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Top Five Lessons Learned From My Debut Release

My first book, Heiress Without A Cause, came out as a Nook exclusive at the end of January, and there was much rejoicing throughout the land. Or at least I rejoiced, and my friends all tolerated my rejoicing. The champagne flowed, the congratulatory calls/emails/tweets came in, and I even sold enough copies to be thrilled with it (it reached #69 in the Nook Store and is still in the top thirty there for Regency romance!).

Heiress is coming out on Amazon any second now (EDIT: it’s up now!! check it out here), since the Nook First promotional period is over, and I can’t wait. But on this anticipatory day between the end of my first month as a published author and the start of the rest of my life (cue dramatic music), I thought I would share what I learned and what I hope to change/replicate/avoid going forward.

Lesson 1: Promo Can Suck Your Brains Out If You Let It

Yes, promo can suck your brains out even if you write fun Regencies instead of dark paranormal zombie thrillers. All those guest blogs, Facebook contests, and Goodreads giveaways are like snarling, starving wolverines, and they will happily latch onto your throat, pull you to the ground, and gnaw on your bones. And yet you have to get through it, even if getting through it probably feels like being part of the Donner Party in January — you just have to hope you survive it, and hope your reputation survives whatever missteps you make.

But even though there are a lot of demands during your debut month, try to bat away the wolverines long enough to keep working on your next book. It helps (said with a crazed, maniacal laugh) if you have a deadline for the next project. Otherwise, you could easily keep promoting your first book forever and never write anything else. And that, my friends, makes for a very sad writer.

Lesson 2: The Best Promo Comes From Being Yourself

The best promo comes from being yourself — unless you’re Genghis Khan, I suppose. Although we all still know who he is Β 800 years later, so as a brand marketer, he was totally a genius.

That’s not my point. My point is that if you’re thinking of how to work yet another mention of your book into a comment thread on someone’s blog, or tweeting your book with every hashtag that has every existed in the history of twitter, you’re probably not having fun with it. And if you’re not having fun, your followers aren’t having fun. People sense when something’s forced and unnatural, or a strategy/gimmick. But if you write the way you want to write, in all media, and stop trying so hard to sell your *book*, you might just con people into thinking you’re a nice, interesting, funny person who must have written a nice, interesting, funny book. And then they buy it. And then you win. And you didn’t even have to conquer all of Central Asia to do it.

Lesson 3: Laugh At The Bad Reviews And Treasure The Good Ones

Note that I didn’t say “don’t read your reviews.” If you’re strong enough to never read a single review, you’re a stronger woman/man/alien (you must be an alien) than I am. But note that I also didn’t say “respond to your bad reviews” or “get your friends to form a posse and lynch the person who left you a bad review.” That’s the stuff of nightmares and will kill your online reputation faster than anything. I stay disengaged, and I don’t respond to reviews — but if I’m going to read them, I make myself laugh off the bad ones. And for me, at least, I can laugh off the bad ones because the good ones are so precious to me that it’s worth stumbling over a few rocks to find the diamonds.

Lesson 4: Do Everything You Can In Advance

And I don’t just mean on the promo side. I mean everywhere. Wash your sheets. Stock up on groceries. Spend time with your family. Give everything a good dusting. Because the week your book comes out, all you’re gonna want to do is refresh your sales rankings constantly, and you’re going to hate the person who wants to take you away from your laptop to make them a stupid sandwich or do their laundry.

On a more practical note, if you write some blog posts in advance, do up some FAQs, select your excerpts, and write up short/medium/long descriptions of your book, it’s all there waiting for you when someone needs it. And if someone offers you a last minute guest blog opportunity, you can say yes happily, knowing that you have a precious blog stockpile ready to send them. It’s like preparing for the apocalypse, except with words instead of canned goods.

Lesson 5: Learn To Let Things Go

Not everything will go well, and not everything will get done. I hate having a messy house, but I’ve let that go for now — which is fine, since I don’t have time to invite people over anyway. I’m not going to get workshop proposals out to every conference on the planet, but that’s okay too. If you can hit most of the important stuff most of the time (writing, promo, bathing, and seeing your family and friends just often enough that they don’t forget your face), everything else is secondary.

