In May of this year, I will be celebrating ten years as a professionally published author. Back in March of 2004, I entered a contest and won my first contract. It feels like forever ago in some regards, and in others it was like a year ago! (At present I have published with no less than two dozen publishers, some of them great, some I'd run a mile from on my most desperate day!) But, in the ten years of non-stop publishing since the first contract, I’ve learned a lot. Most of it by trial and error–with a large margin of error in the early days. As the years have passed, this business has grown by leaps and bounds, and is more competitive by the day. So, you have to learn fast, and then keep up. That keeping up is a full time job all by itself, too!
So, things learned, in no particular order, and this is only a very general list, obviously!
First, reviews. Everybody loves to read that their book has been enjoyed, or see it recommended to others. However, in the new world of online life and work, reviews are not conducted the way they once were. When I started, I was astounded to discover that people were not only reading my first books, review sites were reading and rating them, and no word of a lie–most of those first reviews were 5 star! But, those reviews were also from people who loved books and understood, for the most part, the value of a well balanced perspective in judging the merits of the stories they gave their time to. Review sites like Coffeetime Romance, Fallen Angel Reviews, The Romance Studio, and others like them–they have editors, and a set of rules and guidelines that have to be followed. Those reviews, to this day, are valued by authors.
Enter the new age of Amazon and Goodreads, and bloggers… While there is certainly value in what people have to say, it’s pretty much a given that open sites such as these allow people to spew a lot of venom if they are inclined to trash any book or author they take a dislike to. One star reviews are common on books offered by publishers for free as incentive to discover new authors, and ironically, with Amazon if you get a free book from a publisher promotion, they call it a verified purchase! If you take the time to look, it is often those free days that garner you the worst reviews, and then look again, you’ll discover that it’s a pattern. Not everyone engages in this type of abuse, but many do. It then becomes an exercise in futility if you track down reviews, because I can guarantee you’ll make discoveries that discourage you. It becomes clear fairly fast who’s really read your book and made thoughtful observations, and who’s skimmed a few pages and decided it’s crap.
The best defense? NONE at all. If you do have to acknowledge, say thank you for your time and move on, otherwise all hell breaks loose and the author always loses!
Most publishers send out their books to review sites–if you don’t get a notification from them of a review, don’t torture yourself by looking. This is of course only MY opinion.
How many times have you seen authors make the statement that they don’t like edits, or they don’t feel editors are needed? I’ve seen this proclaimed proudly by MANY indie authors–they refuse to engage an editor who will “change” their work, or alter their voice. I could be a total bitch and say what I think of that kind of posturing and arrogance, but hey, why bother? Good writers understand that a strong and talented editor is vitally important to producing the best book you can write. A good editor isn’t striving to change your voice, but to improve it and make it shine. So, yeah, I’m a strong advocate of listening to editors and respecting them as the important people they are to the industry. It’s a thankless job when you’re ignored or whined at, or subjected to outright hostile vitriol from authors who apparently don’t want to work as hard as the editor at making their book the best it can be.
A couple of other lessons that spring to mind are to never take your battles public. If you’re having an issue with your publisher, before you decide to play martyr and see if you can force them to squirm, know that it often backfires. You end up labeled a troublemaker, and the internet never forgets. Somewhere the angry tirade will be stored and resurface when you least want to see it. If you have no other choice but make your grievances a matter of public record, think very carefully about how you present yourself and your issues, because the taint will not shake easily if you come off as an ego-driven diva.
Be aware that contracts are pretty standard, but always read them carefully, especially the first time you work with a new house. MOST will not ask for a termination fee should things not work out, those that do, look closer and find out why? It’s not unreasonable for a house to expect you to leave your book with them for a period of time that will enable them to recover their investment, at least to some degree. If you want to terminate within the first six months, is that being fair to the publisher who invested their resources in publishing your book? Of course when you DO sign a termination, watch for things like gag orders and other anomalies. No one has the right to silence you if you wish to discuss your experience with a publishing house, but be sure you’re not being malicious just for the sake of it. If you have issues, be prepared to back them up with fact, or shut up. Otherwise you might be inviting a lawsuit.
In conclusion, let me leave you with a very valuable piece of insight that I have learned the hard way–and more than once, sadly. The real pros in this business want you to succeed, and they support you, encourage you, and cheer your triumphs. The amateurs will resent your successes, envy your breaks, and seethe every time you get something they don’t get. Those are the people you really want to walk away from because they’ll do you more harm than good, and make you feel doubts and fears you might otherwise not experience. This is a tough enough business without your “friends” making it harder on you.
More than anything else – continue to enjoy creating your stories, and tell them with love and passion… you’ll never lack for an appreciative audience if you invest in entertaining them the best way you can. If the words make you smile, you can pretty much rest assured, they’ll make your readers smile, too. And that is an author’s best reward for all the hours of hard work!