One Year and Counting: 6 lessons marking my blogoversary

What’s news for horror writer Paul D. Dail?

Last week I was interviewed at Hot Books Daily, hosted by my TESSpecFic group mate Penelope Crowe.  I really enjoyed answering her questions, and I hope you stop by and support this separate endeavor of hers.

To read the interview, click here.

What does the future hold?

Next Friday, I’m going to be posting my response to a question posed by another TESSpecFic group mate, Marie Loughin.  “What books would you want to be buried with [for posterity’s sake]?”  I believe the latter part of the question makes it so this isn’t just another “my favorite books” post.

But without further ado…

I remember early on into my blogging seeing others celebrating a year of their own blog.  There were many times when I wondered if I would make it.

Just over a year in the market

One year ago marked more than just my decision to start writing a blog.  It also marked five years married to my wife.  And partially because I’m no spring chicken but had been treading water with an agent for seven years with nothing to show for creating a better life for that lovely wife of mine, one year ago also marked my self-publishing debut with The Imaginings.

It also marks the beginning of a severe learning curve, starting with…

1- It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been writing.  When you publish for the first time, it’s like being at square one.  You may be a brilliant writer, but that won’t make a difference if no one has heard of you.  You may have spent years developing your craft, but now you have to prove it.  There is one John Locke.  There are millions of aspiring writers.  Which brings me to #2.

2- I’ve met some great writers in this virtual community.  I’ve also met some great people.  They are not necessarily the same, and it can make for some potentially uncomfortable situations.  Many people don’t actually want to hear what you think about their work unless you’re saying you loved it.  Ergo…

3- Even with all the articles that my father found for me singing the praises of self-publishing, there is still a stigma to self-publishing for the same reason there was before the whole e-revolution.  Some people’s stories just shouldn’t be published.  Unfortunately, it’s almost worse because of the e-revolution.  At least if you wanted to self-publish 8 or 10 years ago (whether your story was crap or not), you had to make the commitment to getting those print copies and putting in the legwork to hawk them out.  These days it only takes the push of a button to muck up the market.  However…

4- If you really want to sell books, it’s not that easy.  In fact, while many will say the key to selling books is just being a good writer, I’d say most of us aren’t going to be able to do it without putting in a fair amount of marketing time and promotion.  I had always wanted to spend all of my free time writing, not having to figure out how much time I can devote to that gaping, endlessly hungry maw of marketing.  Which leads to a pretty big lesson this past year…

5- Few writers get marketing/promotion packages anymore.  Most authors have to be their own biggest advocate.  When I was first dealing with my agent back in 2004, this was a different story.  The bigger publishing houses were more inclined to offer marketing packages when they controlled the market.  These days it’s up to you to get your face out there on your own time and your own dime, especially if no one has seen your face before.

This seems rather ironic to me.  As I’ve said before, writing is a solitary sport.  My brother was amused when I told him that many writers do what they do because they can create a world where everyone does and says what the writer wants them to do and say.  Yet today, we’re expected to be outgoing, extroverted and sociable, to actually deal with live people (well, sort of) who usually don’t act how we expect.  Can you imagine if Emily Dickinson had to make a living off her writing in this day and age?  (not that she necessarily made a living at it while she was alive, but you get the point)

But there is a bright side to this.

6- For the good writers, there are more choices than ever to get your work out there to readers.  And for a true writer, while money is definitely a driving factor, I believe putting your story into a stranger’s hands and having that reader say he/she enjoyed it is more important. My sister-in-law (and wonderful beta reader) recently said that while the sales for first books weren’t often huge, they were more significant than sales thereafter.

If you read my post marking one year since making the decision to self-publish, you’ll know that I am looking back to traditional publishing via a small press.  But I hope to still utilize self-publishing as a promotional tool for shorter works.  Many are having success putting out all of their work via that route. And finally, there is still the route of literary agents, editors, and the big publishing houses, and I think they will have to change their practices to adapt to this new environment if they wish to keep their readers happy (and loyal).

