5 Self-Publishing Lessons I Learned Between Books #2 & #3

PAINT150x_OpI am pleased to announce that my latest novel, Paint Me Gone, the third installment in my Gen Delacourt Mystery Series, is now available as an ebook on Amazon. Yaay! If you’ve chosen the self-publishing path, you know how much effort goes into not just writing a book, but getting it ready to send out into the world. The workload is enormous, and so is the learning curve.

When I launched Book 2 in December 2013, I wrote a post about all the stuff I’d learned between the publication of Book 1, Mark of the Loon, and the (very delayed) publication of Book 2, The Last Fairytale. Well, it looks like the education will never end, because I have more to report!

1. I figured out WHAT I WRITE!
Just like that kid in elementary school who knew she wanted to be a doctor and actually became one, you may be one of those lucky authors who knew exactly what you wanted to write before you scribbled the first word of your first novel. It didn’t work that way for me. I knew I wanted to write mysteries – because that’s what I love to read – but it wasn’t until I was 30K words into Paint Me Gone that I really understood my niche. Now I can pitch my books to anybody, because I finally defined – and really understand – what I do. Here it is:

I write women’s fiction mystery novels that feature strong, independent female characters who are professional or amateur sleuths. So far, each plot is set in a Northern California location, mainly San Francisco. My stories are both character and plot-driven, include both friend and romantic relationship elements, and run between 70K -75K words in length. My protagonists are flawed and smart and imperfect but manage to improve, both personally and professionally, in some way through every story line.

It sounds so simple, but knowing this helped immediately with setting up the plot of book #4 and the subplots that play into it. I can’t tell you how excited I am to finally have this piece in place. Takeaway? If you haven’t yet defined your work and where you want it to go, I highly recommend it.

2. My writing processes and systems improve with every book
Dark&StormyNightI own Scrivener and meant to learn it prior to taking on Paint Me Gone, but for very quirky reasons I put it off. Basically, my “writing” laptop is an ancient Dell with a broken hinge and a split screen that’s held together with duct tape and metal document clips.

It’s become my dedicated novel-writing tool because – okay, laugh – I love the keyboard and I can write faster on it. Also because it has a virus that makes accessing the Internet verrrrry slow – so slow it’s too frustrating to attempt. And why is that a good thing? It limits distractions. Anyway, it’s too slow to run Scrivener, but it’s great with Word.

So I’ve hit on a process that mimics Scrivener: I set up a plot outline in Excel and use separate columns to track chapter length, the key elements of each chap and the progression of time, and use Excel’s autosum function to track total word count. Then, I write each chap in a separate Word doc file. That way I don’t have to scroll through a massive single document and I can easily move chaps around if I need to.

You might be thinking that compiling the final doc is a pain, but it just takes a few minutes. Per Sarah Wynde in comments below, “if you have your chapter files in the correct order (so numbered), you can open a blank document in Word, go to Insert > Object > Text from file, select all the files, and click Insert and Word will compile the chapters for you.”

I also use Word “styles” to format the doc(s) as I go, and I have a standardized manuscript proof checklist that I run through prior to every editing run. Long story short, the process I use is familiar, it’s in place, and it works well for me. All that speeds the actual writing process.

Something else I discussed after book #2 is that outlining also helps me write faster. Like Rapunzel, Paint was plotted beginning to end, although unlike Rapunzel, I strayed from my outline and changed a lot of pre-planned elements, including the ending. Takeaway? A combo of plotting and pantsing seems to work best for me, so essentially I’m still a pantser at heart.

3. Reviews are hard to come by
Last time I launched a book, I was semi-smug about what I thought was a fact for me at that point: that reviews are easier to get with the second book. Guess what? Forget what I said, I was full of it. Here’s the truth: reviews from reviewers you have established a relationship with are, indeed, easier to ask for and receive.

But overall, reviews are much more difficult to get now without an established fan base. Honestly, I’ve submitted to at least a dozen sites since January and haven’t gotten a reply from even one. Takeaway? Cultivate new reviewers, stay in touch with reviewers you’ve worked with before, include a call to action requesting reviews in the back of every book, and for goodness sake, don’t stop submitting review requests for your existing books. And remember, when your first bad review comes in – and you will get one – take it with a grain of salt.

