Author Musings: What I Learned in 2018

If this is your first introduction to me — hi, I’m Liz. I’ve been publishing since 2014, but didn’t really put my all into it until the very end of 2017. I’ve been a disabled author since 2016 courtesy of a brain injury that decided it needs a few years to heal (with no end in sight — huzzah! /sarcasm). I write contemporary and paranormal romance, and my love for romance could rival the sun. So. Take your romance bashing elsewhere, I guess?

Early 2018 was when I finally stopped ghostwriting and went full-time author. I made the decision primarily for my health. At the time, I was writing 15-20K between client work and my own, seven days a week, and I was just exhausted. I think anyone would be tired working all the time, but with my health issues in play, I reached a breaking point and I just couldn’t keep up the momentum anymore. I think stopping and focusing on my own stuff was the best decision I made all year. I’m so much happier averaging 8-12K a week, writing 5 days with an editorial half-day on the weekends.

This year was honestly the most exhausting, emotional, exhilarating year of my career. I learned a lot. I stumbled a lot. I picked myself back up. I met so many incredible readers. I connected with brilliant and superbly talented authors. It’s overwhelming to see the love from readers who just click with my brand of romance, and it’s humbling to enroll in author courses and discover I have so much more to learn — but to also acknowledge that I’m beyond excited to learn.

I learned (and accepted) this year that I’m a bad-ass chronic pain warrior — and that I can publish 8 books (plus 2 bundles and 2 complete editions) while struggling through health issues that are incredibly challenging on some days. I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished this year, and I can’t wait for more growth in 2019.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned. What worked for me. What still hasn’t. My feels about certain issues. I’m sure I’ll think of a bunch more after this posts, but feel free to share your lessons learned in the comments!


Personal lessons learned:

  • How many words I can comfortably write in a day (2-2.5K)
  • How many days a week I should be writing (5, not 7)
  • How long it takes me to write a chapter (two days, three for sexy chapters)
  • That monthly releases burn me out and cost a lot (RIP bank account)
  • To stop sharing industry knowledge with complete strangers (who ultimately ghost without so much as a “thanks for your time”)

Author lessons I learned:

Please note that these are things I’ve observed and taken in and applied to my author journey. What works for me may not work for you, and what royally sucked for me may be awesome for you. See point #1: YMMV.

YMMV

Aka Your Mileage May Vary. Since joining a ton of author groups on Facebook this year, I’ve noticed that what works really well for some authors just falls flat for me, and vice versa. Every book is different. Every audience is different. Maybe Facebook ads made Author A a ton of money, whereas Author B saw no movement in their sales. You need to adjust accordingly, not go with the general consensus of what works “best”. Because you won’t always see the same results as authors within your genre. Hell, you may not even see the same results between your books. What worked for the last release may be totally useless for the next. Marketing is forever evolving, and you need some flexibility to roll with the punches.

Everyone Wants to Teach

I’m not sure what was in the water in 2018, but there has been a huuuuge uptick in classes taught by authors. Indie authors, trad authors, hybrids—there seems to be a course from just about every kind cropping up, and some cost you a small fortune. I don’t see any issues with authors offering free advice in the form of blog posts or Twitter chats. I firmly believe we rise by lifting others and sharing the wealth of information is awesome.

But I also think there are people out there taking advantage of the rise in indie authors, promising to teach them that one little secret that will make them millionaires. And lemme just be clear: there is no one little secret. This isn’t a get-rich industry, despite what people think when they decide, “Oh, hey, I’ll just whip up a bunch of erotica or terrible romance books—that’ll earn me thousands!” You get ahead with hard work, perseverance, and dedication, just like any other job.

For those courses that do cost you an arm and a leg, do your research. Is this person qualified to be charging you for their knowledge—knowledge that can sometimes be found online, for free, with enough digging? Look at their book rankings. Look at their reviews: how many, the average rating, what do readers really think of their work, etc.. Examine their standing in the author community. If you have KDP Rocket, you can even look up their estimated monthly earnings. Do your due diligence before you pay for any kind of author course. Indie authorhood is expensive, and I’ve paid for a few things over the last year that were basically just a money suck with very little new knowledge gleaned once completed. Lesson learned.

Social Media Popularity

I think it’s really easy to get wrapped up in social media popularity, especially with book bloggers. You see other books being featured in gorgeous photos and collages, and it’s like, why not me? What I learned this year is that it’s easy to get swept up in this phenomenon. You base your self-worth as an author on how many bloggers shared your cover reveal compared to others, and it totally messes with your head. Comparison is the thief of joy, so just do you. Focus on bettering your social media game and compare yourself to you, not anyone else.

Romance Bias

People still treat the romance genre like it’s somehow easier than any other genre to write and sell. It’s not. At all. But thanks for being terrible and dismissive.

Newsletter Growth via Paid Promos

I grew my newsletter heavily between 2017-2018, and, honestly, at the end, most of the people marking me as spam or unsubscribing en masse came from the expensive promo builders that I participated in. Sure, I ended up with a thousand subs for my list from the promo, but maybe a third of them were already there, another big chunk used an email they never check, and then there’s the very small percentage of awesome new readers in the mix too. Going into 2019, I’m focused on organic newsletter growth, fostering relationships with readers who really want to be there, along with growing my Amazon and Bookbub following. After all, both send New Release alerts to your followers, which is almost as good as a mailing list. At least the information is going straight to someone’s inbox.

