So, a few days ago I celebrated the one year anniversary for the publication of my debut novel, UNTAMED (Prizm Books, May 2015). During that year, I’ve learned a whole bunch of things and thought I’d share ten of them here with you.
1: Not everyone realises having a book published is a big deal.
You feel great about your book being published, but some of the people you excitedly tell just don’t ‘get’ it. You see their faces fall and realise that when you told them you had ‘big news’, they were expecting something much bigger. And it’s hard not to let that upset you.
But writing a book—and getting it published—is a huge achievement. And we know just how many months (and even years) of hard work, sweat, and tears have gone into this… but not everyone gets this. To some, writing a book is nothing, and publishing it is just a shrug-your-shoulders kind of moment. But you shouldn’t let the reactions of non-knowers (as I affectionately call them) get you down.
Just because someone doesn’t understand that you’ve poured your soul into this book and spent months and months labouring away over it, it doesn’t mean that your achievement is any less validated.
You still rock—you wrote a book! And don’t worry, there’ll be other people who do understand why this is a shout-from-the-rooftops moment.
2: A lot of the non-writers who you tell about your novel will suddenly confess their dream to you—that they, too, wish to write a book.
Often this statement is followed by some sort of justifier, that they will write their book ‘when they have time’. And time seems to be the only thing a lot of non-writers think is necessary to have when writing a book…
At first, I was surprised by how many people seemed to think I had managed to write my book because I apparently ‘had the time’ to do so. In their eyes, skill and motivation didn’t really feature that highly. And didn’t they realise that I was busy with other stuff too?
I mean, I wrote the first draft of UNTAMED when I was 18—whilst I was at school and studying for A-levels. And then I worked on in-house edits with one of my publisher’s editors alongside doing my degree. It was tough to fit it all in.
But part of being a writer is having the determination to write, and the determination to find time to write. That fifteen-minute break? Well, I can write a couple of hundred words then. That bus journey? Yes, I can get some outlining done.
Writers don’t magically have more hours in the day than everyone else in the world. We have the same amount of time. But we just have to find the time to write, and we organise ourselves in such a way that we do have time—even if it means less sleep, or not going out to see that film.
I’m a firm believer that if someone’s a writer, they have to write as much as possibly they can. Writers don’t have any choice, and they can’t put off their writing dreams for a more suitable time—say, in ten years. There’ll never be a more suitable time, and writers write whenever they possibly can.
3: You also won’t feel like a proper writer.
Even now, after signing a second book deal with my publisher, I still feel like I’m not the real thing. From talking to other writers, it seems the aptly named Imposter Syndrome is common among us all. We all feel like we’re not good enough, and that soon someone is going to realise it—but, according to some, that’s a sign of a proper writer. It’s when you’re certain that your writing is spectacular and that you’re the next J.K. Rowling that you might need to worry…
So, I guess the thing that I’ve learned here is that it’s okay to feel like this. It’s normal. And other famous writers feel like this too.
4: But once you’ve got one book published, writing your next can be harder.
I’ve certainly found this to be true for me. Having already had one book published, I feel there’s a great amount of pressure on me to write one that readers love just as much—if not more.
And these expectations we think people have makes writing a follow-up book an incredibly daunting task all of a sudden. And all your doubts about your writing ability come flooding back. After all, what if that first book was a fluke? What if you can’t produce the stunning sequel that you know readers are waiting for?
Well, don’t worry. That’s my answer, and that’s what I’ve been telling myself every time I start fretting. I think the main problem for me is that I’m now comparing my patchy first draft of book two to the final version of book one. And of course, the writing’s not going to be great in a first draft. And there will be holes in the plot, and characters who aren’t that well formed.
But I know I can fix all this. I have to tackle it one step at a time, just as I did when I was rewriting and editing Untamed. And I have to believe in myself. If I wrote one book that readers loved, then I know, deep down, that I can write another, even if my first thought is that I can’t. I’m still the same writer. And it’s all about self-belief and not becoming intimidated by what you achieved before.
So, just write. And get your first draft done. That, for me, is still the hardest bit, and becoming a published writer hasn’t made it any easier.
5: Now onto reviews: don’t read them!
Okay, I’m not very good with this one. I know I shouldn’t read the reviews that my book garners, but I just can’t help it. There’s something exciting about realising you have a new review on Goodreads, or Amazon, or Barnes and Noble. And you just find yourself clicking through to read it, whilst anxiously wondering whether the person loved or hated your book.
And there will be some negative reviews. Whether a book is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is, after all, subjective. And you won’t be able to please everyone.