And really, it’s just as important to enjoy the ride as it is to, um, take the ride. Even though I felt ridiculously busy this month, I never said no to a celebratory dinner, or drinks at the bar the night my book came out, or anything else people wanted to do to celebrate. If you have people who want to share your success, share it with them. Success has a funny way of expanding to make everyone happy, if you don’t try to horde it like gold in a dragon cave. And the best part of my debut month wasn’t the sales numbers — it was treasuring those moments when my family and friends were there for me.

For those of you who have published, what did you learn from your debut? If you haven’t published yet, what are you most concerned/excited/scared/thrilled about when you think of your debut? I’ll give an ebook, either Nook or Kindle, to a lucky commenter – so fire away!

Sara Ramsey’s first Regency romance, HEIRESS WITHOUT A CAUSE, is out now on Nook and will be available at any moment on other ereaders and in print. Her second book, SCOTSMEN PREFER BLONDES, is coming at the end of March. For more dubious wisdom and bizarre tweets from what she’s dubbed the #sarapocalypse, follow her on Twitter at @Sara_Ramsey or sign up for her mailing list.

68 responses to “Top Five Lessons Learned From My Debut Release”

  1. Gillian says:

    I had a serious talking to with my Kindle, but still no Heiress! Hopefully tomorrow…definitely by Friday, yes?

    I can’t even imagine my debut. Champagne will figure heavily into the equation. πŸ™‚

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Champagne should definitely figure into it!

      And yes – just hit publish on Amazon this morning, so it should be up in the next twelve hours. I will be checking compulsively and will let everyone know as soon as it’s up πŸ™‚

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  2. Vivi Andrews says:

    Fabulous take-aways from your first month, Sara. Thank you for this. And so true about sharing your success with loved ones. When my family & friends celebrate with me, those are the best possible moments.

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thank you! Yes, the celebratory moments are the ones I’m going to remember – the rest, like what I’ve heard about the pain of childbirth, is already fading now that I get to look at my precious little baby book out in the world πŸ™‚

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  3. I’m petrified I’ll flop—royally—wearing a skirt, flat on my tush, with my legs in the air. Yeah. And at my age, that isn’t a pretty image!

    Congratulations, Sara, and thanks for the heads-up! I want an authograph in my PRINT copy!!!!!

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  4. Diana Layne says:

    Yes! Do everything in advance. My big mistake! Even though Kristen Lamb said to do it in her book We Are Not Alone. But b/c I got behind with MY deadlines due to a family emergency, I released The Good Daughter later than I’d intended (notice how I cleverly worked my title into my post, lol) and did not write blogs in advance. Big. Mistake. Heck, I didn’t even do it with Pirate’s Proposal (haha, another title!) b/c I was busy working on um…The Good Daughter. Lesson learned. Will be better prepared for Trust No One. Gosh, I’m really giving a push on the titles here.

    Until you, I hadn’t heard of the Nook First program. I like that it’s only 30 days. I’m in Select right now with TGD (sorry, just couldn’t type it out again) and I think I would hesitate before doing it again. I’ll write a post when my stint with Select is over.

    Congrats on your fab rankings!

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      lol – excellent work getting your book titles into the comments πŸ™‚ You still sounded like you were having fun, though, so my rant doesn’t apply to you!

      I am curious about Amazon Select. I’m not sure I would do any exclusive deal again – B&N was good because it was only 30 days and built buzz/created an ‘I can’t have this book and so must buy it as soon as it’s out’ attitude from some Kindle readers – but it may have also cost me Kindle readers who read about it on a guest blog, couldn’t buy it, and won’t remember to look for it again. There’s no way to know, though. Keep us posted on the Select deal!

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  5. liz talley says:

    Well, everything was a blur to me, and I didn’t do anything like a blog tour or, well, much of anything. I celebrated here and on my other blogs and maybe mentioned it on FB, but….hmmmm….maybe I need to rethink promotion.