Pay to Play

With newsletters taking a huge hit in effectiveness this year, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that you need to pay to play. Want to get your book out in front of people? I think we’re at the tipping point where free social media, newsletter swaps, and word of mouth just isn’t enough anymore. You need a solid marketing plan to get your book any traction, and it’s probably going to cost a bit of money. How you spend it, where you spend it, what offers the greatest ROI—that’s all up in the air. (See YMMV)

Blog Tours

I’ve said in the past that blog tours feel dead—like they’ve totally lost their usefulness. This year, however, I realized I’ve just been looking at tours in the wrong light. It isn’t necessarily about getting an immediate return on your investment, but getting your name shouted from the rooftops, having your book cover shared across multiple platforms, and reaching new readers. I still don’t think some of the insanely expensive tours are worth it, and I’ve discovered what works for contemporary romance really doesn’t have the same pull for paranormal, but 2018 has made me change my tune about tours as a whole. I see them for their other uses now, not just for the ability to bring in release day sales.

Facebook ads are scary, but you can learn them

Check out Michael Cooper’s book on Facebook ads for guidance. Honestly, learning how to do my own Facebook ads changed my business. I still have a looooong way to go before I’ve even remotely mastered them, but I’m at the point where I have a positive ROI (most of the time) on ad spend, so yeay. And if not, it’s a short drop and a sudden stop for ads that don’t perform. This is another case of YMMV. Not everybody’s target demographic is on Facebook, but a lot of romance readers are—and you should be going where your audience hangs out to market.

AMS are still a shitshow for me

That’s it. Amazon ads are my nemesis, but I will conquer them one day.

Serials are a bitch to market

Don’t get me wrong: I love having my characters appear across multiple books, with a huge, complex storyline just for them. However, with serials, the success of all the books depends on the first. If readers can’t jump in midway through, then your first book needs to be so freakin’ strong that it will make them eager to read onward. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s tougher than I initially thought. Marketing each new release means heavily marketing Book 1 over and over again to encourage people to start at the beginning, hoping they’ll carry on all the way through to that Book 6 you just put out yesterday.

I’m sure there are plenty of marketing strategies that do fit this model. For me, however, they’ve proven to be tough to tackle while I’m learning how to effectively market anything. Because of that, I’ve pushed all my WIP serials to the backburner, and plan to focus on standalone series (books set in the same universe, with light character crossover and similar themes) before I dive back in to three, four, or five book serials.

Sorry seven-book space pirates serial. You’re just gonna have to wait.

Pre-Marketing

I honestly didn’t do very much with my pre-marketing until the final book I published in 2018. Before, I did countdowns, very small cover reveals, teasers, and newsletter swaps. I’d throw my preorder up, and that was that. However, after taking one of Alessandra Torre’s marketing courses, I really sat down and created a gameplan for pre-marketing—and there is SO much you can do to build hype around your book. When I finally put the time and effort in (99.9% of free, btw), I found this book’s release was my most fun and exciting (and successful) one all year. I was exhausted come release day, but it was definitely worth it.

There is still shit to learn

Seventeen books later and there is always something to learn about the craft. Always. Your writing is forever improving. What I wrote at the end of 2018 feels leaps and bounds ahead of what I wrote at the start.

Learn how to write ad copy

I think a lot of indies have said at one point: “I’m an author, not a marketer.” And that’s totally fair. I feel like that every time I sit down to figure out my plans for the next release. But moaning about it doesn’t change the fact that if you’re indie—and to an extent traditionally published as well, I’m sure—you have to wear both hats. Learning how to write effective ad copy is key to making sure those ads you’re spending all that money on work. I started off the year with horrible ad copy. Always really long and wordy, a lot like my blurbs, but with practice I’ve made things snappier. It’ll only improve from here, and I’m hoping in 2019 to really nail both my ad copy AND my blurb skills so that both have the ability to make readers super duper excited.

Write to Market

I think this is a widely divided issue in the author community, but to me, writing to make your market (aka your ideal reader) happy isn’t selling out. It’s doing what you and your readers love. Offering books that meet genre expectations or are full of familiar tropes can encourage new readers to take a chance on you, and in my experience, if those readers love your stuff, they are more than happy to try a slightly off-market book of yours in the future. It doesn’t work for everyone or every genre, but, in theory, you aren’t just writing for you. You’re writing (and marketing) for your audience, and, in my opinion, finding a way to make them happy with projects you genuinely enjoy is the best possible outcome.


Goals for 2019:

  • Positive ROI and business expenses covered with earnings
  • Increase the daily word count I can comfortably write to 5K
  • Get better at Facebook Ads
  • Figure out Amazon marketing
  • Launch a new dark romance pen name
  • Organically grow my newsletter subscriber list (and figure out how to do newsletters better)
  • Find a better work-life balance (if possible)
  • Actually stick to my monthly budgets

 

That’s all from me! Happy New Year!

LM_signature(web)

6 thoughts on “Author Musings: What I Learned in 2018

  1. You are a goddess! Your perseverance and craft just wow me.

    If you want to up your NL game I highly recommend Newsletter Ninja by Tammi something. That book is worth its weight in gold. She also did a podcast with Lindsay Buroker if you do better with listening 🙂

    Like

    1. Girl, you are a constant inspiration to me. I actually bought Newsletter Ninja and only read half for some weird reason. Time to dive back in!

      Like

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