Deuces. Last Wednesday (November 11) marked two years since I self-published my first book, Out of Exile. Looking back, it’s amusing how little I understood about this business back when I dove in head first. I’m still not close to making a living (or even an part-time living) yet, but I’m still encouraged by how far I’ve come. While there’s been plenty of frustration to go with the celebration, I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had and the relationships I’ve built chasing this passion for anything in the world.
In that spirit, here’s a sampling of the lessons I’ve learned over the past two years. Some might be obvious for the rest of you, but hopefully you’ll be able to find a few takeaways that help you on your own journey.
Lesson #1: Forget about overnight success.
When I hit the publish button on Out of Exile and saw it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I literally expected to be making a couple hundred bucks a month off my books, without doing anything but watch my bank account get fat. Overnight success does exist, but you’ve probably got better chances of being eaten by a grizzly bear than finding it. Stop daydreaming about catching that big break and get to work. You can’t count on catching lightning in a bottle, but you can make it easier to find you.
Lesson #2: Be patient and always keep improving.
It’s easy to get frustrated when other authors around you find success and you’re still struggling at the back of the pack. Instead of letting comparisonitis plague you, focus on the things in your control. The only person you’re trying to beat is the author you see in the mirror each day. Make each book better than your last, build connections with your readers and figure out what types of marketing strategies work for you.
Lesson #3: You can’t do it all yourself (plus you don’t need to).
You can’t publish an awesome book without help from others. And you shouldn’t attempt to. Authors can’t edit their own work and my guess would be 99.9% of them aren’t qualified to design their own covers, either. Building up a team around you helps you make your book look and read as legit as possible. These teammates will likely be some of your biggest supporters as well.
On the flip side of this, if you try every outlining, revising and marketing strategy out there, you’ll probably go bonkers. Don’t be overwhelmed and spread yourself too thin trying to make Wattpad, social media, blogging, voodoo rituals, etc. all happen at the same time. Rather than failing at everything, try picking out a few new things that appeal to you and focus on testing them.
Lesson #4: Don’t be a tight wad.
Hiring professionals to do professional things costs money. Don’t cheat a manuscript by skimping on a quality editor and slapping a cheap cover on it. In the long run, you’ll be costing yourself, money, not saving it. It takes money to make money. If you’re treating your writing like a business, you need to invest. But at the same time…
Lesson #5: Be smart about where you put your money.
There are hundreds and hundreds of people out there looking to make a quick buck off of unsuspecting indie authors. While you need to invest money in your writing career (see above), make sure you do your homework before writing out the check. Don’t fall for gimmicks and empty promises. Remember, the people who struck it rich during the gold rush were the ones selling picks.
Lesson #6: Celebrate the small victories.
This quote from Neil Gaiman says it all: “Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.” Testify! If you hit your word count for the day, give yourself a pat on the back. Everything else is a bonus. Enjoy the mile marks you pass along the journey — they can be just as rewarding as the destination.
Lesson #7: Small and simple things lead to big results.
All those small victories we just talked about add up. One day, you’re going to look back and realize you’ve wrote a whole crapload of books. Careers are made out of doing the little things repeatedly. Book are written one word at a time and a living made one sale at a time.
Lesson #8: Avoid burnout.
Being an indie author is hard. Not so much physically, but it can be a humongous mental drain. You write day in an day out, sometimes with nothing but a bunch of (what you probably think are sub-par) words and strange looks from your relatives to show for it. Know when you need a day (or even a week or more) off. That being said, there’s a fine line between slacking and overdoing it. No one else but you knows where that is.
Lesson #9: You’re not alone.
Here at the Everyday Author and all across the big wide land of internets, there are authors just like us on the same journey. We’ve either gone through it or are still going through whatever you’re currently struggling with. One of the best things you can do is make other writer friends online and support one another. Only you can write your words, but that doesn’t mean you have to always be in solitary confinement.
Lesson #10: There is life beyond your writing desk.
Even though most of us probably don’t have the luxury of allowing our writing to overtake our lives, we should still be aware neglecting other responsibilities in the pursuit of this dream. Don’t let all your free time become consumed with writing. You have loved ones who want to spend time with you. Get out sometimes, fellow writer-hermits. There’s a big wide world you’re missing out on. Take a walk, do some pushups, LIVE A LITTLE!
I’m playing the long game and, with any luck, I’ll be able to write a ten, twenty and fifty year post just like this someday. But until then, I’ll keep on writing. Deuces.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far in your author career? Share with us in the comments.
Derek Alan Siddoway ( D_Sidd) always thought he wanted to be a paperback writer. Instead, he broke into the self-publishing world in 2013 when he realized there had to be a better use of his time than writing queries to agents. Converted by the fellowship of indie authors, he never looked back. Now, he’s the Founding Father of Undaunted Publishing, a hybrid publishing house combining the best of traditional and self publishing, and the author of Teutevar Saga, an epic/historical fantasy series with a “medieval western” twist. Learn more at derekalansiddoway.com.