This is by no means a definitive list. I’m sure I’ll come up with more things that I learned in the last year, but I wanted to share it while the topic is on the brain. A lot of my lessons stem from the fact that I have post-concussion syndrome. It has absolutely changed the way I work and write, so many of my musings center around that.
But, I’m hoping that some of the things that I learned this year can help other authors, so let’s do this thing!
Readers like free books. I mean, duh. We all like free things. But I noticed in my weekly “deals” newsletters that freebies were heavily sought after vs. books that were listed as on sale. I know there are authors out there who turn their nose up at the thought of offering their work for free (and, you know, I get it. We all work hard, spend a lot as indies, and want to be compensated), but readers want freebies. The downside is many readers hoard freebies and get to them months later. I’ve seen negative reviews on the first book in my Lovers and Liars serial (a permafreebie) being all “lol glad I got this as an ARC”, and I’m like, no, bro, you just downloaded it for free, along with thousands of other freebies, and then forgot where you got it from. Anyway. Readers like free stuff. Go figure. I do too.
I’ve offered a lot of books for free. I tried it with the All In trilogy this fall. Two weeks after a release, I’d offer a book for free. I LIKE offering freebies because there are readers out there who can’t necessarily afford to spend heaps of money on books all the time. However, I do wonder if I’m conditioning my readers to expect a free book shortly after a release, particularly when they were ready to pay for it initially. We’ll see. I won’t stop offering freebies in 2018, but I might be more selective in using my KU free days.
Publishing often is a model that works. I don’t know why this was such a surprise to me. When I was heavily invested in fanfiction, I published new chapters weekly. It was the best way to stay at the top of lists, and readers were always more willing to start a series if they saw it was recently/frequently updated. That rings true for publishing nowadays. There’s a lot on the market. Unfortunately, because of my brain situation, I have to publish shorter works more frequently vs. full-length books, but I’ve come to accept that.
Novellas are my sweet spot. Brain injury = the bane of my existence. I found, in 2016, that I struggled working on a full-length, 90K manuscript. Writing it took ages. Editing it took even longer. I had a hard time conceptualizing and focusing on multiple plot points and character issues during revision. My doctor says I have have a problem with salience post-injury, which means I struggle to focus on multiple things happening around me at once. That translated into my full-length stuff, and I knew I had to go smaller. Novellas between 15-35K have been a nice fit for my post-concussion life.
Contemporary romance readers are HUNGRY. I initially saw myself as just a paranormal romance author—until I dabbled in contemporary. I had such an overwhelmingly positive response and experience in the subgenre that it has made me rethink my publishing goals. As of 2018, I’ll be doing both, which is a jump from my just paranormal romance beginnings.
Newsletter swaps with other authors are awesome—and sometimes frustrating. I’ve always been a huge proponent of the idea that fellow authors are NOT your competition, but your tribe. We should all be celebrating each other’s successes, and when I learned newsletter swaps were a thing, I dove right in. And thus, my weekly deals newsletters were born. I enjoy offering cool new reads from different authors for my readers, and in return, those authors send my pre-orders and new releases to their readers. It’s awesome, but sometimes frustrating. Sometimes people are really particular in how they do their newsletter, or their expectations are too high for this free thing that we’re all doing for mutual gain. But I am happy to put up with the occasional bit of frustration, because I think this model works as a means to reach new readers. Although I do agree: reader newsletter fatigue is a thing. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it in 2018.
Instagram was so worth my time. I was initially very wary of Instagram because I hated taking pictures of things. I still do. BUT. I have met some of the most amazing, passionate book bloggers there, and many of them are now members of my VIP Teams and help me promote new releases with their stunning reader graphics. My one goal of becoming an author was to have readers make pretty graphics based on my books, and this year that happened. A lot. And it makes my heart full and warm.
Facebook author groups are also worth my time. I’ve learned a lot from lurking in threads. I actually kind of hate Facebook in general because I do absolutely nothing with it, but in 2017, I stepped up my game and joined tons of author groups. I find most of my newsletter swaps in Facebook groups, and have learned a lot about marketing by reading the experiences of people more successful than me. Maybe in 2018 I’ll actually start speaking up.
I have to stop advertising to authors. It’s not that I don’t think authors would enjoy my books, but pre-2017 (and a little into 2017), I did most of my promotional work on Twitter. Don’t get me wrong: I love Twitter. I have a blast on Twitter. I, however, like many other authors on there, have a huge audience of fellow authors. They aren’t my target audience. Readers and book bloggers are. I started to change my strategies of who I follow and where I do most of my posting on social media in 2017. Twitter became less of a focus for book news for me, and more of a fun author connect location. I moved on to Facebook, despite my page’s dismal reach, Instagram (sooo many awesome readers), and newsletters.