    That’s the thing – I don’t really know how to do promotion. I feel positively guilty mentioning my books on FB and Twitter. I even feel guilty asking people to tag my book. I really suck at it and if I made a little more money than what I do now, I’d hire a publicist or something. Maybe that’s what I should do anyhow. But honestly, with the deadlines I have, I don’t have time to do a great deal of promotion. Falls to the wayside. I have another chance this May to do something better since I have a new series coming out set in Louisiana but I’m not sure what I’ll do yet πŸ™‚

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    • liz talley says:

      Oh, and congrats! Jeez. Forgot all about the really important thing πŸ™‚

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    • Diana Layne says:

      But you have built in promotion and distribution with your publisher, I wouldn’t worry about it so much. Just do what you’re doing and keep writing those books! My .02.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Mention the titles of the Louisiana series, Amy!!!!

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      I find promo really hard, too. The blogging and twitter come relatively easy for me, probably because I did internal communications for awhile and am used to having to write this kind of content. But asking people to like/tag my stuff, calling in favors from people I don’t know well (or even people I do know well!), cold calling/querying newspapers and magazines and all that stuff — it’s so not my forte.

      But I tend to agree with the prevailing wisdom that the best promo is releasing another book — and on that score, you’re doing amazingly well! Your name is already out there, and the buzz is just going to keep growing. Can’t wait for your new series!

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Amy,

      My deadlines aren’t nearly as crazy as yours and I am having the devils own time finding the time to do promotion. So don’t beat yourself up. I have a facebook page and a twitter account and I let them twist in the wind every time I’m crunching on a deadline.

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  6. Awesome tips and information, Sara – thanks for sharing.

    I thought I was about done with promo on ONLY FEAR because it’s almost time for Book 2 to come out (July), and I’ll have to gear up for that. But now Carina/Harlequin is releasing the first book in print. (Not complaining at all here!) They’re BOTH coming out in July, which means I get twice the bang for my “buck” with the promo. At least, I hope so! πŸ™‚

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  7. Congrats, Sara, on the new release!

    Promo is hard work. Sometimes harder than writing the book itself, but we’ve go to do it. You are so smart to prepare a head of time. I learned my lesson and with my next release I’m determined to be prepared.

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      I’m determined to be prepared, too – but we’ll see if all these lessons I learned stick or if I repeat my mistakes with the next one πŸ™‚ Doing things in advance and not procrastinating is *not* my strong suit, but I’m determined to try to do more in advance next time. Good luck prepping for your next book!

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  8. Tamara Hogan says:

    Congratulations on your release, Sara!

    I’d say the biggest lesson I learned while promoting TASTE ME was around blog touring. My initial blog entries for my blog tour were way too long, and took me too much time to write. Sourcebooks’ publicist suggested to me that any blog post bumping up against 1000 words was too long for most people to stick with. She was right!

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks, Tammy! I’ve definitely learned to keep the blog entries shorter – that’s a great observation, and one that I would steal and put into my post if I were less ethical πŸ™‚ This blog post was the longest I’ve written for a promo blog. I wrote all the others in Word and ruthlessly cut them until they were ~400-500 words. I don’t write short easily, so writing shorter actually takes me more time than writing longer, but I think the posts are better for it.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Great to know, Tammy!!

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  9. Fantastic post, Sara! And I came away with pretty much everything you did. I am still floored at how time consuming promo is. The first month is a doozy, yes, but it never seems to end! LOL. Or it could just be me. I do love me some giveaways.

    So, so proud of you! ~D~

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Giveaways are awesome. I still need to figure out a better strategy for those – right now, mine is more like Oprah (“and YOU get a copy, and YOU get a copy, and YOU get a copy”). Since I’m not selling like Oprah, I should probably tailor my approach a bit more πŸ™‚

      And I must say, Ms. Darynda, you do a great job of promoing in a way that connects with readers. It may be a lot of work, but it comes across effortlessly, which is awesome!

