Many writers dream of being published. But what is being a published author really like? Is it fabulous? Highly pressured and stressful? Or is it something in-between?
Considering the range of possible experiences, I wanted to find out what authors wish they had known prior to becoming a published author to juxtapose with the reality of being a published author.
I asked traditionally published and self-published authors the following question:
What is the most important thing you wish you had known prior to becoming a published author?
Here’s what each had to say.
Cheryl Leutjen, author of Love Earth Now
Book marketing can be a lonely business. It’s a lot like motherhood, in my opinion. You may think you’re in this new endeavor with a partner, supported by friends or family. You’ve read books, listened to podcasts and absorbed the wisdom of a myriad of experts. Then you find yourself at 3 a.m., quite alone with this mysterious and magical creature you’ve birthed into this world — and at an utter loss to know how to care for it.
Should I focus on events, meeting with people in person?Is social media the more important avenue?Are book festivals worth the investment of time and money?
More than a year after my book was published, I connected with some authors of recently-published books at a book festival. These wise souls have become my go-to tribe for all things related to book marketing.
I urge anyone else who’s on the path to publication to connect with other authors. Comment on their blog posts, tweets or posts. Join a Meetup or online writing community. Find your own version of support group to help navigate the otherwise lonely path of book marketing.
Tara Emrick, author of Thirteen Reasons Why You Belong: An Honoring of Adolescence
Being a published author is so much about finding your voice and living your truth. I have struggled with wanting others to know about my book because I believe in what I wrote AND not wanting to get stuck in ego, or the idea of becoming well-known through the possibility of the book being successful.
Thaddeus Parkland, author of The Last Cotillion
How to manage my expectations of my support circle getting the book out there.
Meredith Atwood, author of Triathlon for the Every Woman
I wish I had known just how slowly the publishing world works; yet, how incredibly fast life flies by — learning to keep your eye on the prize while also being patient is the lost art of the published author.
Beth Pauvlinch, author of Two Women 1 Disease
I wish I had known a lot more about self-publishing. It took me about seven months to figure out the entire process of learning on my own via the internet. I wasn’t aware, at the time, there were so many resources with which to help you every step of the way.
Lori Ettlinger Gross, author of Brooches
Being an author in-and-of itself CANNOT be your ultimate goal (unless you write fiction — then bravo). You have to have a bigger plan, one that leads you to a branding concept where you can utilize your published product to create more opportunities for yourself.
Katharine M. Nohr, Esq., author of Land Sharks, Freewheel, and VO2 Max
I wish I had known to delay the publishing date in order to get a Kirkus review.
Nita Sweeney, author of Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink
Expect to have your ears blown back. Writing the marketing and promotion section of the book proposal for Depression Hates a Moving Target gave me a clue about how much work that would be. But until the book was released and I was in the middle of it, I really didn’t know. People ask what it’s like and I tell them to imagine drinking their favorite liquid from a fire hose. It’s lovely and coming at you so fast you nearly want to duck. I tried to catch everything, do everything, and be everywhere. That’s not feasible. I had to learn to pick and choose and to take a rest from time to time.
It’s fabulous and exhausting!
Stephen and Sonji Millet, authors of Talk Straight Dammit
Being a published author gives you instant credibility. With that brings about expectations from the public. Often you are expected to have an instant recall of every story, fact and reference in the book. I find myself re-reading my own book to be better prepared for book signings, discussions and speeches.
I wish I had known how important it is to have multiple versions of the book (eBook, MOBI file, hardback, paperback, and audiobook).
Before becoming a published author, I had no idea what to expect beyond my personal thoughts.
While it has been an exhilarating and affirming experience, I can definitely say my thoughts leaned more to the fantastical side more than the realistic side.
Here are some examples of my fantasies and what I now know about being a published author:
1. Fantasy. You will have endless satisfying conversations with readers. Family and friends will stumble over themselves to tell you how much they liked your book.
Reality. You have some conversations that are deeply precious. You hold them close to your heart because you are pleasantly surprised at the individuals your book resonated with and the ways in which they were inspired.
2. Fantasy. After the book is published, you can relax, enjoy the accolades and watch it all gloriously unfold.
Reality. You can’t relax! You can’t even dip a toe into the waters of relaxation. You have social media platforms to update, book events to organize, daily marketing, grocery shopping trips to Costco, after school classes, the impulse to write another book without a clearly formulated idea, date night, a blog to maintain, writing ideas to develop and of course, navigating the million dollar question from (certain) family members: “Are you a millionaire yet? We’ll know if your book is any good if you suddenly move to a house in Malibu.”
3. Fantasy. Your author interviews will be carved into literary history.
Reality. Once an interview is scheduled, you must first ask the most important question: Is this a video or audio interview? That determines almost everything…if you must look presentable or simply sound presentable. Once that is determined, you spend hours re-reading through your notes, meditating, coaching yourself, and deep breathing to calm your nerves so you show up as the best version of you. You’re always nervous, but slowly, you do gain confidence.
4. Fantasy. Literary festivals, book fairs and conferences will consistently reach out to you to join them (all expenses paid) as a panel guest to discuss your book.
Reality. Trying to get your book accepted into a book festival, conference or literary event can feel like trying to gain entry into a club that’s not accepting new members. However, you can direct your attention to smaller local festivals and events in your community. You can also participate in larger festivals with other authors. Meeting amazingly, wonderful like-minded authors is one of the best parts of being an author. Their kindness, determination, willingness to share information, genius level creativity and camaraderie will leave you in awe.
5. The book will sell itself.
Nothing. Could. Be. Farther. From. The. Truth. When each author was asked what they wish they had known prior to being a published author, they were also asked what they wish they had known about marketing before their book was published. Here are some responses:
“Marketing takes A LOT of time. You need to be very clear on WHY you wrote the book and have total confidence in the importance of telling others about the book.”
“A new author must be prepared to spend for the necessary investment to get their book out.”
“Hire a publicist for professional connections and to discover unknown markets. Getting published can be one of the most powerful things to leverage. However, you MUST know how to talk about your book and (sometimes) this requires the help of a media coach.”
“Our strategy would have been totally different. We promoted ourselves as authors as opposed to promoting what the content of the book and what it would do for the reader.”
“Start earlier than you can imagine. I wish I had known how far in advance I should have begun to promote the book, seek publicity opportunities, and schedule speaking engagements.”
6. Fantasy. You’ll be the same person.
Reality. “Writing a book requires you to change because in order to do these things you have to.” It also requires you to travel a cathartic and emotional journey that never would have happened if your book had remained unpublished. Your perseverance, imagination, fortitude, and creativity — all expressed in your book, your writing — brings the reader into a world they could never experience otherwise.
Despite fantasy vs. reality, known and unknown, and inevitable highs and lows, writing is a way of life.
It can feel like the air you breathe and what makes your heart continue beating. Often times, your soul is filled with unspoken words until you sit down and pour them through your heart like a sieve. This is what writing is to the writer — a way of life.
“We are drawn to it, sometimes despite our efforts to pull away.”
And because of this, you come to understand this journey — the journey of being a writer, publishing a book, telling a story, sharing words and maybe helping others find a way — has contributed to your growth, both as a creator and a person and for this reason…yes, it is absolutely worth it!