So there you have it.  There’s probably more I could say I learned or developed opinions about over the past year, but I like the theme that these points follow.  And funny enough, it really didn’t have anything to do with blogging (except in the marketing sense), but it still works, right?

While there have been moments where I questioned the time I spent on this blog, overall I’ve had a good time with it.  It will be interesting to see what the next year brings.

What do I want from you?

Any thoughts on your own journeys, be they new or well-traveled?  Comments on my experiences?  Places where we crossed paths?  As always, links to your own blogs/websites are welcome.

Don’t forget to check out my interview at Hot Books Daily when you get a chance.

Finally, stop back next Friday to see what books I would be buried with.

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30 responses to “One Year and Counting: 6 lessons marking my blogoversary

  1. Hi Paul,

    Happy blogoversary Paul 🙂

    Thankyou for your 6 lessons/pointers. They rang true with me, even though some I havnt experienced/reached yet.

    My health is bad so my writing has to be split between bed rest and basic survival, but when able I like to write something for my blog. Of course at some point Id like to try and make some money out of writing, but I think my only immediate goal is to grow my readership just for the love of it, but Im finding it hard.

    In that respect I should also thank you for your little badges about #flashfriday and Bookblogs, as I found them on your page first :).

    Heres to another year for your blog 🙂

    • Hey Casey, thanks for stopping by. Hopefully you’ll only reach the good points I mentioned 🙂

      I’m glad to hear that you write for the love of it. I think that’s what makes you a writer. Too many people see the John Lockes out there and think, “Hey, I could write a book.” A true writer writes a book (or short story… or poem… or whatever), and the money is secondary.

      In response to one of your other points, here is my lesson 7: Growing a readership is difficult, especially with limited time, energy and resources. I would say just keep plugging away, my friend. If you love doing it, the rest will follow.

      Thanks again for your comment. Hope you have a good weekend.

  2. What a smart, wise post, Paul! You are one of my favorite bloggers and voices in the social media stream. Congratulations on all your anniversaries. I am looking forward to hearing more as you pursue a small press. By the way, do you know the writers Richard Godwin and Richard Thomas? I think you guys might have a lot to say to each other.

    As for my own one and a half cents, it took me 11 years to break in. My skull nearly ruptured from all the head-banging. In the end, it still wouldn’t have happened without a series of near-alchemical alignments.

    My debut is now a little over 7 months from coming out (who’s counting? I am 🙂 but it took me three agents, eight novels, and now 12 years to be able to say that. It was long enough that indie pubbing wasn’t an option for much of that time, but became one.

    I am very grateful that it went this way for me. But am I glad there are other options now, and might I have tried them? A big hearty yes.

    • Wow. Thanks, Jenny. I’m a big fan of your blog as well. And I read all of your posts on your journey. I think all aspiring writers should (hear that, everyone?) Your experiences and perseverance prove that you are passionate for your craft. I’m very excited about your debut. I think it was John Lee Hooker who said something about “paying your dues to the natural facts” and it certainly seems that you have done that.

      I’m not familiar with those two writers, but I will certainly look them up.

      Thanks again for stopping by and your kind words.

  3. Great post, and hits some things that I’ve been considering lately.

    A few thoughts on what you said about Marketing and some conclusions that I’m reaching (because if first book sales are the most significant, then God help me!) Everything that I’ve seen and read over the past year has actually seemed to prove that marketing only gets you like 10% of the way there – the rest is all down to continuing to produce quality product, over and over. Each book raises your profile slightly. Almost every person I know that broke through with their first book either ran a publicity company or an employee of said company, which makes some sense as the cumulative effect of pushing others’ books put you front-and-center quite a bit.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think marketing is still important, but it’s more of an accumulated effect rather than some magic combination of the right amount of effort with the right amount of time/money spent. Just hammering at it for a year straight has probably raised your profile significantly, even if that’s not reflecting in sales just yet.

    I’m trying to say that I think your approach of focusing on writing rather than marketing is still viable. Just a few minutes a day is probably enough.

