Today marks 5 years since Swords & Sixguns: An Outlaw's Tale was first published. In that time, I've sold 208 copies (little lower than I hoped by this point...dang COVID), plus I've learned quite a bit about the ins and outs of being a professional writer. So in no particular order, here's the top 5 lessons I can impart to those of you who may be starting out on your own writing journey...
#1 - You'll Never Catch All the Typos
This is one I've learned in the past month. Recently, KDP (my printer) began offering a hardcover option, so as soon as I had the time, I started updating the original paperback file in the hope that I could launch the hardcover today. Well, due to various reasons, I cannot do so just yet, one of them being that, every time I thought I'd ferreted out every last typo, another one popped up. I'd become aware of about a half-dozen of them not long after the initial release, thanks to my mother-in-law, who went so far as to take a highlighter to the copy I gave her! I figured I'd fix them in a later edition, so when the hardcover option came along, I went about doing just that. Well, while doing so, I'd occasionally stop and read the manuscript just for pure pleasure...and the more I read, the more typos jumped out. A missing letter here, a formatting error there, just enough goofs to annoy the heck outta me. I think the new tally is 10 known typos in the paperback version, and I'm giving up there before I totally obsess over it. The only consolation I have is that, in the past 5 years, I've found typos in all sorts of big-name works, so it appears that it's inevitable no matter who the writer is or how many editors go over it. Best advice I can give is to take note of 'em, fix 'em when ya can, and look upon the whole thing as a lesson in wabi sabi.
#2 - Always Ask How to Spell Their Name, No Matter How Easy It Sounds
Speaking of typos (or potential ones), I learned this lesson when I did my very first con, specifically Motor City Nightmares in 2017. One of my first sales that day was to a fella named Lary...yes, he spelled it with one R. It was a very important lesson, and I'm glad I got it out of the way early, because once you take your Sharpie in hand and autograph that book, you can't undo it. Luckily, he told me this before I'd made any sort of mark, so I got his name right on the first try. This has led to me asking how to spell the person's name every time I do an autograph -- sometimes even writing it down on a separate piece of paper beforehand -- and just about everyone gets to hear about "Lary with one R" when I do so.
#3 - Everyone Has An Opinion on What You Should Write
You need to get used to this one real fast, because you'll deal with it nearly every time someone finds out you're a writer. I've lost track of how many people want me to write a love story, or their biography/genealogy, or whatever idea that's been bouncing around in their head for years but they don't know how to do, so they think I should do it instead. I tell them that I barely have time to do my own work, so I'm not about to take on theirs. The "love story" one is what really stumps me, though: I get that not everyone is into Westerns or horror or fantasy, but why do they think I should be writing love stories instead? If it's because I'm of the female persuasion, then I'd really wish they'd quit trying to stereotype me. Whenever there's romance in one of my stories, it's because it just happened along the way, it's not the main reason for the plot. For those of you who do write love stories on a regular basis, more power to ya, I'll start sending the people requesting such things your way from now on, just so long as you send the Western-horror-fantasy people towards me.
#4 - Someone Will Always Sell More Books Than You
This was a hard lesson to learn, and it occurred a few years into doing cons. I shared a table with another self-published author whose book had come out about 4 months earlier. I think by this point I'd sold about 150 books, so I asked how many he'd sold so far, expecting it to be about the same or lower. Nope, he'd sold over 600...in hardcover, at that. It was like I'd been punched in the gut. To be fair, his book was nonfiction, and on local history, so we weren't even close to the same genre, but it still shocked me that he'd moved four times as many books as I had, and in a much-smaller timeframe. I felt like a failure, and it took me a while to get over that. I had to accept that, unless I wanted to write very specifically for whatever's hot on the market at any given moment (see Lesson #3), I was always going to be fighting for every sale, so I should be proud of the ones I get. On the flipside of that, I've tried to act as a mentor for a young self-published author who is in the same genre as myself (zombies, not Westerns), and I'm proud whenever she posts that she sold out of books at a con. This is a tough business, and unless you run into a writer who's just a total dick, we should cheer each other on.
#5 - Always Be On the Lookout for Work in Unlikely Places
And on that note, I'd like to publicly announce a bit of upcoming work that came about, from all things, while scrolling around on Facebook. Last month, Peter David put up a post regarding open submissions for an anthology he was putting together, so I took a chance, submitted an idea...and I got in! Approval for my finished short story came back yesterday, though he suggested a few edits, which I was happy to make (when Peter David suggests an edit, you do it!). So come February 2022, look for my name in Fans Are Buried Tales, alongside pros like Paul Kupperberg, David Gerrold, and Mr. David himself. Reckon maybe this'll sell more than 208 copies!