Glug, glug, glug.

4. Time for a serious marketing plan – I mean, past time. Ooops!
I decided to wait until I had three novels published before undertaking a serious book marketing campaign. So I’ve turned my mind to that now, perusing the costs and the sites and trying to get a sense of what others are doing that works, since what does work is a moving target and seems to change daily.

And I have one comment: wow, did BookBub ever get expensive.

One thing I’m sure will help is that I’ve wrangled an invitation to join a small group of really sharp, successful women authors who are willing to share their experiences. We’ve decided to swap info re: what we hear about, what we know, and what we try as individuals, and to divvy up the job of vetting book promo sites and processes. I’m excited!



5. Don’t stop writing
When I finished Book 2 I took a breather and didn’t write or plot or move a single fiction project forward until that book was published. That was a mistake. This time, the minute I finished Paint and sent it off to make the rounds or reviewers and editors, etc., I immediately plunged headfirst into Book 4, A Thousand Tombs. And boy, does that make me happy, because I have 45K words of the first rough draft of the 4th installment in my series, and it really stokes the fires to keep writing. Takeaway? Don’t stop writing between books!

Readers, what can you add? What have you learned so far, as either a self-pubbed or trad pubbed author? Please leave a comment and share!

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32 Responses to 5 Self-Publishing Lessons I Learned Between Books #2 & #3

  1. Belinda Pollard May 12, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

    Congratulations Molly!! And thanks for sharing with us what you’ve learned.

    I love that you are the Queen of Workarounds. That laptop sounds like a classic, and your Scrivener substitute very clever. I originally learned to use Pagemaker (the predecessor to Adobe InDesign) WITHOUT A MOUSE! (couldn’t afford one at the time, we are talking the late 80s when a laser printer cost $4500 😉 ) No one else even knew you could use it without a mouse.

    And your “don’t stop writing” learning is both a challenge and an encouragement to me. Seeing what you have achieved in such a short time is inspirational. May Paint Me Gone be the breakout hit of 2014!

    • Molly Greene May 12, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

      Thanks so much Belinda for your encouragement, your support, and your best wishes. PAINT is my favorite so far, although I’ve really enjoyed writing all my books. And I LOVE my Dell laptop. I’ll be really sad the day it dies for good, and I’ll have a tough time replacing it, as it’s been a trusted friend since 2008. FYI, I miss PageMaker!

  2. Stephen Harper May 12, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

    “Also because it has a virus that makes accessing the Internet verrrrry slow…”

    I wish I had one of those. Good for you, Molly Greene!

    • Molly Greene May 12, 2014 at 7:57 pm #

      Hahaha! See? You understand exactly why that virus is a wonderful thing. Thank you so much for stopping by, Stephen!

  3. Stephen Harper May 12, 2014 at 8:01 pm #

    Can you buy one of those on Amazon? I’d pay extra if I could.

    • Molly Greene May 12, 2014 at 8:02 pm #

      Made me laugh! Uh, in a pinch you could always try unplugging the WiFi – same effect 😉

      • Stephen Harper May 12, 2014 at 8:06 pm #

        no… I don’t think I could do that. I’m talking to you and watching an old Led Zeppelin concert at the moment. Anything else would require will power.

        Or one of those pre-damaged lap tops.

        • Molly Greene May 12, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

          I will not give mine up, so you’re on your own. What is your Twitter handle? I will stalk you on multiple platforms.

          • Stephen Harper May 12, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

            Am I blind or is there no twitter/follow button on this page?

            I’m @S_T_Harper on twitter. And I may or may not be fascinating. Your mileage will surely vary.

          • Molly Greene May 13, 2014 at 9:05 am #

            Hi Stephen, no, I’m achingly lazy and removed my follow button with every intention of replacing it. Alas, so little time, so many projects.

  4. Laura Zera May 12, 2014 at 10:39 pm #

    Congratulations, Molly! You have been a true inspiration and information sharer as you learn and navigate the publishing world. I wish you great success with Paint Me Gone, and look forward to seeing what you do with your three-book marketing campaign. Exciting!

