Wisdom from the Publishing World with Amanda Zieba
Welcome to the July installment of the 2021 Author Series, where a published author takes the stage and tells us what they wish they had known before they published their first book. Amanda Zieba, our July author, has written many books for all audiences along with helping other authors with their publishing journeys. I’ve reviewed Amanda’s books and interviewed her in this space previously—I really love her books! For further reading, click on these post links:
Do you want to know the best thing about a story? Everyone has one to tell. And that’s why, as a word nerd, Amanda has the best job in the world. In addition to eleven books written for children and adults, she works to help other writers tell their own stories through courses, workshops, weekly blog posts and YouTube videos. Amanda is a member and area rep of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and a board member of your local writing group, the Mississippi Valley Writers Guild. She lives in Wisconsin, USA with her husband and two sons. You can learn more about Amanda and her work in her little city on the internet, Wordnerdopolis (www.amandazieba.com)
What do I wish I would have known before publishing my first book?
Oh, man, so many things. I look back at my first books and sometimes cringe. I KNOW it was the best I could do then. I am not embarrassed of the 2013 amateur version of myself. That girl had guts. That girl dove in headfirst and figured it out as she went. I know that I made some mistakes, but without those mistakes, I’d never have learned the necessary lessons and be the authorpreneur I am today in 2021. So while I sometimes wish I could completely redo some of my early work, a feeling I imagine any creative (musician, artist, actor, fashion designer or heck even YouTuber) can relate to, I don’t regret my choice to self-publish and learn as I go.
So the start of my answer to this question might sound like this: I’m glad I didn’t care that I didn’t know certain things about the publishing industry. Had I known (all that I know now), I might not have felt like I could hack it in the writing world.
Let me explain through an analogy. My husband is a college baseball coach and sometimes, in a high-pressure situation, he and the other coaches send out a rookie to get the job done.
Imagine… the best pitcher in the conference is throwing heat in the bottom of the 9th with two outs to a team down by one run. There is a runner, impatiently waiting, on second base to round the infield and score. A senior likely knows this is a big-deal-kind-of-moment. He knows that if he doesn’t get a hit, the game is over. Knows that this pitcher had 3 perfect games last year. A senior knows that even if he does get a hit, the All American who is playing shortstop might jump up and out of his shoes to catch it, getting him out and ending the game, the season, his career. But a freshman, a player, we lovingly assess as “too dumb to know” or “too green to be afraid”, can walk up to that plate and only see his at bat as an opportunity to prove himself, a chance to save his team, just another day at the ballpark. Often time this “dumb freshman” walks out of the stadium as a hero, simply because he didn’t know what he didn’t know.
That’s how I started my writing career. With a lot of gusto, heart and dreams. A writing rookie. If that’s you… if that’s where you need to stay in order to have the courage to continue on, maybe you don’t want to read the rest of this article. Maybe you want to hang on to your naivety a bit longer. And there is no shame in that. BUT, at some point, if you’d like to be successful in the writing world, you need to leave your freshman status and play with the upperclassmen. If you’re ready for that, go ahead and keep reading for three things I wish I knew before I published my first book.
Hire a Copy Editor
This is so basic but NEEDS to be said. Hire a copy editor. No, your grammar nazi auntie or your former high school English teacher doesn’t count. You need to hire someone whose profession it is to make sure that every comma is in place and each homonym is the correct one. This is a step I skipped in my earlier books and even though I have learned and grown, those books still stay in print the way I published them in 2014/2015. Unless a reader does a little research and learns these were my first books, they judge my “past me” as the “current me” and often walk away from the reading experience less than impressed. This step is relatively inexpensive. I pay $1.50 per double spaced page of manuscript. This small investment will help you present the best possible version of your story and save you embarrassing moments later on when people tell you they found (several) typos in your book.
Changes Are Allowed
When you self-publish you can change anything you want, whenever you want, provided you have the time. For example, after meeting with a business coach and looking at my passive revenue streams, I decided that the educational unit studies I included in my Orphan Train Rider Books for FREE could be income generating content. So I pulled them out of the books and put them for sale on Teachers Pay Teachers, an online marketplaces for educators. I then combined all three of the Orphan Train Rider short stories into one book, redesigned the cover, and hired that all important copy editor to give the manuscript a good polish. In the traditional world this rarely happens. Sure, books do get new covers, especially if they are made into movies or have been popular for decades and the publisher wants to give them a modernized facelift to boost sales, but these changes are, in general, rare and very slow in coming. This ability to change is a huge proponent of self-publishing and one I would not have known about in my pre-published days.
** Side note: Yes, I could now go back and have those embarrassing first books copy edited and give them a much better cover. All it takes is time (and a little money), but I’m torn if the time I’d take away from current projects would be financially worth it. Probably yes, in the long run, but I haven’t bit the bullet yet. **
Bookstores Aren’t the Best Place to Sell Books
Most writers dream of seeing their book as a part of a beautiful display at Barnes and Noble or maybe Target, but in my experience, bookstores aren’t the best place to sell books. WHAT?!!? You may say. “It’s where the readers are!” And you are right, but readers only have so much money and oftentimes, they reserve it for their favorite authors and big-time best sellers. They save it for books that win awards and everyone in their book club is raving about. As a newer self-published author, that isn’t likely to be you. So putting your book next to James Patterson or Nora Roberts or Kate DiCamillo’s newest title isn’t the best move. It’s putting your book in the most competitive spot you could possibly arrange.
Instead, seek out sales locations that are home to a niche topic within your story. Is your main character a big-time knitter? Try a yarn shop. Maybe your character is an avid outdoorsman, a private eye detective who spends his free time visiting as many national parks as possible. Try getting a booth at one of those camping and RV extravaganzas. If you put your book in front of people who love a particular hobby, chances are they will be interested in your book, even if they don’t identify themselves as “readers” and you will sell many, many more copies than you would in a bookstore.
To learn more about this strategy, check out this blog post in which I give several examples and dive into the how-to aspects of this sales technique more thoroughly.
I hope these three tips have brought you from the freshman level to at least sophomore status. If you’d like to learn more, subscribe to my blog for weekly writing advice or check out my YouTube channel on which I share bite-sized writing advice one video at a time. If you really want to dig in, check out my course, the Take Action Author Plan to get all the word nerd goodness about self-publishing and book marketing.
Learn more about Amanda and the great advice she gives for writers here:
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnKgzj3-lUzaaYApo1OgmGw
To purchase her books directly go to: https://amandazieba.com/amanda-zieba-books
(Or click on one of the book covers below, but note that these are just 5 of her 11 books.)