!), terror (OMG everyone will hate it!), and mania again (OMG a reviewer loved it!). Before, during, and after release, there’s this frantic feeling where you wake up in the middle of the night convinced you forgot some vital piece of marketing, like mailing bookmarks to your High School English teacher, that will doom, doom, DOOM your book to obscure-land and the Millions Mark on Amazon Rankings. Once you’ve launched, there’s the obsessive checking of sales, rankings, reviews, etc. It’s a wonder that any of us write a second book.
But then we do. And it starts all over again.
This Getting Launched phase is all about learning the ropes of your business of writing and publishing; learning the ins and outs of Amazon and Kobo and B&N; figuring out how to market, what works and what doesn’t (for you). But there comes a time when you need to Scale Up – you’ve written more than one novel, you plan to write a whole lot more, and you’ve got the basics down.
Career Author (Scaling Up)
You have to go through the Debut stage – everyone does. It’s comprised of the hard lessons learned that allow you the perspective of the Career stage. So don’t fret if you’re still frantic and manic and nauseous (especially nauseous). As I’m staring down the impending release of my fourth novel, which also concludes the Mindjack trilogy, I’m finally reaching a Zen place with this novel publishing business. There are still days when the terror strikes, or the mania, but for the most part, they are quickly tempered with the knowledge that I’ve written the book that I wanted to write, and I’m doing a job that I love like no other.
Plus: I finished a trilogy! There’s a coolness of satisfaction with that alone. There will be people who love the book, (hopefully less) people who hate it, but it’s Kira’s story, and now it’s been told. I’ve done my part – now it’s time to release it into the world and let the readers decide what they think of it.
I’m already writing the next book. 🙂
However, being a Career Author means more than just writing the next book…
Check Your Sales Less Often
I’m obsessive with numbers to begin with, plus I’m an engineer/scientist. It’s really hopeless with me and numbers. In the beginning, I tracked all my sales on all channels every morning, making graphs and trying to understand trends. And to be fair, I learned an IMMENSE amount from that data collection. But after a year of publishing and putting out five (soon to be eight) titles, it’s just taking too much time. I recently revamped my spreadsheets, so that I only do three things: 1) record my Amazon US sales each morning (2 minutes), 2) record my sales on all other channels at the end of the month (15 minutes), and 3) record the deposits to my checking account each month (10 minutes). This way, I still have a pulse (via daily Amazon sales) of how the books are faring, plus longer term trends in sales and income. Mostly I try not to think about sales and just write.
Have a Production Schedule; Be Flexible
Write More; Promote Less
All my obsessive data collection clearly shows: the best marketing is releasing another book. There’s not even a question about it. When I hear some authors say they want to focus more on writing and less on marketing, I say DO IT. Writing more, writing better, improving craft, experimenting with different genres… basically all the things writers LOVE TO DO are also the secret to success in this business. Finding your writer vision, protecting it, nurturing it, building it, sustaining it: these are the most important things you can do with your time.
When a business scales up, it needs to have a plan (maybe even a Five Year Plan). Many Mom-n-Pop stores never manage to expand beyond the first store, because they don’t manage inventory or people well enough, or they expand too quickly. They can’t keep up with demand, or they over-commit and can’t deliver. As a writer, your commodity is your writing talent. You have to nurture it and grow your backlist in a way that is sustainable for you. Maybe you want to publish two books a year (or one or three). Maybe you want to experiment with novellas or serials or different genres. You can’t reach your goals if you burn out with the marketing or publishing process (or even the writing process!). Make sure you have a balance that includes regenerative time, building your Productive Capacity, as well as your Production.
Example: Right now I’m soaking up Bollywood videos and reading the Steampunk Bible to feed my creativity for my current WiP Third Daughter (Indian flavored steampunk romance). At the same time, I have a wordcount tracker to keep me moving forward, even though the crazy of NaNo is done. I also have a Creative Retreat planned for January with some author friends, where we’ll spend a few hours cross-pollinating our creativity, rather than just focusing on producing more work.
I haven’t reached the Staying Competitive stage yet, where career authors need to make sure they stay fresh, stay innovative, continue to please their fans. Even before I have to worry about having a huge backlist to compete with, I think every author has to feed their creative side to keep from stagnating.
p.s. my Mindjack Origins novella, The Scribe (Sasha’s story), is being featured on the Short Story Symposium today. Check it out!