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Writing: What Author-Publishers Can Learn from Their Mistakes

Headshot of Samantha Warren

American fantasy author Samantha Warren

In a brave post to kick off our Writing posts for 2015, US indie author Samantha Warren recounts her experience of learning from her self-publishing mistakes and the highs and lows of her journey so far, generously sharing her conclusions for the benefit of author-publishers everywhere.

Failing sucks. There’re no two ways about it. No one wants to fail. Yet we all do, often miserably.

My self-publishing journey started in March 2011. I was shooting for a trad-pub deal at that point. I got three rejection letters (yes, only three). They all said “It’s good, but we don’t think we can sell it.” I thought I could, so I jumped head first into self-publishing. Maybe it wasn’t the most well-thought-out decision, but it’s a decision I don’t regret and I never will.

By late 2011, I had a handful of books out, most of them in a novella series about a vampire named Jane. The first book was crap, if I’m completely honest. Still is, despite a rewrite, but readers love the story and overlook the faults. It’s also my bestseller since day 1.

My Lucky Break

Some of Samantha Warren's many self-published books

The author has just published the tenth and final part in this series

In October, the self-publishing gods got me a feature on Pixel of Ink. I had four novellas in the series out and they sold like gangbusters. I published the fifth in December.

I earned about $12,000 thanks to that one ad. I was flying high. I had made it. I still had a full-time job elsewhere, so that $12,000 was total icing on the cake. I took vacations and bought lots of stuff. But I neglected to do much for the actual writing end of the deal. Sure, I found a really fantastic cover artist and updated all the covers for the series, and I released the sixth book in the series in April. But when sales started to flag during the summer, I didn’t up my game. I didn’t know I needed to. And I didn’t release another book in that series until January 2013. I was naive. I thought it would all be okay and I’d soon be living off my writing.

Where I Am Now

I’m still not living off my writing. I make about $300 a month off 25 books. It’s not great, far less than many of the authors I know, but it’s enough to feed back into my writing. And I’ve made several life changes:

  • First and foremost, I try to follow what’s happening in the publishing world and with my books.
  • I take classes instead of vacations.
  • I buy better covers and advertising instead of stuff.
  • I joined several writing associations that are amazing and help me more than I could have hoped for.
  • I moved out of the situation I was in before and into a better one where I make less money (a lot less), but I only have to work part-time to make ends meet. The entire first half of my day is now dedicated to writing and I publish about once a month.

I’m still not making what I did during 2012, but I’m confident I’ll get back there with some hard work. I’ll never get the break I got before, but I’ve learned so much from my experiences, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. (Okay, that’s a lie. I’d totally like to be a bajillionaire, but we can’t all have what we want, right?)

Why Indie Authors Should Take Heart

What Authors can Learn from their MistakesSo why share all this? Because you’ll make mistakes, too. You’ll screw up and spend nights on end wishing you’d done something different. We’ve all been there, whether we admit it or not. We’ll all be there again. Even the most well-known authors write bad books. They squander opportunities, make mistakes. We’re human. It’s what we do. The only thing that matters is that we come back from our mistakes stronger than we were before, more equipped to handle the future. And that we keep on writing.

Huge thanks to Samantha for sharing this personal, sensitive and candid account. If you’d like to try some of her books yourself, head over to her website or search “Samantha Warren” at your preferred bookstore. The first in her series are currently available to download for free – and if you enjoy her books, please do consider posting a short review.

Twitter bird outlineEASY TWEET
“What I’ve learned from my self-publishing mistakes by @_SamanthaWarren via @IndieAuthorALLi: http://selfpublishingadvice.org/onward-and-upward/ #ww #amwriting #selfpub”

OVER TO YOU
What mistakes have you made that you’d like to share for the benefit of other authors? What facts about self-publishing have you learned the hard way? Are there any mistakes that you have made that you’d like to share for the benefit of other indie authors? What’s your favourite piece of advice for those starting out on their journey as an author-publisher?

