On my writing journey, I tend to talk to different people. Some have already published a few books; other are only starting. While the first group is quite disilussioned about the mechanics of the publishing process, the second group is still stuck with the myths that cause a lot of disappointment later on. Today, as an author who had published before (under my real name and under pen names), I’m debunking the myths for you.
If you actually believe in any of these myths, this post is going to be painful for you. But, in my opinion, it’s better to be faced with the reality now, before you published, than discover everything AFTER you will have published.
MYTH #1 – Some authors are lucky and some just aren’t.
We all want to be like J. K. Rowling, Christopher Paolini, Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer, E. L. James… because they were “lucky”. They just wrote great books that were later discovered and they became literary stars overnight… Right? Wrong. J. K. Rowling created tension in the media before the release of each “Harry Potter” book. Christopher Paolini made countless book tours to promote “Eragon” (which was published because his parents were publishers). Stephen King tried and tried and became so profilic in one genre that it was impossible not to spot him. Stephenie Meyer had a great agent who represented her book. As for E. L. James, she had a huge target audience as her book used to be a “Twilight” fanfiction.
Rather than lucky people, I see determined people who had done all they could have done to promote their stories. If you aren’t willing to dedicate yourself to pushing your newly published book forwards, you will never become a “lucky author”.
MYTH #2 – You are special because you are an author
You wrote your book. Congratulations! It’s a huge step on your author journey. However, in eyes of publishers it doesn’t make you special at all. There are millions of people like you. On Amazon, a book gets published every 5 minutes. This is 288 books a day… 105 120 books a year. And this is only Amazon! What about Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, iTunes and other publishing houses? For you, your book is the most special thing in the world, but if you don’t fight to help it float on the sea of books, it will drown in the last pages of online catalogues.
When you publish your first book, you are entering the Colosseum. And in the Colosseum, there is a battle for life and death. There is an incredible rivalry between authors, even in the smallest niches. This is why there are so many books and so many ambitious authors behind them. Everyone wants to make it to the bestseller list, not just you. Be humble and don’t expect too much.
MYTH #3 – Authors just “get discovered”.
New authors don’t get discovered. I know that to you your book feels like the center of the world, but apart from you, nobody cares. Nobody knows who you are and why they should be reading your book (and not someone else’s). People are like monkeys, they like what’s popular already, and if you are not popular enough, nobody is going to pick your book and proclaim you as the new bestselling author.
Usually, authors who “get discovered” have been working for years for their success – by constantly publishing new works, gathering the target audience on mailing lists and social media, doing long term marketing campaigns and always seeking out opportunities to promote their work. What we see as “getting discovered” or “becoming popular overnight” is actually the result of continous effort.
MYTH #4 – The publishing house will take care of everything.
It’s difficult to get a contract with a traditional publishing houses, and small publishers are usually vanity presses whose main source of earnings aren’t the sales, but the authors’ money. Publishers will prepare your book for publishing and distribute it, however, after that, their job is finished. They won’t be actively promoting you – as they have to publish other books. I know that you think that you are a special snowflake and that they will dwell on your book for I don’t know how long, but that won’t happen.
If you want your book to become a success, you must put your own effort into gathering target audience, seeking reviewers, marketing campaigns etc.
MYTH #5 – Writing a great book is enough.
From what I have observed on my writing journey, writing a good book that fits the genre is important. However, it is not enough. Like I have already told you, nobody will discover you. There are hundreds or even thousands of books published every single day. In order for a book to really make it out there, a chain of steps must be done. People must be exposed to your book, they must learn what the book is about and why it’s worthy of writing. This is why author marketing is crucial – regardless of whether you are an indie author or you are publishing traditionally.
MYTH #6 – Your book will sell without any marketing efforts.
This is just not going to happen. See below, why.
MYTH #7 – Book will be marketed by word of mouth.
Your friends, family, teachers and neighbours won’t talk about your book to other people. Why? Because they have other things going on in their lives. They may buy your book in order to support you, but they probably won’t read it (until the end). They aren’t your target audience after all. Also, they probably won’t know that you are secretly hoping that they will talk to everyone around about your book. Another reason why “word of mouth” just doesn’t work is, even if everyone around you passes the information to a group of other people, those people probably won’t pass on the news about your book… Because it might be not in their favorite genre either.
Word of mouth works when you have published a great book in your target niche and promoted it to the target audience. The target audience is likely to retweet your posts and promote your book to target readers. However, building the connection to the target audience takes time. It took me 15 months to gather an audience of 10 000 followers on Twitter. If you haven’t started yet, do it now.
MYTH #8 – Target readers will find you on their own.
In 2015, I published “Mermaid Princess Amelia and The Lost Symphony”. I was sure that fans of mermaid books would find my book on their own and read it. Of course, it never happened. And it won’t happen in case of your book either, if you just publish it and then “forget about it”.
Target readers will find authors who actively promote themselves on online book stores, on reader groups and on social media.
MYTH #9 – You will get 5 stars only because you published.
You did your best. I know, I know. Do you think I didn’t? I read and reread and correct my first book over and over again. But I still got 1/5 stars. This is going to happen. I know that you’d like to get 5 stars instantly, but if you are only entering the book market with your new book, you don’t know the expectations of your target readers yet. You can only learn those expectations from someone who is an expert in the genre (it can be another author or an avid reader). Or, you can learn them on your own, by trial and error (which I don’t recommend). If your book doesn’t meet readers’ expectations, don’t despair. Your book is a success because you published. It’s really hard to get 5 star reviews on your first book – for real! Also because at this time you don’t have any loyal fans yet. It takes time to build a loyal fanbase. But in order to do so, you must publish – as much as you can in a short time.
MYTH #10 – Your first book will sell amazingly and you will earn great royalties.
If you are just starting out, and:
- don’t have an audience (hint: your family, friends, teachers and neighbours don’t count as audience)
- don’t know how to do book marketing
your book probably won’t sell well. It’s normal to sell zero copies a day. I’ll tell you more: when I ceased to market the Polish version of “Mermaid Princess Amelia…” I haven’t sold a single book during the whole year.
So… Where do we go from here?
First of all, take a deep breath. I know that it might seem now that selling a book is something that’s nearly impossible to do, but this is just not true. There are many authors out there who write for living. The difference between them and the rest is that those authors who write for living are great sellers. They have knowledge of marketing and they treat their books as product. I discussed some book marketing strategies here on Always Inspired Writing already, and I will surelly write more on the topic in the future, as I become more experienced. Keep in mind that there is a way, even though you don’t know it yet.
I hope this helps.