I work with a lot of writers, and by far the most frustrated, disappointed, and confused writers I work with aren't the ones chasing after the publication of their first book, trying to figure out how to publish a book for the first time.
It's the ones who have already published their first book.
How do you publish your book and sell your first 1,000 copies?
The Frustrated Writer's Journey
Here's what happens:
Step 1: Slave Over the Blank Page. You spend thousands of hours over several years writing your masterpiece. It becomes your baby, a creation birthed from nothing.
You can't wait to see it in print. You can't imagine how it could not become a bestseller.
Step 2: Submit. You finally finish your book. You google “how to publish a book” and send your manuscript to agents and publishers. Their websites say you might have to wait three months to hear back, but you can't imagine it will take them more than two weeks to realize your book needs to be published immediately.
Step 3: Receive Rejection Letters. Two weeks go by, then a month, then three months. Four months later, you finally email the publishers. You receive a form rejection letter in reply: “…this book doesn't match our current needs…”
Step 4: Self-Publish. You're disappointed, sure, but this isn't 1992. You have other options. You decide to self-publish, and find a company online who will edit, design, print, and market your book for only $4,997. You swallow hard before writing the check, but you're sure you'll recoup your investment in no time.
Step 5: You Read Your Name In Print, Finally! Your book is published. It's live on Amazon. It's up on Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Library Thing, and everything in between. You're even getting a few reviews from blogs and on Amazon. You can't wait to get your first royalty check. Show me the money!
Step 6: Crickets. But then the sales don't come. You send increasingly desperate emails to your friends and family: “Have you bought my book yet? Are you telling people about my book? You do know I just wrote a book, right?” You sign up for Twitter to promote your book, but you only have seven followers. Your friends and family stop responding to emails. You receive your first royalty check. It's $58.13.
You have just caught frustrated author syndrome. What the heck happened?
5 Steps to Avoid Frustrated Author Syndrome
You probably don't think this could happen to you, but I've talked with enough first time authors suffering from frustrated author syndrome that I know this story is closer to the rule than the exception.
It doesn't have to be like this. But to avoid this experience and discover how to publish a book successfully, it's not enough to just do more — more promotion, spend more money.
You have to completely change your approach to publishing.
Below are five things you can do to avoid frustrated author syndrome. These are the principles we practice in the Write to Publish course, principles that will help you build a solid foundation for publishing and spread your stories far and wide.
1. Publish Early and Often
I know you want to write books, but while you're working on your first book, you can publish other forms to build your audience.
I always recommend that people recycle chapters from failed novels and works in progress into short stories. You can also create a blog and share excerpts from your work in progress. Post stories as notes on Facebook. Compose 280 character stories on Twitter.
These “small shares” won't make you famous, but they will help you start to create a core group of fans you can leverage later on.
2. Build Your Cartel
A Cartel is defined as an agreement amongst competitors. You can choose to treat other writers as competitors for the attention spans of busy readers, or you can choose to treat them as potential allies. In other words, as your team.
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien had the Inklings. Virginia Woolf had the Bloomsbury Group. Jack Kerouac had the Beats. Hemingway had the Lost Generation. Most of the writers we consider masters had a Cartel. Before you publish your first book, you need to start building yours.
3. Write a Better Story
Marketing is important, but the best marketing you can do is to make your story as good as it possible could be. In my work as an editor and book reviewer, I've noticed five major mistakes authors make in their creative writing. Here are the solutions:
- Your Protagonist Must Choose. A protagonist who doesn't make important choices that determine his or her fate isn't a protagonist at all. He or she is a background character.
- These Choices Must Be Hard. The most important decisions we make, such as who to marry, whether to change careers, when to have children, are difficult, and we rarely make them in a moment's notice. Your protagonist shouldn't either.
- Cut Superfluous Characters. Stephen Koch says, “The warning sign of a story that is growing disorganized is likely to be too many characters.” It's difficult to cut characters or merge two together — these are your creations, your friends, after all — but it will tighten your story and add drama.
- Set the Scene. Readers shouldn't be confused about where or when your scenes are taking place. Unless it's already clear, make sure you describe the setting and time at the start of every scene.
- Three Drafts. Most professional writers write in three drafts. The first is for figuring out what your story is about, the second, for major structural changes, and the third is for polishing. One draft is rarely enough.
4. Writers Read
Reading is a vital tool to improve your writing. As Stephen King said, “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write.”
It's also a great way to network and build your Cartel. As you gear up to publish your book, read other books within your genre, and consider reaching out to the authors for advice and help.
5. Generosity Sells Books
The key to selling books is word of mouth. How do you build word of mouth?
Your friends, family, and core readers should never have to buy a book. Give them as many copies as they want. Ask them to read it, and if they enjoy it, to share it with their friends. My friend Mike Worley works with publishers to market books, and he told me he can predict sales three months later by the number of copies he gives away today.
Plus, generosity feels good. Build your fan base and your joy as a writer by giving away books.
The Antidote to Frustrated Author Syndrome
Frustrated authors expect readers to flock to their writing as soon as it's published. Successful authors realize they can't do it alone. They share their writing generously, early, and often, and they build connections with other writers and readers who will be excited to share.
The best part of all these principles is that they work regardless of whether your books are self-published or traditionally published. No matter how you choose to publish your books, you can magnify your reach (and sell more books!) using the steps above.
So go and share your writing. Share early, share often, and share generously.
The process will never be easy. But it will definitely be worth it.
Which of these steps have you already mastered? What steps do you struggle with? Let us know in the comments.
For today's practice, you're going to start and finish writing a story you can share right now. Take fifteen minutes to write a story in 280 characters.
When you're done, share your story in the comments below. Be sure to read your fellow writers' stories and leave feedback.
And for an extra bonus, head over to Twitter or Facebook and share your short short story with your followers, too!