So as of this month, I've been an independent author for over a year. Since December 2012, I've published five books, written a few others, and have some working their way through the revisions process for this year. I'd say that is a pretty good accomplishment for a year's worth of experience.
Unfortunately, it looks like my beginner's luck has come to an end. Wolfhound was an incredible success, but it looks like I am going to have to work through some hard times before I can replicate it again. To be honest, it is a little relieving to come to that conclusion. I've always been better at working hard and building up slow rather than depending on the occasional brilliantly lucky shot. If 2013 I grind through a lot of work again with far less reward, than so be it.
So, onto the lessons I've learned as an independent author for the year 2012. Based on my wealth of experience and wisdom, of course. Heh heh.
First of all, I've learned to not sweat reviews so much. There is nothing so exciting as getting a good review; similarly, there is nothing so frustrating and maddening as getting a poor review. It's twice as hard if the poor review critiques something you feel was misunderstood, something outside the initial purpose of the book, or just mean-spirited. Initially, I tried to manage those ups and downs as they came, and made a promise to myself that I would personally respond to every review, no matter the rating. The best decision I made was to stop doing that. The reviews gave me such a rollercoaster of happiness and outright rage that it became hard to actually focus on writing. I would worry about what to say to this comment or how to respond to that critique until I was tied up in knots and couldn't continue with my current project. Of course, that resulted in a bunch of crap I had to wade through just to get to producing something again, and generally wasn't worth the effort I stuck into it. I think it's telling that the moment I stopped responding and focused on writing instead, I managed to write a full novel in about nine weeks. So, first lesson learned: when a bad review comes in, don't sweat it and go write something.
Second, I've learned what should be realtistic for me in terms of setting goals and publication deadlines. When I went into 2013, I set the goal to have one book out every three months. It sounded like an achievable goal, and it was something I put a lot of pressure on myself to do. Unfortunately, I had failed to plan for the unexpected. Those unanticipated factors (moving a thousand miles with two weeks notice, changing jobs and work schedules, my sister's wedding, ecetera, ecetera...) added up to delays I couldn't have possibly expected, but I still put loads of stress and anxiety over those deadlines in spite of it. On top of that, I'd locked myself into those deadlines by publishing them in my books. While I think publishing the fact that the books were coming was a good idea, I don't think that trying to set them in stone was a bright move on my part. Life has a way of throwing the unexpected at you, and if a major publishing house can't manage to dodge delays or disasters, I shouldn't try to hold myself to an impossible standard until I have more experience in the field. So for now, rather than month or even season specific deadlines, I think I'm going to stick to announcing which year I expect the book to be out, at the very least until the book comes back from the copy editor. Otherwise, I'm just setting myself up for stress-related breakdowns and failure--and I have no doubt that life has enough of those planned for me without my own decisions adding to the mix.
Third, sequels are really, really different from first books. That may seem a little like common-sense, but I can't stress enough how different it is to work on the second book compared to the first. The challenges are different from what you expect out of a first book. You have to worry about character consistency, development on a much larger scale, all while trying to preserve what made the first book work. The worldbuilding has to go much deeper, while remaining consistent with the first book, and that occasionally presents an obstacle all on its own if you played a little free and loose with things before. All in all, it's felt a little like I've been learning to write an entirely different kind of book, and to be honest, I'm still trying to work out the best way of doing it. Hopefully I'll get better at that formula as time goes on.
Fourth, keep your business finances separate from your personal finances. Ugly, terrible, nasty things will happen to you otherwise. Sandra Tayler gave that advice at the LDS Storymaker's conference this past year, and certain events have proven it very wise counsel. Without going into the unpleasant details, just trust me on this one. It will save you a load of grief and pain later on.
Fifth, and final, I think I have refined my ability to revise. Going into this, I had thought that my revision techniques had already gotten as good as they were going to get, but I was wrong. I've managed to identify a bit better what steps I need to go through to end up with a good story, and I am looking forward to employing them in the new year.
So there you have it, my incredibly deep and probably boring post on lessons learned in 2013. The next year looks like it may be a hard one, but I am looking forward to it. Every challenge brings an opportunity to grow, and as difficult as the past year might have been, I think I have a lot more to learn. At the very least, the journey should be interesting. I hope everyone is having a good start to their new year, and I'll see you around.