10 things I’ve learnt after publishing 10 books

In August, my tenth book was released.

I’ve been taking stock as it’s the perfect time to reflect. I’ve got a reason to celebrate and a milestone which is making me consider where my writing journey is heading.

Selling books with Rebecca Langham at Supanova

1. Too much is made of genre.

I know genre helps market a book, but I’m in that weird category where my work is gay themed and with a small publisher. That in itself shouldn’t be a problem, but I’m often categorised as a Romance or Erotica writer, and most of my work blends Contemporary, Magical Realism and Urban Fantasy. I know other queer authors in the same boat.

Unless we’re with a large publisher, we have limited online marketing opportunities. Many gay blog review sites are only interested in Romance, and even if it’s clear that’s not what your book is, they still review our work through that lens. There are a few wonderful review sites that take a gay-themed book on its own merit, but not many.

To highlight this point, I have been stuck on Romance panels at a couple of Literary Festivals, where I had to look up HEA and Reverse Harem before the event. One representative from a mid-sized publisher took aim at me for representing myself as a Romance author. I still remember her giving me a piece of her mind from the aisle of the auditorium while I was on stage.

One of my social media images used for marketing.

2. Work with other authors to help promote each others’ books.

This is something I wish I knew earlier. You will find authors who are willing to do this, but it may take some time to find them. There are newsletter and promotion swap services that you can pay for, and more recently, that’s what I’ve done.

I have a free book available where a reader has to submit their email address before they download. It’s made clear to them that their contact will be added to my newsletter address list. My newsletter is a mix of personal news, author news, my own book links and links to other authors’ books. In turn, they promote my novels in their newsletter. This has helped my sales.

Some selfies taken by Belinda Pollard at Genrecon, Brisbane.
From left to right: Belinda Pollard, me, Kate Forsyth, Aiki Flinhart and Carleton Chinner

3. Regardless of where your publisher is based, think locally.

I started this journey in 2012 when the first edition of Drama Queens with Love Scenes was released. This book is now with its third American publisher, but back in the day, I really thought my first small publisher would promote the hell out of it.

But small publishing houses don’t have the means to continually promote your work. So, a long time ago when social media posts showed up in people’s feeds in real time, I had a hard time reaching US, Canadian and European readers because of the huge difference in our time zones.

In recent years, fellow author Rebecca Langham here in Australia included me in her promotional efforts. Thanks to her I’ve made several live appearances and have been featured on radio programs, a handful of podcasts and a live Instagram interview, all produced locally. And she joined me on an ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio interview several years ago. This is more than I achieved trying to court a profile in the US.

And trust me, the live appearances are important. It’s the best way to sell your books when you are at the smaller end of the author pool.

Rebecca Langham and I at ABC Radio

4. Build your audience.

When I first read that the best way to grow book sales is to publish a newsletter, I did just that. I stopped after a while because it didn’t make a difference. Now, however, it’s a different story because I’ve worked hard at getting subscribers.

More recently I asked if any of my subscribers wanted to review my upcoming book. Many responded and when the book was released, there were a healthy number of reviews on different platforms.

But while I have my newsletter audience, I also have social media followers. One set of these followers is mainly women. I already know from my newsletter stats, and from the regular blog reviewers who ask to read my work, that a majority of my readers are women. My next largest audience is older gay men.

So my pinned tweet at the time I wrote this blog is the video below. It clearly brands each book to its particular genre, and makes clear to the reader if that book is for them.

5. Think businesslike.

Early on, I was given an excellent piece of advice. I wrote it in my writer’s journal and forgot about it. I stumbled across it recently and am paying attention.

Publishers want something that fits into an easy genre.

I know that contradicts my first point but hear me out. When you are part of the indie author and/or small press pool, you’re either happy to stay there or you’re frustrated because you dream for more. Before I continue, let me add there are self-published authors out there who know what they’re doing. They make a hell of a lot more money than me, so the following doesn’t apply because, let’s face it, I have more to learn from them than they have from me.

Regardless, my first novel is about unrequited love in the theatre district of the Afterlife. That’s not an easy sell to a publisher. My latest is about a man who finds the man of his dreams, literally in his dreams. It’s not a Romance but the idea is more intriguing. It’s an easier sell to readers.

Knowing that most of my audience are women and older gay men, I’m working on a novel set in the 1990s about a group of friends – three straight and three gay.

Now, there’s no guarantee the book will get published, but it’s easier to market than the concept of my first novel. Plus I have my readers in mind. The same audience who’ve already read my books, or are subscribing to my newsletter.

So, leave those experimental story ideas for when you’re successful. Write something a publisher can sell. Still be unique and imaginative, just give yourself a better chance to get past the gatekeepers.

6. Learn from critical reviews.

A long time ago I studied acting. In one class a teacher made us each listen to critique from every other classmate. There were thirty or so in the class. Some advice was positive. Some was worth putting into practice. But some just had no value. At the end of the session our teacher told us to only take note of the advice that resonated, because our gut instinct knows what is our truth.

So, some readers won’t get your work. That’s fine. You don’t like every book you read either. But if several are telling you the same thing, take note.

Google relevant writing blogs to help you understand how to improve. Also read a book that will help you learn what you need to. If your pacing is a problem, read a thriller. If your characters need more depth, look for writers who are known for their characterisation.

Don’t forget, you can always preview a book online before you buy. See if it’s the right book to help you learn.

7. Buy Photoshop Elements.

I know a lot of authors use Canva. I’ve always had Photoshop Elements on my laptop because I used Photoshop in my last job.

You’ll master it quickly. You’re promotional material will pop!

A promotional postcard. The original larger image is multicoloured. Here it has been changed to black and white, then had blue added to match the colour of the cover art. It has also had a slight ‘cartoon’ effect added so it doesn’t take too much attention away from the book cover.

8. Your big social media following doesn’t equal book sales.

My favourite platform is Twitter. Because I have a media background, social media fascinated me when I first used it. I wanted to learn how it worked and while experimenting with my new account, learnt how to gain followers quickly.

But it doesn’t mean those followers are going to buy my book.

9. Join active writers’ Facebook groups.

There are many promotional Facebook groups. Authors often use them to promote their work as they have thousands of followers. But if you’ve done this you’ll notice that one or two will ‘like’ what you posted, then you’ll get notifications of other authors who’ve posted something in the same group. Then you’ll get no notifications from that group until you post in that group again. So there’s no real benefit as very few people are alerted to new posts in that group.

Instead, join writing groups where the administrators are active. Where writers share information rather than promotions. And if readers are active as well, that’s a real bonus!

Fan art for my first novel.

10. Eventually you’ll feel like you’ve broken through.

One major mistake I made over the years was writing book after book instead of marketing the ones I had out. In other ways, this has served me as I am a much better writer now than I was when I began (and will hopefully be even better in the future). I also have more books out for a potential reader to choose from if they want to know my work.

But over recent years I’ve had less time to write, and during a major Covid lockdown recently, had a lot more time to market. This has helped me get noticed by readers a little more.

When readers reach out to you, it makes it all worth while. And it’s happening to me more than ever before.

And that’s the real reward. That’s the best part of your writing journey.

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