When I started submitting my manuscript to publishers and agents back in 2013/2014, I have to admit that my only focus was on getting “the call” (or email) to say that someone loved my book and wanted to represent me. What I didn’t think about at any point during that process – or even at any point after I did receive “the email” – was what would happen next. Obviously I thought about my book being edited, a cover coming to life, and my ‘baby’ making his way into the world, but I didn’t really think beyond that. Therefore, there were some things took me by surprise and I thought I’d share them with you.
Surprise 1: Reviews
The surprise wasn’t that I would get reviews; the surprise was the content of the reviews. Before I became published, I confess that I never, ever read a review of a book as part of my purchasing decision. Quite simply, if I liked the sound of the blurb or the book was recommended by someone I knew with similar reading tastes to me, I’d buy it. Therefore, I had no idea that there are readers out there who will take the time and trouble to write an essay about a book they’ve loved. They’ll explain the plot in their own words, they’ll talk about the things they loved, they’ll share their emotional journey (laughter/tears) and there are even some who give their favourite quotes. Wow! That’s serious dedication. Book bloggers do this as part of their more detailed review process but it’s non-bloggers I’m talking about here. How amazing and incredibly flattering. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
The downside is negative reviews, but let’s not dwell on those 😉
Surprise 2: Reactions of friends & family
My mum and a small core of friends have been absolutely amazing. They’ve provided beta-reading services, have promoted the book to other friends and family, and regularly ask how the writing is going, desperate to get their hands on my next release. This is lovely. And some friends who I didn’t expect to be enthusiastic have been. I’m a Brown Owl and some of my leadership team aren’t big readers but they bought my first novel and sent me texts raving about it, begging for the subsequent books. Another wow moment!
Surprise 3: The valuable support from other writers
When the Write Romantics was established 4.5 years ago, only one of the ten of us had a publishing deal. Now we are all either traditionally or indie published which is incredible. As we’re based all over the country, we have a closed Facebook group where we chat to each other about the ups and downs of writing. I have to say, I had no idea that this group would be so valuable. Advice is shared, encouragement is given, and there are lots of virtual hugs when things aren’t going so well. I’m not sure where I’d be without my writing friends.
Surprise 4: How the goalposts have changed
When I first started writing, my goal was simply to write a book. Then it became to write a trilogy because my story lent itself to that. Then it became to get a publishing deal. I achieved all of these things but the goalposts kept shifting which I suppose is inevitable; you achieve your dreams so you create new ones.
I wanted to break the Top 10,000 on Amazon and, when I did that, I wanted to crack the top 1,000, then the Top 100 … Actually, that one still remains a goal for me and, if I’m really honest (which I always am), breaking the top 10,000 is still a goal most days for my books.
For a while, I became quite obsessed with sales figures and chart positions and it started to really get me down so I’ve stopped looking. Okay, you’ve got me, I haven’t stopped looking but I don’t look very often and I don’t obsess about it because I’ve accepted that there’s not a lot I can do about it. I’ve changed my covers, I’ve changed my categories, I’ve run promotions (free and 99p), and I’ve gone all out on social media yet nothing seems to make any lasting impact. Yes, a 99p deal and particularly a free deal will get a flurry of downloads, but it drops back to ‘normal’ after that and, as ‘normal’ is nothing to write home about, the only way I’m going to shift more copies is to permanently make my work free. Hmmm. And this nicely brings me onto the final surprise…
Surprise 5: I still have absolutely no idea what makes a book sell
I’ve had a successful career and have always prided myself at being really good at my day job. I’ve managed large budgets, sizeable teams, and huge workloads successfully. I therefore thought that I’d be able to emulate the same success as a writer. *Pauses to roll eyes and shake head at extreme naivety.* It hasn’t quite worked like that.
The more I read and the more I chat to other writers, the more it becomes apparent that most writers can’t pinpoint why their books sell when other equally good books don’t. Is it the covers? The blurb? The title? The setting? The categories on Amazon? The length of the book? The number of reviews? Social media presence? Promotions? Who knows! Nobody can seem to put their finger on what specifically has led to success.
This is linked to the previous surprise and, therefore, you won’t be surprised to hear that I became quite down to the point where I thought about giving up. This thought circulated my mind for probably about five minutes because, let’s face it, I couldn’t not write. It’s who I am and I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t spend hours with my fictional friends, creating problems for them and then making it all better by giving them their happy ever after. However, I do think that I’m one of those writers for whom it’s not going to happen. Those who read my books and take the time to leave a review seem to love them so I’m obviously doing something right as far as the stories go. It’s just obviously everything else that I’m doing wrong! I’ll keep trying, though, and maybe one day I will be one of those who does achieve that chart-topping success and can’t pinpoint how or why I achieved it. Is it too early to ask Santa for this?
What about you? If you’re a writer, do you agree with my five surprises? What else has surprised you about becoming published? Even better, do you know the secret to why books sell? Please tell me. I promise I won’t tell anyone else! 😉
If you’re a reader, what makes you buy a book because I’d welcome any tips?
Thanks for reading my ramblings. Hope you enjoy the rest of your summer.
You can access Jessica’s books on Kindle here.