Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Five Hard Lessons from a "Successful Writer"

I’ve been invited to participate on a panel about "success stories" in July at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in Seattle.  The panel consists of a group of authors who connected with their publishers or agents at a recent PNWA conference.

I’m of course delighted to be asked and to be characterized as a success.  There is no doubt that it is an amazing thrill when you receive the communication that a publisher wants to acquire your manuscript.  Dancing on the ceiling is not unheard-of.  But the truth--which I only learned as I maneuvered through the months that have followed the release of COMPASS NORTH--is that signing with a small publishing house is only the beginning of a very long road for you and your book.  

Let me share five hard lessons I’ve learned in this process:

 If you want to see your publicist, go look in the mirror.  My understanding is that all published authors now have to spend a lot of time on marketing and promotion.  It’s expected and required.  But while my friend who has published with a medium-sized house has an assigned publicist who promotes his book and coordinates his efforts, I have--me.  On my own, I've contracted with a publicist short-term to assist me.  Yes, I will get some advice from my publishing house, and yes, I can ask other authors for help, but it’s my responsibility to figure out the best way to market my book.  And that’s not easy for a newbie.

Getting those reader reviews on Amazon and elsewhere is hard work.  As a new author,  I am very aware that readers who don’t recognize my name will look at the posted reviews on-line to help them decide whether to buy my book.  Every time I receive an email or message from a reader about how much she has enjoyed my book, I ask the reader to please write a short review on Amazon or on whatever site she used to buy it.  I usually receive a promise that a review will be written--but at least half the time, it doesn’t materialize.  It’s not that the readers are insincere, but many haven’t written a review before and think it’s difficult (it isn’t) or they truly intend to write one but never get around to it.  Please, please, please help new writers out there and write a review!

 It’s hard to balance writing your next book and promoting your current one.  I’ve heard from a number of authors who have had this same experience.  We’re told that the best promotion tool is writing a new book, but the process of dropping deep into the story of a new book conflicts with the time and effort you have to devote to the very different energy of promotion and marketing your current one.  I am still struggling with this balance.  It requires a lot of discipline and time management.

Books by new authors don’t sell themselves.  Perhaps you’ve written the greatest book of this decade, and you’ve been fortunate enough to find a publisher.  Unless you want to have sales limited to friends and family, you have to put a lot of effort into marketing your book.  In my case, I started as a total social media illiterate, but now I have a website, a blog, a Facebook author page, a Twitter account, and author pages on Amazon and Goodreads.  And even though I’m making quite an effort and putting in the time, I’m way behind more savvy authors who post and market more frequently and efficiently.  It’s hard work!

Keep your day job--at least for now.  I do know one new small-house author who has sold a lot of books and made considerable money, but that’s not the norm.  Don’t count on supporting yourself with royalties from your book.  Have a backup plan.  For one thing, there is a delay of several months before you ever see your first royalty statement.  And the likelihood is that it won’t pay the rent.  

Stephanie Joyce Cole is the author of COMPASS NORTH, the story of an unhappy woman who runs away from her life and reinvents herself in a small town in Alaska.  Find out more at


Big Mike said...

Been there, done that. The starck difference between what we thought and the reality once you get the call is mind blowing. Add one more struggle - learning which promo avenues work, for you. Taken me seven year, and a ton of wasted hours, but I think that's the norm, not the exception.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Live long to prosper!

Because it does take hard work and time.

Good post.

Liz Fountain said...

I can second all of those lessons (and look forward to seeing you at PNWA, Stephanie!).

What sustains me (so far) are the small events that let me know I've connected with a reader: that one review from someone I don't know, that new face at a workshop or book signing. My mantras might be "build an audience one reader at a time" and (yes) "keep your day job." :-)

Thanks - Liz

Stephanie Joyce Cole said...

Thanks, Liz--yes, positive feedback, even in small chunks, is wonderful! But being called a "success" does make me giggle, just a little, now that I realize that publishing the book is just the beginning, and how much hard work comes in its wake.

Olga Godim said...

Oh, yeah. I could sign under everything you said, Steph. I guess it's not the end result that counts but the journey.