Things I learned on My Publishing Journey: What I wish I knew before I started

In celebration of my paperback and audiobook launch of For Love, and for Cruelty, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you what I learned along the way. As you may know, this was my first published book, so there was a steep learning curve! I hope this will spare you some of the struggles I went through and had to learn from the hard way.

1. It’s a lot of work.

Sometimes, we have this belief that publishing a book means writing, maybe some editing, then submitting the manuscript and it’s out of our hands, the rest left to our potential publisher to handle. Wrong! Oh so wrong. Unless you’re lucky enough to get published by a big five publishing house (and I write poetry, so that’s a big nope for me), submitting your manuscript is only the beginning of a long journey of working your tail off. You’ll need to do loads of marketing research and self-promotion work. You’ll have to decide who you want to do your cover design, and how much you can afford to spend for that. The list goes on and on.

2. Small press is not much different from self-publishing.

I decided to go the traditional publishing route for my book. Since at 44 pages it’s a chapbook, that limited who I submitted to--big publishers generally don’t take on poetry, nor do they take on chapbooks--so I went the small press route. What I learned was that, while I had a point of contact to ask a few questions and do the bare bones distribution, getting an ISBN, sending files to the printers, and final pagination work, the rest was up to me. That’s fine, and I knew when I signed my contract that my publisher put an emphasis on the author doing their own marketing work. But before that contract, I didn’t realize that I would be navigating so much on my own for the very first time. Besides the differences I listed above, the process is pretty much the same as self-publishing.

3. It’s not as easy as you’d think to get your book in the library.

This is one that I feel naive for not knowing, but hey, you don’t know something until you know it! I honestly thought you could just donate a book to the library and they’d put it into circulation. Wrong! In fact, when you donate a book, the library usually has a book sale to fundraise they’ll sell that book in. If it doesn’t sell? It gets tossed! To get into the library, patrons need to request your book, or you need to get some big name reviewers to review your book (think Booklist, Publisher's Weekly, etc). The easiest route is obviously to get people you know to request the book in their libraries.

4. Promotion work is never done.

So you’ve worked like crazy to self-promote, come up with cool marketing ideas, and launch your book. Then you can finally relax, right? Nope! Once your book is launched, it’s essential to keep pushing it and trying to get as many eyes on it as possible. Reviewers, guest blogging, podcasts, local events, local bookstores and big bookstores, readings and open mics, book signings; the list of self-promotion avenues goes on and on. You have to keep promoting after your book launches. The early post-launch period is just as important in the pre-launch period, because this is when people can actually read, buy, recommend, and talk about your book! Play your cards right, and you can generate a long-tail of attention/buyers for your book. Burn out and give up right at launch, and your book will fizzle out fast.

5. Cover design is more complicated than it seems.

This is another one I facepalm for believing. Why would I ever have thought the cover design would be quick and easy?! Things you should know: the dimensions of your cover, and the fact that your color scheme has to be in CMYK to print the same way it looks on your screen. Stock images, should you choose that route, are expensive because you are using them for an item you are selling (the licensing skyrockets for stock images when you’re using them on something sold). You’ll have to decide if you want to hire a cover artist, and if you can, it’s always a good idea. The cover is everything to the buyer in the bookstore, but also the book buyer who works at the bookstore. If you have an attractive cover, your book has a much higher chance of people considering it. And with so many books coming out constantly and only having a limited amount of time to read them, you want to do everything you can to make your book stand out! If you are low on funds and need to diy the cover, keep it simple. Unless you are skilled with graphic design, the more complex you try to make it, the more amateur it will probably look.

For Love, and for Cruelty
The cover! It only took two months and 500 back-and-forth emails...

6. You can go broke publishing your book.

Yeah, this was a big old yikes when I found this one out. There are a lot of things that will help your marketing but cost money. We’ve already talked about a cover artist. Advertisements like Facebook ads or boosted Instagram/Twitter posts cost a pretty penny. Promotional materials like flyers or bookmarks will cost you. Your website’s domain name and website hosting aren’t cheap. Authors events often charge a booking fee (my local bookshop charges $150). Even putting your book on the shelves of a brick and mortar bookstore will cost you money. If you don’t have a big budget (and if you’re like me, you don’t), you have to be strategic about how you’re spending, and how much you’ll allow yourself to spend. Otherwise, you can be upside down quick.

7. Some of the people you’d assume will buy your book (family and friends) won’t.

It’s not always intentional--sometimes life gets in the way, and people just forget that your book is out. Sometimes it’s on their to-do list to buy your book, but they keep thinking “I’ll do that later.” Sometimes they just don’t like the genre you write. Whatever the reason, there will be people in your life who you are absolutely sure are going to buy your book until that launch date...when they don’t. It happens to all of us. It doesn’t mean your book is trash, promise.

8. And some of the people you’d least expect to buy your book will.

There will be people you meet who you mention your book to who you’d never expect to buy a copy, like your hairstylist, an internet acquaintance, or a friend of a friend of a friend. It’s super exciting, and while it’s disheartening when your friends and family don’t buy your book, the people who do buy it and aren’t close to you are your true fans. Those people are paying for your book simply because they like your writing. They have the power to spread the word about your book to people you had no contact with. That’s huge! And it can really help your sales.

I hope some of this was helpful. I’m in the thick of the book launch madness right now, but stay tuned, because I plan to release the template for my 26-page pre-launch marketing strategy guide in the upcoming months. Yeah...26 pages. Trust me when I say it will save you a LOT of time trying to figure out your next steps!

And as always, if you have anything to add, please drop a comment below. Or feel free to tweet me @estochen. Happy publishing!

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