Magicians Impossible was published one year ago today, on September 12, 2017. It was quite a year, and quite a learning experience. These are just some of the things I discovered in the year since my first novel was published:
Not everybody will love your book …
This is a fact. Going by Goodreads’ own metrics, about 85% of the 1000 or so people who read and rated Magicians Impossible liked it. Averaged out it’s at about 3 and a half stars out of five though the actual numbers are much higher. Not bad numbers – and frankly, ones any movie producer would kill for review-wise. But of course not everyone liked it. Some hated it. That’s fine though. It comes with the territory. If everyone loved it and it was getting nothing but 4/5 and 5/5 you could bet something was up because no book ever gets 100% universal acclaim.
… but some will.
I’ve had several people write to say they hadn’t enjoyed a book as much as they have Magicians Impossible. Some said it broke them out of a book-reading rut. Some found it the perfect escape for a period in their lives when they were struggling. One reader even enjoyed it so much she bought 4 signed hardcovers from me to give out as Christmas gifts. All of them want a sequel (that’s St. Martins’ decision, not mine, sorry). And the positive reviews have far outnumbered the negatives. So for every negative there’s bound to be more than a few positives, which are great odds. But …
Don’t read the reviews though …
I’m half-joking here. I might add “read at your own risk” and elaborate with “don’t seek out reviews of your work; let them come to you.” Someone Tweets to you or @’s you their review chances are they liked the book and want you to know. That said there were a few assholes who didn’t like Magicians Impossible and directly linked their review to me so I could read it. What kind of person does that? Assholes, that’s who. But if your agent or your editor or your publicist sends you a review it’s probably a glowing one and you should read it because it will lift your mood. But I honestly do not go seeking reviews of my work for two specific reasons; 1. If it’s a glowing review that calls me brilliant and my book the best thing they’ve read ever, I might start to believe it, and 2. If it’s a brutally negative review that calls me a talentless hack and the book is the worst they’ve ever read, I’m probably going to believe that too. So for me, it’s best to just accept that the book is out there in the wild, that it is what it is, and move on.
Social media is a horrible time-suck but you need to do it.
I complain about social media a lot, but for an author you really need to be on it. I know from fact that many people who bought Magicians did so because they heard about it on social media and if I hadn’t made repeated mentions of the book, where to buy it, and where I would be appearing, those copies wouldn’t have been sold. But it helps to use your social media judiciously and not just be a “buy my book please” type of writer. Save that for your personal website. Also, please buy my book.
Don’t have a website? Get one and keep it current.
Everyone will claim social media is king/queen/despot, but having your own website, your own little piece of internet real estate, is much more valuable. Why? First, because it’s yours; it’s not Facebook’s or Twitter’s or Instagram’s. it’s not subject to terms and services, it’s not at the mercy of algorithms. You’re a lot more free to write about what you want, when you want, and how you want. I’ve been occasionally spotty with updating this website but over its eight years of existence I’ve generally posted once a month, give or take. Someone who discovers me and my work can click over here and read nearly a decade’s worth of material. With social media, anything you post gets an immediate response if lucky, but more often than not disappears into the feed and is lost for the most part … unless you constantly post and tweet and snapshot, all of which takes away time you could be spending doing the writing thing.
BUT (and it’s a big but because it’s in bold and UPPERCASE letters) you have to post on the regular. My advice: have a backlog of pieces ready to go so you can just schedule them as needed rather than sitting there in a panic on the last day of the month going “oh shit I haven’t updated my website I have to write something”.
Another bonus of a website? If like me you backburn social media, whenever someone searches for your name online, that website will be the first thing that pops up through the SEO. That’s Search Engine Optimization and that’s what you want.
Your publisher will get your book into stores. The rest is on you.
