Big Lessons to Learn from Publishing Your First Book
Episode #6 of the course How to begin (and maintain) your career as a writer by John Robin
Yesterday’s topic dealt with some of the more difficult realities surrounding launching your first book. Today we’re going to turn to how you can learn from sales data and reader input in the month after book launch.
Instead of concerning yourself with quantity, look to quality:
• Use your sales on launch month to collect data.
• Pay attention to reviews.
• Pay attention to what works well (and what doesn’t).
Do this for every book you launch.
Learning from Launch Month Sales Data
How did you sell? Think qualitatively. Did you sell lots when your book was featured on a tabletop gaming blog? Did you find book blog tours got you no attention? Did you find readers just seemed to buy your book directly from Amazon without you having to do anything at all?
Pay special attention especially to how you can understand the buyer as you’re asking these questions. For example, if your book sold lots when featured on that tabletop gaming blog, that could be a clue that people who like tabletop gaming find something appealing about your book.
Learning from Reviews
If you are traditionally published, you will get a lot of help from your agent and editor to help you understand your audience and what particular things they enjoy about your work. If you’re self-published this can be harder, so pay attention to reviews and use them to critically inform your writing process.
As an author, half your work is considering your audience. While writing, you do this when you revise with the reader in mind. After publishing, your reader becomes more tangible: they are the people reading, reviewing, and tweeting/sharing about your characters and stories.
Some authors are afraid to read their reviews, but completely ignoring them limits you from the opportunity to discover just what people love about your writing. It’s also an opportunity to find out what you can do better.
Reviews can be way off base. Some can be downright mean! But your goal is to spot patterns, not get caught up in any particular one.
Think of yourself as a business owner viewing customer surveys. Not everyone’s feedback is going to be accurate, but you want to hear from them. You are free to decide which points inspire you to improve and which points tell you, plain and simple, that this was clearly not someone you were writing for.
Look beyond just reviews as well: Facebook comments (maybe you’ll decide to run a fan Facebook group), Twitter interaction, blog comments.
Make it your goal to learn what your readers love about your writing and approach your craft with this awareness.
Learning from What Works Well (and What Doesn’t)
Adaptation is key to succeeding as an author.
Step back and evaluate everything you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and whether it’s still the best means to the end. Remember the Pareto Principle. This is important because if you don’t try many different things and adapt your approach, you won’t have much to analyze when you evaluate sales data and reviews.
Probably the most important thing you can do is observe what other successful authors in your genre are doing. If you’ve made a point of connecting with them as I recommend in lesson 4, you might also consider reaching out to ask them for what they’ve found works well.
In the month following launch, spend your time learning from sales data and reader reviews. Think qualitatively and look for patterns, all with the aim of better understanding your reader and the ways you can better connect to them.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the one- to three-month period after launch, when you’ll want to start considering what book you should write next.
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