I wrote this because I work with a lot of first-time authors and I needed an article to direct them to to help them deal with the extreme excitement (and the expectations) they usually have about their first book.
Over the years I’ve learned a lot about this business. The following has been gathered from my conversations with editors and from 9 years as a publisher and 18 years as a published book author. Here are 12 important things you need to know about being published and having a contract when you’re just starting out:
1. You probably aren’t going to sell a lot of books right out the gate. Most of the people who will buy first will be friends and/or family. That may be a big group of people, or a tiny group of people depending on your individual situation.
2. A lot of people are going to tell you they bought your book just to be polite or to get you to quit bugging them about it. They won’t. Or they’ll finally buy it once the guilt sets in. So initially you may think your distributors/publishers are lying to you about sales numbers. This usually isn’t the case. Also – depending on venue, it can take up to a month (sometimes two) for a sale to show up. For example, someone who buys a paperback from B&N or their local bookstore – their sale may not show up for a month, and not pay out for two months. eBooks can usually take up to 24 hours to show up on distribution reports. So never assume your publisher/distributor is lying about your book sales, because that’s usually the first place the new author’s mind goes to. Writing and selling books is NOT a get rich quick scheme and even publishers know that it can take time to make back their investment they put into an author’s book. They just hope to make it back quickly.
3. Just because your book is available does not mean people will buy it. Books need to be marketed by you, and by your publisher (if you have one). It’s in your publisher’s best interest to push your book. However – with small and micro presses – author self-marketing is crucial. This means interacting with readers and sharing links to your book(s).
4. Do not respond to negative reviews. It always makes the author look bad. As Taylor Swift says, “Shake it off.” If you can’t do that, you really should not be in this business anyway because every writer inevitably gets that one review that insults them as a person, or trashes their book. Every. Writer. I don’t care how good you are.
5. So you’ve just signed a publishing contract with a small press? Huzzah! Now expect to wait. Editors, artists, etc… take time to work. Especially if artwork needs to be done. Your book isn’t going to hurdle at lightening speeds toward publication. Chances are your book is not the only one the publisher, editor, and cover artists are working on. A book can take six months to a year (in most cases) to reach publication. For micro-presses, this may happen a little faster, but don’t push. Publishers hate Diva (Prima donna) authors and the pain-in-the-arse author may find herself fired or not offered a second contract. Patience, patience, patience.
6. First books by new authors rarely take off. Also, after a book has been out for awhile, sometimes sales taper off. It’s just the nature of the beast. I know for DB Publishing, there are a few books that don’t sell more than ten copies a year. That’s the nature of working in niche publishing. It’s not always lucrative. It’s a labor of love (not a get rich quick scheme).
7. It is highly unlikely you’ll be able to quit your day job and start writing full time just because you now have a published book. This is true no matter what the size of your publisher. Unless you hit the NY Times bestseller lists – the likelihood of you making a living wage from a single book is slim to none. Remember, if you’re making $1 a book, that it can take selling 50,000 books in a year to make a $50K salary. If you are curious about how books similar to yours sell, ask your publisher. They’ll be honest about it. In the Daemonolatry/Satanism book world, the standard chapbook sells anywhere from 0-25 copies per month, depending on whether or not word-of-mouth spreads and how active the author markets their book(s).
8. If you’re a new author, don’t expect a publisher will want to buy the entire series up front. They’ll usually contract the first one, see how it does, and if they haven’t recouped their expenses the first year, they may be hesitant to offer a second contract. However, if they recoup their expenses in the first month (or six for small press), expect that you may be offered a contract on your series work. This, of course, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t finish writing your series if you have one in you. Besides – you want to make sure you work well with a publisher before offering an entire series.
9. Don’t keep changing your mind about things at the last minute. Did you approve the cover and then decide three weeks after the book is published that you wanted something different? Did you find a missed typo on page 322 two months after the book’s release? First, many small publishers will consider fixing a cover mistake after publication, but only once. It costs money to constantly change artwork. Complete cover overhauls likely won’t happen. If your book isn’t a major seller — a publisher may be hesitant to do this for you. Cover artists don’t work for free and some distributors charge correction fees. As for typos, shit happens. Unless the book is riddled with typos (and by riddled I mean unreadable, in which case an editor will usually get fired) or unless it has more than 3-5 – let it go.
10. Don’t constantly harass your publisher for sales numbers. Either wait for your monthly (quarterly) royalty statements, or politely ask your publisher, “Hey, I did an email marketing campaign over the weekend, could you tell me how many books I sold between XXX – and XXX?” But don’t do it EVERY couple of days. You’ll drive them nuts and chances are you won’t be asked for another book.
11. Many micro-presses/small presses don’t have marketing departments or huge marketing budgets. So don’t tell your publisher what you expect them to do for marketing. You’ll just annoy them. Instead, find out up front what they can do for marketing and what’s in the budget. If you have great ideas for marketing, be sure to share them. Your publisher wants your book to succeed as much as you do. DB Publishing, for example, gets prime advertising space on demonolatry.org, and we have FB pages that we post to for reaching readers. We also use our bigger name authors (::raises hand::) to help sell our newer and unknown authors. That is the extent of our reach, however. We are a tiny micro-publisher that publishes niche non-fiction. So we target our audience. Our authors have the task of getting the book out to other-than-Daemonolatry markets. This is how it goes with small press.
12. Finally – keep your expectations realistic! REALISTIC is the key word here. It can take YEARS to build an audience and a writing career. Anyone who thinks I built my writing career overnight is sadly mistaken. It’s very rare (and rather implausible) for a new writer who hasn’t been writing long to hit the jackpot with a first book.