Don’t Stop Believing: My First Year In Self-Publishing
By Hilaria Alexander
If you are reading this post on Live Love Read YA under “Writing Advice,” chances are you thought about writing a book.
Well, you’ve come to the right place.
I will share with you everything I’ve learned in my first year as a self-published author.
I’m a romance writer and I started writing just a couple of years ago. My first romance novel, Prude, was published in January 2015. I’m currently working on my fourth book.
I didn’t always want to write: I loved reading but I never thought I had a story in me.
Plus, I knew all too well how hard it was to become a published writer. And this fact is still true today.
But, to quote my latest obsession, the musical Hamilton, “Look around, look around how lucky we are to be alive right now”. Seriously, how lucky are we that we can decide to write and publish a book on our own? How many authors would still consider being a writer a pipedream if they hadn’t decided to self-publish?
You want to be a writer? Great. You can decide to do it the traditional way or be your own boss and self-publish your book baby.
When I was younger, I read all kinds of genres. A few years ago, I started reading romance novels and discovered genres that didn’t exist before, like New Adult. I also enjoyed reading several YA books, a genre that wasn’t as popular when I was a teen.
For me, a mom of two with a full-time job, romance novels were the perfect distraction. They were light and funny; they made me happy.
In fact, I became so passionate about romance novels that I started following Indie Authors on social media: reading about how they suddenly got inspired to write got me thinking. Also, the more I read, the more I started fantasizing about writing. I toyed with the idea since 2012, but I didn’t get started until 2014. I had written essays, but I had never written a story, with a beginning and an end and characters with their own passions and motives.
I started just because I wanted to prove myself I could do it. I stuck with it and kept going, and eventually, one thing led to another. While I was finishing my first story, more stories, more characters started populating my head. It was as if I had struck a vein.
I loved this “writing thing” more than I thought. Who knew I had it in me?
My first year in self-publishing has been challenging and interesting. I’ve accomplished several things but also made several mistakes. I will share with you what I learned.
- Stop thinking your ideas are stupid
Like I said, I thought about writing a story back in 2012, but I always talked myself out of it. If you’re doing the same thing, just stop. Instead, start writing. There are all kinds of stories out there, and chances are, your story is not stupid. Instead, it might be something people would like to read.
It might be a banal storyline, but you can fix it and work on it. Use it as an exercise until you think of a better story. Or you can work on it and make it your own, make it special.
You could start working on something and then feel the need to set it aside – never say never.
I had a story I wanted to write and then I decided not to write it. But two years later, it became my second book.
- Write it down
You get an idea or think of the perfect line. And then you forget it. Well, you better start using the notepad on your phone or a more classic notepad, because this will happen to you ALL THE TIME. Every writer will tell you to “write it down immediately,” whether it’s a simple part of dialog or the concept for a book.
Our phones are notebooks. There are no excuses. Write it down. I wrote the epilogue of my first book on my phone. Plus, it’s a great way to get more writing done, especially when you don’t have much time.
- Make yourself accountable
Set realistic goals for yourself, even if just a thousand or two thousand words a week or more. Writing is an exercise, and at first, it won’t come easily. And even when you keep practicing, there will be days when you can write thousands of words and days when you can’t write a hundred words. Don’t get discouraged. Just sit down and do it. Even if you end up writing twenty words in a session.
Ah, this is where I messed up big time. See, I was so focused on writing the book, and finishing it, that I underestimated the importance of social media and networking. Don’t get me wrong, I knew how important social media was for a budding author. I just didn’t consider getting started until after I published the book. And that was a mistake. Because social media is the place where you can find the people you need to make your book better: a reasonably priced editor, a cover designer, beta readers, authors groups where people trade valuable information. Through social media, I found readers and made new friends. When I published my first book I thought I would just release it and then the Gods of the Internet would do the rest. Wrong. The market today is not what it was four or five years ago. You have to push your book and promote the crap out of it.
Writing a book is a solitary process (unless you have a writing partner), but everything else? It takes a village.
- Work, work, work, work, work
Yes, I’m quoting Rihanna, but if you ask any writer – Indie or not – they will confirm that pretty much sums it up. Most of the writers I know have a full-time job, a family to take care of, and write any minute they have the chance.
This means evening, nights, weekends, holidays.
And it doesn’t stop there: being a writer and promoting your books means knocking on – virtual – doors, asking people to read your book, or posting to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in the morning while you get your kids ready for school. It means figuring out Photoshop or a graphic design program to make your promotional graphics. It means being able to sacrifice your time and money.
But is it worth it?
Look, I will be completely honest: in my first year, I didn’t make money, I lost money. I tried to make smart choices but I still had to invest to get three books published.
But am I proud of myself? You bet I am. I look at this as something that makes me really happy – most days – and makes me feel proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.
I had an idea, I put it on paper, and after many, many hours of work, it became a book.
If you have a story in you, write from the heart. Don’t let your fear stop you. Network. Save your money and do your research before hiring an editor/cover designer/formatter and so on.
Write something you can be proud of. Be ready to do the work.
In the end, nothing can replace the feeling of holding your book in your hands.
Hilaria Alexander is a contemporary romance writer. Born and raised in the south of Italy, she lives in Oklahoma City with her husband and kids. She has published three novels so far: Prude, This Love, and FU Cancer. She’s working on her fourth romance, Not About Love, which will be released on August 18, 2016.
Prudence Clearwater is a young adult writer facing the many changes of the industry and of the literary genre she’s known for years. As she parts ways with her publishing company, she tries to rebuild her career with the help of Ben, a charming literary agent who might be looking for more than just a commission. As their friendship blooms, will Prudence accept to work with Ben, and will she be able to resist his charm?
Running off to Amsterdam is the best decision Ella ever made in her life. In just a few months, she’s been able to put her past behind and has found a new family and friends. She can almost ignore the voices in her head telling her this idyllic scenario is temporary. When Lou Rivers shows up in Amsterdam, he’s the constant reminder of the life she led and the mistakes she made. As the two of them embark on an emotional and musical journey across Europe, Ella will have to face her own insecurities and make a decision that might break them apart forever.
Lucy has always been a good girl. The most hardcore thing she’s done in her life was falling for a divorced man ten years her senior.
But he was the love of her life and she married him. When her Peter Pan of a husband decided to divorce her, she thought it was her chance to start anew. That was until she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Besides looking like Britney circa 2007, she is taking it well, real well. You might see her walk around the hospital during chemo sessions with bright colored wigs and outrageous t-shirts that seem to shock the most conservative employees. One of them reads FU CANCER.
Thank you Hilaria for your amazing advice and wonderful story of perseverance! Sometimes all of us in the writing industry need a little kick in the behind to keep pushing, keep writing, and keep our heads on straight. You are an awesome example of hard work paying off, even if it’s only paid off in self-satisfaction for now. =) Also, congratulations for officially getting that Rihanna song stuck in my head for the rest of the day…
A huge thank you to all of the amazing people who have, are, and will be participating in this feature. You all are some amazing people with great advice and stories to tell. We appreciate you far more than you know.
Have a wonderful rest of your week, and don’t forget to take advantage of Hilaria’s free book offer!