I wrote short stories when I was young and scripts through college, so I knew about building plot and character. I've worked in the film and Television industry for nearly fifteen years, so dealing with story is what I do for a living every day. This in mind, it seemed like setting out to write a book was doable for me. I researched outlets for release and looked into basic marketing options. I didn't want to spend money in case this experiment was one of my short-lived preoccupations, but because of that, I made some bad decisions in the beginning. Here's what I learned releasing a book in 2014:
1. I'm late
From what I've heard the market for romance novels was a vastly different place four years ago before Fifty Shades swept through the bookisphere. It was a world of traditionally published books (mostly paperback) with painterly covers and a largely older readers. Then with the E.L. James series came an explosion of smoking hot reads that incorporated bits of S&M and younger heroines into the mix and soon there was a golden age (really just a two year window) of self-published contemporary romance. New genres like Young Adult and New Adult developed along with tons of new authors and digital formats. Younger readers were hungry to get their hands on a new digital format that could be read discretely on their new fun tablets. It also meant writing these books was gold, for a minute at least.
What I found was that 2014 was already late for jumping into the pond. There are hundreds of authors putting out romance titles monthly. It's gotten to the point that the old divisions of Regency, Western, or Contemporary have been replaced with massive quantities of micro genres like Highlander, Billionaire, Paranormal, BDSM Clubs, Amish, Prisoner, Baby-Love/Pregnancy, or the scariest growing genre, Hostage/Kidnapping Romances. I'm half expecting the Horror Romances to start pushing the envelope into loving the dead. Maybe Zombie love is coming in 2015. Regardless, the pond is so full that readers have a hard time zeroing in on what their next read will even be. It's information overload when you start shopping around for a new title.
For someone like me who wanted to put out a book that was full of real characters (non billionaire, thirty-somethings with problems and flaws) this was a tough time to find a market. Most people who read my book were surprised by the emotional content which made me wonder if they were as numb to monotonous formula as I was before I wrote it. I didn't hit the jackpot and grab onto thousands of waiting fans immediately. I didn't stumble into a new hook. I did however realize that this is one of the hardest ways to make a living one could possibly choose. I've kept my day job... luckily.
2. Build a Network First
Like I said before, I decided to do this on a whim. I didn't network or build a following before. I didn't even join a book club until I was nearly finished with my first book. I only joined hoping it would push me to read more instead of just writing. In the long run it was the only foot I had into a network of people to even inform that I had a book out. I wish I had thought this part through. If I had a good supportive group to back me from the beginning maybe there would have been more of a drive to buy my books. Or at least a group who knew it was out. Ha ha ha...
3. Don't Put It Out Until It's Ready
This one sounds like common sense now, but at the time when I put the book out, I thought it was "good enough". I'm not sure if I was just sick of re-reading it myself or maybe I actually was just in a hurry to get the experiment going, but I published my book way too early. HUGE mistake. Like I said before, I didn't want to spend money on this in the beginning so I didn't pay a professional to edit my first book. I joined two peer groups and exchanged books or chapters with others to help edit. I used the little feedback I got to make adjustments and then paid BookBaby (another BIG mistake) to publish it. What I found was that most of the books or pages I was proofreading in the author groups weren't great, which just gave me a false sense of acceptability in my own work. I was reading crap and then I put crap out in the world. *embarrassing*
Had I known what the year would bring, I would happily go back and shell out the big cash to hire a professional to edit August Fog. I did eventually pay two people to proofread the book for basic errors and what I found was that paying someone who isn't a proven professional in this genre just made me feel like an even bigger sucker. I revised the book over and over for spelling and grammar but it was still riddled with unnecessary scenes, plot inconsistencies, and flat out boring bits. What resulted ultimately were two influential book blogs that I love both shunned me when they thought my book was crap. They never said this flat out of course because they're sweet gals, but both blogs dodged reviewing my first book and eventually one of them said that their reviewer couldn't give the minimum four star rating to recommend it. *tears* I put all that work into this thing and then ruined my name before I even really made one. Well... at least in the eyes of these couple of ladies.
4. Plan Way Ahead
Things got worse... I decided to put another book out. When this was just an experiment I never planned it as a series, but I couldn't stop wondering what would happen if Monica's story didn't end with August Fog. I had the writing bug. Most beta readers were disappointed with the ending anyway... so why not. I started writing a second book with the new intention to make a trilogy. It was in this moment that I realized I wanted more than an experiment. I want to continue this. I want to be an author. I want a long term career doing this because I have so many stories stirring up now. So now what? I've already started this thing and not on the best foot. What do you do when you know you've messed things up?
For me, the answer is to write anyway. Keep going. That's all I can do. The good thing is that this was never for the glory. It wasn't to get huge sales or to become Nora Roberts or Nicholas Sparks. If I want to make stories that become movies, I can write movies. I got into this to test readers with realistic characters who are just like you or your neighbor and still make them sizzlin' hot. I enjoy giving more depth to an erotic love story so it's not just mommy porn. I want to write stories that stick with a reader after they're finished. And now I have a plan. I have more than that, I have four books planned for 2015 and 3 of 4 are completed or fully outlined. I'm going into the new year with a direction and focus this time.
5. They Aren't Really Buying The Books
So I ultimately wanted to know if those people who boasted books online or stalked the giveaways were actually buying books and reading them. What I found was that most are not. Bloggers tend to get books for free through sites like NetGalley or through the authors themselves so they are basically paid to read and review. Fine. That's give and take. I'm cool with that. But the people who've made their career out of entering contests just to win stuff, probably aren't my real audience. Most likely they aren't going to be the ones who rave about my books because they genuinely loved them and count the days until the next one. They're going to Like something I post or Share it in order to get something. As someone who grew up in Las Vegas, I equate it to having a gambling addiction. These people love the thrill of winning something, but they might not be the ones who follow my releases for years to come.
I've given so many books away this year and gotten only a fraction of the reviews or feedback from readers. I've found that most of the people who enter my giveaways have Twitter accounts and Facebook pages devoted just to entering and winning contests. It's scary how many there are too. These ladies may want to read books, but I can't imagine when they have time with the amount of contests they enter. It doesn't mean I won't do giveaways, I just know that they aren't increasing my overall sales. I'm hoping things settle down once the new Facebook promotion restrictions go into effect in the New Year. I've already seen people complaining, but as with all things people will find ways around the rules. For me... I'm just going to keep going. I'll blog when I can. Write when I can. And hopefully, I'll be able to keep learning as this crazy business evolves.