The 6 Things I Learned After Publishing My First Book


by Shelly Sanders


Signing with a traditional publisher is worth the time and sweat it takes to be accepted.

After writing ten drafts of my first novel, Rachel’s Secret, and after having the eleventh version rejected by countless agents, the thought of self-publishing seemed pretty enticing. Then, I began to notice the reams of self-published books online for ninety-nine cents, by people who claimed to have written a dozen books, and I kept writing and editing. I didn’t see myself as a salesperson paying to have my own books printed, hawking cheap, unedited e-books; I saw myself as an author.

Two drafts later, my manuscript was accepted by both an agent and a publisher. It took a year to get a contract, but this document gave me the credibility I wanted, along with the benefits of royalties, a professionally designed cover, a North American distribution network, and an excellent publicist.


The hard work begins after the contract is signed.

During our first conversation, my publisher told me I had a good manuscript, but there was still a long way to go until it would be ready. I hung up the phone and felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. A long way to go? After thirteen drafts? This is what separates authors from many self-published writers. Good editing. First, the publisher’s in-house editor gave me revisions. Then, I met with a freelance editor, once a publisher himself, who gave me more changes. Next, copyediting and line editing. Back to me for a final review, in which I found a couple of typos. Amazing that after so many people going over it so carefully, mistakes had been missed. Again, the difference between many self-published and traditionally published books.


Even with a publicist, you need to become a self-marketing machine.

Soon after my manuscript had gone to print, the publicist sent me a social media guide that overwhelmed me in scope and pages (44). Without revealing my age, I will say that I used a typewriter for essays in high school, so I’m not as media savvy as my children who have grown up with the Internet, iPods, and Facebook. Using Twitter, Linked In, Google, You Tube, Goodreads, and, of course, Facebook, authors now have the ability to connect directly with readers all over the world, as well as book clubs, book stores, newspapers, magazines, and a myriad of on-line publications. I started blogging, joined Twitter and Linked In, had a trailer produced for You Tube, and became consumed with social media.

My publicist took care of entering my book for awards and reviews, and I worked on building a platform as an author. At first, it was kind of fun, being part of the new media, and I have to admit I liked bragging to my kids about my growing number of Twitter followers. But as time passed, I began to resent the time it took away from my writing. Plus, you have no real way of knowing if all this time is translating into book sales. Still, every author uses social media so it must be working, right?


Other authors’ successes will chip away at you until you feel like a trampled blade of grass.

Once the euphoria of being published wore off, I began to notice how other authors were doing. Even though I’d won a couple of awards and had starred reviews, I wanted more. In fact, I wanted all the attention, all the readers, all the reviews (only good ones, of course). I wanted all the other authors to go away so that I shone. Then, I started reading dead authors because no matter how good they are, they’re dead.


Royalties through on-line sales like Amazon suck (through a traditional publisher).

My first royalty statement arrived and I opened it with shaky hands. Lots of numbers swam on the page. It took a few minutes to decipher, and when I finally figured it out, the number of books sold didn’t match the royalty amount. My husband, with a much keener eye for numbers, pointed out that Amazon commissions are a fraction of those from print. I thought about all the people I told to buy the book on Amazon. I ripped up the paper and binged on chocolate. Then I told people to please buy my books in stores.


The high you get with your books in stores is addictive.

Seeing my books for the first time in stores was almost like seeing my children right after they were born. Only the gestation period for my books was much longer than the nine months it takes a baby to form. And my one book seemed quite small and insignificant within the multitudes of books lining the shelves. I felt a flutter in my chest, a restlessness in my bones. I recalled the hours spent alone, in front of my computer, the struggles to find the right words, the pain of revisions, the letdown of royalties. Then I ran my fingers down the spine of my book, the book I’d dreamt of writing since I read Little House on the Prairie and To Kill a Mockingbird, and I started thinking about my next one.




Guest post contributed by author Shelly Sanders. Check out more of her articles on her website.


16 thoughts on “The 6 Things I Learned After Publishing My First Book

  1. I’m left not knowing how to feel. I guess similarly to having a child, all of the struggle were an afterthought. In the same way the cringe worthiness, of your pain through this process, didn’t feel so cringe worthy after knowing the joy you felt when you saw your book on a shelf, in a store. Congratulations.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. > Signing with a traditional publisher is worth the time and sweat it takes to be accepted.
    You realize that you have a built in bias here. It might be worth it — IF — you get published. But what of those millions (accurate) of authors who never get published — what it worth all the trouble querying and tracking and lamenting the process?

    Dead authors. Good one. And yet they still sell. Who the hell gets their royalty checks? Nobody deserving is my guess.

    (Envious, regardless. Kudos.)


    1. I don’t have anything against self publishing, but so far I’ve come across very few self published books that I really like compared to those that have been traditionally published. I’ve heard so many pros and cons to both routes, but the biggest deal breaker for me regarding self publishing is the lack of a system to filter out the absolute crap from the quality work. And Amazon is no help there.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. There is that. And neither A-Z or Goodreads have ways to combat the schlock-fest that is self-pub. We need “RuthlessReaders” to grade, realistically grade all newly published novels. We’ll see if I can’t figure out a way to build this, somehow (I’m a web-developer…)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. A friend and I were talking about launching our own website. He’s pretty tech savvy, unlike me. But the idea came up based on exactly what we’re talking about here. Anyway, I believe that’s exactly what we need. Getting other authors to read and review new self published books might also be a good way to raise the bar.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. If there were some way to alter Goodreads rating mechanism (every book is 3.5 to 4.5… useless.) I’ve had my own ideas on this subject for years but implementing them, afresh in some competing site… I’m afraid that’s a non-starter. We’d have to leverage Goodreads or Amazon’s library, somehow.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I notice in my daily blog readings that several authors use this format to market their novels. If you are just in this business to write, then blogging would give one some help in other areas of need.


  4. Such a great read. My first book was published in August. I am in no way a bestselling author but who knows, someday. Whatever happens the joy of writing and the joy of holding my book in my hands for the first time is something I’ll never forget.


  5. This is one of those articles that one can’t help but react to, so here’s a few thoughts. I’m self-published. I’m very happy about it. If I was offered representation by an agent and a publishing house was interested, I’d decline (gratefully, and delighted to have been so accepted). My path, for me, is the perfect path. I am not the least bit jealous of other author’s success. A win for one of us is a win for all of us.

    While many indie authors make the mistake of not having their work professionally edited, I advocate daily to try to change that. I *want* to see indie authors elevated in status, as that benefits writers, editors, and ultimately readers. Incidentally, I’m re-reading Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, professionally published, and am utterly appalled about the abundance of errors that should have been caught by an editor. This isn’t exclusively an indie problem. There’s plenty of room for improvement at the traditional level, too.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I’ve consider going traditional. This article doesn’t make it sound much better than self publishing. Still doing a lot of self promotion/marketing. I despise Twitter, won’t be using it, don’t care. As for calling indie authors self published writers as though they are not worthy of being called authors, I don’t think that is fair BECAUSE, there is a large number of highly popular self published authors who DO use professional editors, are highly successful and earning good money. A puffing ego of seeing a book in the book store doesn’t make them sell any better and there are a lot of middlemen who want a piece of that pie. When those bookstore books don’t move fast enough they get boxed up and sent to discount stores or recycle. They are out.


  7. Article was worth a read. I am direct published and had my manuscript professionally edited. I must say that he gave me more to work with than “A long way to go”. There is no one size fits all solution for anyone, anywhere. Ever

    Liked by 1 person

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