 

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14 Responses to Writing: What Author-Publishers Can Learn from Their Mistakes

  1. Jake Parent April 18, 2016 at 12:52 am #

    Touching and candid piece. I wish you all the best luck in the world. You deserve it. 🙂

  2. Sue Wickstead April 3, 2016 at 5:24 pm #

    Thanks for this article. I too took on self-publishing in 2011. It was initially a photographic record of a play project and as the photographs were already part of an exhibition I was asked to look at putting it in a book. The ‘Playbus’ project had long since gone but the memory needed to be recorded. (Bewbus Playbus)
    I knew it would be for a limited audience but as a break in my teaching career I set to work.
    I initially sent out appeals in the local press for additional photographs and the local press also ran several stories about the bus and its importance in play provision!
    A unique project.
    Photographs never came and following the death of a key worker I decided I had to go ahead.
    It was a daunting task and I did have a couple of grants from a history society as well as the original (now no longer operating) charity.
    As a Queen Elizabeth silver Jubilee funded project and a ground breaker I decided the book needed to be written for the Queens Diamond Jubilee in 2012 – I made it!
    No one actually read the book in its entirety only certain chapters by certain people.
    But then I realized it was as good as it was going to get and it was printed!
    Mistakes….. the story would be for a very limited audience, the photographs were mainly mine and press pictures, I didn’t check the photographs and a couple missed/ slipped from the book.
    The 500 copies are now left insulating my house.
    But I did it!
    I ended up giving a book to every school in the town for their library as it is an important and unique part of the town.
    Sadly no-one realized what they had until it was lost.
    But I could also now show children in passing when teaching.
    Following lots of comments and questions i began telling a story to children, this was then written down and modified!
    It was submitted and rejected by a few…. well it was not really ready.
    I had it read by a professional editor who said it was good and had potential but I knew it was not!
    The cost of illustration was a big problem and then I decided I had to do the fiction to go with the fact.
    Eventually even after two more editorial good comments I asked my son to be super critical! He was and dissected and commented! Red pen marks and critical and relevent comments throughout! Wow! Honesty!
    I knew his comments were right and so the book was ready!
    There are a couple of area where I should have gone back for a more professional bit of advice but all in all the book works!
    It is the fiction and relates to the fact.
    I had 1000 copies printed as then I knew that at least when all gone i would break even.
    I now give them out to schools I visit as a supply teacher and am proud to do so.
    The younger children love the story. (would love to see and play on the real bus).. and the older children love the story as well as the fact that it was once a real bus!
    I have written 6 more books and told another 4 but these are not so personal so I will be a bit more cautious as to printing! It is really the illustrations for children’s picture books which are a hold up!
    (I did draw a few pics of my own and the children loved them but … I knew)
    I am glad I did do the book myself…. and am so glad to hear that there are others out there who did so too.
    Rome wasn’t built in a day and I suppose I have to just be patient. My writing is a release and a hobby.
    Maybe one day I will resurrect the books I wrote in school or even the game I made!
    ‘Satisfactory or Who Killed the OFSTED Inspector’

  3. Kelly Potter May 8, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

    GREAT article! I am about two weeks away from self-publishing my first picture book. I have been soaking up any helpful information that I can get! It is so nice (from my perspective) to see all the ups and downs that authors who self-publish experience. It makes me feel human! 🙂 I am finding that wrapping up all the details is a daunting and lonely experience, but articles like this give me a boost of energy! Thank you for sharing!

  4. eLPy January 10, 2015 at 2:36 am #

    As well as seconding what everyone else has said, I appreciate your sharing how balanced of an experience it seems you’ve had. While $12,000 isn’t a million, my goodness I would love to have made that much off my book!! Congrats on that! It’s good that you’ve showed all of us out there how success can come in a windstorm or as a soft breeze, it doesn’t just have to mean loads of money and fame. I think there’s plenty of people self-publishing because they want to hit the lottery, they want to be that writing-equivalent Youtube success. Most industries these days seem to be filled with these types of dreams more and more, especially now that things are so much easier to do and share.

    For me your post is balanced as well because you tell us about your successes – which I do agree are significant – but then you show that it’s not just about reaching success and then settling into it. You have to continue to work, it’s not going to carry on by itself. Yours is an eye-opening and uplifting story, so thank you.