    • Interesting points, Jonathan. And actually what I meant on the “sales of first books” were that they had more of an emotional impact, even if there were only a few of them (which I can relate to. God help us both, eh? ha ha… ha?).

      And I agree. There is definitely something to be said for growing your individual offerings. The more quality product you have to offer, the better you are going to do. Which I guess leads me to lesson #8 (lesson #7 was in response to Casey Douglass): It’s probably a good idea to wait until you have a few books ready to go before starting a big publicity launch.

      Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. So we keep plugging along from where we are.

      Thanks for the comments, my friend.

  4. Hey Paul, been a while since I dropped by. I love this post. I relate completely. I self published just over a year ago (blogged longer but the focus changed with the books) and I’ve learned, grown, and evolved my opinions as well. My biggest change of heart is in editing. While I still think a core of beta readers who are serious writers is extremely important in a system lacking any accountability, I’m now vouching strongly for a professional editor as well, now that I’ve actually gone that road.

    Funny how you’re doing a post on books you’ll be buried with. I scheduled a similar post two weeks from now about books that I call my personal canon. The way our different personalities colored our “take” made me chuckle. Bet we don’t choose any of the same books! 🙂

    • Michelle, you make me smile. Yes indeed, it is funny the different take on the topic (although I can’t claim responsibility for this particular “meme.” Someone else came up with it, but it definitely lends toward the morbid). I’ll look forward to your post.

      And actually, we are in agreement on editing. I think beta readers are awesome, but they are not professional editors (unless they were once professional editors:)). I feel pretty comfortable using my beta readers for short stories, but for novels, I will always scratch together the resources to get a professional.

      Thanks for stopping by. Hope you have a good weekend.

  5. Happy Blogoversary! I’m glad you’re still at it. I am a voyeur on your ride and I’m always interested in your perspectives on the trip. It’s not often one gets to see what’s going on inside the head of an author. 🙂 Here’s to much success in all your ventures!

    • Much thanks, Robyn. Getting to know other writers has definitely been one of the best parts of getting involved in the blogosphere. I’ve always liked forewords or afterwords by authors giving a little insight into how their brains work (Stephen King has been a model for this). I’ve started actually putting afterwords with my short stories with a little perspective into where I came up with the idea for the story.

      It’s also been good to meet other writers and have someone to celebrate or commiserate with.

      Thanks again, and I hope you have a good weekend.

  6. A pretty wise person said something like this to me,: “Results count. First, set your goals, then decide if your current course of action is getting you any closer to meeting those goals. If not, change it.” Any idea who that person was? In following your exceptional blog for a year, it seems there is no ambiguity that the singular goal of a high percentage of writers is to publish through a “traditional” publisher…with or without an agent. You write, they promote. If that’s not working for you, try another way. Regardless, great works may go nowhere until they gain some traction with the general consumer (readership). Haven’t we all read some real garbage or purchased some useless product while the well written book or well made product gathered dust on the shelf. You’ve heard me say its even likely that in some obscure town in some obscure little church there’s a singer at least as good as Luciano but he’ll never be heard by more than his 37 member congregation., Why? Salesmanship. A dirty word to those in the liberal arts and sciences but an apparent reality in the current world of writing and getting your work out there. I’m not going to sanitize it, dress it up and call it “marketing” when its plain and simple salesmanship. The approval of valued peers and colleagues is so very important for all relatively new writers, but they’re not the general readership that make books best sellers. You believe in yourself as much as others believe in you and it should be easy to sell the heck out of your work.

    • I have a feeling I know who that person was. And good advice it is. Along with many other things you have said to me over the years. I think it’s important that you know that I don’t regret anything I’ve done over the past year (well, see my response to Jonathan. In hindsight, I might’ve waited until I had another novel ready to go–or at least closer to ready than I am now–before starting this whole thing, but here I am). I feel like pretty much every step I’ve made has put me here today, and I’m pleased with where I am. Granted, my sales aren’t where I would like them to be, but I’m probably basing that on unrealistic expectations. Otherwise, it’s been a great learning experience to get me here.

      Thanks for stopping by. Hadn’t heard from you in awhile. Hope you guys are having fun in Colorado.