Thomas Dunne did as good a job as any to get the word out about Magicians. They sent out galleys, they hosted giveaways, they beat the drum. They did everything they could for it, but mine was only one of dozens of books they needed to get the word out on that month, and after a certain point it’s on the author, and the book to sell themselves. I did my part there by penning a few articles for the publisher’s various adjunct websites like Criminal Intent, where I wrote this piece on Stephen King’s It
Just when you’re feeling your worst someone will write to you and tell you they liked your book.
The life of a writer is an up and down one and I’m not just talking about earnings. It’s a rough ride, a tough job. You feel every negative review or comment or critique and you can’t help but take criticism personally. But then you’ll receive an email where someone absolutely LOVED your book. And it makes a difference, believe me; not just the review itself, but one that’s posted on Amazon or Goodreads that others can read when considering whether or not they want to buy your book. So if you HAVE read and enjoyed Magicians Impossible, please consider leaving a review. They do make a difference.
Just don’t read them 😉
Just when you’re feeling pretty good about yourself, someone will tell you how much they hated your book.
The things one reader hates about your book/your writing will be the same things another loves.
I could do a diagram of positive to negative critiques and they’d probably even out. Someone loves your main character; someone else hates them. Some think the story too fast-paced; other think it too slow. It has a great ending, it has a lousy ending, packed with brilliant writing, or just absolutely terrible writing. Without fail for every praise-worthy review your book gets there will be one that says the total opposite. You aren’t going to make everyone happy with your book or your writing … so don’t try to. Art is at its worst when it tries to please everyone; inevitably it ends up pleasing no-one.
Take your work seriously.
Want to be considered a professional? Act like one. Set a promotional schedule and stick to it. Doesn’t matter if it’s only 30 minutes a day, or only on weekends. Just do it. And while some writers delight in being confrontational online (because those are the posts that attract the clicks) remember that you are representing your publisher as well as yourself. Don’t get carried away with online drama and never, EVER reply to a bad review of your book.
Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Writing is make-believe – it’s supposed to be fun. If it’s not, why are you bothering? Because – and this may be surprising – there are much better, more reliable ways to earn a living than being a writer.
The only person you’re in competition with is you.
It’s easy to look at other authors – some you know personally, some only by reputation – and compare their successes with yours. Some make the bestseller lists, some don’t. Some win all the awards, the rest won’t. Some attract a massive fan base; others struggle to get anyone to pay attention. But really there’s only one person you’re in competition with and it’s the face staring back at you from your mirror. Because every best-selling and award winning writer began where you did – unknown, just starting out, hoping someone somewhere likes what it is you’re doing. The arc of a writer’s career can be brief, or it can be a lifetime. No two careers are identical. Some are published at 25, some at 50. That’s just the way it is, Bruce Hornsby. Some things will never change.
Being a successful/published/award-winning writer will not make you happy … if you aren’t happy already.
The things that make me happy – truly happy – boil down to two people who I share my life with. First is my wife, who’s supported me and encouraged me and believed in my when I wouldn’t believe in myself. The other is my son, who looks at me like I’m some magician every time I fix one of his toys, or take him to a museum, or just surprise him with a new book. They’re why I do what I do. They’re what gets me up in the morning, sits me at my desk, and makes me type out words. If you’re not happy in your life without writing, you never will be happy writing and that will show in your writing.
So write, but be happy.
Otherwise what’s the point of any of it?
2019 update: not that anyone commented on this post but it seems to have become a gateway for the various spambots that troll the web. Since comments need to be approved by me I decided to skip that step and just block comments from this particular entry. If you have thoughts you want to share, contact me direct.
2021 update: All of the above still applies, though I will add that promoting your book through the usual channels is becoming more difficult, especially on social media. If you aren’t prepared to fork over money to Facebook, anything you post on your personal or author page will get buried by the algorithm. I haven’t posted to Twitter on the regular since 2019, and while I do have an Instagram it’s mostly for personal use. That all said more people seem to be visiting and commenting on this here website, for which I am grateful.
2022 update: comments are back as I’m better about using the banhammer. I may take a few days to reply to any questions but I do get notifications when someone does comment so I will reply.