Work-rest routines are essential. I don’t think this is restricted to just me and my brain injury. I think a lot of authors experience burn-out when they go too hard for too long. My work-rest routine is extreme because my health relies on it, but I have way less wrist pain since I started doing it, which is a major plus in my books. Even when I’m all brain healed, I plan to keep the routine in place—though with longer work stints and shorter rest times, hopefully.
Blog tours seem to be getting more expensive, and some authors have a wider newsletter subscriber reach. Brain injuries ain’t cheap. Mostly because I can’t work outside of the house, I’ve had to start getting really stingy with my budget. Publishing is expensive for an indie, even more so when you’re doing it every month and paying for editorial every single month. Cover art. The works. I realized in 2017 that by doing multiple newsletter swaps weekly, I was reaching thousands of readers for free. I’d then look at blog tours, see their hefty price tag, and opt out. I’m tentatively considering looking back into review tours in 2018, but very selectively.
Instafreebie has been great—to a degree. I grew my list to over 5000 subscribers in 2017, and the majority of those readers came from Instafreebie. I know Instafreebie readers are getting a reputation for just wanting the free stuff, but the ones who stay have been engaging—in my experience. However, I’m noticing that fewer subscribers are being added to my lists, despite my free book going to them through group giveaways and promotions. I’m wondering if it’s because they have already unsubscribed from me or marked me as spam after downloading a book in the past? I’m not thrilled to be paying for the service and only getting a percentage of readers on my list—especially when my opt-in is required. I’ll be keeping an eye on this in 2018, and may consider looking elsewhere if things don’t pick up.
Facebook Ads and Amazon Ads are trickier than they look. Yeah, I understand the logistics of them. I can set one up and get clicks. But getting successful ads going takes practice and trial-and-error—which involves spending money I can’t afford to be frivolous with right now. I’m taking a class in January from someone who appears very successful with their ads. I’ve seen people totally kill it with their marketing on both Facebook and Amazon. I know it can be done. But. Ugh. Can’t the knowledge just be implanted in my hyperactive, injured brain already?
Canva.com is amazing for people who suck at photoshop. Hi. Me.
Unsplash.com has a lot of fantastic stock photos of flat, Instagram-ready graphics. USE THEM.
I need to be nicer to myself with deadlines. This injury has taken a huge emotional toll on me, and sometimes all I have is my writing to keep me going—in the “feeling like a productive, contributing human being” sense. I’m fortunate to have a stellar partner and pretty solid therapist for the rest. Anyway. I’d set deadlines, but then think, “Oh, if I could get it done a few days earlier, that’d be great!” Then I’d be beating myself about not finishing ahead of schedule, and it was just a mountain of stress. I created a really ambitious publishing schedule for 2018 because I wanted to. I’m excited about it, a little intimidated by it, and eager to conquer it. I also need to remember, however, that I’m starting the day on a half tank. Five spoons compared to everyone else’s ten. Chronic pain. Brain injury. All that. In 2018, one of my goals is to be nicer to myself about extending deadlines when my health makes it literally impossible for me to meet said deadlines.
Hiring a PA is money well spent. My PA Anna is lovely and sets up all my newsletter weekly deals emails. I still write a personal message to my subscribers, but she does the nitty gritty stuff that upsets my brain. So happy.
My work can survive with a bare bones editorial crew. I only had two (sometimes three) people working on my books in 2017. Like I said, budgeting has been huge, and is only getting tighter the longer this brain injury lasts. I had to cut my editorial crew down to one paid beta reader / content editor (heh, fancy title), and my amazing proofreader. And you know what? It’s been working. I think the fact that I heavily outline and aggressively plot before I write helps. I also finalize one novella at a time, and by the time I’m editing book #2, I know book #1 so well that it’s become much easier to spot plot inconsistencies and the like before I even have other people start editing.
I should probably have a Facebook reader group. Facebook pages for authors have become a bit ridiculous in that Facebook limits your posts to nothingsville. Of my 850 followers, I think I generally reach 20 with each post, and I’m always prompted to pay to reach more. Ugh. However, I recently learned they are going to start making you pay to boost posts in groups as well, so it makes me hesitant to invest the time in starting a reader group for my stuff.
Reader love has made me passionate about writing my own stuff again. I’ve had a lot of reader love this year. A lot of reader graphics. A lot of people squeeing about my WIP ~*~*~aesthetic~*~*~ posts on Instagram. It’s been a dream, honestly, and suddenly I’m daydreaming about my WIPs again as I fall asleep. I’m thinking about them when I work out, when I listen to music, when I do the dishes. I’d stopped all that before 2017. I just wasn’t as passionate about my work for a lot of reasons, mostly health related, and for all the shitty things that have happened in 2017, this was not one of them. I’m just really grateful to be passionate again. It feels damn good.
I’m sure I’ll think of more things I learned after I post this, but if you guys can think of new tidbits you’ve learned in 2017 as authors, feel free to share in the comments below!