  7. Congrats and thanks for sharing your wisdom!

    • Thanks Catalina. I hesitated a little on this post because I don’t know that I’m that “wise.” A wise guy? Perhaps. 🙂

      I hope everything is going well for you also. Seems like your book tour is plugging along. I hope it is bringing you great success.

  8. Congratulations on a successful year of blogging!

    As far as what I’ve personally learned/experienced thus far? I don’t know where to begin lol. However, I will say that self-publishing taught me a LOT for both writing and publishing. As Jonathan said, an author shouldn’t expect their first book’s sales to be anywhere close to being astronomical. Of course, there’s always some lucky bastard who’s first novel catches on and sells a bazillion copies. But those are far and few, especially with indie novelists. If I could tell one thing to people who are self-publishing their first books, it’s not to worry about whether or not the book sells. The first book is really more about breaking ground and learning the ropes.

    Also, you forgot Rule #7: After your editor goes through your work, you should do yet another red pen edit (a painful lesson I’ve learned and fixed). As well as Rule #8: Self-publishing is going to cost you money. A lot of money (relative to how much money you have/make).

    Great interview btw.

    • Hey Andrew,

      Thanks for stopping by. Great comments. And I just keep telling myself that it’s about breaking ground. Yeah, that’s it. 🙂

      Actually, I already added a #7 and #8 in my previous comments, but those can be #9 and #10. Definitely agree on the post-edit edit. I would amend your money rule to say that self-publishing should probably cost you money. You can do most of it for practically nothing, but it will most likely show. And that’s just the publishing aspect. There’s also the pre-publishing cost I believe it is worth incurring to have a professional editor look at your work.

      Glad you went to Hot Books Daily and enjoyed the interview. I had fun with it.

      Hope you’re having a good weekend.

  9. Happy blogoversary Paul!

    It was interesting to read your thoughts about this. I’m only a very short way along the road, and it’s been a steep, and occasionally exhausting, learning curve. I’m feeling pretty optimistic about things though. Personally, I just feel so happy and privileged that my book is out there … Sales are, generally speaking, few and far between, but when they do occur I feel delighted and humbled that somebody actually paid for my novel.

    The mention of Emily Dickinson was interesting, because I’ve often thought much the same thing. If the reclusive Dickinson were alive today I think she’d have great trouble making her voice heard amidst the general clamour, and quite possibly she wouldn’t sell very well, at least at first. But, if my memory serves me correctly, she only had one poem published in her lifetime, so it would still be an improvement: at least she’d be able to publish more, and hopefully over time build up the readership she deserved.

    I also worry about the number of truly dire books out there. However, I think there’s also a possible upside to this. If the democratization of writing and publication gets more people truly interested in, and passionate about, literature, that may well be a good thing.

    • Hi Mari,

      Thanks for stopping by. And you have some good points.

      “when they do occur I feel delighted and humbled that somebody actually paid for my novel.”- Great point. It’s nice that someone is willing to take a chance on my work.

      In regards to your other comments, as a teacher, we have access to a variety of resources to get students interested in literature, and one of the fun ones (which I haven’t yet tried but looks fun) is creating fake Facebook pages for authors (or other various famous people). Can you imagine Emily Dickinson on Facebook? 🙂

      And I would agree with you that anything that gets people more interested in reading is a good thing.

      Thanks again for your comments. Hope you are having a good weekend.

  10. Happy anniversary! let me tell you, you’ve done a hell of a lot in your year and have gained a lot of not only fans, but respect! Every lesson you’ve learned is invaluable, and everyone who comes here is better for taking the journey with you. Keep plugging away, keep learning, and keep smiling.

    • Much thanks, Hunter. I really appreciate your kind words. And I am still plugging away, definitely still learning, and trying to remember to smile as much as possible.

      Hope you’re having a good weekend.

  11. Paul, happy blog birthday! This is a lovely excuse for cake! Or beer, or both!

    I love my blog, but I haven’t found it or Twitter to really bring me any buyers/readers. What they have given me is a great way to make friendships with other writers. I was not anticipating that I would end up networking primarily with other authors, but I’m happy and fulfilled by the new friendships I’ve developed, and that’s worth more than sales.

