For my 8-year authorversary: 12 Truths About Publishing…

Eight years ago this month, I received my first book contract! Intimate Submission was accepted by Black Velvet Seductions, which kicked off my publishing career. Since then, I’ve published more than 30 books, worked with five different publishers, went Indie, changed genres, and hit the USA Today Bestseller list.

Publishing used to be a stodgy, “traditional” enterprise. No longer. Dynamic is the new paradigm. Nothing is the same as it was eight years ago. What I used to do then, wouldn’t work now. Many opportunities available to authors today didn’t exist in 2009, and some that used to be available no longer are.

If you’re just embarking on your writing career or if you’ve published a few books, for what it’s worth, I’d like to offer 12 tips to help you on your journey to becoming a successful author.

  1. Do what works. Well, duh. No brainer, right? But it’s a more complex than that. If your writing or marketing differs from what everyone else is doing, but it’s working, keep doing it! If everyone is writing billionaire dragon shifter secret baby stories but your Regency romances are selling like hotcakes, keep writing Regency! I know many successful author friends who write the same book over and over. With each “new” release, I think, “that’s the same damn story.” But you know what? They’ve tapped into a fanbase, and they’re killing it. Don’t knock what works, whatever it is. It’s a gift. Take it and run with it.
  2. Take a long-term view.  A publishing career is not about how many books you can sell today; it’s about how many books you can sell in a year, five years, ten years. It means you may be better served to employ a marketing strategy that may not make you money now—or even may cost you money—to reap bigger rewards later. Taking the long-term view means you need to consider what type of book you write, your branding, your platform, your online presence, the total package. Can you build a career out of what you’re writing?
  3. Make business decisions. Writing full-time or even part-time is different from writing as a hobby. When it’s your business, your career, you can’t only do the “the fun stuff.” You can’t just write when you feel inspired. At your day job, you don’t get to go work and do whatever you feel like doing—you have to serve your boss, the company, and/or the customer if you expect to collect a paycheck. Ditto in publishing. The market is your boss. You need to treat writing like a business, because it is.
  4. Give a strategy time to work. It takes years to grow a following. It can take time for a promotional campaign to pay off. Many things you do now will have an effect later. Don’t dig up the tree before it can bear fruit. Similarly, if a venture starts to show promise, this is not the time to switch gears and try something new!
  5. Genre hopping will hurt you. The most successful authors I know pick a genre (or two) and commit to it. This allows them to grow their readership. They don’t write “a little bit of everything.” They focus. Writing whatever strikes your fancy at the moment is fine if writing is a hobby, but self-indulgence does not sell books.
  6. Stop doing what isn’t working. The time, energy, money, resources you spend on tasks that don’t pan out could be spent on something that does. Learn when to let go and try something else. Sometimes a strategy/tactic/plan that used to work (maybe even for a long time), stops working. Accept reality and move on.
  7. Failure happens. You will fail. It hurts (emotionally and financially), but it’s not the end of the world. Not everything you do will pan out. Even after achieving success, you will experience some failure. A bestselling book can be followed by one that tanks. Sometimes failure results from something you did or didn’t do, but other times it is caused by bum fuck bad luck. If it is your fault, learn from it. Don’t make that mistake again. If it’s not your fault, cry, then pick yourself up, and march on. If you are repeatedly failing, that is not bum fuck bad luck. Refer to point no. 6.
  8. If (a big if) there is a shortcut to success, it is this: write what is already selling. Editors and publishers at writing conferences will tell you to write something “different,” “fresh,” “unique.” My hashtag: #bullshit. [Not all, but most] readers don’t want different, they want what they like. Publishers want what readers will buy. “Send us something fresh” is a holdover from traditional publishing days when it could take 2-4 years from the time you finished a manuscript until you secured an agent, then a publisher, and the book hit the bookstores. In that time span, red hot could turn stone cold, so trying to catch a trend was pointless. Nowadays, an ebook publisher can have your book on Amazon in 2-6 months, and an Indie can have it live within 24 hours of typing “the end.” Plenty of time to catch the trend! Am I saying that rehashing what’s already been done is what you should do? No. But if you’re looking for a shortcut, this is it. (Maybe).
  9. Your readers are unique to you. As I’ve mentioned, it takes time to develop a fanbase. Focusing on a genre helps, but in the end, your fans are readers who like the books you write. What you write or how you write strikes a chord within them. There is chemistry between author and reader. Your fans are worth their weight in gold. Cherish them.
  10. Pack up and leave your comfort zone. Don’t let fear make your decisions. Don’t avoid a venture because you’ve never done it before. Be afraid and do it anyway. Do it because it’s a sound business decision.
  11. Keep your ear to the ground. You can’t just hide out in your writing cave. Remember, the market changes. You need to be able to alter course if necessary, so stay informed of what’s happening in the industry, what other authors are doing, what the book trends are, etc. That doesn’t mean you jump on everything that comes your way, but you need to be aware of it. Don’t be the last one to catch the train.
  12. Pay it forward!!! Support your fellow authors. Buy their books. Review their books. Share their releases and successes with your followers. I can’t tell you how many opportunities have come my way because of friendships with other authors. It takes a village to build a successful writing career, and your fellow authors are your village.