    Oh, what we go through to force ourselves off the Internet. You and your duct-taped laptop, and me, I had to rent a whole Internet-free office! Whatever works, hey? And for some reason, I use Scrivener, and I still maintain an Excel spreadsheet with chapter word counts and scene outlines… :/ One day I’m hoping you do switch over to Scrivener so you can teach me/us how to best utilize it!

    • Molly Greene May 13, 2014 at 9:09 am #

      EXACTLY, whatever works!! Thanks for your support, Laura – did you realize we’ve known each other since September of 2012? Yikes! – and sadly, I will report that I doubt I will ever take on Scrivener now. The learning curve is huge, my patience is limited, and my current process works really well – especially since Sarah shared the shortcut to compiling multiple Word docs. I feel like I’m SET!

  5. Debbie Young May 13, 2014 at 12:55 am #

    Congratulations on Book 3, Molly, and thank you for sharing your journey between books here. Very interesting that you’re hooking up with a small group of savvy women writers – collectives seem to be a growing trend now. Check out Triskele Books http://www.triskelebooks.co.uk who offer a great role model for this approach.

    You might also like to take a look at the Alliance of Independent Authors, now two years old, and offering huge support and networking opportunities to self-publishing writers all over the world. There’s a small membership charge but you can still view the advice website absolutely free – http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org. I confess a bias, as I’m it’s editor – but the posts are all written by indie authors all over the world, making it a great resource wherever you are writing.

    Best of luck with Book 4 – and I hope your old laptop holds out at least until you type those golden words, “The End”!

    • Molly Greene May 13, 2014 at 9:02 am #

      Thank you Debbie! I know about ALLi and will join as soome as the budget allows, and as for collectives, I’ve tried big groups in the past but prefer a smaller group. Sharing info is the key here, though, and the benefits of not having to sift through and try every book promo possibility out there is a relief. Huge congrats to you as ALLi’s blog editor and thank you so much for the encouragement!

  6. Shirley Ford May 13, 2014 at 1:41 am #

    As always Molly you come up with such helpful hints and suggestions and I am looking forward to reading/reviewing your latest book. I have never got my head around Excel, perhaps I should make the effort!

    • Molly Greene May 13, 2014 at 8:57 am #

      Thanks so much, Shirley! I have never, ever before been an Excel person, but it’s funny how you warm to something once you experiment and see how beneficial it can be. I love my Excel outlines now!

  7. Catherine L Vickers May 13, 2014 at 5:19 am #

    Great article. I particularly like the last point. I spend so much time editing these days, that I feel I never do any writing. Plus I like the point about the reviews with subsequent books in a series. Those willing to do reviews, usually want to start with book 1. Then they are so busy with such a long R & R list, that they rarely get past book 1. As I said, good article. Cheers.

    • Molly Greene May 13, 2014 at 8:54 am #

      Thanks, Catherine! I’ve tried to make each book in my series a stand-alone and still part of the series, but you’re right – reviewers typiclly want to begin with the first, and that makes the process that much more challenging.

  8. Sarah Wynde May 13, 2014 at 6:35 am #

    You might know this already, but if you have your chapter files in the correct order (so numbered), you can open a blank document in Word, go to Insert > Object > Text from file, select all the files, and click Insert and Word will compile the chapters for you. I mention it because a few minutes seems fast if you’re doing it by hand, but slow if you’re using Insert-Object, which takes no time at all, really.

    I wish I could figure out what I write! And good luck with the marketing plan. That’s the stage I’m in, too–third book out, fourth one with the editor, trying to make smart choices about how to promote. My first BookBub ad runs next Monday. I hope it really is worth it!

    • Molly Greene May 13, 2014 at 8:52 am #

      Sarah!! Thank you SO MUCH for sharing the compile process! I knew there had to be a way to do it, I just hadn’t Googled it yet and I hoped some savvy author like yourself would share. Yaaaay! Best to you on your book marketing journey. I’ll be sharing what I do as I go, so please come back and share your experiences, as well!

