I get asked about publishing a lot so this section will be a resource with things I personally find helpful. (Disclaimer: these are my opinions and your mileage may vary).
Coming Soon – Amateur Cover Design. How to design a simple book cover on your own.
How to get started as a Romance Author
(with bonus tips for POC)
THE EARLY STAGES
- Read the genre – This can’t be emphasized enough. Romance isn’t a market you can just tap into because it’s so lucrative. If you aren’t a fan of the genre, it’s unlikely you’ll write it well or understand what the readers want.
- Write several books – Yes, I said SEVERAL. Most of the authors I know wouldn’t allow their first book to ever see the light of day. It makes no sense to write one book and then try to sell it. Best case – your first book sells and the readers want more. Worst case – your first book doesn’t sell and you have nothing else to sell either.
– Bonus tip for POC – read widely and decide if your books are niche or mainstream. All stories deserve to be told but the hard truth is that not all stories will resonate with a mainstream audience. Look at what’s on the bestseller lists and notice what those books are about. You need to know where you fit in before you go further so you can adjust your expectations. If your book is about an obscure religious/cultural experience or requires knowledge that most readers don’t have, that’s a niche book which might not achieve the same sales levels. Which is fine. Niche books are awesome, too! However, don’t let anyone tell you your book is niche just because the characters are a different race or religion. Love stories are universal. All people can relate to falling in love! Opinions will vary on this topic but having realistic expectations will help you avoid getting discouraged later if sales aren’t where you want them to be.
- Use related characters – This is advice that will help you immensely later on if you take it. Everyone in my books is related/friends/co-workers in some kind of way to other books. This will help you when you reach the advertising phase I mention in step 11 below. DO IT.
- Create an online presence. Decide if you will use a pen name. Make sure the name is not already used by another author. If you try to use a name that’s already in use, people will confuse you with that person and your books will always be buried under their stuff anyway. Once you decide on a name, register on every social media site you can even if you don’t plan to use all those sites. Buy your author name as a domain name (if it’s taken, do something like authornamebooks.com). Do a simple website that you can easily update. I recommended WordPress templates or Wix.
- Make friends –Being in the romance community early allows you to find friends who are on the same journey. These people will become your lifelines later. Be professional and don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Join RWA (Romance Writers of America) if you can afford it. The articles in their newsletter have helped me a lot over the years and you’ll meet online friends that way also. Beware the friends who seem to like talking about being an author more than actually writing though. There’s a lot of those out here.
- Set up a newsletter – Most places will allow you to have a free account when you’re first starting out. Mail Chimp allows you to have up to 2000 subscribers for free. Don’t be discouraged if no one signs up. This is just in place for once you publish. I wrote an article about newsletters here with some more in-depth tips.
- Get your books edited – This is where the magic happens! Find a good editor by asking for recommendations from your new online friends and looking in the front of published romance novels. If you know authors willing to beta read for you, do it. Feedback will only help you improve. Get several opinions and take the consensus because what one person hates others will love. If you still aren’t sure, go with your gut. It’s your book and ultimately you need to be happy with it. (See my recommendations with the links above.)
- Find a cover artist – Cover artists are easy to find online but look at their clients to make sure they’re reputable. You can find something in the $75-150 range for sure if you search. Some have premade templates that they offer for less.
– Bonus tip for POC – stock photos for POC are terrible as a general rule. Don’t accept this. Other people may have a different opinion (which is fine) but I always prioritize how the cover looks over how accurate it may be to the characters. If it’s accurate but trash, then no one will buy it anyway. You need a good cover that can compete with the other books on the market. A lot of POC authors find hot men for their cover and just cut the heads off so race isn’t as much of a factor.
- Observe – Identify target authors who write similar books and you think are doing well. Subscribe to the major book deal sites such as Bookbub and Book Sends to see which authors are using them. Join author newsletters and follow them on social media. How often do you see your target authors advertising or posting sales? Are they pushing Book one of a series? Are they doing standalones? Take notes of how they advertise and interact online. Write it all down. Seriously, write it down.
NOTE: I’m speaking from the indie publishing experience, this will differ if you’re being published by a major press.
- Formatting – You got those books you wrote edited, right? Read them again to catch those stray errors that seem to come from nowhere (trust me). Get them formatted by a professional or do it with Vellum (highly recommend). Use the backmatter (the stuff after the book is over) wisely. You have the reader’s attention if they made it to the end of the book. Make sure you link to your newsletter right after the last line of the book. Again, if you’ve observed your target authors and read their books, you will have seen how they do it.
- Sign up for publishing accounts – The top five are Amazon KDP, iBooks, Nook Press, Kobo, and Google Play (this one is hard to get into). If you wish to simplify, then just sign up for KDP and Draft2Digital (who will distribute to most other places for you.) I highly recommend having your own account at each retailer just because I like to be in control of my own stuff. I don’t want to depend on anyone else for access to my books or sales data if it’s not necessary. However, some people prefer things to be simpler.
