This week I asked you whether any of you had any questions you wanted answers, and I got some wonderful ones! Today I’m going to address this question from the wonderful Stephanie, the incredible woman to whom Mundane Magic is dedicated.
Something I hear a lot is how time-consuming promotion is for new authors, to the point that it can make it difficult to make time to write. How has taking on this “double duty” affected your writing life?
When I first considered self-publishing back in 2016, I knew that the part I was most afraid of was self-promotion. Because to self-promote, you’ve got to have some level of belief in yourself – but then, to self-publish you’ve got to have that too.
I can’t properly explain how self-promotion impacts my life without telling you what it took to get there. So here are five ways I prepared myself for self-promoting, and five ways self-promoting has impacted – and still impacts – my writing life.
I Got Feedback
You can’t self-promote when you don’t believe in yourself. So the first thing I did was give myself a reason to: I started showing my writing to other people.
I began with writing short fiction – drabbles or short stories – about my friends’ roleplaying characters. In fact, I have now written almost a novella worth of stories for one of them alone. I gave writing to people as gifts, and posted the writing I did about my own characters.
Buoyed by the incredible feedback I received from that, I showed people my other writing – my original writing. The first alpha phase of Mundane Magic began, with people just seeing scraps of it. This moved into proper beta phases, and the work of those beta readers drastically changed the novel.
Without this encouragement, I would never have become able to self-promote.
I Hired an Editor
Similarly, the next thing I did not just for the quality of my novel but so that I knew it was good enough to be published was hire an editor. And I know this is the 9999th time I’ve mentioned hiring an editor but honestly, I could tell you it a thousand times more and it would be insufficient.
There are a lot of absolutely amazing editors out there; with Louise, I hit the jackpot. She was not just incredibly skilled, she was generous and kind and so excited to be reading my novel that I didn’t quite know how to cope with it.
When she was putting comments on my novel, she didn’t just note what needed changing – she made additions like “I love this bit!” and “this part made me cry!” and at the end of it, she told me she loved the book.
I don’t think I would have published it without that. I don’t think I would be able to sit here, writing about self-promotion without it.
I Studied Digital Marketing
I’ve mentioned this before on the blog, but one of the most helpful things I did was take a Diploma in Social Media Marketing.
Now let me tell you, I have done some boring things in my life. I have recorded voiceover for a training course for software that tests other software. I have swept the floor of a chalk cave. I have completed a GNVQ in ICT, where you had to prove such things as your knowledge of how to format a letter versus formatting a fax. I’m not a stranger to boring.
This course was up there with the most boring things I’ve ever done in my life. And it was one of the most invaluable.
It was boring because a lot of it, to be honest, wasn’t news to me. For example, the course took you through how to make a Facebook page. How to sign up to Twitter. It was aimed at all knowledge levels and as someone with a reasonably high knowledge level, it was at points soul-destroying.
But it also taught me things I didn’t know at all. When to post. How to post. How to queue things up in advance and manage them more easily that way. How to source royalty free images and music. The difference between organic growth and other forms of growth.
It taught me how to self-promote.
I Studied My ‘Competition’
By competition I do of course mean other authors. I spent hours trawling through website upon Twitter account upon Facebook page of all the authors I love. I winced at some and was in awe of others. I took notes.
As a result, by the end of that – and all the things I’d done before – I basically knew what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to do it. Now granted, I have come over the ensuing months to change my mind about some of that, because there are some things only actually doing the job can teach you. But those early formulations of what I wanted to do were invaluable.
I Started Slowly
And once I’d gotten all of that, I made a start – but I did it carefully.
I didn’t immediately jump into running multiple social media accounts at once. I started just with Facebook. When that was successful, I moved into Twitter. When that was going well, I moved into Instagram. It’s unlikely that I’ll progress past this – this is a level I’m happy maintaining.
I built the blog up slowly over time. One post a week at first, then two, now three thanks to hitting my Patreon stretch goal.
At first I aimed my growth towards people who already knew me. My friends, family, colleagues. I made sure they knew where I was and what I was doing before I started trying to get noticed by people who’d never met me. Over a year in, I’m only just getting to the point where that’s happening.
Slow and steady is working for me.
Now, five impacts self-promotion has had or is having upon my life:
I’ve Learned…a Lot
Taking that course was only just the start. In the practice of actually running a blog and promoting myself and publishing a book, I’ve learned a hell of a lot.
The thing I’ve learned more than anything is something that gets validated every time I ask my community what they like about author promotion: it’s that the most important thing is to be myself. This is, genuinely, the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn.
