On April 5th, 2012, I self-published my first novel, The Third Face. Ultimately it was a failure, and I took the book off the market to rewrite it from scratch. I wrote a lot of blog posts about it that year, but only fragments of them really brought any valuable information to the table. In this article, I hope to bring all of those lessons together.
1: Deadlines are good and bad.
I had to revise The Third Face to a finished form before the offer of free copies expired. At this point, I had revised it so much that I actually hated it. There were a million other ideas in my head. But the looming deadline, June 30th, forced me to get it done. Because of that, despite the pain, I gritted my teeth and got the edits finished in a very short time.
On the other hand, being done was just a choice I made at the time because of the stress surrounding it. What I really did was settle for a certain version of the manuscript. And guess what? By the time I had it in print, and the euphoria of holding a copy of my book had worn off, I went right back to hating it. Why? Because I had sent out a version of my book that just didn’t work.
2: A published book is a far cry from just printing out some pages.
And I’m not just talking about the front and back cover, which can take a heck of a lot of work, even if you’re just coming up with a crappy one. (The original cover was really horrible-looking, and I’m glad the new one won’t be.)
Every page has to have the proper things on it–the page numbers, the margins, and the little bits of text on the top that generally get ignored but can hardly be left out. Chapter and part beginnings have to have their own formatting, and then there’s the all-important Table of Contents–and all the other front and back matter. The author biography, acknowledgements, copyright page… it took me almost a month to learn and understand how to get all these things right.
3: People know if you’re being lazy.
As I mentioned above, my cover was something I just put together and colored myself. If you must know, it looked like this:
Yeah, pretty bad. That probably took me all of 2 hours, and I’m really not an artist. At all. I have no graphic design sense, and had to get advice on the colors from other people. I think this is probably the #1 reason that it didn’t sell well.
The same applies to the actual content of the book. Even the girl I was dating at the time, who had very little story sense, spotted the fact that I just threw the death of a certain character in quickly to resolve his story. That mistake nagged at me for a long time after that, and it’s the main reason I was unhappy with it.
4: Marketing is hard.
I think all of us authors can relate to this one. It doesn’t need a lot of explaining if you’ve done it before. But if you haven’t, it’s a real wake-up call when you realize that just telling everyone you know and hoping it helps isn’t going to sell many copies–unless “everyone you know” is a heck of a lot of people.
It took me a long time to learn what the right way to do it is, but I did see that if I had thought there was an easy way out of it, I was kidding myself. Everyone’s got to put in their best efforts. There are no shortcuts.
5: It’s okay to take things back.
After I had just about given up promoting The Third Face, I decided that I could get more credibility by pounding out the sequel, The Demon’s Guardian. I announced this everywhere and said I’d probably release it in December of 2012. Well, it’s 2013, and there’s no book.
Shortly after finishing the first draft of The Demon’s Guardian, I realized that I was building a series on a beginning that wasn’t right. It took a lot of guts, but I not only canceled the release of the sequel, but I also announced that I was taking The Third Face off the market to rewrite it. I offered the “legacy edition” e-book free for its last week, and handed off my last few paperbacks to whoever I could.
Surprisingly, nobody got mad at me for not finishing what I’d started, or for going back on the material that I’d written. People actually got excited, both because I promised that the new edition would be much better, and because they secretly hoped those old versions would be worth something someday.
I wouldn’t, of course, go back and not have published it the first time. I gained too much from it. Most importantly, I got the experience and knowledge that allows me to move forward today.