Insights from 10 authors about the things they wished they knew before publishing their first book
Let’s face it: no matter how meticulous we authors are in writing, editing, and publishing our books, there will always be something we wished we had done before putting the book out in front of the world.
I have learned so much since publishing my first book, that I could write an entire article about all the things I wished I knew before going about it. Or wait, maybe I already have!
But this article is not about me. I have a Space on Quora where I conduct interviews with published authors with the aim of creating a place for them to share their experiences in the writing, publishing, and marketing business. The Space features a new author every few days with an exciting set of questions featuring their struggles and success stories.
One of my favourite questions that I ask each author I interview is this:
What is something you wish you knew before you published your first book?
In this article, I have combined the lessons from ten successful authors from India and abroad, with the aim of putting all the valuable lessons I learned in one place so as to help other authors who are starting out.
The need to keep honing your craft
Anjum Hassan is the much-loved author of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize Nominee Neti, Neti. She mostly writes fiction. She also writes other things like essays and, only occasionally now, poems. She started out as a poet and book reviewer.
Here is what Anjum had to say when asked about what she wished she knew before releasing her first book:
I wish I’d known how essential it is to be a student, in the broadest sense, of literature in order to produce any. I would have been a more disciplined reader if I’d known this — I’ve always been a reader, but a haphazard one and my university degree is in philosophy rather literature.
Life is a constant learning experience, and the day we say we have learned enough is the day we stop improving.
A writer needs to wear many hats
Jyoti Arora is an Indian blogger and author of four books. She writes contemporary fiction and dabbles in technology-related write-ups. She was one of the 100 women achievers invited to witness the 2016 Republic Day parade of India as a special guest.
The valuable lesson Jyoti learned after publishing her first book is:
I knew only writing at the time I published my first book. But a writer needs to wear many hats now. I learned that little by little as more of my books were published.
One needs to be very careful while dealing with book reviewers, promotors, etc. Not all people who offer to help you promote books are helpful. Most are out there just to rob you of your money.
Of course, in today’s times, merely being a writer is not enough. You have to be a digital marketer, public speaker, vlogger, and social media specialist.
The first step is the hardest
Anyone who has spent some time on Quora has heard of Dushka Zapata. A three-time Top Writer with over 220,000+ followers, Dushka is also the author of nine books and an e-manual about how to write one. In her own words, she is a writer who writes about anything she finds helpful with the hope that what she writes about is as beneficial to the reader as discovering it was to her.
When I asked Dushka about the things she wished she knew before publishing her first book, here is what she said:
I wish I knew that getting started is the most difficult part. That the most important skill a writer should have apart from writing or editing is discipline.
I am sure all writers would agree to this. Writing daily and completing a book is harder than it appears, what with the countless distractions the other open tabs on our browsers provide, continually screaming for our attention.
The real challenge is marketing
Chandrayan Gupta is a 21-year-old novelist, blogger and law student from India. Since he was 14, he has been struggling with mental health issues. And he likes detective thrillers. So, he created a series that blended the two. An emotionally damaged private investigator and a clinically depressed teenager team up to solve challenging crimes while helping each other through their issues.
The lesson Chandrayan shared is something I am sure every writer has struggled with at some point in their lives:
Writing a book is only 20% of the job. The rest comes after publishing it, i.e., marketing it. That’s where the real challenge lies. People can’t read your work if they don’t know about it.
As writers, many of us tend to be introverted at heart. But, to ensure our work gets the audience we think it deserves, we need to learn to establish a consistent public image for ourselves.
Selling a book is harder than writing one
Divyansh Mundra is a novelist, a TEDx speaker, and currently working in the Indian TV industry. He has penned two Amazon Bestsellers, and his content has been viewed by over 30-million people on Quora.
When asked what is something he wished he had known before publishing his first book, this is what Divyansh said-
Selling a book is harder than writing one.
Candid and to the point! No wonder millions of readers love his stories on Quora.
The book never gets out of your head
Tamara Whitlow is a writer and a mother of two from Columbus, Ohio. Her first book Worth the Wait was widely appreciated by the readers for the heart-warming plot and intensely relatable characters. Her second book Finding N has garnered some amazing reviews from readers all over the world. In her own words, Tamara wants people to get HOPE from her books, a way of making the worst situations possible to get through.
