Oh, not YOUR first novel. Your first novel was a literary masterpiece. It was the polished golden manuscript of which all other first novels fell short. As soon as you hit publish it soared to the top of the mighty Zon’s charts and you haven’t had to work a day since.
This post is for the rest of us.
Hell, let me get my tongue out of my cheek and rephrase that intro. MY first novel was pure crap. A month after I self published it sank to the depths of obscurity with hardly a thud. Maybe you’re struggling with the ‘first novel’ jitters and you’re desperately looking for some tips on getting it out the door. You must be desperate – you found this blog post.
I’m no expert, but I AM pretty good friends with failure. So, I put together a neat little list of the things I wish I’d known before I published. Before you go creating a pen-name just to distance yourself from that first published turd, give these pointers a once-over. (Yes, this list only applies to those of us crazy enough to self-publish. I’m sure the big publishing houses have an army of people to fix these potholes).
1.GET EDITED .
Dear God, I cannot stress this enough. I took the ‘dumbass-of-all-trades-master-of-none’ route with my first novel. I stupidly thought ‘hey, I’ve got an advanced college degree with years of literature knowledge. I’ll just edit my own manuscript’. NO. Just NO! You want to know what’s not awesome? Reading over your novel years down the road and finding so many grammatical errors it looks like Bobcat Goldthwait dictated your words through a Speak N Spell.
Pay to have someone PROFESSIONALLY edit your manuscript. Not your wife. Not your cousin Buddy that’s taking community college courses in short story writing. Not your friend Ted, who says he’ll do it for beer – actually PAY someone who knows what they’re doing to give it a looksee. You can find actual real-life editors that are able to perform desired surgery for fair prices. They’re out there and they will help you out. Those squiggly blue lines in MS Word don’t cut it.
2. GET AN AWESOME COVER.
Lesson learned. Dumbass me thought I could skillfully slap together a nondescript cover using the latest in free graphic design programs. Sure, there are worse covers out there, but there are a million better ones – ones that are selling.
DON’T do a crappy cover. You don’t want to end up on one of those AWFUL BOOK COVER blog posts. No artsy stock photo with your title plastered over it. No cutesy filtered snap of your dog. Again, there are plenty of artists out there who will make you a cover at a reasonable price. Take a look at what’s popular in your genre. If I see a generic ‘I made this with photoshop’ cover (like my first novel) I’ll probably skip reading the book.
ALWAYS MAKE SURE YOU PAY YOUR ARTIST! EXPOSURE IS ONLY ACCEPTABLE IF YOU’RE RUNNING AROUND YOUR FRONT LAWN NAKED!
3. AT LEAST HAVE AN IDEA OF HOW YOU WANT TO MARKET YOUR BOOK.
Let’s continue with the self-depreciating ammunition. I did little to no market research when I released my first novel. I was sort-of known in amateur horror writer circles. I had a small group of people ready to get their hands on my debut masterpiece. My beta-readers had faith in me. So I published. About twenty of my co-workers and family bought physical copies (that I had to pay for AND ship). Three weeks later, my numbers were non-existent. I had no long lasting plan for the future. Now, if you aren’t writing to sell this isn’t so important. If you’re happy with publishing your family history for just your family then I’m happy for you.
In the months before you publish, do some research. See what your readers are reading. Follow some big-time authors in your genre. Observe what they’re doing. There are plenty of social media groups out there for book promotions, blog tours, book reviewers etc…that will give your book a chance. Now, I’m not talking about all-out advertising tips because, well, I suck at marketing. Maybe somebody who’s good at it will share their expertise down the road.
YOUR MOTHER BUYING TWO COPIES OF YOUR DARLING PROSE DOES NOT A PROFIT MAKE. I should know, my mother DID buy two copies of my book.
4. WRITING A TRILOGY? AWESOME, BE READY.
So you’re writing the next WHEEL OF TIME series – hail you! Just be sure you have MORE THAN ONE book ready to go before you pull the trigger. This is a tip you might not even have thought about. I wish I had.
I wanted my novel to be the first of a horrible trilogy. It was full of holes and the ending was, well OPEN ENDED. I had intended for most of those questions to be answered in following volumes. But, all I had nailed down was that first book. I mean, I had a general outline and plenty of awesome ideas to keep the story going. As I mentioned above, I published that first book and then BOOM – a whole lot of nothing happened. Life got in the way. That bitch of a muse wandered off into new territory. Those volumes were never finished.
Have faith in your writing. I do. If you want to tell the next Lord of the Rings – have your books written out FIRST. There is nothing worse for a reader than investing all that time into a proposed series that never goes anywhere. It DOES happen.
Again, I’m no pro, and I’ll never claim to be one. These are just the major things I wish I would’ve thought through before I got bitten by the publishing bug. Learn from my mistakes.
Now, get back to writing. You’ve written today, right?