    I self-published my first poetry collection last year. My first mistake was in believing that since poetry is subjective, and I’m what you’d call “free-verse”, I didn’t need an editor in the way that I definitely believe I will need one with my fiction and non-fiction books in the future. Alas, that was not true. I do believe now that I would have benefited from finding an editor, even if just to help me with a few points here and there. I’ve not been wildly successful however I know this to be because I’ve not put in the promotional efforts that is so necessary when you self-publish. Doubt can creep in like a cold draft and so it does. I’m not giving up mind you, I will pick up where I left off, but that’s been my biggest mistake: leaving off at all.

    If you’re going to do it, this self-publishing thing (or heck going public with your work in any forum), then you gotta jump in with both feet. Sometimes I think I’m wading closer to shore.

    Happy New Year & Thanks again for sharing!

  5. Grace January 8, 2015 at 4:21 pm #

    Thanks for your transparency! This is really encouraging to read, especially with the onslaught of “be wary of self publishing” posts I’ve been reading lately. Good luck to you. I’m looking forward to being a part of the self publishing community.

  6. Belinda Frisch January 8, 2015 at 2:55 pm #

    I, too, came into self-publishing in 2011 and I learned just because I could, didn’t mean I should. At the time, I self-published a book I paid to have “professionally edited” only to shake my head years later and rewrite the entire thing. Same as others, I’ve been scammed because I didn’t know better. I’ve had some successes (including a film option) that made me believe I was doing the right thing releasing these books. Relating to storytelling, that’s probably true. My readers like my books, but they’re technically flawed despite my best efforts. Learning is critical. Being able to take criticism is, too. I was very fortunate to have one of my books picked up by Amazon’s T&M imprint and I’m shocked at how much editorial work is still being done. I’m logging some conference time this year as well and getting back to the fundamentals to improve my core skill set. The Chicago Style Manual and I are about to be joined at the hip.

  7. Christopher Joyce January 7, 2015 at 5:15 pm #

    Love it! Cheered my up on a gloomy winters day in the UK. My mistake was to go with Penpress a well rated assisted-publisher based in Brighton. I visited the offices, asked for references and checked where they were in the rankings in the Alli guide, Top ten seemed good for me so I opted for their gold package which was supposed to include expert marketing and distribution. It didn’t. I knew more than the marketing graduate fresh from college! BIG mistake was not to check their financial viability. Lost loads of money and as they went into liquidation lost royalties. It turned out they had not paid some authors for four years. There are great ones out there like Matador but at the moment I’m continuing to make mistakes myself :-).

    • Samantha Warren January 8, 2015 at 3:14 am #

      Some mistakes are terribly costly. Trust me, I know. But we live and learn and keep on truckin’. And the great thing about the indie community is we can share our mistakes so others don’t make the same ones.

  8. lynne January 7, 2015 at 5:04 pm #

    Great post Samantha, you’re right its too easy to look at the good bits and not at the rest which can have their own lessons. 🙂

  9. AD Starrling January 7, 2015 at 4:42 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your adventure with us, Samantha, and for being so honest.

    We all tend to fixate on our own mistakes for far too long 🙂

    What we’re also very good at is comparing ourselves to others who we deem more successful and forgetting that they make mistakes too 🙂

    AD

    • Samantha Warren January 8, 2015 at 3:08 am #

      Thanks, AD. You’re so right. It’s ridiculously easy to focus on others’ successes and only our own failures. There are both sides of the coin in everyone’s story.

  10. Debbie Young January 7, 2015 at 4:06 pm #

    Samantha, thank you so much for sharing your experience here, When so many indie authors focus only on highlighting their successes, being candid about what has not gone so well takes real courage. From where I’m standing (and I’ve been following your progress for a while), you seem to be doing a great job, and you are doing so much that is right and worth emulating – producing a steady stream of books with a distinctive and consistent author branding. Thanks for an inspiring post that sets the right tone for my writing year: continuing to grow and learn as an author-publisher and to strive always to do the best that you can for the reader and for yourself as a writer, while keeping one’s feet firmly on the ground. Wishing you every success in your new writing year.

    • Samantha Warren January 7, 2015 at 4:37 pm #

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Debbie. Being around such great and successful author-publishers, I often feel like I am far behind the curve, but the truth is, I often don’t get to see the failures behind the successes, and I have no idea how far they’ve come. That’s one advantage we have over traditional publishers. We can be open and honest about what it takes to get where we are, which will only benefit us all in the end. Happy writing!

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