Her words left me smiling because they were something I could strongly relate with:
I wish I knew how time-consuming writing a book was and how your brain never turns off!
Of course, every writer must have faced this while writing their book. The plot and the characters never leave your head, whether you are working, cooking, driving or showering. In the final stages, they even come to you in your sleep!
The bridge between writing and publishing
Kavya Janani is the author of five self-published books and several stories, many of which have gained international recognition on yourstoryclub and WattPad; Kavya is a 25-year-old working mother from India.
When I asked her what is the one thing she wished she knew before publishing her first book, here is what Kavya said-
I wish I had known about beta-readers and manuscript consultants, who play a major role in shaping the success of a book. I met my manuscript consultant and beta-reader very late in my writing journey, but it was worth the wait.
Indeed, beta readers play a significant role in improving the quality of the first draft. I have never worked with one (except my boyfriend, who reads all the things I write by default). But, this is something I am willing to change before my fourth book comes out.
Pricing, SEO, and cover design
Balakarthiga M is a full-time hustler and part-time writer. She is currently working as a marketer and brand manager at a Data Science company in India. She has published two books and is currently working on two other novels.
Bala’s insights were valuable, as she comes from a marketing background-
Pricing intelligence can make or break your book sales.
Updating the Amazon SEO — putting the right keywords and category can be crucial in a book’s bestseller ranking.
Investing in good design is another critical way to attract audience attention.
While everyone is focussed on Social Media Posts, authors should also be ready to shell out some cash for running paid ads.
I had a pen and paper ready while hearing her talk about all these tips to get your book to sell more copies. I hope you would find them useful as well while working on promoting your next book.
Promoting for free is the real challenge
Mohit Garg works for American Express. It’s been a few years he is working and never liked it but has always wanted to be a writer or photographer. He published his first book, Lives of Vulnerable Entities, almost a year back.
Mohit had some useful insights to add to the lessons learnt after publishing his first book:
The first book is not easy. I’ll share how I did it. I started drafting the book and simultaneously worked on designing the cover. It took me almost two months to finalize things. At points, I had a feeling where I thought I won’t be able to make it. Apart from all this, choosing a publisher who can support you as per your conditions is difficult.
After all this I was able to publish, however, I had another question in front of me: how to promote without spending a lot of money in one go?
I did a whole lot of research for this as well. Connected with potential book reviewers all over the country. Then shortlisted a few influencers on Instagram, sent them the books. Paid what they wanted to be paid for. Waited for their response. Some of them did well while some utterly disappointed me. Some I am still waiting for a response. So, it was an interesting experience altogether.
The lesson out of all this: plan and don’t trust people on social media (I mean be careful).
As a writer, I am sure you would agree. Writing is never easy, but putting the book together (editing, pagination, cover design) is more laborious. Promoting the book without a huge upfront investment is a challenge, but with proper research, it can be managed.
The fun of creating something from scratch
Sam Anthony is a high school mathematics teacher and an independently published author from the UK. He has written three psychological-thriller novels and one anthology of short stories. His books have been loved by readers all over the world for their unique premise and creative titles (The Adulterer’s Handbook, The Adulterer’s Confession, and The Adulterer’s Dilemma).
Here is the one thing Sam learned the hard way after publishing his first book:
Self-publishing is wonderful as I love being able to write what I want, when I want, without having to worry about deadlines and editors. However, book promotion is very hard without a publisher.
That being said, I wish I knew how much fun it is to create something. If I did, I might have written my first novel sooner!
For a creative person, writing a novel can the most exhilarating and liberating experience of their life. It is best to put words to paper as soon as an idea presents itself. After all, as writers, we know writing can be a journey of self-exploration as well.
Summarising, all the ten authors I interviewed appeared to agree on one thing: an author’s work does not end after writing a book. They have to take care of the marketing and promotions as well.
Apart from that, no one can deny the unadulterated delight that is there is putting a book together from scratch.
As writers, our books are our legacy, the gift we leave for the world.
But more than anything else, they are the gifts we give ourselves.
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