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52 Responses to For my 8-year authorversary: 12 Truths About Publishing…

  1. Congratulations on eight years! That’s fabulous! And plenty of great advice, too. 🙂

  2. Siren Allen says:

    Great post. Exactly what I needed to hear. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Agree with every single point. You nailed this, Cara.

  4. A good summary and I think a key point here is that if you want to be successful in a writing *career*, you can’t treat any aspect of it as a hobby. You can love what you write and what you do, but always remember it’s a business. Your business!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Exactly!

      I think one of the pitfalls is that writing often begins as a hobby.You get a story idea and you decides to write a book for fun/in your spare time. Then you decide to “try” to publish it and you become an “aspiring author,” but you’re still in the hobby mindset; writing is still something you do in your free time. You haven’t mentally made the transition, you haven’t developed the discipline/practices of a professional author yet.

  5. Congratulations, Cara! As always, you have fabulous advise for authors. I’m thrilled that I found you as a fan first and then you became a mentor to me. You sure do follow your #12 by paying it forward!

    Cheers,
    Livia

  6. Lea Kirk says:

    Totally nailed it, girl friend! An author’s mindset on their career (vs. hobby) and how they treat and support their colleagues is vitally important to their success. Help boosts their own emotional well-being and self-confidence as well. Kudos. 🙂

  7. Thank you so much. As a new writer I really do look at these things, since my knowledge of the industry is sparse, and most of it is negative. I’m already doing a lot of what you said, and I will try the rest. This is my career now, even though my family see it as “Mom’s silly hobby” but it’s mine and it belongs to me. I own it.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Something else I could have added: as you build your career, there will be push-back from family members who resent the time you spend. Even supportive spouses will grumble. Often the grumbling (at least from the spouse) will decrease when you start making money.

  8. Congratulations on eight years! That’s awesome! And great advice! Ditto the other comments.

  9. Marika Weber says:

    Great advice and congratulations on 8 years!

    Shared on Tumblr and Twitter.

    Marika/Harlie

  10. Beth Carter says:

    Fantastic advice, as always. I agree on all points. You’re an inspiration. I can’t believe you’ve written 30 books!! Go, you.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I started out doing maybe 2 year, then realized I wasn’t being productive enough. Some of my “books” are novellas, a few are short stories in anthologies.

  11. Maris says:

    Good advice for writers. In my 35 years of being published, I’ve seen many changes. Having a goal is extremely important along with being flexible. Change is part of the business, accept it and adapt. And as you said, pay it forward. I know many have helped me a long the way.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Thirty-five years, wow! I’ll bet you have seen changes. Congrats on your longevity in the business!

  12. Many congrats on your eight-year authorversary (wow!), and thank you for all the wonderful, upbeat, and dead-on advice. I’m going to share this one around. 🙂

  13. Great advice. What I love about you is that you cut to the chase. Your handle should be #Nobullshit!
    I was just talking about you with another author a few days ago. We both agreed you keep getting better and better. Congrats on your 8 year authorversary!

