The Many Dangers of Publishing Too Soon.
This is a subject I’ve touched on before, but a recent experience has convinced me to devote an entire blog post to it.
I bought an e-book, the first of a series, because it was on sale for 99 cents. This is a common marketing strategy. You have a series of books, you make the first one cheap or free to bring in readers. The hope is that readers will enjoy the offering enough that they will decide to read further, and purchase more in the series. It’s a smart plan, and often works quite well.
Unless the first book is bad. Then this strategy might backfire on you.
Let’s say you’ve written your first book. You are proud of yourself, as well you should be. It’s a unique concept and an interesting story. You are planning on making it into a series, and you think it’s a good plan, because e-book series do very well. You’ve had a couple re-writes, and a couple beta readers, and you are all set to hit that “publish” button.
No matter how much you’ve studied, no matter how great your passion, the first book you ever write is going to have problems. It takes time to develop writing style and voice, it takes experience and a willingness to get honest critique to find the issues in your writing and address them. This isn’t going to happen with your first book.
But so-and-so wrote a first book and it got published and it was a best seller and made millions and–
Yeah. So-and-so got lucky. So-and-so is a rock star. Do you want to give your books the best chance they have, or do you want to hit that “publish” button and hope you get to be a rock star too? Stephen King’s Carrie was the first book he got published, but it wasn’t the first book he wrote. It was his forth.
Publishing a book that isn’t your best as a first offering, or as the first in a series, is a great way to shoot your literary dreams in the foot.
Let me give you an example based on the book I tried to read recently. It was the first in a series, and I got it cheap due to a tried and true marketing ploy. No title or author names here. I’m not trying to shame anyone; I’m just illustrating through example.
Now, Babs the author has a series out. It has an interesting premise, and deals with subject matter you don’t see every day. I was all set to dive into Bab’ series and I imagined that I would enjoy the heck out of it. And the first book of the series was cheap to boot. What a great time to check Babs’ series out.
Then I tried to read it.
It has all the markers of a writer’s first book, and some very basic issues. I have no idea if Babs wrote any novels before this one, but my best guess is she didn’t, based on what I read. The story begins with three chapters of backstory mixed with character study all done with a close third narrative style that jumps from past to present, sometimes so quickly that I got lost. It’s all tell, no show at all. Descriptive passages are quirky and a bit heavy handed. Now, I like quirky, but I don’t want to be thrown out of the story. Descriptive passages are almost completely visual, with little from the other senses.
I love to read. I read less now that I spend much of my time writing, but I still love to read. My more limited reading time has made me choosier as to what I spend my time reading. I used to be one of those people who finished every book they started, but I have to be more discerning now. I gave up on Babs’ book at the end of chapter three.
The first book you publish is going to have a real effect on everything else you publish. If a reader checks out the “look inside” feature, and is turned off by a writing style that simply isn’t there yet, they are not going to look at anything else you have published, no matter how much better it is. If that first book is the beginning of a series, no marketing plan is going to help you. Instead of being a book that leads readers to purchase more, it will be a book that steers readers away from your work.
I can’t stress this enough. If you have completed your first book, don’t rush to click that “publish” button. Write the next book, and maybe the third, and perhaps even the forth.
It’s not wasted time. I currently am preparing to publish my second novel, and I have two more completed manuscripts to publish after that. Conventional wisdom is that to get attention in the self-published e-book market, one needs to be ready to put a new book out every sixty days, tops. I don’t write that fast, but my four completed books are giving me a great jump-start, and I have two more manuscripts that are 75% completed. By the time I publish book four, both of those should be ready to go. Having six books to publish my first year self-publishing will be awesome. It does not guarantee success, but it gives me a better chance.
That first book, it’s not going anywhere. After writing more books and growing into your style and voice, you can go back to number one and do a re-write, incorporating all you’ve learned. If you found out you had a backstory problem, or used the words “that” and “seemed” too much, you can dive right in there and fix it. Then, when you do publish it, it’s not going to read like a first effort and it’s not going to torpedo the rest of your body of work.
The rest of Babs’ body of work might be awesome. Babs is a smart cookie, and I’m sure her writing style grew and improved from the first book to the last. Unfortunately for Babs, most readers will never make it to the awesome books because they got burned by the first one.
Don’t be like Babs. Take your time and don’t publish until you have at least three books worth of experience under your belt. In the long run, you’ll sell more books and you won’t be left wondering why you are hemorrhaging readers or why your promotions simply aren’t bringing in the traffic you expected.
Will my books be successful because I took my time to make them the best they can be? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing is for certain, I will know I have given them the time and attention to make them the best books I can. I can live with that.
Just a reminder that my paranormal mystery, Wyrd House, is in the middle of a Kindle Scout campaign. Click on the above banner to check it out. Anyone with an Amazon account can nominate Wyrd House for publication, and if it’s selected, you get a free advance copy of the e-book. Free books rock!