8 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Self-Publishing My First Book

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Photo: Viktoriia Hnatiuk / Shutterstock

Ever since I was a young writer, my ultimate dream was to write and publish my first book. I had visions of sitting in my beach house overlooking the ocean and pondering the waves with my laptop in front of me, with a creative mind full of ideas just waiting to be written. 

Fast forward to 2013, and this dream became a reality. Well, part of it at least. I published my first book! I put that baby out into the world, told all my family and friends, and then sat back and waited for the royalty checks to roll in. 

And waited. And waited. 

Which brings me to the first thing I wish I’d known before I published my first book: 

You will most likely not get rich off your first book, especially one you self-published. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are outliers in every situation. There are people making a killing off their self-published books. And because they don’t have a bunch of middle men lining their pockets with the author’s hard earned cash, their royalty checks go a lot further toward making a living off of writing. 

But the majority of us? It’s a long, hard road toward success, and many never see it. If you’re in this for the money, my suggestion to you is to quit now and find a much easier way to make a living. 

Here are 7 other things I wish I’d known: 

Get yourself some beta readers

Did you know there are readers out there who are clamoring to be first readers, and are willing to give you feedback on your book before it’s published? You can pay professional beta readers, or you can find beta readers for free among your social media reading groups. At the very least, talk to family and friends (though, be warned, their input might be biased depending on how they feel about you). Then, once you have your beta readers lined up, don’t just hand them your novel and wait for their input. Your best bet is to provide them with a direction by asking them questions. Precious at the PO Box Blog offered these 10 questions to ask beta readers, to get you started.  

A good cover will cost you money

Unless you are skilled in graphic design, particularly for books, do not create your own cover. Seriously. Your cover could make or break the success of your book. It’s what will get people to click over and learn more about your book, or it could get lost in the weeds of millions of other books. There are plenty of shortcuts you can take with self-publishing – don’t let your cover be one of them. If you aren’t sure where to find a great book cover designer, social media is a good place to start. Find out what cover designers your favorite authors are following, then go from there. A good cover can cost as little as $250 up to a lot more. Find the one that you love that fits in your budget. Speaking of things you should pay for…

Hire an editor

One of the reasons self-publishing gets a bad rap is because there are authors who believe it’s okay to skip this step. If you are self-publishing, take your business seriously by producing the best product you can. This includes polishing your story with the help of a good editor. Now that I’ve been writing for a while, I have an editor I work with exclusively. But in the past, I’ve found my editors through my local writing group or through social media groups of writers. Many writers even supplement their writing through editing jobs. 

P.S. I not only write books, but I edit and format them, too. If you’re looking for an editor or an interior book designer, feel free to contact me.

Set up a street team

The biggest mistake new authors make is to think readers will come to them. Not true. Currently, there are well over 6 million Kindle books on Amazon, and an estimated 7,500 new books are published each day. That’s a lot of books. Now think of you, a little known author, releasing your first book. What will make readers choose your book over every other book on Amazon? There are countless ways to market your book, but one of the easiest and most effective is to start with a street team. This is a group of readers who gets to read your book before everyone else, leave reviews on book sites, and then push it out to their followers on social media. Other options are to join author groups, and then ask if you can share your book in their groups or do a newsletter swap. Here’s a few more ideas on how to find members for your street team, and how to best use them.

You will read other authors’ books differently

Before I wrote novels, I churned through books like I was eating candy. Consume, consume, consume. Now, though? I read books to learn how authors do it. How do they convey emotions without just saying “I’m sad”? How do they avoid using too many dialogue tags? What roles do their side characters play? And so on. Once you start writing novels, the way you read them will change forever. However, this is all a part of writing. Which brings me to my next point…

It’s okay to read while writing a book

I’ve seen so many writers claim they can’t read anything while they’re writing a novel. The excuses include everything from fears of copying the story to distraction from the novel they’re writing. I call bull. If you’re a writer, reading is part of your job. See the above point. And if that doesn’t convince you, listen to this well known author: 

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” 

― Stephen King

Finally, enjoy the journey, not just the destination

9 years and 11 books into this self-publishing journey, and I’m still learning new tips and secrets about my self-publishing business. The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn, though, is how to not lose sight of what I’m passionate about – the writing. Yes, I want my books to do well. I’d love to sell a million copies, or at least enough to quit my day job. But as soon as I lose sight of why I started doing this in the first place, I also lose my momentum. 

If you’re writing books, it’s likely because you love writing. Don’t forget that. There will be times when you’ll feel like the success of your book is out of your hands, or feel overwhelmed by every single thing you need to do to market your book. But, you still get to write your book. Not have to. You get to. 

And if you get to write books, you are already living your dream. 

P.S. This published first on Medium. You can read it here.

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