This June marks one year since I published my first novel, Reluctant Cassandra. Making the leap from "aspiring author" to "published author" was a completely different experience than I imagined. Here are five things I learned along the way:
1. Connecting with readers is my favorite part of the job
As a reader, I've sent quite a few e-mails over the years to authors whose books I enjoyed. I never guessed how much fun that would be from the other side! After spending so long with this story living inside my head, it's neat to see how other people have connected with it. Some people read Reluctant Cassandra because they have a loved one with Alzheimer's disease. Others connected with the setting in small-town Virginia. Others have told me about premonitions they've had or about a relative who had a "sixth sense." Based on their own experiences, everyone had a slightly different perspective on Reluctant Cassandra.
It's true what they say: the author starts the story, but the reader's imagination finishes it. I love hearing how different readers have "finished" the story!
2. "Marketing" isn't as scary as it sounds
If you ever want to scare an introvert, tell him or her they're going to be responsible for marketing something. I didn't even like selling Girl Scout cookies when I was younger, and those are possibly the easiest things to market on the planet. There's a pretty dedicated customer base for cookies. The idea of marketing my own work to people who had never even heard of me before was a lot more daunting.
As it turns out, marketing wasn't nearly as scary as I thought. I love talking about books. I love talking to other book lovers. It's not a huge leap to talk to other book lovers about my book. Bonus: some of my readers have written books too, and if not, they have great books to recommend. My to-read list has grown exponentially in the last year.
3. I still have a lot to learn
I used to think that after I'd gone through the publishing process once, I'd have this whole writing-and-publishing thing down.
*cue riotous laughter*
Experience helps a little. I have a better idea of where I hope to publish next time, how to plan out my budget and marketing strategy, and the people I'd like to work with when I've finished drafting my next book. At the end of the day, I'm still the same person, sitting at my desk trying to figure out how to get the story in my head out and onto a blank piece of paper. There are a lot of false starts. There are a lot of ideas that don't pan out. There are a lot of times I look back on what I've drafted so far and wonder what in the world I was thinking.
That sounds frustrating, but I like knowing that fiction writing still has plenty of surprises left in store for me. I hope I'm still learning as much when I'm writing my fiftieth book as I did when I was writing my first.
4. Connecting with other authors is essential
Thankfully, one of the things I've learned this year is how to connect and learn from other writers. I'm lucky to work with fantastic critique partners. If I'm stuck on a scene or struggling with a sub-plot, I know that they can help me figure it out and get back on track. I look forward to their critique submissions the same way I look forward to downloading a new book for my Kindle or picking up a paperback from the bookstore. Watching their works-in-progress go from "rough draft" to "polished novel" is an incredible experience and I love being part of it.
The Internet has been another great place to find support and guidance from other authors. After signed up for the Plotting Workshop, I joined the Ninja Writers Facebook group, also led by Shaunta Grimes. The group includes lots of opportunities for authors to ask each other questions, seek out support, and share what's going on with current works-in-progress.
I also joined the Curiouser Author Society, which launched just a few weeks ago on May 17. I've followed the president, Shayla Eaton, on social media for a long time because of her incredibly valuable insights on editing, indie publishing, and the writing life. The author society has been a great resource and a great place to connect with other indie authors.
Even though my actual writing process is solitary, it makes a big difference to connect with other authors for insight and support. Everyone needs a community (or three) and I'm glad to be part of mine!
5. Being an author is even more fun than I imagined
I've been dreaming of being an author since I can remember. I still have spiral notebooks and binders of story ideas that I scribbled down in elementary school. (Most of my early stories were about princesses and dolls that came alive, FYI). When I visited a library or a bookstore, I used to find the books written by authors with my last name, put my finger there, and promise myself that someday, I would have a book on that shelf.
Making that happen was worth every second.