Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Hard Lessons of Book Publishing: A Writer's Confession

A Writer's Confession
There are a lot of lessons that we have to learn as we go through our lives. We learn to walk and talk and eat with a spoon, and we have lesson after lesson in school on a myriad of subjects. I am the kind of person who has always knows that I don't know everything, but I thought I knew quite a bit about writing.
My writing dream began in the sixth grade, when I wrote a poem that was included in a poetry anthology. After that I filled notebook after notebook with poems and song lyrics and I journaled extensively. I had a love of books that was as wide and deep as the sea, but that's another blog post on it's own. My heart, however, was not set on becoming a writer for my job. In fact, my heart lay in healthcare. I went to college and began working in healthcare. I met my soon-to-be-husband and we had children. In 2005 we moved to Illinois and I took the job that has become my career. I found a passion for dialysis, and for helping patients with kidney disease live full and productive lives.
There was a little voice in my head, however, that urged me to begin writing again. In 2010 I began working at night on my home computer on "a story" that soon became a 125,000 word science fiction romance novel. When that story was finished two more soon followed. I thought, "Wow! I wrote this!" but I had no idea what to do with the stories that I had completed. Without much editing or revising I began to submit them to publishers.
The writer I am NOW actually laughs at the writer I was then. I had no concept of the "process" of writing a novel, or the quality control efforts that go into polishing a draft and making it suitable for publishing. Needless to say, I received several rejection letters. I was lucky, however, that nearly all of them included some words of encouragement regarding my ability to write. I needed, it seemed, to learn THE CRAFT of writing. I could create compelling characters, and I could come up with intriguing plots, but putting everything together in a polished manuscript was the step I was lacking.
The first thing I did was to put those three original novels in a drawer and lock it. Those were drafts I would someday go back to. In order to really lock down on the craft of writing a publishable novel I needed to start fresh. My mother had been bugging me to complete a story I started as a serial on Facebook, so I decided to go with that. Social media seemed like a good place to start asking questions, so I searched for groups of writers who openly accepted "newbies". For the first few months I read article after article on Google about grammar, story structure and the basics of creative writing. (All of which I had studied years before in college, but a refresher never hurts.) I sat back in the Facebook groups and listened, absorbing all of the information that the published authors were more than happy to provide. I studied the art of outlines and discovered that I HATE them, and I become confident in the fact that I am what authors like to call "a pantser", meaning that I don't make elaborate plans for my stories. After months of listening, I felt confident enough to begin asking questions of my new friends. As I learned about the world of publishing, I was continuing to work on my new novel.
In 2013 I submitted the novel, titled Between, to Nevermore Press. I had researched and vetted several small presses through the internet and word of mouth, and I was so excited when I received an email inviting me to publish Between with Nevermore! I was overjoyed. This was it, right?! I'd submit my manuscript, get a book cover and my book would immediately be a best seller.
In fact, there were two parts of publishing I hadn't researched enough. The first was editing. Between went through three sets of extensive edits before it was deemed worthy for the next step. WOW! I never realized just how much I loved commas! The second step I hadn't researched enough was marketing. This is still something I'm learning now. The world of book publishing has changed in the last ten years, and so has the way authors have to market their books. Blogging, website designs, social media, email marketing...all of these things are part of building an author platform. What's an author platform? It's the part of being an author that means when a reader picks up one of your books they immediately recognize it as yours. It means your logo, your genre and even the way your covers are designed. It means gathering and keeping a loyal group of fans who love you and the books you write. In other words-- it's making people WANT your books. So once Between was published I wondered...why aren't people buying my book? Of course, I was on to the next novel by then. So I continued in the same pattern for the next four novels before I realized that I was missing an important component to gathering readers. I began to study the marketing aspect a little more, and implementing the lessons I learned.
The bottom line, lovely readers, is this: being an author means more than simply writing a book. As with any endeavor, an author must apply all the lessons I learned above (and many more I haven't even touched on). Your story must show your knowledge of the "rules" of writing. (Once you know them it's easier to break them!) Readers expect that a book will have all the elements of story structure and plot and world-building that you learned about in tenth grade English class. Your book can be riveting, and emotionally devastating, but if it's poorly constructed or hard to grasp your message can be lost in translation. Readers expect QUALITY. That means editing for content, grammar, spelling, punctuation and readability. I cannot stress enough how important finding and using a good editor can be to a writer's publishing process. Content and developemental edits (plot holes etc) can be accomplished by finding good beta readers who love your genre. Readers expect GORGEOUS covers. This doesn't mean a cover you subjectively love. This means looking at the covers of all the best selling books in your genre. What do they have in common? What sets them apart? What makes them eye-catching? Don't copy them, but keep in mind the elements they all share that let readers know what genre your book is. Last but not least, the hardest lesson I have learned about publishing a book(s) is that not everyone is going to love your book as much as you do. Be prepared for lackluster sales. Be prepared for bad reviews. Understand that the diamond you see could look like glass to someone else. Reading is SUBJECTIVE. But, when someone tells you that they loved your book, or that they "get" what you're trying to say, that is a feeling that cannot be duplicated anywhere else.
Like many other authors, I will tell you that I don't publish books in the hopes that I'll get rich. As a matter of fact, I have no expectations of that. I want stories that touch hearts and minds and leave readers wanting more. My favorite books leave me feeling like the world is a little bigger, and that's what I want my readers to feel, too. If you're an author then write for the love of writing. Tell stories that matter to you. And for the love of all that is holy---NEVER GIVE UP.
AR DeClerck is a USA Today Bestselling Author of Adventure Romance. She lives in Illinois with her husband, daughters, 2 dogs and a cat. She reads, watches TV, loves Netflix and is addicted to Spotify. Stalk her on social media, and subscribe to her mailing list for updates!
This is Princess Poopers. She is my loyal writing companion, always
sitting next to me as I type away.
You can find me on Amazon

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