Five Lessons Learned Publishing My Latest Novel
With most of the pre-publishing work now behind me for Extra Credit: Loyalty!, I can put some thought into the lessons I've learned (or had reinforced) along the way. The first draft of the story dates back to November of 2012, and it's been a slow and often-delayed journey getting it to the point where I can finally release it. Rather than worry about all the things that writers typically worry about when their books head out the door to the general public, I'll distract myself with some analysis. For now. I'm sure the worry will come in later! Read on if you'd like to learn from my most-recent publishing venture.
Here are some lessons learned/reinforced, not in any particular order:
Do not set up a book for pre-orders before it is ready.
I thought the book was "mostly ready" and so I went ahead and set it up early in the month to be released late in the month. It looked like there was plenty of time for only some minor polishing. The weekend before the final draft was due to be submitted on KDP, I found some significant flaws in the story. I had not planned to allocate a lot of time during that weekend to working on the book, but I'm really glad I started early, because there were times I was not sure I'd be done in time. So, if you're going to set up pre-orders, do it after you think the book is really done. Then any last-minute polishing will be optional rather than critical.
Do use Markdown for writing the book.
This wasn't a new lesson, but it was nicely reinforced. How much time have I spent cleaning up books written by other people who used Word, to make the books actually look right in an e-reading environment? Many hours. How much time did I spend on that with my novel? None, but the computer spent about 30 seconds converting the one Markdown source file into the two files for the print and e-book editions. I was able to focus entirely on style issues, with not one second wasted on fixing technical problems. If you're a writer starting a new project, get off to a good start and use Markdown.
Do not expect miracles.
That's not a very upbeat lesson, is it? But it's true: Just because you're excited about finally getting your book out does not mean that things are going to start working out better than normal. Publishing a book can certainly help you build more positive things into your life, but it's a process, not a miracle. A couple areas where I let myself be too hopeful this time around included my attempt at a Thunderclap to get a bunch of no-cost exposure when the book is released and my attempt to use Toggl to make me more time-aware and thus more efficient. Realistically, my social reach online is probably too limited to reach the minimum of 100 supporters of my Thunderclap, and I can only benefit from Toggl making me time-aware when I'm Toggl-aware enough to start the timer.
Do stay organized in all areas of the publishing process.
I'll tell you up front, I love Evernote. It's like a hard drive upgrade for my brain. I don't use all of its features, and I haven't used it much for writing books (e.g., research, organizing notes, etc.), but it came in handy as I was working on the publishing process. I can also see areas that I didn't "Evernote-ize" and should have, such as marketing. Next time, I will probably create a "notebook stack" for the book, containing notebooks for each major area (marketing, design, publishing process, etc.), containing notes with granular information.
Whether you use Evernote, or another service or tool, or just 3x5 note cards, find a system that works for you and commit all of your plans to it. It's no fun to forget something until just after it would have been useful. For those in high-distraction environments, this is even more important.
Do not expect free marketing to match paid marketing.
When you're a low-/no-budget indie, looking for free marketing starts to become a habit. While there are no-cost and low-cost things that you can do that will help with your marketing effort—the book Guerrilla Marketing for Writers is focused on them—you should have realistic expectations.
It still makes sense to try free things if you have no marketing budget. It's better than doing nothing! But a Thunderclap, or free banner ads on Project Wonderful, or a free listing on a book-announcement service like Buck Books or Betty Book FREAK, or other free tools should not be expected to give you the same kind of marketing impact as paid marketing channels. I've been running free ads on Project Wonderful for months, with a fair amount of clicks, and I don't think I've sold a single book as a result of those ads; on the other hand, I'm pretty sure I've gained new mailing list subscribers via Project Wonderful ads.
I suppose another "lesson" is to not expect much sleep, especially if you have a job in addition to writing! Anyway, the four points above are all things that I can take away from this process and hopefully make the next one even better.
Photo credit: jdurham via morgueFile.com