    But… sales! Augh. I’ve tried a couple of paid ads. One was a total flop. The other was on GoodReads, and although I don’t think it generated any sales, it did get my book on to about 20 (non-writer friends!) To Read lists. I decided to try and get to know all of those people on GoodReads, not as an author, but as just another reader. Yes, they know I am the author of the book, but I didn’t try to hard sell them on buying Stolen Climates. In many cases, I recommended books I’ve read and enjoyed recently – including many #TESSpecFic books. 🙂 It has been fun.

    The one thing I’ve noticed most is that *I* tend to be what sells my books. I was astounded (still am, because it keeps happening) at people who know me for very non-writer reasons are buying my book. Not because they read horror, but because they want to know what I wrote. I think it helps that my disposition and my chosen genre are so very disparate. That dichotomy has sold more books than anything else. Conventions seem like they might be the best way for me to … sell myself! And, yes, that comes out all kinds of wrong.

    Also: yes, there are many nice aspiring writers who are published because of the ebook revolution. As you note, nice doesn’t necessarily equate to being a good writer. The power of the interconnectedness, and the sheer ability to share with the world, though, is the power to get help from unexpected quarters. The nice people who are poor writers stand a better chance of improving now than they would if their manuscripts never saw light of day because they couldn’t find a publisher. There is a tremendous community, and plenty of people willing to help lift up those who are willing to be helped. It might mean there is a glut of books on the market, but I don’t think that is a bad thing.

    • Hey Aniko, thanks for your great comments. I had to sit on them for a day to think about them. I agree that it feels more like the blogging is a circle of mostly writers, but perhaps this starts to change as more readers find your book and are then led to your blog. Who knows? But I agree that some of the camaraderie that has developed has been great. It’s good to have a community to work with, even if only a virtual one. And I also believe that, just like you have done and I have done, other writers who enjoy your book will promote it on their blogs or elsewhere. That has to do something.

      Sorry to hear about sales. I’m right there with you at this point. Haven’t tried any paid ads at this point (mostly because I don’t feel like I can justify it right now. Of course, there’s always the old adage, “You gotta spend money to make money.” I keep getting something from AdWords for $100 credit, but I haven’t pursued it as of yet).

      As to your last comments, you are much kinder than I am. But you are correct in a sense. “The nice people who are poor writers stand a better chance of improving…” There’s the key. If everyone thought that way, no problems. Unfortunately, I’ve met too many people who, as I said, don’t want to hear anything constructive about their piece. They think it’s the next great American novel, and if you don’t agree, well, you are certainly wrong. But if we’re willing to admit we’re not Hemingway or King just yet, we can all benefit from one another.

      Thanks again. Hope you have had a good weekend.

  12. Hi Paul,
    Interesting post, as always. I don’t always comment on your posts (I tend not to comment if I don’t feel I have anything valuable to add to a post) but I always read them, every Friday. I think you made some good points about the marketing and promotion side in particular. I first self published back in 2007, before the Kindle revolutionised ebooks. I published in paperback, sold a few copies (somewhere around 150, and not all to family and friends!), got a newspaper interview and did a book signing. What I didn’t do was write another book, not for a while anyway. I was just too busy promoting!
    And Andrew Hudson made a couple of good points with rules 7 and 8. Especially about the editing. I paid a professional copy editor to go through mine, and he did an amazing job, but a few glitches still slipped through.
    Anyway, keep blogging, but more importantly, keep writing.
    😉

    • Hey Ken, thanks for the comment (and no sweat if you don’t always comment… or make it by for that matter. Life is crazy for all of us).

      Good to hear from someone who took the self-publishing route the good ol’ fashioned way. I’d be curious to hear if you think the promoting these days is less time consuming, or if you’ve just decided you needed to focus your efforts more on the writing side of things. Maybe a little of both.

