Is it too late to publish your first book?

Is it too late to publish your first book?

I saw a post online recently from a 23-year old author who was already worried that they were somehow “too late” to publish or get a publishing deal. I also received a lovely email from a 73-year old who is finally seeing some progress and success. I wanted to share it with you, hence this post.

“I got my first contract for my novel from a publisher, and went on to publish 26 novels through them when they suddenly went out of business. I never made much money, but then they pulled all of my books off of Amazon and left me to start all over on my own. I bought my covers from them but learned to design the book interiors on my own from you. I have since learned a lot from you on book cover design, so now I do my own covers, too.”

“But then I took some of your courses on Guerilla Marketing. You opened my eyes to what  the publisher apparently hadn’t a clue. He was never a good publisher. Even so, I got down and dug in. I spent long nights researching categories and keywords until I thought my eyes would bleed. Just so I am being clear, under the previous publisher, my books went nowhere. Now, you have to remember that my books have been around since 2015. Two weeks ago, my very first novel ended up #2 in its category.”

“That may not be a big deal to a lot of people, but it was to me. I wrote this book in 2014. It was published in January of 2015. Then, the very next week, I struck again. This was a newer book, but nonetheless, It was in the top 10.

And so, I am very thankful to you for all of the wonderful things that you taught to a 73 year old guy who isn’t done learning yet. If you would have ever told my high school English teacher that I would be writing novels she would have laughed you out of the room. I hope this cheers you up. You didn’t do all that you did for nothing. It did not fall onto deaf ears.

Thanks again, Bill Parker

But what if I FAIL?

More recently, I saw another Reddit post that was very poetic and self-absorbed, talking about the struggle and “curse” of writing creatively and never getting any traction. It was basically a “when is it time to give up” post. And then today, yet another post (because these are very common; due to the universal experience) – asking about how to deal with insecurity and doubts, when you can’t get any reliable feedback on your writing and you don’t even know if you’re good enough to keep doing it at all.

Here are some quick responses:

  1. This is the common experience of most authors (you’re not alone.)
  2. Writing isn’t a curse (you *can* be successful writing; writing well doesn’t mean you have to be poor; assigning a poetic virtue to suffering for your art is a coping mechanism to resist real change.)
  3. Sales depend on cover, blurb, reviews. Nothing to do with the writing, or your skills or merit as a writer. (It’s not your fault/don’t take it personally.)
  4. Failure is necessary for growth. If you’re discouraged with your progress, it’s because you assumed you could succeed faster, more easily, with less effort. That optimism probably led to innumerable publishing mistakes, content with the conviction that good books will simply sell through the passion or worth of their authors. There are millions of authors. The successful ones are *often* the ones with experience. They aren’t *better* – they’ve just failed earlier than you, and more often. You need to fail more to catch up.
  5. This is just the beginning. You are finally at the point of reckoning, where you’re dissatisfied enough with your experiences to question the choices that got you here. This is a necessary step! Congrats for stumbling into it. Things can change very quickly for you, if you identify what went wrong and try again. You can go from $1 to $1000 dollars in a week with a new cover and some promotion – but rarely does it happen by luck, and you may have to *earn* your knowledge and experience through some rough waters until you get there.

Dealing specifically with fears about getting real feedback, you need to understand two things:

First, nobody really cares about you or your writing. If they even discover and start reading, what will most likely happen is they’ll just shrug, quit and move on silently. People don’t review books unless they either love or hate them – both are more about meeting or missing their expectations than the quality of the writing.

Second, if you really press someone for feedback, they’ll attempt to give you some: even if they don’t really understand your book or genre or anything. They’re trying to be helpful; but it’s easy to get defensive when you don’t agree with what they’re saying.

This is why, I wouldn’t really ask friends, family or other writers for feedback. Asking for feedback is a HUGE favor, not only because of the time commitment, but also the potential to disrupt smooth social relations or worry about offending you and rocking the boat. Why should they get into an argument with you about the nuances of your story? They shouldn’t, and you shouldn’t ask them to.

But is it TOO LATE though?
Of course not, silly. It’s always exactly the right time for you to publish your first book, as long as you understand that your dreams of literary success – while possible – will probably take a few years of practice, study and failure first. If you, like most authors, expect instant fame and riches, you will likely need to wrestle with your own disappointment.

But am I cut out for this? Of course you are, or you wouldn’t be fretting. This is obviously what you want – so go get it! Writing is a learnable skill, which anyone can master, as long as you are proactive in your education and quickly come to terms with the fact that book-writing has universal rules you can quickly employ, to make your story more powerful while avoiding common writing mistakes.

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