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  10. Sara, congratulations on your release and thanks for sharing advice about your journey. It’s so awesome! Can’t wait to read your books. I dream of having those kinds of promo headaches πŸ™‚

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks so much, Miranda! I know, complaining about having something to promote is so ungrateful πŸ˜‰ It really has been fun – way more fun than I expected, despite its time-consuming nature.

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  11. Elisa Beatty says:

    Dang!! Heiress still isn’t up on Kindle…but I’ll be watching like a hawk!

    Congrats again on your release, and thanks for sharing your promo experience…it utterly terrifies me!!

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks Elisa! Nope, still not up on Kindle – should be up in the next 12 hours. I’m going to leave the house and the internet shortly, because otherwise I’m going to spend all day refreshing the Amazon search even though I desperately need to be working πŸ™‚

      I really do think, though, that if one approaches promo as a fun, entertaining endeavor and an opportunity to meet new people, it doesn’t have to be terrifying. Then again, I’m a little shy in crowds, so meeting new people isn’t always easy peasy. But promo is as fun as you make it, so it doesn’t have to be terrifying! I’m sure you’ll be great at it!

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  12. Sara Ramsey says:

    Exciting news – HEIRESS is up on Kindle now! Wheeeeeeee! Too bad I’m hyped up on Dayquil and can’t celebrate properly πŸ™‚ But the link is at the top of the post now.

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  13. Rita Henuber says:

    Great post! You’ve said it all.
    Writing the book is the easy part.

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  14. Hope Ramsay says:

    Sara, Congratulations on your release. Another book to add to my TBR list. πŸ™‚

    And my experience pretty much parallels yours. The promo is a killer — all those blog tours get really tedious. It’s not like blogging here, which is a joy. πŸ™‚

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  15. June Love says:

    Sara, great tips and congratulations on your first month release! It sounds like you’ve got things under control with a sensible approach. When I publish, the self-promotion will be my downfall. I have a FB account, but rarely get on it and I don’t even have a Twitter account. I especially like the tip to be yourself when promoting. If I take that approach, maybe I can handle it. Thanks again for your informative tips!

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      I have a Facebook account too and am barely active there – it’s on my list of things I need to do, but I just don’t enjoy it as much as I enjoy twitter. And I just can’t follow the advice of commenting widely on all sorts of blogs to build name recognition – that’s def not something I enjoy.

      But if you find a couple of things you enjoy and do them well, I think you’ll build a community. And a community is way more valuable to you in terms of spreading the world than a scattershot approach – so find what works for you πŸ™‚

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  16. Elise Hayes says:

    Sara, congratulations on the release!!

    I think my favorite of the tips/comments you gave was to stockpile words (possible blogs and such) like canned goods for the apocalypse. Love it!! (and it’s practical too–I can totally see getting a call for a last-minute blog and being very, very happy that I have one pre-written that I can just send out and say, “here you go!”)

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      The challenge of stockpiling blog posts (just like stockpiling canned goods) is not just using them up in a non-emergency situation – it’s way too easy to use them whenever I need something, even if I probably have the time to write something new. I’m still working on managing my stockpile, but I think it’s a good approach πŸ™‚

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  17. Olivia Kelly says:

    Hi Sara! Congrats on your debut, and I love the cover. SO pretty.
    I have self-published a novella, in an anthology this past Christmas, but nothing full length. I am actually going to be sending queries out on my baby…erm…BOOK, sometime in the next week or so. Typing that makes me want to throw up. But in a good way!

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Definitely in a good way! The query process is exciting/scary/fun/everything in between. Think of it as boot camp for the rest of your writing career – it’s all wild ups and downs, so querying is good emotional practice πŸ™‚ Fingers crossed for you!

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  18. Julie Brannagh says:

    Sara, congratulations on your debut! I can’t wait to read it!

    Promotion. What’s that? πŸ˜‰ Since I’m still in the non-published group, you gave me a lot of room for thought. I hope to be swilling champagne and writing blog posts with the best of ’em soon.