      Editing is tough. I have someone I trust for copy editing, but I still find a couple of things missed as well. I think it must be hard to be a copy editor because you’re really not supposed to get into the story. I’d like to think (and maybe you can think this as well) that where errors were missed happened to be places where the reader side of the editor was accidentally too engrossed in the story.

      At least we can hope 🙂

      Thanks again.

  13. Interesting post, Paul, and some great remarks as well.

    My biggest problem this year when I put out my new books under my Blaze brand will be that even though I have written many legacy published novels and am known for these works, it is my ghostwriting persona receiving the credit. So, blaze better write some good stuff.

    I agree with a lot of what was said here about combining shorter self-pubbed works with small Press published works, the definite need for editing, and the like. You and your fans are quite up with what is happening. The strongest point made with the comments, I feel, is where Jonathan mentioned building a back list. it certainly helps with marketing if your name is in more search engines.

    Happy anniversary. Keep writing!

    Blaze

    • Hey Blaze,

      Thanks for the comments. And besides legacy publishing, I believe you are developing enough of a legacy that you will succeed beyond your ghostly self.

      And maybe the best route is not to take just one route, eh? As I mentioned (and you hinted to), hopefully I’ll be able to successfully use as many routes to publication and branding as possible. But yes, the key is to just keep writing. Speaking of which…

  14. I was writing blogs long before I published my first novel (“Howl of a Thousand Winds,” shameless plug plug), and often at the same time while working as a newspaper writer/editor for the last eight years. I have found it to be a good outlet for the random and current events-driven thoughts that sometimes take up too much room in my head to allow more creative fiction to percolate there.
    I’ve never seen blogging translate into actual book sales for me, but I’ll give you an example of where it did for someone else:
    I recently read about Hugh Howey and his book “Wool” on a blog (I believe it was KG Arndell’s site). I was intrigued, and looked into it. I ended up buying the Kindle version, and I am continuing to read it today.
    I’m just Joe Average, so I’m sure this has happened for other people as well. I think our hope is, like reading accounts of lottery winners, we’re all dreaming “someday it could be me.”
    And I suspect Hugh, KG, and all the authors I know would say the same thing: It’s not the $5.99 that’s going to change my life — it’s the chance that someone is going to read what I wrote, like it, and tell the rest of the world.
    One thing — I can REALLY relate to #5. One of the things I cherish about writing novels is that the world is a fair, just, and orderly place between my margins, unlike that “real world” place where I have to actually make a living. That’s probably the hardest transition for me, going from a world where the good guys (occasionally) win, to the place where nice guys usually finish last.
    The “six tips” were obviously written by a real writer, and I appreciate you codifying things I’ve known but never considered in a linear way.

    • Morris, thanks for stopping by. Funny enough, I actually had a blog several years ago that was of a much different flavor. Honestly, I started it because it would be a written documentation of a trip I was taking which I was using as a tax write-off while at the same time visiting friends and family and working on a travelogue at the same time. Whew. Convoluted enough?

      Anyway, it kind of fizzled out until I decided to self-publish last year and then, well, I’ve already said all that so I won’t repeat.

      And some good points about blogging. I think I might’ve started with the intention of selling some books this way, but I think you’re right that this is not going to be my bookstore, but if I can get a few people interested through this crazy blogging world, who knows where that might go? And perhaps more importantly, if a reader finds my published works by accident (which seems to be the main way it’s happening these days :)), the blog will provide somewhere for them to go to get to know the writer on a more personal level. This is one of the great things about the interconnectedness of life these days. It used to be that if we wanted to get to know a writer, we would have to buy their nonfiction books (such as one of my favorites, On Writing by Stephen King). But these days we can find their blogs and get even more.

      Anyway, thanks again for your comments. Hope you’re having a good week.

  15. I’m curious to find out what blog platform you have been working with? I’m having some small security
    issues with my latest blog and I would like to find something more risk-free.
    Do you have any recommendations?

    • Sorry I haven’t replied to this sooner. I use the free WordPress.com blog. They have a great spam filter, and as of yet, I haven’t run into any security issues. Good luck to you and feel free to email me if you have more questions or concerns.

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