Lessons Learned: My 10 Biggest Mistakes as a Self-Published Author
By Melissa Storm/ Today's post is all about why I decided to throw away an author brand I'd worked on developing for over four years, easily spending over $35,000 in the process. Why say goodbye to my fiction career as Emlyn Chand when I've clearly invested so much in it?
Because I made mistakes, lots of mistakes–in fact, I count 10. Were they irredeemable? Probably not, but sometimes it's just best to get a fresh start, and that's what I'm doing now.
Mistake #1: I diluted my brand by genre-hopping.
As Emlyn, I wrote Young Adult Paranormal, Literary New Adult, and Children's Picture Books hybridized with Lower Grade Fiction. I also had ideas for, and was raring to write, Alternate History Science Fiction, Political Thrillers, Middle Grade, and straight Literary Fiction. The only genre I wasn't willing to try was Horror–and that's probably, because I'd already made a foray in that direction and quickly discovered I didn't have the stomach for it.
With all these different books and book concepts, one must wonder: Who was my audience?
The truth is I didn't have a single audience. I had one good-sized audience for my YA, and they sometimes looked at my other stuff, but I was never really able to build audiences for those other genres–not like the books deserved.
Part of my great coming out as my true identity involves a second rebrand. I will also be rebranding my children's book series to focus on promoting through the series as not through my author name. I am working on a new website and a new series of blog posts to explain that decision, but you'll have to wait to hear about that.
Let's get back to my shift to Melissa Storm and a discussion of the mistakes I made as Emlyn Chand.
Mistake #2: My business came first, and the books came second.
Most of the time, when someone said “Emlyn Chand,” the first thing that came to mind wasn't any particular book or series of books, it was my business, Novel Publicity. I worked very hard to conceptualize and grow NP, and I will always be proud of it, but there's no denying that it was a big part of what I did wrong.
See, I built NP first, and I devoted far more time to it than I ever did to my writing. I often liked to say that I love both my business and my books–NP is my wife, and writing is my mistress. I felt guilty whenever I snuck away to write, because Novel Publicity demanded and required so much of my time. It made sense, after all, NP put money into my pocket; whereas, writing usually took that dough away.
Since Novel Publicity has always been synonymous with “Emlyn Chand.” I've decided to honor that brand by publishing a line of nonfiction guides for authors and by ceasing publication of any fiction works using that name.
Mistake #3: I chased a trend.
But I wasn't just Emlyn Chand. I was Darby Davenport too. Darby is my much-lesser-known, alternate pen name. I wrote and published one steamy romance novella, then partially wrote an extremely erotic follow-up that never saw the light of day.
I made this decision at the time, because I wanted to keep doing what I loved, wanted to keep writing–but as the industry became more and more flooded, royalty checks got smaller and smaller.
I needed to make more money if I wanted to support my writing habit (isn't it sad that we sometimes think of our craft, our passion, as a habit?), so I turned to the best-seller of the day, erotic romance. I never felt comfortable writing explicit sex scenes, but sometimes a writer has to do what a writer has to do. The first novella did reasonably well (nothing earth-shattering, mind you), but my heart was never in the book or the genre. I couldn't bring myself to finish the follow-up, and with only a single novella to sustain an entire brand, it's no wonder my little experiment withered on the vine.
There's a reason all the greats tell you not to chase trends. Either your heart won't be in it and thus you won't be able to finish, or you'll ring inauthentic to readers and possibly lose your soul by betraying the true art of your craft.
Mistake #4: I didn't make a long-term plan.
The first manuscript I wrote was multicultural women's fiction. As I queried that to agents, I decided to write something different, and so came my best known work, a YA Paranormal called Farsighted. Then I started writing kids' books, then, then, then… I ran open and free where ever I pleased. While it's good to be flexible, it's detrimental not having a plan.
I never had a plan–other than the very generic: become a bestselling author, whom readers and critics both adore and who is able to support herself and her family solely through royalty checks.
Guess what? That plan of mine definitely doesn't count! I should have written novel one and then made a long-term plan about what ideas I had that would appeal to a similar audience and then I should've written more of the same. I didn't do that, and it wasn't long before my lack of a plan began to cripple my sales, my productivity, and my overall morale.
