I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know

How my writing career was all wrong and what I’m doing about it

A surprised cat

Photo by Anton Darius on Unsplash

I’ve been busy taking an author marketing course for the past month. As a result, I’m learning many new things about writing and ads. And I knew that I’d need to change several things if my writing career was going to be successful. But, of course, I didn’t expect how much I’d need to change.

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say; there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

Donald Rumsfeld

What I did wrong with my first novel

Here are some of the things I’ve learned so far:

I didn’t use Grammarly, so editing cost me more.

I lost some of my editor’s notes when my old laptop died.

I created my book cover myself to save money, and it’s completely wrong.

I didn’t use the correct formatting for KDP when I published my book.

The front matter and back matter were all wrong.

I didn’t have the money to pay for ads, so I didn’t sell any copies of that book for over two years except to my ‘superfans.’

I used social media as my only means of promoting, except for book fairs, where I didn’t sell enough to cover the cost of the table.

I didn’t ask my writing community for advice on any of those things.

A sad puppy

Photo by JC Gellidon on Unsplash

What I learned to do in future

I paid for a Grammarly upgrade and learned from it about correct sentence structure, consistent tense usage, and better ways to say things so my delivery is precise. It even gives me emotional indicators to keep me on track with my writing tone and theme.

I now back up all my work. I wouldn’t say I like using the cloud, but I recently bought a portable hard drive, so my cloud doesn’t start costing a pile of money I still don’t have. I also save documents to a USB stick to be on the safe side.

Covers. So important. My cover doesn’t line up with my genre. The fonts are wrong, and so are the colours and the foreground. And I somehow ended up with my subtitle (which I need to change) on the cover. Ad School taught me this and suggested a company that designs covers for a reasonable price. I’ll be using their services for my paperbacks in future.

Formatting. I’m not a fan of formatting, but now I know that different fonts belong to different genres and why they’re important. I also learned about the layout of the pages to make the reader’s experience more enjoyable. (Who hasn’t read the first few pages of a book, then put it down and never finished it because it just looked all wrong). KDP has all this on their site and even training videos.

I didn’t take the time to learn what front matter and back matter are. Again, KDP has this online for independent authors. With current technical advances, Amazon also shows prospective buyers a Look Inside our books. Most of my books would benefit from not having so much front matter that isn’t directly about the story.

I didn’t know the best way to advertise my books, and all authors realize we won’t sell many copies without marketing. I was told for many years that, to be successful as an author, I’d need to learn public speaking and do book tours to promote my books. Authors made most of their income selling books at speaking events, so I did that for a while with my son, Benjamin, who’s also an author.

We both wrote books on our experiences with autism. My son spoke, and I drove him to his events. I took my book along, too. Attendees often bought our books together. We both did well for a while, and the future looked promising. But that all changed a few years ago when videos and hosting book events online became the new way to promote books.

After many months of research and trying ‘shiny new ways’ to promote and ultimately losing money from them, a friend suggested Bryan Cohen’s free workshop on creating Amazon ads. She had some success with them and suggested I try them. I’m very grateful to Kimberley Payne.

A young boy peering through binoculars, smiling.

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

My new focus for success

From taking the course and analyzing my data so far, it seems my nonfiction workbooks are selling the most, so I’ll continue to write more of those. I enjoy helping other writers. My memoir of raising a child with autism and my new poetry book are also getting read on Kindle.

My fiction novel — the one that needs the most updates — has, at least, received some page reads since I started following the Ad School’s advice. After fixing my novice errors, I’ll be interested in seeing the sales stats for that book.

I also have hobby projects in the fantasy genre—but more on that later. And among all that, I’ll write poetry about my faith and my gardens—because I can’t not. (Hey, Grammarly didn’t edit that! Something new I learned today.) In the meantime, here’s my Amazon page with my apologies to anyone who cringes when they read my descriptions.

I hope my experience has helped you in some way.

Happy Writing!

~ Lynne

*previously published in WritersBlokke on Medium by Lynne Collier