Six things I’ve learned from publishing a book

It’s six weeks since I woke up a published author. SIX weeks! I can barely believe it, still – and yet I don’t rightly remember what it was like before I painted my nails to match my book cover (oft-commented on during signings, although looking a little off-season as winter looms) or wondered if anyone would even buy the book never mind like it (they have – mostly!). I can honestly say it’s been a blast, and also incredibly hard work. I’m not sure any of it has really sunk in properly but I’m hoping by sitting down with a cuppa and writing it all down, it might.

Truth is, I’ve been thinking about this post for a while and wondering what to write that hasn’t already been said a million times before by every slightly deer-caught-in-headlights debut author. I’m not sure I’ve come up with much that’s new, but as it’s my six-week anniversary, here’s six things I’ve learned – or am still learning – about being a published author:

  1. Getting your book noticed is hard. Unless you happen to strike it really lucky or know someone who can get you on the cover of the Sunday Times Magazine, after any initial buzz around launch, you’ll realise that your circle of influence really is very small. Being surrounded by supportive, like minded people on social media is great, and makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something, but it doesn’t necessarily convert to sales. Writers support other writers, and they share and like your stuff on social media – but they don’t necessarily buy your book. Some do – but a lot don’t. And they follow/are followed by a lot of other writers. The snake eating its own tail, so to speak. The group of people you really want to get noticed by – readers – are a lot harder to engage, and I think it’s important to recognise that you will probably need to be a little more inventive than relying on your Twitter following to get the word out. Interestingly, though, Insta has been the relative social media front runner for me in terms of new follows and likes/shares. I was quite surprised by this and am trying to keep up momentum, although I do find it more time consuming to generate content than, say, tweeting.
  2. Reviews are important. One obvious way of getting noticed is to get good reviews. At first I thought reviews were about my ego but actually it’s nothing to do with that and everything to do with ALGORITHMS. I was on a blog tour which was great (thank you to ALL the bloggers – amazing people!) – I almost certainly sold books because of this, and combined with being part of the September Kindle Book Deal, it was a very positive first month. On Amazon I was in the top 20 for my genre (Women’s Action and Adventure) for the entire four weeks and I even got to number 1 in Audiobooks for a day! But now the blog tour is over and it’s not September anymore, I’m reliant on algorithms. The more reviews I get, the more the algorithms will love me and plonk me in someone’s ‘If you like this, you’ll love this’ suggestions box. I’ve spent a lot of time asking the people who bought my book to review my book – because it’s actually their recommendation which will make the difference, not the fact they bought the book in the first place. So if you’re reading this and haven’t left a review yet, please do!
  3. Bookshops are brilliant places. Well obviously they are. But I hadn’t truly appreciated the support they could offer, when they are really behind a product and its author. A book signing might seem like a bit of an ego trip, but actually, you have to remember that for everyone involved, it’s also good business. If you can create buzz for the bookshop, they will create it for you. I’ve met some amazing people the past month who have really made the experience magical – both independent bookshops and Waterstones. These people love books and they know their audiences and if you can just get up the courage to walk in and talk to them and sell yourself and your book, for the most part, you’ll find they are willing to listen. Ditto bookshop customers. Talk to them! They are wary at first – the look in their eye says ‘you’re trying to sell me something, so I’ll actively avoid you’ but then they remember you are trying to sell them a book and they are in a bookshop, so it’s actually okay to stop and chat. Sometimes they buy, sometimes they don’t. There’s no point in taking it personally – if it’s not their thing, it’s not their thing – but whatever the result, it is helpful to talk about your work in any capacity – and it’s also lots of fun getting to know readers at a grass roots level.
  4. Publicising your book can be a full time job. If you aren’t careful, all this ‘getting noticed’ can consume you. Between visiting bookshops, being active on social media and writing guest blogs, articles and so on, I’ve barely had time for anything else in my life this past month. I don’t know how you would do it if you had another full time job. I suppose you wouldn’t – or you’d be much better organised than me. The hard work did pay off – I have at least one event booked for every week from now until December, and so I feel like I can relax a bit now, and start again after Christmas to build momentum back up for spring/summer. How this reflects in my book sales I have no idea… and won’t for another few months yet. If indeed, I can ever measure the effectiveness of the things I’ve been doing vs. organic sales. I’m not sure how I ever would, to be honest. Blind faith it is, then…
  5. Find time to write again. Gosh, the second book is hard. Your brain is so busy congratulating itself on the first one (as it rightly should – it’s an amazing achievement!) that it tends to forget what got you there in the first place. Actual writing. I’ve realised/been told repeatedly that the best way to sell Tinker, Tailor, Schoolmum, Spy would be to get a second book published. But in order to do that I have to sit down and write again, with the same commitment and energy as I did for the first one. It’s taken me a long time to get to that point; I’ll admit at one point last year during the lockdown/homeschooling horror I wondered if I’d ever be able to do it again. But getting back in the habit of writing is half the battle, and now the first book is out there, I feel I have the time to devote to creating something again, the courage to put words down and the confidence that they are going to work out just as well as the last lot did.
  6. Finally… Have a launch party. Big and brash or small and intimate, do celebrate and make some memories with the people who love you. You just published a book!!!