    Again, congratulations, you FBURebel! :woohoo:

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Woot – thanks Julie! I will say that you’re ahead of the curve since you’re already on Twitter – I’m so so glad that I was getting active in the writer/reader community before I had to treat it like ‘work’/promo.

      And, by the way, champagne should be for every day, not just book releases πŸ™‚

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  19. Liz Selvig says:

    Hi Sara,
    What a great post. My debut comes out next Tuesday and already the truths you’ve posted are coming home to roost. Promo & brains: check; Be myself: sadly, that’s about all you get; Not everything getting done: no lie!; Do things ahead of time: oh hahaha! But, I’ve had only one review so far and it was very nice, so I still have time to learn to let the bad ones slide.

    I really appreciated your well-earned wisdom. Now I wish you nothing but the best with your Amazon release. How exciting!!

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  20. Kira Brady says:

    Congrats on the debut! My debut comes out in August, and I’m gleaning every bit of wisdom from those who go before me, while at the same time clinging desperately to the only advice I want to hear: “the best promo is releasing another book.” *hides*

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      That advice is less comforting for me right now since I’m staring maniacally at the deadline for the next book πŸ™‚ But I do think it’s true, so it’s wise to focus on your writing. Best of luck for your debut – can’t wait for August!

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  21. My Carina editor said, “Everything in publishing moves really slowly…until it doesn’t.”
    She was right. Once things started moving on my first book to Harlequin, I had trouble keeping up with all I needed to do. I still feel like I’m frantically paddling, so I wish I’d had your advice about a year ago! Once I catch up, though…I’m going to try to keep ahead of it all! Thanks for the great post.

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      That’s a great quote – definitely how I’ve felt. Things were molasses slow from the time I started writing until the moment I committed to putting my book up – and then all the sudden it was lightning-speed-no-chance-for-a-break. I hope you get caught up and can stay that way!

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  22. Tamara Gill says:

    This is such a great post, and so true with all your points. Congratulations on your release, I’m adding it to my kindle today!

    Tam πŸ˜€

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  23. Kaz Delaney says:

    Thank you Sara. My YA is released (here in Australia) on Monday – and eeek – I am in such a whirl!

    This was such a great post – informative and comforting. (Comforting to know I’m not losing my mind – or if I am, I’ll find it in the box of all the other like-minds who are suffering along with me!!!)

    Fabulous heads-up on the blogs ahead of time!!! I have a blog tour coming up and honestly, in the blur, I’d actually forgotten that I’m actually going to have to have content!!! LOL.

    Thank you again.

    Back to Crazyville.

    But first, huge congrats on your success so far and I hope that book flies through the airwaves.

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  24. Brilliant post, Sara! And truly excellent advice for a writer approaching their debut.

    We were travelling on the motorbike, and had been for a couple of months, when my debut came out. I think it kept me sane because I had lots of unusual day-to-day stuff to think about. It stopped me from becoming a Chicken Little and running around thinking “Eeeek, my book is out-there, people are going to buy it, but what if they don’t buy it and what if the ones that do buy it don’t like it, and what if… what if… what if the sky falls in!” LOL

    Huge congratulations on your debut! Stay sane and have fun!

    πŸ™‚
    Sharon

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      ‘Sane’ may be too much to hope for, but it’s definitely been fun!

      I’m so jealous of your motorbike adventures. That sounds like a wonderful way to keep yourself distracted. I’ll definitely admit that I spent too much time obsessing Chicken-Little-style the last few weeks πŸ™‚ So even though I can’t imagine not being chained to my desk the past month, traveling during this time probably would have been an awesome idea. Thanks for sharing!

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  25. Sorry I’m late to the party, Sara. Great blog. I’m so glad The Nook First promotion did so well for you.

    Laurie

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  26. I’m late too πŸ™‚ Congrats on your release! It’s already on my to-buy list! Great blog!

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  27. Sara Ramsey says:

    FYI, Tamara Gill won the ebook – I’ll reach out to her directly. Thanks to everyone who commented – I really appreciate it!

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