Everybody warned me.
Every article I read on independently publishing your own novel said,"As a debut author, don't expect big sales or overnight success."
I said, "My expectations are realistic."
But I discovered that, for an author bravely sending her baby-this book she's worked on for years-out into the world, there is no such thing as 'realistic' expectations. There's only Great Expectations.
Consciously, I had prepared myself in all the right ways. I kept on reminding myself of all the reasons "Dancing in the Shadows of Love" wouldn't even be a blip on the radar screen. When there was a brief flurry of excitement and it rose to the top 100 of its category for a few days, I remained calm.
I nodded sagely when the highly successful independent author Zoe Winters said in an interview, "You're unlikely to sell great overnight."
But still...in some secret corner of my heart there was a part of me that expected this book to make waves. When the sales ranking dropped, my heart dropped along with it. Despite my best intentions, I took to clicking on the sales ranking graph ten times a day.
I'm still learning to accept that it barely made a ripple. Perhaps, in time, that ripple may become a tsunami, but it could simply disappear along with my Great Expectations.
How does that make me feel? A bit foolish, actually. And a bit like a tragic hero faced with his own hubris. But, unlike a tragic hero, I'll have a chance to redeem myself: for my next book, my expectations will be much more sensible. I hope.
How have your writing expectations been too high? Where do you think you could make your expectations more pragmatic?
You can read Self-Publishing Mistake #1 here
You can read Self-Publishing Mistake #2 here
You can read Self-Publishing Mistake #4 here
You can read Self-Publishing Success here
Image from cover of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations
Judy, I can so identify with all this. I was published by a major publisher, and I assumed I'd arrived, but there's so much more to it than that, and the disappointemnt is awful. Hang on to one thing: you have written a book, you (almost certainly) enjoyed writing it. That's what really matters. Those moments when the words simply flow - no-one can take that away from you, and there's nothing like it. I still think that with writing, the travelling is so much the best part. The arrival can be fraught with anxiety and disappointment. But it's early days. Hang on in there. Word of mouth could do a great deal for your book, and that takes time.
Judy, I don't even know how to look at the ranking in a category. I think the main thing is to enjoy the journey. Like any business, it takes time to get your name out there. Blogging is a good way to make friends and become known. I didn't really start marketing my books until I published my third one and I think it has helped, because people seem to read one and then also buy the other two.
You should never feel foolish. Most people only talk about writing a book, anyone who sits down and actually gets it published is to be admired.
Like Frances says, even those published BIG aren't successes overnight. In fact, most big writers you know weren't actually big until they'd come out with five or six books. My publisher keeps telling me FIVE BOOKS is the magic number when things start to fall into place for most authors. So that's what I'm aiming for. I don't expect anything huge now. I used to...I made the same mistake as you, but I've since learned.
The thing is, five book is a long time. For me, I'll be lucky if those five published books happen in five years. I'm trying to make it happen. I love this no matter what, though, and I'm lucky to be in a place where I'm comfortable and happy. It really is about the writing. As my friend Breanne always says: "Woe is the writer who mounts his merit on the masses."
Well, Michelle said what I was going to say. Except I'd heard it was only three. OK five. It's numbers, anyway. And the great thing about self-pubbing your first is that nobody's going to pull it from the shelves and pulp it and you don't have a big publisher to drop you for not earning out your advance, or an agent to tell you to go take a hike. Your book can sit there waiting for the next one. And the next. And next. The momentum will come.
I have similar experience from publishing of science papers in journals; you know, my great research that everybody should applaud. The measure of success for a science paper is the number of subsequent papers (not counting your own) that refer to it. My papers have a few references, but not a great many. Life is hard, but we don't give up >:)
Cold As Heaven
Aah, those pesky expectations. I had a few of them myself, lol. What the others have said, what I've heard over and over, and from the pep talk our executive editor gave us last week, it takes more than one book. I think the magic number is different for everyone but you know what? I only heard of the Harry Potter books after the 3rd one had been released. I don't know how well JK did right up front on the first release, but I had no clue she existed.
Thanks so much for sharing these *mistakes* with us, although I don't consider them mistakes, rather just part of the learning experience :)
Oh yes, I identify. Except, initially, I had really low expectations ... my book would sell only to a few members of my family and a few friends.
It turned out I had a few more friends than I thought, so my hopes rose. That was the first month. The sales totals for the second and third months slammed me back down to earth.
Word of mouth is just now beginning to result in a few sales. That will definitely happen for your beautiful book.
I'm praying it's 3 books, not 5, before I can expect to really sell. Oh heck, who am I kidding? The truth is, I'm still hoping for a miracle for this book.
The cry of the eternal optimist? You never know ... :-)
Judy, tanx for being so brave in sharing. I also like to believe that this was a learned experience, very exhilarating even with all the highs and lows and not mistakes.
Keep the faith.
I always have low expectations, and that's not fun, either. I think I was most surprised by which friends bought my book and which didn't. I have dear family members who didn't buy it, and remote "friends" who bought it the first day it was for sale. You just never know. You gotta be in this work because you love writing.