I still struggle, and will probably always struggle, with liking myself. Fortunately, I am surrounded by people who love me and are prepared to help fight the never-ending battle against my mental ill health. The idea that what people want to see is me is terrifying.
Sometimes it still feels forced when I write things. I can feel myself dropping into the hyper-formal tone I use when I’m nervous, or being over-the-top ebullient, and I start to panic and think that no one will like this fake version of me. But the more I do it, the less that happens. The more authentic I become, and the more support I get for it.
It’s hard and it’s stressful and it’s 100% worth it. Because…
I’m Becoming More Confident
Shocking as I still find it to realise, I am quite good at this job.
Now granted, I wrote that sentence several times, and it went through a lot of ‘I’d like to say I’m good but I can’t quite get myself to’ versions, not to mention that the final version I was capable of settling upon was ‘quite good’. But the more time I spend as an author-publisher and the more I do with it, the more confident I become.
I don’t get as nervous about posting blogs anymore. I read my own work and am frequently proud of it. I’m even getting better with asking for money for the work I do, something that I find especially tough because it crosses over with my financial anxiety.
The thing is that confidence, just like most other things, improves with practice. So even if you start with very little of it, like I did, the trial-by-fire nature of self-publishing will definitely help you get it.
I’m Learning to Balance My Life
Committing to self-publishing and really putting the work in for it was a turning point in my life. Even writing before that hadn’t been disciplined or balanced for me. I spent most of my time playing computer games, because that was all I could do for a lot of the time. I tried to improve my life in various ways.
You would think I would’ve had more time back then.
But we’ve all heard the adage ‘if you want something done, give it to a busy person’. I do more now that I’m busier than I ever did when I was doing – and able to do – very little.
I have become exponentially more skilled at balancing the aspects of my life: my various jobs, tasks within those jobs, work versus non work. I call this exponential because the more I add to my life, the more I have to think about this balancing act, and the more I improve at it.
I’m Very, Very Stressed
It wouldn’t be fair of me to claim that self-promotion only does wonders for my mental health. It’s also the thing I find most draining. Some days, just queuing up social media takes all of my spoons, and I’m left lost in the afternoon.
I haven’t talked about this a great deal, but whilst I was publishing Mundane Magic, I became physically very ill. I had exceptionally low vitamin B12 levels, which were making me exhausted to the point of being bedridden for several weeks. On top of that, I had moderately high levels of several hormones linked to stress.
On top of being given vitamin supplements I was told by my doctor that, where possible, I should seek to reduce stress in my life. So obviously I carried on publishing. I didn’t want to let people down.
This wasn’t all I did, of course. I also worked hard to make sure I was balancing my life well, and that I had enough time to rest, and that I was doing things that were mindless and rejuvenating as well as the things I had to do that were high-intensity. I’ve spent the months since I’ve recovered making an effort to learn to be better at self-care.
I am much better now, but if I am having a busy and stressful week I still definitely notice the knock-on effect. It’s easier for me to have panic attacks; I can have moments where I get totally overwhelmed by everything; I’m still finding myself a bit more prone to getting colds than most people because I’m run down.
It’s something I have to be better at, and I want to note it here because it would be wrong of me not to be totally honest about just how all-encompassing and stressful self-publishing and self-promotion are.
I Still Hate Self-Promotion
You would think, by the end of all this, I would have gotten to the point where I at least tolerated the act of self-promoting.
I hate it, and I will probably always hate it. I love my work being read and receiving feedback, but the act of getting it to that point is torturous. I love having control over how my books are marketed, but I hate the act of having to actually market them.
I hate writing author bios, and relentlessly submitting to places, and spending a large portion of my time worrying about the fact that my social media posts didn’t get any likes.
Even the act of trying to be myself in these public forums is difficult. You’d think it would be freeing, but it’s not. Yesterday I tweeted about the World of Warcraft PvP league I was watching and then, horrified, thought to myself – what if people hate WoW so much that they decide to unfollow me? Am I going too far off brand? Is it a problem that my brand also includes being a computer game nerd?
Learning to self-promote has done such huge, tremendous good for me. It’s also been awful. It is all of these things because, like many aspects of self-publishing, it’s complicated. It’s not binary. The only thing certain about it is that, to be successful, I’ve got to do it.
And maybe there’s a secret to doing it in a fun way that I’ve just not found yet. Fortunately, I’ve got a lot of time to keep trying…
If you liked this blog post, check out the rest of my posts on writing and self-publishing! Plus, follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to get an insight into all that self-promotion I just mentioned.