Mistake #5: I didn't account for my evolving tastes and preferences.
It's no secret, falling in love first with my husband then with my daughter changed me immeasurably. They're the reason I can't write dark, depressing novels anymore. They're the reason I can't go through with the unconventional blood bath of a series ending I had planned for Farsighted. They're the reason I've decided to enter the publishing world as my true self.
Beyond my new, sunny disposition, I've also gotten fed up with the YA genre. I've read and written so much of it over the past several years that I am just burned out. And it's really bad when an author can't stand the genre she's best known for. That's why my new brand is focused in style and theme but leaves a little wiggle room when it comes to sub-genre or intended age range.
Mistake #6: I wrote characters to whom readers couldn't necessarily relate.
As Emlyn, the characters I wrote were real to me–very real. I know they felt real to readers too, because I often heard about their desire to “reach through the pages and slap” my characters. Yes, they were frustratingly real. Characters from Farsighted were self-indulgent, wishy-washy, quick to anger, and rude. Characters from Torn Together were detached, depressed, and just plain cold.
And while my characters were well-developed and real, many had a hard time relating to them. For readers who could relate, the reading experience often stopped being an escape and forced them to confront very real and painful demons–myself included. Which brings us to…
Mistake #7: I avoided writing, because what I wrote made me sad/scared/uncomfortable.
I couldn't write while I was pregnant, and exhaustion was not the culprit. I tried working on both my Darby Davenport novella follow-up and Pitch, the third book in the Farsighted series. Both made me cry, shake, and feel sick. Both gave me nightmares. My romance made me blush, and I was afraid even to let my husband read it, let alone my mother or my fetus!
I thought of giving up writing forever, since I clearly couldn't do it anymore. It took me a while to realize that I didn't have to give up my craft, I just had to make something different.
Mistake #8: I got trapped in a never-ending brainstorm.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, I have had fabulous, must-be-pursued-RIGHT-now ideas in every single genre you can think of. I didn't just think of the hook and let it go either. I planned characters, worlds, plot points–my imagination couldn't be contained! Unfortunately, this kept me away from the projects I was supposed to be writing, and for what? The thrill of a new idea?
While that's still a high I won't soon sacrifice, I'd like to try to be excited about the projects I'm writing, not the fleeting shininess of something else.
Mistake #9: I spent too much time talking about writing and not enough time actually writing.
Social media is a necessary evil. Isn't that what we all say? We laugh when a graphic makes its way around the web with a claim that writing is 2% perspiration and 98% procrastinating on Facebook. It's funny, because it's true, right? But why does it need to be true? Can't we make a little, yet earth-shattering change here?
I'm not creating any social media accounts for my new author brand, and I'm letting go of many that I established as Emlyn Chand. Darby's accounts have already bitten the dust, and I don't miss them one bit!
For now, it's enough to maintain this blog, and–oh, I don't know–actually write my novel! I believe in only doing one thing if you only have time to do one thing well. If my time restraints change, sure, I may add a Facebook page or a Twitter account… or I may just take more time to write.
I love this post my husband Falcon wrote to challenge the way we view social media. Read it, digest it, and consider making a change.
Mistake #10: I spent a small fortune without stopping to think it through.
I mentioned spending at least $35,000 on Emlyn's books, right? Because I did. As Melissa Storm, I'm going to spend far less money, and I'm going to spend it smarter. I'm going to work on being more authentic, on writing better books, on making deeper connections–not just on creating a flashier show.
Is your head spinning? So many mistakes over such a relatively short span of time. What mistakes have you made as an author? What would you change if you could do it all over again?
Don't forget to come back tomorrow to read about what I’ve done RIGHT as a writer an how I intend to bring my previous triumphs into my new brand.
Melissa Storm was born with a fountain pen grasped firmly in her left hand (true story). Novel Publicity’s mascot is a sun conure, thanks to her obsession with birds–and she gets to decide anyway since she is the company’s founder and president. Her first novel, Farsighted, won the prestigious Writer’s Digest Self-Published Novel of the Year award in 2012 for the YA category. She now writes most of her fiction under her real name, Melissa Storm. Learn more or connect with her her author website: www.melstorm.com or via Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.