Take heart, Judy. Your book is out there, and it won't be pulled off the shelf. It can only pick up momentum from now on. Keep working on your other books. I can't remember which well known author wrote a blog post last month (I think it was Bob Mayor) about self-published books and how the first one doesn't do well, and neither does the second, but once fans discover you, they're going to want more. Right now. Not have to wait a year for your next book to come out, so try to think in those terms as an incentive to keep writing and publishing because your fans will be happy.
I think most of us have those high expectations. I was thinking the other day how the road to getting published is such a roller coaster ride, but then it doesn't end. There are constant highs and lows, and the people you expect to support you, don't. And others that you don't expect to support you, do. Just like Anita said, I had the same thing happen. It's puzzling, but best not to dwell on those things. The best thing is to keep writing and not let anything keep you down.
I understand about having great expectations. Who wouldn't when their baby-book is released into the world.
I'm glad you've learnt the lessons and moving on. Just bear in mind, you wrote the book and it's out there. One day you might just be pleasantly surprised. It's early days yet.
it is a journey judy, what do you lose, but only so much to gain. judy, can you direct me to how i could buy your ebook?
I can understand the natural inclination to have great expectations for your beloved creation. And you should in many ways. It is an up and down journey for sure. Judy, I will order your book soon. I have been so caught up in my hubby's job hunt these days. I'm looking forward to reading your wonderful writing!! How would I go about buying your book?
This journey, whether it's traditional publishing you are pursuing or self-publishing is full of ups and downs no matter where you are on the journey. It's kind of a mirror of life. I think you prepare as best you can and, like you, learn from the experiences. I think you are doing a wonderful job of exploring this whole process!!! Thanks, Judy! :-)
FRANCES: What a wonderful comment! Thank you for sharing your experiences – I do have my moments when I realise “I’ve done this!” and I feel good! :)
ANN: I said to Husband that despite all the sweat and tears, I wouldn’t want to change this path. At heart I’m a gambler and, despite the stressful moments, have thrived on the challenge. I just need to learn patience because I’m learning that, in this game, the throw of the dice takes a long time to settle!
MICHELLE: FIVE BOOKS! Gasp! I’m such a slow writer I may be too old and grey to care whether any one reads my book number 5!! :)
ANNE: Phew. Ok, three is a slightly more reasonable target! But, yes, it’s such a good feeling to know that I’m in charge of my destiny and can learn from these mistakes without them crushing any future opportunities!
COLD: Never give up. Never, never give up - the next science paper (or the next novel) may just be that one that brings the breakthrough!
CLAIRE: Really? You only heard about Harry Potter after the third one. Hmmm, that proves what Michelle and Anne above said. And, yes, it’s a great learning curve (if a bit steep at times!)
LINDA: Better to be an eternal optimist than a cynic! And no-one does know –as Anne pointed out, with independent publishing the book stays there. I read a story once about a book that Oprah discovered 30 years after it was first written and she featured it on her book club and it became a runaway best seller. I can’t remember the author though – mind gone blank. Anyone hear that story too? That may happen to ours!
SHAZ: I will keep the faith,
ANITA: Absolutely! If you don’t love writing, the journey will be harder than it naturally is!
LYN: You’ve raised a big concern for me – I’ve been so focused on this story, I’ve forgotten that it’s all about the writing. And I’m a s-l-o-w writer, so if I want to stick to my goal of one book published a year, I’m going to having to let this baby go and start nurturing the next one. And, yes, we just have to accept some things don’t work out as we planned and then move on…
KIRU: I LOVE surprises…especially when they’re nice ones!
OCEAN: I’ll be in touch about my book!
KELLY: Ditto, above! And good luck with your hubbys job hunt – I know it’s been a long hard road, but hopefully something will come along soon!
PAUL: I’m trying…sometimes it’s the downs in life that ultimately mould us the best, like a sword forged in steel. After this journey, I’ll be so sharp I’ll slice and sizzle my way through the next writing adventure!
Hi Judy .. such interesting comments to the post - no mistake the way I see it .. a) you have an asset; b) you've self-published .. so you own it all and c) you're learning so much.
There's so many opportunities now - how on earth years ago writers found markets ... I really don't know.
You've got a book, you've got overseas readers and contacts, you've had short stories published .. you're on that roll ..
Keep going and don't forget "Dancing in the Shadows of Love" .. you may well find the sunshine appears .. I'm sure it will.
Enjoy Cape Town and a break away from the internet ... book happiness beckons ... cheers Hilary
I certainly had hoped for more from my e-books. But like you, I discovered my readers prefer "real" books.
Thanks for sharing. Cheers~
HILARY: You make some excellent points - I also thank heavens for the ease of technology and how that has changed a writer's life. How anyone managed before the internet I don't know! Cape Town was warm and sunny and not a drop of rain the whole week! (In winter?!??)
NANCY: Yes, that was quite a surprise for me - interesting that you had the same experience.
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