A Thousand Words for Aspiring Authors
By: David K. Hulegaard
Technology is an amazing thing, right? It’s mind-numbing to think about what we can do today that wasn’t quite yet possible even ten years ago. Take the iPod for example. If a time traveler had gone back to 2001 and told me that in just a few more years I’d be able to hold my entire CD collection in the palm of my hand, my head would’ve exploded.
The advancements in technology have also greatly benefited wanna-be authors. The days of polishing up your query letter for “the big six” just to have your heart smashed into a million pieces by the rejection letters are long over. Thanks to the creation of self-publishing services, getting your masterpiece out into the world is now easier than ever.
Note that I said “getting your masterpiece out into the world” was easier than ever, not getting your masterpiece read. That part still requires a lot of hard work, research, and most of all, luck. Did you know that over 27,000 new self-published books are released on Amazon each month? Multiply that by twelve and you’re starting to get the picture of what the competitive landscape looks like for your book.
Now, now, don’t get too discouraged. Most avid readers can chew through several books a week, so even if they don’t choose your book today, there’s always tomorrow. While retail books typically follow a traditional sales curve, that really only applies to known authors. If you’re an unknown, those same rules don’t apply. Take self-published author Michael Hicks for example. He’s published seven books over the past three years, but was only “discovered” this year. He just quit his day job a month ago and can now afford to live off of book royalties alone. How amazing is that?! It’s the goal that we all strive for as independent authors.
Getting to that point is a long road, however, and if you’re the instant gratification type then you’d best turn back around now. There are many mistakes you can make on that path that could be devastating to your dream, so it’s important to have a plan long before you even publish your first book. Believe me, I know that which of I speak.
When my company went bankrupt last year, I was laid off after fourteen years. I had no idea what to do next. The job market was atrocious and I had a lot of time on my hands. I decided to fill that time by writing, which was something that I’d always wanted to do. I had an idea for a story—a mixture of Lost, the video game BioShock, and a pinch of The Mothman Prophecies. I wrote the manuscript in under six months.
As a first time writer, I made literally every mistake that a person in that position could make. I was impatient and just wanted my book out for sale without fully understanding how to go about it. I had a friend draw the cover for free, which was great, but his style didn’t match my book’s content. A lot of people assumed my book was a graphic novel, or a comic book series. Being as that I didn’t have a lot of money, I skipped the professional editor route and had a group of friends proof my story for free. Even though they caught a lot of little mistakes, they weren’t able to catch some of the bigger ones—the type of errors that a professional editor is paid to find and help you fix. To top it all off, I paid a PR agency $5,000 to promote my brand, which resulted in accruing seven followers on Twitter. That is not a typo. I paid $5,000 for seven followers on Twitter.
Despite all of that, I was very lucky. My book received rave reviews and actually sold pretty well. However, in my mind, I still felt like I had cheated my readers. They were paying for something that was not the best representation of my writing ability. So, to rectify that, I am currently in the process of re-editing my book—with a professional editor this time—and will be releasing a second edition this holiday. I have learned much in the year since the original was published, and I am blessed with a second chance to make a first impression—one that I will not take lightly this time around.
Since that time last fall, I have published a new book called The Jumper. Every mistake that I’d made with my first book only served to help me create a much better second. I worked with an actual cover artist. I hired a professional editor. I have spent less than $100 in marketing and have had better success then I did after having thrown away $5,000 a year earlier. To be clear, I am nowhere near ready to retire and live off of book sales, but after a year of trying, I’m one step closer. They say that it can take an author as many as 4-7 books before they become noticed, so I will keep working to reach that goal. It’s not a guarantee that even then I’ll catch fire, but to me, I was satisfied after the day I sold book number one. Why? Because one sale was all the validation I needed to feel as though my time and creation was worth something to someone.
So, aspiring writers, please read my words and take them seriously. I have managed to escape from my mistakes without doing too much damage to my career, but every day is a reminder of how much worse it could have been. Take your time, do the research, and if nothing else, hire a professional editor. Even if cash is tight, the two areas of book publishing that you absolutely cannot afford to skimp out on are your cover and your editor. I promise you that there isn’t an author alive that would tell you any different.