  14. Hettie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! Excellent advice. Congratulations on eight years of success! 🙂

  15. Great advice, Cara. In the three years I’ve been published, I’ve always looked up to you as a consummate professional. My writing is still largely a hobby, which I do in the evening after running my daytime business (farming, which I am trying to retire from) and looking after my Dad, but I’ve still managed to publish 11 books. I’m a bit addicted, I guess. One day I will be able to do it full time! Many of your advice points are ones I have used during 40 years of running a business – especially cherishing your fans. The customer is king in any business. Congrats on your 8 years being published!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      You have a lot on your plate, Rachel. It’s amazing you get any writing done. Eleven books is a lot!!

  16. Zari Reede says:

    Sage advice Our 2nd book will be released in November and I am always looking for guidance from other more experienced authors. Love the post. Thanks for sharing

  17. Love, love, love. It’s like you were kicking my butt into gear, personally. 😉 Thanks.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      My crystal ball told me you needed a butt-kicking. Lol. No butt-kicking intended. Take my tips for what they’re worth.

  18. Janni Nell says:

    Great post. Lots of good advice. Plus billionaire dragon shifter secret baby stories–I love that! Too cute.

  19. Congrats on your authorversary! Great post. I’m nodding to all of them. One thing I know works for you is blogging. 🙂 Please keep it up.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Blogging does work for me, but I’ve changed my blog strategy, which has made it more effective and productive.

  20. Ami says:

    Love the honesty. Grateful for the advice.

  21. Linda Tillis says:

    Thank you! Thank you for taking your hard earned knowledge of the industry and turning it into gems of wisdom for those of us who are just beginning to spread our wings.

  22. Excellent advice and spot on. Eight years! Wow. Good for you.

    So true about how dynamic the publishing industry is now. I think that’s part of what I enjoy so much, though it can be hard to keep up with everything. Back in the day, Harlequin would never do a sports hero book and now there are thousands of books with sports heroes, motorcycle bad boys and other non-traditional romance heroes.

    I’d also add, and you mention it too in branding and online presence, I treat my online life like it was my office. If I wouldn’t talk about politics or religion at work, I don’t do it on FB or my blog. If I wouldn’t tell my boss about being drunk and acting stupid, don’t post it online. Maybe it’s my age, but I do a great deal of cringing when I read some FB posts. Or maybe I just cringe repeatedly at a handful of people.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I agree! You want to post enough personal information to make yourself approachable, so readers can relate to you, but oversharing is a bad idea–even for nonauthors. Potential employers check Facebook and other social media. Anytime I start to share something and a little voice inside asks, “Should I really share this?” I automatically take that to mean no. Err on the side of caution.

      Politics and religion will quickly turn off readers who don’t agree with the position–or even if they do agree. No one wants to be slammed with political/religious messages.

  23. Excellent advice, especially #6 – Stop doing what isn’t working. This is going on a sticky note over my desk.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      It can be hard to let go of nonproductive tasks because you may not know what to do instead and because it’s a judgment call. You want to give things time to work, but how long do you wait? I recently gave up doing blog tours. I’d done them since the beginning, but they just haven’t been effective for probably the past year or two.

  24. Laura Russell says:

    Thanks for the #nobull advice!

    I’m in the process of going from hobbyist to professional. Your insights are soo helpful.

  25. Cara Lake says:

    Congratulations Cara! Great advice and its given me a boost – feeling a bit down today – but your words have given me the strength to bounce back!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Sorry you’re feeling down. Glad my post made you feel a little better. We all have those down days; it’s something else you can expect when you’re an author. It’s so easy to feel disappointed, rejected, angry at what happens to our “babies” we send out into the market.

  26. ***Editors and publishers at writing conferences will tell you to write something “different,” “fresh,” “unique.” My hashtag: #bullshit. [Not all, but most] readers don’t want different, they want what they like.***

    I love this. When I couldn’t find the books I liked to read anymore (14 years ago) I decided to write them. Next year I hope to release a few.

    ***It takes a village to build a successful writing career, and your fellow authors are your village.***

    Gem # 2. Bravo. Read them, buy them, review them, link them. Slow and steady wins the race. Thanks for this post!

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