      • Sarah Wynde May 13, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

        Oh, good, I’m glad I could help! I’ve read a lot of recommendations for Scrivener, but I’m pretty sure that I can do everything I could do in Scrivener within MS Office (including Powerpoint for card arranging), so I’ve never figured out why I’d want to switch. I’m too lazy to learn new software when the old stuff does what I want it to!

        I’ll come back and let you know how BookBub goes. 🙂

        • Molly Greene May 13, 2014 at 2:09 pm #

          Scrivener does have the benefit of exporting the mss into ebook files, but I use mobipocket, Calibre, or simply upload the doc directly into Amazon – which makes a gorgeous ebook file. So I think I agree with you, Scrivener may be shunted to the side for the long-term for me, too!

          • Sarah Wynde May 13, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

            I use Sigil, which is no longer being updated, but still works quite nicely. Wonderful help files, too. The clearest instructions of any of the products I tried.

            On the promo site stuff, I paid $30 for a Digital Book Today ad on Saturday for my free book, and got probably about 200+ extra downloads. Given that the ratio of free download to sales has been listed at 600 to 1 by the indie book collective (per reddit), probably not worth it. But I also submitted to E Reader News Today (for free, for free books) and they ran it today, for an 800+ download day. Definitely worth it, for me.

          • Molly Greene May 13, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

            Sarah, we sound like kindred spirits re: Word and creating our own ebook files, and it sounds like you do your homework re: book promo. I LIKE it! Thank you so very much for sharing.

  9. Tom Benson May 14, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

    Hi Molly. I found your site thanks to a mention by Anna Bayes on her blog. Next thing I have to say is, I’m seriously impressed by your open-house approach and advice. That second point is possibly due the fact that I feel and act the same way, although I haven’t got your fan base.
    I’m self-published and presently working on my third thriller. I’ve found one peculiarity; that my first book didn’t sell steadily until my second one was out there, about a year later.
    Method? I write a synopsis, a cast of characters and a simple timeline. No matter which chapter or which stage I’m at, those three documents are minimised and ready as references.
    I’m about to head off to Amazon to purchase your ‘Blog it’. You’re now on my Blogroll. Many thanks.

    • Molly Greene May 14, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

      Hi Tom, thank you SO much! Anna has been very, very good to me and I love her and deeply appreciate her support – and thank you so much for your kind words about Blog It! Let me know if you have questions after you’ve read it. I’m jealous you can write a cast of characters BEFORE you start – mine often just show up and insist on being included. Best to you in all you do and congrats on book #3!

  10. Joanne Rock May 14, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    I think it’s great you’re keeping track of what each project teaches you. The learning curve is so steep with the early books– you learn so much is hard to remember all you’ve learned! I’m sure reflecting and writing about it helps solidify the lessons. Wish I’d done the same. I wrote a guide about self promo recently and many of the authors I interview thought it was wiser to wait until you had three books before you really dig into a promo plan, so I wanted to toss out there that you’re timeline seems perfect for working on that piece of the puzzle! Good luck with it and I wish I had your knack for defining a niche… I’m helplessly all over the map with what I write.

    • Molly Greene May 14, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

      Thank you so much, Joanne! Yes, I think an author gets more traction with every promo $$ spent when there are more titles to cross-promote … now I hope I can do a good job of moving the promo plan forward. And as for defining my niche, the universe just sent it to me! I’ll cross my fingers that *they* whisper yours to you soon, as well.

  11. Patricia Sands May 14, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

    Congratulations on your new release! The reviews will come as word spreads about another exciting installment in the Gen Delacourt mysteries. Try Book Rooster for fair and honest reviews.

    • Molly Greene May 15, 2014 at 10:28 am #

      Thank you so much, Patricia, and I will look into Book Rooster, thanks so much!

  12. Cheval John May 15, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    Molly, that is a great accomplishment on writing three books.

    I guess for me, being a first time self-published author, learning to develop relationships with great influencers especially radio/television, and bloggers before releasing your first book.

    I can say that I’m still learning, but getting better.

    • Molly Greene May 15, 2014 at 11:27 am #

      Thanks so much and yes, connecting with people in the industry as far in advance of your first publication helps a lot! We’re all learning, and I’m sure that will never stop. Best to you with your books!