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I wrote a book. Now what?

One early Sunday morning back in 2011, I was sipping a cup of coffee, the house was quiet, and I was bored. I’ve always enjoyed creative writing and had the idea to create a fantasy story purely for the enjoyment of writing it. Dungeons & Dragons played a big role in my life from grade school until I was a young man, so the fantasy genre had a special place in my heart. I decided I’d write something involving orcs and axes, a story I would want to read.

With no plan, I began to write about a man that was really good with a bow and had a particular hatred for an orc-like creature. The first page involved an encounter between the man and a cru’gan, and the man won. I kept writing. By breakfast time, I had written an entire chapter and I loved every minute of it. I spent the next several weekends putting pen to virtual paper and I found myself becoming engrossed in my own story as it unfolded. I wanted to see where it went and before I knew it I had produced three chapters.

For some reason, I stopped. I saved my work but didn’t touch it for another two years. Occasionally I’d go back and read those first three chapters and each time I’d come away thinking, “That was very engaging. I wonder what happens next?” For some reason, other things kept me from writing more.

At some point I was talking with a friend about my unfinished story. Intrigued, he asked to read what I had completed so far. A day later he came back to me encouraging me — nay, admonishing — to keep going, to make it into a full-length book. Bolstered by my friend’s enthusiasm, I decided to make it a formal effort.

I was going to write a book.

Three months after that, I had finished the rough draft of my first novel, 64,000 words. I had no formal plan beyond that, however, and I found myself saying, “I’ve written a novel. Now what?”

Up to this point, I had no long-term goals. I simply wanted to write a book, a story that I would be eager to read. When it was completed, I felt very excited and had a big sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t an easy task, but I had enjoyed the process. My friend said, “You’re going to get it published, right?”

Being an unknown writer with zero industry contacts, I had no delusions that I would be able to quit my day job and become the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. There would be no publishing deals coming my way. It didn’t take long to figure out that I could publish the book myself in electronic format. Even though I could become my own publisher, I still knew I’d have to take the effort seriously.

I purchased and read a couple of books that really laid bare the gritty truth of self-publishing. One was Writing Worth Reading by Nancy Huddleston Packer and John Timpane. The other was The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans. The former was about writing, the latter was about writing and publishing in the fantasy and science fiction genres. Both books were brutal in their honesty, and were exactly what I needed to hear.

My first thought was that I had already done the hard part, writing the book itself, and that the rest would be relatively easy. Boy, was I wrong. It became painfully clear that I was unable to proofread or edit my own work. That meant hiring someone else to do it for me. I made the mistake of thinking that a person who reads a lot would make a good editor. Wrong! I hired someone I knew personally that reads voraciously. Although they were inexpensive and they worked quickly, their lack of qualifications made the effort a waste of money and time.

I also had to hire a graphic designer to create my cover and the world map that went along with the story. This was money well spent, and the designer I hired was a joy to work with. The value of the world map was questionable, however, as it doesn’t seem to work well with e-books.

At this point, the editing and subsequent re-reads ate up more than six months. It took a month for the graphic work, too. Between those two individuals, I had spent nearly $1,000 of my own money on a book that had little prospects of ever making a profit. By the time I ended up with a proofed, edited, finalized manuscript, the actual writing of the book ended up being only 25% of the overall effort. Writing a book is easy. Editing and publishing a book is hard.

Jump ahead to late May, 2013. I managed to get my e-book added to Amazon.com for Kindle and to Barnes & Noble for Nook. I even sold a few copies, enough to recoup nearly $29 of my $1,000 investment. During my initial writing phase, I had gotten in touch with author Michael J. Sullivan and we had several email exchanges about the process. He gave me a lot of great advice that helped me write a better story. He read a few chapters of my finished book and gave me some feedback that was extremely valuable and to the point, and the point was: I should strongly consider taking my book off the shelves and making some changes. This was frustrating, but I knew he was right.

I made the tough decision to pull my book and revise it. I spent another month making changes based on the feedback I’d received. This meant I needed another round of editing, and I knew an amateur, no matter how smart and well-read, wouldn’t cut it.

I ended up hiring someone that works as an editor for a scholastic publishing company, and despite knowing them personally, I had to pay industry rates (she charged me $4.50 per page) — another $1,000 out-of-pocket. Hiring a professional editor was a great idea, and the person I chose was very good at their job. But they had zero experience editing in the fantasy and science fiction genre and apparently had never read any of it before, either. Although my editor was very skilled and qualified, in hindsight, I should have hired someone with experience in my genre.

Jump ahead to late August, 2013. I had implemented 99% of my editor’s proposed revisions and proofread my book cover to cover. By this point I had read and re-read my book all the way through at least thirty times. It is an engaging story with a lot of action (it has been described as “If John Wick was a Viking“), so despite the repeat performances, it continued to maintain my attention. I re-posted the revised manuscript to Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and made it available for sale once again (this time I dropped the price from $3.99 to $2.99 per copy).

That’s not the end of the story, so to speak. At this point, I’d written a novel and published it. I now had to sell it. I became an author, then I became a publisher. Now I had to become a salesman and marketer. As most aspiring authors soon discover, this can be the most difficult role to fill.

How do you market your own book? You can’t go door to door. Simply publishing it doesn’t make it sell, even if it’s on the e-shelves of giant retailers like Amazon.com. This is where social media comes in. Facebook, Twitter, and blogs are very cheap and relatively effective at getting initial buzz going. They won’t make me rich, but they at least get my book in the hands of friends and colleagues, who can then post reviews. Reviews generate further sales. I don’t have a marketing budget like traditional publishing deals sometimes provide, but I’m not planning on making a living off my book, either, so my expectations are relatively low. In fact, all I need to consider this effort a success is to break even on my out-of-pocket expenses.

If you want to become an author and write a book, be aware that there is a lot more to it than putting words to paper. The actual writing is just one of four phases, and in many ways I think it is the easiest part. Editing, publishing, and especially marketing, can be far more daunting.

It gets even better. Many believe the best way to market one book is to write another. So I did.