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What happens when I'm published?

I started blogging because there was a dearth of honest answers out there about the writing process. Not the i's and t's and grammar - there are many specialists out there much better at that aspect that me. No, what I wanted to share was the ups and downs of becoming a published author, the frustrations and the successes and, if I found out anything useful, the tips.

I'm 9 months down the line from my first book being published by an indie press. Since then, I've self published a separate title. In the last two months, both my books have drifted around the top 100 of the their categories. (It comes and goes.)

- And, what do you know, as I've been typing this, I've gone and hit number one in two Amazon categories. I'm a double Amazon bestseller for both my titles! -

As ever, this blog is my own experience - another's journey will be different. But this is what I've found out in those nine months, and what I'm carrying forward into 2016, when I'll have two books published, and 2017 when there'll be at least one (but I hope for 2.)

1. You release the book. Yippee!

Your friends and family are delighted. Some of them will read the book (a humbling amount of mine did.) They'll come along to launches and, if you're very lucky, to your smaller events when the first buzz has worn off and the shop's terrifyingly empty around you - and, believe me, that's when you want a friendly face to chat for half an hour and make others in the shop wonder what the craic is at your little signing table.

As well as that - you're on Amazon! You have an author's page! You'll set up a Goodreads page if you've any sense.

For the first day or two, this will be good. People who you know online might buy the book (and, again, a humbling amount did.) If you've been around the writing community for a while, some people will tweet about it and facebook and what not. You might even drum up a decent review. (For my first book, I didn't get any reviews in place pre-release, but one reader put one up stunningly fast, which was great. For my second, I did manage to have a couple of reviews hitting straight away by issuing un-proofed ARCs.)

2. Then you realise what you're up against. 

Your book starts to drop from its just-released Amazon rankings. You might buy one yourself, just to keep it up there another day or two (to be honest, I bought both mine close to release because I wanted them on my kindle to show people and because I wanted to check the formatting, being more than a little paranoid about all this e-lec-ky reading kerfuffle.)

In sci fi there are something like 120,000 books on Amazon. I am one - well, two - of those books. Sure, if you know me, you can find the book. But despite my best attempts at networking with anyone that moves, most people who shop at Amazon don't know me.

When a new writer's book comes out - especially from a small press, or self-published - no one has heard of it. Not Amazon, not the readers. It can be the best book in the world and it will still start life the same as any others, buried in the Amazon algorithms. It's a hellish day when you realise that the book you slaved over, that's getting great reviews, can't be found.

3. So, okay, what about retail?

But Amazon aren't the only game in town, I hear you cry! Get the local bookshop to take some copies.

Here, I was lucky. My local book chain, Easons, took it and supported me, and gave good terms (and huge thanks to them). The local national-chain (not Easons) store ran a launch for me. Friends and family came and they bought the book to support me. Here, I'm going to shock them. I got 16p per copy sold. So did my publisher. The rest of the £8.99 cover price went on producing the book or paying the bookstore - who got £4.49 of the cover price.

Ouch, I hear you say.

Now, I'm glad I did that event - it was a great night, but 16p hurts.

Retail is great - if you can get the right margin and terms. But those aren't what's offered on one-off author events. Around this time, you come to the depressing realisation (especially for me with a life of bookstore working and a love for bricks and mortar behind me) that the big online bookstore you're buried amidst 120,000 titles - in your genre only - is the most important game in town. Which means you need to get up those rankings. How?

4. Get people buying it.

Sorry. I don't have the great secret to Amazon algorithms. I don't have a number for you to phone and demand your book is promoted by them. I don't have any answers except that, if you want your book to be noticed, people need to buy it - which means they need to find it.

How? That's the bit where there are two elements in play - graft and luck.

Luck, you can do nothing about. The celeb who decides your book is the thing that changed their life. The sudden moment when a huge blogger has nothing better to do that write about your book. Whatever spades you get, you take. (In my case, I got accepted on the leading book promo site. But that was only partly luck, because to get accepted I had to graft.)

Graft - that's up to you. Here's the harsh truth. No one's going to sell your book for you. Sure, my publisher pushes and shouts out for me, and is hugely supportive. But I'm the one building this career. I'm the one who needs this to work out more than anyone else. So, it's up to me to graft.

5. Graft. Graft. And then graft again. 

If there is one thing I can do, it's graft. I'll work anyone into the ground, if I'm motivated enough. And by heck I was motivated.

I blogged. I guest blogged. I did interviews. I wrote forum posts. I did guest posts everywhere. I begged a panel place at a convention. If anyone asked if I would write a post on...? I said yes. And then asked if I could do another.

I facebooked, tweeted, retweeted, joined groups. I asked reviewers if they'd look at the book - some kindly did. I was, literally, on social media all night long, every night (apart from Sundays when my mother, who has some sense, told me to get off it and talk to her). In front of the telly, between meetings, on the train, I was working.

I'm sure everyone was sick of me. Hopefully not so much anymore - no one can maintain that level for too long. And, you know, I have a life and a family who I'm kind of fond of...

I also tried to give back to those supporting me. I retweeted, I promoted, I read what I could (I'm still pretty snowed under on that front.) I didn't want to take all the time, and not give back.

Somehow, I crawled my way to enough noticeability to sell some books and get some reviews - and they were good (except the 2 star one, who got bored. But, hey, that just ticked the terrible-review-survived box.)

6. Promotion sites

I blogged about this previously (how I woke up and found myself an Amazon bestseller) so I won't bore about it, but they worked for me. Or, specifically, Bookbub worked for me. But to get there I had to get through step 5 and get enough to support my application.

So, there you go. What to expect. A rollercoaster of ups and downs, dead ends and opportunities. It's not for the faint-hearted. But it's been the most fulfilling thing I've ever done.


Mark in Japan said…
You're an inspiration, Jo. All the very best for the launches this year and next.
Joanne Zebedee said…
Thanks, Mark. A double thanks since you were one of the people who came to a lonely bookseller event where I was glad of someone to talk to!
Anonymous said…
All sound points and ones that I can relate to!
Sounds about right, Joanne. The more books you have, the more chances people have to discover you. Kevin J. Anderson calls this his "popcorn theory of success". One kernel (or book) in the oil may or may not pop. Ten kernels and you have a much better chance. Keep writing, and I enjoyed your post.

Joanne Zebedee said…
That sounds like a good theory - popcorn! I might steal that.

Thanks all. I'm glad it's useful.
Pam Kelley said…
Wow, this is scary. Big breath. Keep. Moving. Forward. Thanks for writing about this
Joanne Zebedee said…
It does look scary, doesn't it? But it's also worth it. :)