Often, as first-time writers, we struggle, stumble, and get stuck. And yet this path has been walked upon by many who have come before us. When we look back, we can see some of the pitfalls and ways around them.
Valley of Writers has put together a list of lessons from first book launches by some contemporary writers whose hustle we admire. These writers range from poets to writers of fiction to business consultants. The common thread is that the lessons they share apply to writers in all genres.
Writer, Facilitator of Virtual Events
Nishit is the author of Dance to the 7 Tunes of Success. It’s the book that almost never came out because he never saw himself as a writer. For many years he toyed with the idea of publishing a book, but it wasn’t until he was a postgrad student did the bug to put his story down overcome the fear of writing that he had.
THE LESSON: Finish what you start. Finish your book. “A good start will never be noticed until you learn to finish it well.”
BONUS LESSON: Learn to face rejections. “What’s the point in tasting success without tasting a bit of failure. Failures help you realize the importance of success. You begin valuing your efforts more than ever.”
RANDOM FACT: Nishit is the lead facilitator at The Thought Bulb, an organization that specializes in memorable virtual events that bring teams together. Their clients include Airbnb, Pfizer, Google, Facebook, KPMG, and Amazon.
READ MORE: On the FocusU website
Kelsey Ray Banerjee
When Kelsey published her first collection, Shy Anger, in 2020, she tried to do the layout of the book all by herself. She tried different applications and platforms, to no avail.
She says it took her over a month to figure out she was not the person to do it. She found someone on Fiverr and outsourced the job.
THE LESSON: Outsource where you can and only upload the final draft in Amazon.
BONUS LESSON: At the end of the day, self-publishing is 70% marketing. So you’ll need to devise and try out strategies and see what works for you.
RANDOM FACT: Kelsey also does copywriting in the fintech, financial services, and cybersecurity realms.
READ MORE: On Kelyey’s blog
Writer, Blockchain Consultant
Toju wasn’t born with the gift of writing. He says he only started seeing himself as a writer when he started blogging on Steemit, a blockchain-based blogging and social media website, which rewards its users with the cryptocurrency, in 2016.
Toju’s book is in a niche, EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System), that is so small and so new that he couldn’t find a book about his subject area when he wrote it. His book is titled Understanding EOS: A beginners guide to blockchain & cryptocurrency.
THE LESSON: “Begin at once! Take action. The only way to start doing something is to start doing it. Just start! Don’t fall into the trap of overthinking, overpreparing or procrastinating. The timing will never feel perfect. There is no perfect time. I use to have the habit of overpreparing and overanalyzing but it didn’t get me anywhere. You’re not going to become a better writer by learning about writing, reading this post, or watching videos and podcasts until you actually write and practice it again and again.”
BONUS LESSON: “Outsource it. Creating a great product requires great effort and unless you are extremely good, you can’t do everything alone. Even if you can, attempting to do everything is not wise, because you’ll lose valuable time that could have yielded more results if invested in your area of core competence. I didn’t know this and so I attempted to do every bit of the book production myself.”
RANDOM FACT: Toju got really interested in the idea of becoming a writer when he started earning anything from US$5 to $500 per post on Steemit.
READ MORE: On Toju Kaka’s Medium blog
Emily, who goes by E.J. Wenstrom for her books, signed to a small press to launch her first book. She says she hesitated at first as she had heard horror stories about small presses. In the end, she decided to make the leap. “I decided I would rather fail by action than inaction,” she wrote in The Write Life.
THE LESSON: “You can’t live and die by your sales, it’s just too much of a roller coaster. Instead, focus on things you have more direct control over: readership and your list of titles. If you keep releasing and you keep growing your audience, the sales will follow.”
BONUS LESSON: “The work of marketing your books is a moving target. In publishing’s constantly shifting landscape, the trends for what works best to reach readers are changing, too. The best way to keep growing is to pay attention to industry news and trends, and to be constantly experimenting with what works best for your readers.”
RANDOM FACT: Emily’s website states that she believes in complicated heroes, horrifying monsters, purple hair dye, and standing to the right on escalators so the left side can walk.
Writer, Political Scientist
Matthew graduated from Gonzaga University. He writes short and long-form fiction. He also writes non-fiction focusing on urban planning and politics, and self-reliance in the digital world. His first novel is titled Friday in Florence.
He says that he used to read fancy writer’s journals and didn’t enjoy them. This led to an a-ha moment for him. “I would read the stuffy pieces in these journals, attempt to replicate their stuffy writing, and would never quite succeed. I would give up halfway through.
One day I realized that I did not like reading these stuffy pieces. Life is short, and I already have spent way too much time reading things I did not like (I was a Political Science major). I started to write like my favorite authors, and I instantly found myself writing so much more.”
THE LESSON: Write what you want to read.
BONUS LESSON: “Coming back from my three-week break, I noticed that the ending of my book (which I initially thought was Pulitzer level writing) was complete sh*t. I wouldn’t have noticed this if I had immediately gone into editing mode. So, take a break every once in a while. It’ll help you in the long run, and after all, you deserve it.”
RANDOM FACT: Matthew graduated in May 2021 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree, majoring in Political Science.
READ MORE: On Matthew’s website
In May 2020, Ashely published her first book, Sacrificial Lamb. She did a lot of research about publishing and marketing a book but admits she still went on to make a number of mistakes.
One of these was giving out an advance reader copy of her book to anyone who asked for it. The results were not as she expected…
THE LESSON: Find reliable people for your launch team. “I tried getting people to read my ARC’s. I asked close friends and went to Facebook groups and gave a copy to anyone who asked. The turnaround was not hot. Out of the 25+ people who received an ARC, only 3 reviewed [it]. For my next book, I will be recruiting more reliable people who I have interacted and networked with.”
BONUS LESSON: Find genuine followers on social media. “I knew I should be on social media networking well before publishing my first book so I created a website, blog, Facebook author page, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. That’s the good I did. Now, when building those platforms I did a lot of follow-for-follow and jacked my numbers up there. While that looks good on the outside, followers do not translate to sales and it’s harder to make connections with other writers when there’s thousands of them on your feed promoting their own books. Since then, I’ve been working on cultivating my numbers to people who are genuinely interested in connecting and communicating.”
RANDOM FACT: You can support Ashley’s writing career on Patreon.
READ MORE: On Ashley Nicole’s Medium blog
Writer, Digital Marketer
Matt teaches digital marketing and runs a company, Ice Nine Online, that offers it a service. He faced many challenges when he published his first book, Digital Marketers Sound Off.
These ranged from formatting issues on Amazon’s Kindle platform, missing his target launch date, and paying thousands of dollars for a copy editor who missed a ton of mistakes in his manuscript.
THE LESSON: “Proofread, proofread, and then proofread again. After my book was finalized by my copy editor, I proofread the book three times myself and had two other people proofread it. After the third full proof, I still found minor grammatical and formatting errors. You really can’t proofread your book enough… The last thing you want is for your book to be published and then you catch an error and have to update and upload a new version (or even worse, for someone who purchased the book to catch it, ugh). Thorough proofreading may seem like a chore, but it will save you time and headaches down the line.”
BONUS LESSON: “You’re going to miss your launch date. Amazon will delay it. One of your contractors will. Or something on your end will happen and cause a delay. My recommendation…don’t promote a firm launch date or even a firm launch week. Sure, you can set internal launch dates and milestones, but my recommendation is to keep the public launch date as loose as possible until the book is 100% ready.”
RANDOM FACT: Matt has worked as a digital marketer for over 10 years.
READ MORE: On Ice Nine Online