Hello, I’m KR Paul, recently welcomed into the vaunted circle of “Published Novelists” for my novel Pantheon, and I’m writing to you from my private island while surrounded by my enormous piles of money.
Ok, ok, I’m back now. Sorry, I had to pull myself off the floor where I lay, wheezing with laughter.
Like many of you, I had misconceptions about how my first month as a published novelist would go. It didn’t go how I expected, so why not peel back the curtain and write about it?
I want to start off by stating that while I had misconceptions, I’m really, really pleased with how the first month went. Everyone dreams of becoming an overnight success, but I had also listed out a set of what I felt were reasonable goals based on my research. Yes, I did a lot of research over the last six months.
Back in March and April, I did a lot of research. I had signed my contract, the book was with the publisher, and I held off editing the sequel until I knew the publisher’s style. I was also quarantined, then on telework, then on a weird hybrid of telework, so I had time on my hands. I’m glad I spent that time researching because it helped me take my wild fancies of Being A Famous Author! and re-shape them into something more realistic and achievable. I used my slightly more realistic expectations to build my goals.
Let’s look at the misconceptions/fantasies I had just after signing my contract, what my achievable goal looks like, why I chose that goal, and how it’s going.
Misconception 1: My book will be a runaway hit! I’ll sell millions!
Reality: The average debut novel sells 250 copies—some as few as 5.
Goals: Beat the average and sell enough to be commercially viable.
During my research, I found several figures on how many books a first-time novelist sells. Some of it is outdated (read: pre-e-books and Kindle Unlimited) and some I question the source (blogs trying to sell marketing); however, the best average I could find notes that a new novelist is likely to sell only 250 copies of their book. That’s not a lot. That’s not enough.
So, my first goal was to beat the odds: sell 250 books. (Which I’m pleased to say I beat in a month.) The next goal was to double that by the end of the calendar year. Finally, sell 1,000 copies by the end of next year.
Why 1,000? I have to take my ego out of this equation and look at it from a purely commercial standpoint. After all, most of my rejection letters from Literary Agents noted that I was a “captivating writer but not commercially viable.” That’s a really nice way of saying, “you write well, but unless you’re willing to produce a book a year, you won’t make us enough money.” Or, more colloquially, “the juice ain’t worth the squeeze.”
So, in answer to “why 1,000?”: because if my math is correct, I start reaching the point where I’ve earned back my advance. My juice is worth the squeeze. And I can show my publisher that I am worth the investment of time and money they made in me.
Misconception 2: I will suddenly become very popular across social media
Reality: I’m a little bit more popular, but I hustled my rear end to gain followers
Goals: Build a loyal and active fanbase
Six months ago, I believed that publishing a novel would draw social media followers to me like moths to the passionate fires of my writing. I had that 100% backward! Well, maybe 98% as I’ve had a few people follow me just because I’m an author, but for the most part, books sale come from followers and not the other way around.
I’ve spent the last few months tailoring my “brand” to my genre, researching ways to build followers, and executing my crazy plans. I don’t have a huge marketing budget. I basically don’t have a marketing budget. But, to quote Taken: “I don’t have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career.” No, I’m not killing people for followers. Still, after many years in my day job, I am very good at research, building plans/strategy, and executing those plans. I’m not great at self-promotion, but my gods, I can fake it ’til I make it!
It seems to be going well so far. In July, I got a whopping 35 new followers on Twitter. In August, I was up another 67, doubling my followership rate. In September, my release month, 186 new folks joined me, and I crossed the 1,000 follower mark in October. I’m also slowly building a Facebook following and an email list. These are also taking research and plan modification to find what things people want to see and what draws followers in.
Misconception 3: I can take a breather now that the hard work is done
Reality: I have worked an average of 1-2 hours a day after work and an additional 4-6 hours on the weekend since the start of September
Goals: Position myself to take advantage of opportunities as they come
This is a really squishy goal. I wish I could articulate it better, but I’m working to balance my day job and the time/energy I owe to family life and a writing career. I’ve got my fingers crossed that I get a bit of a promotion next year while fully recognizing that it will slow the pace at which I can write. I hope that by front loading some of the work I’m doing now, I can take breaks from this later when the other parts of my life demand more time.
Misconception 4: I will be fabulously wealthy from sales
Reality: I will be very happy to earn back my advance!
Goals: As with the sale numbers, I want to sell enough to keep selling. If my book tanks, then I may not get another shot.
What I didn’t expect:
– Friends and family coming out of the woodwork to support me. Writing is a relatively solitary activity. You pour your heart and soul, fears and hopes, into a story. If you’re wise, you ask a few trusted friends to read and critique your work. Until the day I signed my contract, there were only four people who knew it had even been offered. I still keep very quiet about it at my day job.
But, of course, I told my Mom who told all my family. And I finally put something about it on my personal Facebook page. Now I’ve had people I hadn’t talked to in years reach out to congratulate me. I’ve felt very loved and supported by the people in my life this month, which means a lot to me.
– Becoming obsessed with Amazon’s metrics. For the first week, I think I check Amazon’s Author Central twice a day to see how the book was doing. I’ve calmed down a bit now, checking only every couple of days
– How much I would have to learn about marketing. As I chipped away at Misconception 2 (I’m InstaFamous!) I learned a lot about what it takes to market a book and market yourself as a brand. Let me tell you, marketing a book is a breeze compared to marketing yourself. At least, it’s easier for me. I’m extroverted by nature, but I also have a family, and, in this day and age, I’m vigilant about protecting their privacy. I’m not always perfect, but if my social media seems self-focused, it’s because on those accounts, I am The Brand, and I don’t want to use my kiddo for likes. (Yeah, I’m not even subtle about dragging Mommy bloggers who throw their kids faces out on the internet for likes.) I’ve tried to match The Brand with the theme/tone of my genre (Action!) while keeping it real. As I talked about in CFtT: Being Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable, I truly believe you need to experience some of these things yourself, so I only talk about what I’ve personally done or I’m training to do.
I’m also learning to work around several constraints/restraints with my day job. Like only ever calling it my “day job.” One day, many years in the future, I’ll be able to open up about how fantastically cool my job is, the amazing stuff I’ve done, and how it’s shaped me as a person and as a write, but for now… It’s like Fight Club.
– I have really cool fans! Y’all have been great. I love seeing Pantheon out in the wild! I love seeing you holding Kindles, paperbacks, and patches! I also love hearing the fan theories, fielding questions about “Why didn’t [insert scenario here]? ” and getting to meet folks in the first Meet the Author. That was more fun than I anticipated and I’m excited for when I can get out to conventions and things to meet folks in person.
And yes, as it turns out, I didn’t know that I have a couple fans here in the local area. It was odd to realize some of y’all live less than five miles from me or just a town over!
It’s been a wild month. I’m so thankful to my publisher, Force Poseidon for taking a chance on me. I’m grateful to my growing fanbase for the support. And I’m thankful to my friends and family for encouraging me and supporting me while I’ve chased this dream. I can’t wait to see how the rest plays out!
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