But as soon as you come across a negative review, you suddenly feel as if this review speaks the Ultimate Truth. All the good things you’ve previously read about your book are washed away, and all you can focus on now is the less-than-favourable thing that someone has said. And this really fuels that feeling that you’re not good enough, that you’re not a proper writer… that you’re an imposter.
And it can hamper your creativity.
That’s why I know that no author should read their reviews—and NEVER respond to any. Seriously, don’t.
But, if you must read those reviews then definitely do the next thing on my list.
6: Save your good reviews.
Print out a hard copy of your favourite reviews and stick them in a scrapbook. Then, whenever you come across a negative review and end up feeling like you’re the worst writer ever, read through your book of positive reviews. I promise they’ll make you feel much better, and you won’t (hopefully) spend days crying.
But, at the same time, don’t fall back into the trap of reading your best reviews and thinking, ‘but what if I can’t write a sequel that readers love as much as my first?’
So, yes, even your good reviews can be a double-edged sword. They certainly make me feel better and motivate me to write, but at the same time, I worry about disappointing my fans with my next manuscript. Ah, it gets so complicated…
7: Finding readers can be hard.
Even when your book is traditionally published, finding readers can be tricky. There are so many books out there competing for readers’ attention that many unfortunately do get lost.
But this is where promotion and marketing come in—trust me, marketing your book is important. And marketing it correctly is even more important.
You need to know your audience, and you need to engage with them. You also need to seem like a real person, so talk about your everyday life and share funny anecdotes. And always engage with your readers as an equal—never talk down to them.
But you also need to make sure that readers can find information about you quickly. A website is a must—and if you can host it on your own domain, even better. You’ll seem more professional that way. And make sure that you have clear links on your website to where readers can buy your book—don’t make it hard for them to find this information.
8: The number of reviews you have is important.
Once you reach certain numbers of reviews for a single work, many retailers include your book in different lists—and even on newsletters. So, the number of reviews you have is important. And the more reviews you have, the easier it is to sell your book.
But getting genuine reviews can be difficult, especially when you need unbiased reviews from people who you don’t know. Amazon removes the reviews from reviewers they think know the author, believing these to biased and untrustworthy.
And finding readers who will review your book can be difficult enough in itself. Especially when only around 1 in 100 will write a quick review of your book off their own back.
But book bloggers are great. And there are thousands of professional reviewers and bloggers out there who will write an honest review of your book in exchange for a free copy of your book—and include that disclaimer in their review. Plus, many of these reviews can also be used as editorial reviews, and often you can use snippets from these reviews in your marketing.
And also; NEVER buy reviews. I mean it. NEVER do it. When I hear that others are considering it, I cringe so much. Buying reviews can destroy everything—and cause retailers to block all your reviews (even any genuine ones). Never do it. Your reviews need to be genuine and unbiased, from actual readers who have actually read your book.
9: Nothing sells your last book like your next.
This is actually something I’ve read a few times now, in many different places. But it seems to be true. And it makes sense: the more books you have out, the more people will see your name, and the more readers will look for your other works having read one.
So perhaps the best marketing you can do for book one is to produce book two.
It seems so simple, and it emphasises an important part of being a writer—you know, the writing part. Just because you’ve got one book out, doesn’t mean you need to stop writing. Quite the opposite, actually!
(And again, don’t let you success with one book intimidate you and make you feel under pressure with your second—I’m definitely struggling with this, now that we’re less than months away from the release of my second book… but what if readers really don’t like the direction I’m taking the Untamed Series in?)
10: And the final thing to mention here is that reading (and relaxing) is still important.
All writers, whether they publish or not, need to read widely. Don’t stop reading—and having fun—just because you’ve had a book published. Sure, it can be harder to find the time, now that your days (and nights) are filled up with marketing, promotion, answering interviews, writing, editing, researching, and booking events—plus other life commitments!
But you still need to read.
So please, don’t stop. Make sure you have time.
For me, reading is also a way of relaxing. And it is so important. Don’t overwork yourself—you still need some time off. And you still need to do what you love.
Madeline Dyer lives in the southwest of England, and has a strong love for anything dystopian, ghostly, or paranormal. She can frequently be found exploring wild places, and at least one notebook is known to follow her wherever she goes. Her debut novel, UNTAMED (Prizm Books, May 2015), examines a world in which anyone who has negative emotions is hunted down, and a culture where addiction is encouraged. FRAGMENTED (Prizm Books, Sept. 2016) is her second novel.