- PUBLISH – This is the part everyone’s excited about but it’s also the most stressful. First, pour a glass of wine. LOL, joking (but not really). Once your books are out there, they belong to the readers and they WILL have opinions. Do not read the reviews. I know it’s tempting. Have a trusted friend monitor them for you and send you the positive ones. They can make sure there are no legit issues being mentioned in the bad reviews (such as bad formatting, missing chapters, etc.)
NOW HERE’S THE HARD PART. HOW TO GET NOTICED.
- Publish frequently – Easier said than done, I know. Remember when I advised you to write several books before you even start? This is why. There’s tons of pressure to publish fast. It shouldn’t feel like a race but it does. If you already have three books ready to go then this gives you some breathing room. If I could change anything about how I published, it would be my publishing schedule. I would have written all six books in The Alexanders series before I even released book one. Then I would have published one book every two months. That would have given me an entire year of consistent book releases and I could have written my next series meanwhile.
- Advertise – Most authors use deal sites (such as the ones mentioned before like Bookbub and Book Sends) to place ads when they have a sale. REMEMBER above when I told you to make all your books connect somehow? This is when that comes in handy. There’s only so many times you can advertise book one in a series. But since all my books are connected, when I advertise any book, I can put an excerpt in the back to point readers to another book with characters they will recognize. Make it easy for them to jump between your books and even between your series. Make it easy for them to spend their money with you. Don’t go crazy with ads when you only have one book. It makes more sense to wait until you have several, then your ad money is actually fueling sales of multiple books. Set up a budget of what you can afford and stick to it. It’s easy to go into debt if you’re not careful!
- Network – If you’ve made friends online, consider how you can cross-promote each other. This works best if you are in the same genre.
– Bonus tip for POC – Just because another author is a POC doesn’t mean their fans will like your book. Cross-promote based on genre. Skin color is not a genre. If you are cross-promoting with other POC randomly, you increase the chances of your books being read by an audience that doesn’t like what you write. Then they leave bad reviews. Make sure you are strategic about how/where you promote. This is business. It’s the best and most fun business ever (IMO) but it’s still a business.
FINAL THOUGHTS & RANDOM TIPS
- There are a lot of predators in this business selling snake oil and dreams. We have a saying in the author community: money should flow to the author. If anyone is trying to charge you money, you should scrutinize why. No one can make your book a bestseller just because you bought their advertising, cover art, editing services, etc. Beware of outrageous claims and if it sounds too good to be true, it is.
- Be prepared to work hard. It’s awesome working in my pajamas but I work 60-70 hour weeks as a general rule. YES, some of my work is looking at hot, half-naked men on stock art sites (don’t judge) but it’s still work. I have literally passed out on my laptop before while doing edits!
- If you’re already in the publishing process and trying to figure out why things aren’t working, it’s usually the cover, the blurb or the writing itself. Especially if you’ve done a free ad for a book before and then no one bought your other books. It’s rough to accept this but sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board and work on the story itself. Make sure the writing is strong. I have some craft books that I recommend in the Writing Resources section that really helped clarify how to tell a good story.
- These are my opinions based on my own unique experiences. I wish I could promise that what worked for me would work for everyone but that’s not reality. If you’ve found something different that works, fantastic! Keep doing whatever that is. I truly believe there will always be room for great stories in this world.
Even when you publish independently, you need a great team of other professionals and access to resources to get the job done. Here are some services and resources I’ve used in the past.
EDITORS & COVER ARTISTS
These are two of the most important aspects of selling books. If the cover doesn’t grab the reader’s attention, they’ll never even stop scrolling. Then the writing needs to hook them. When first starting out, many new authors barter for these services if they can’t afford to hire someone. However, there’s no avoiding the fact that top-notch editing and cover art will give your book the best chance at success.
WRITING TOOLS & CRAFT
No matter how far you come in your writing & publishing journey, there is always more to learn. I’ve enjoyed the following books on the craft of storytelling and the business of marketing fiction:
FOR YOUR AUTHOR PERSONA
These are a few of the things you need to set up to make your author persona come to life.
When you’re first starting out you don’t need anything complex. Just make sure your books are visible with clear links to where to buy them. If you write a series, make the reading order clear.
Claim your titles with your official author page. I’m always amazed how many authors forget to do this. When readers click on your name, they need somewhere to go! Set it up at authorcentral.amazon.com
Your main focus should be on writing the NEXT book however, it’s nice to engage with fans online when you have time. It keeps you fresh in their mind and excited about your new works. Only do as much online socializing as you’re comfortable with.