[SWP: Behind the Book] 4 Big Lessons I Learned Between Book 1 & Book 2

When my debut novel was published by She Writes Press in 2013, the publishing was new to me. I made a bunch of mistakes. I had a few successes. My second book, a memoir, will launch in May of 2017. I know more now than I did for Book 1. It seems like a good time to reflect on a few of the biggest lessons I learned.

Lesson 1: Publishing is a business.

While I’ve been a writer since I could hold a pen in my hand, when I chose to become an “author” my writing transformed from personal passion to commerce. Publishing is a business with its harsh realities, costs, and an entire industry with traditions, skilled experts, politics, absurdities, geniuses, incompetents, and charlatans. I bumbled into a few on-line scams, an unskilled editor who took a bunch of money, but didn’t offer any helpful coaching, and fortunately escaped a few “instant bestseller” scams. Eventually, I found a team of qualified, amazing publishing colleagues. But I wasted more than a few dollars before I did.

As romantic an image as we might hold about books, publishing is an industry. Traditional publishing houses print what they think will make money for them. That could mean that the Real Housewives get book deals and someone who wrote an exquisite work of literary fiction won’t.  It’s not personal.  The good news is that in the era of indie publishing, hybrid presses, and self-publishing options, good books are finding their way out of the shadows.  

Lesson: When it comes to publishing, be prepared to wear your “business hat” along with your maturity and business savvy.

Lesson 2: Outsource for what you don’t know, or don’t want to learn.

For my first book, money was tight—still is. I freaked out a little about costs . . . okay, a lot. Sometimes I cut the wrong things from the budget. Publicity is one of those. I got sticker shock when faced with spending thousands of dollars for an immeasurable outcome. I did my publicity DIY style.

I now feel that I did my book a disservice by offering sporadic, trial-and-error publicity. I used a “Whack-a-mole” method for publicity, jumping on opportunities that popped up, rather than following a thoughtful strategy and seeking expert guidance. I’d see a promotion idea on Facebook, or hear of something another author tried, and I’d spend 50 bucks here, 75 there, 100 over there. I thought I was economizing, but I wasted time and money on publicity attempts, including a few sucker punches from opportunists ready to take the money of newbie authors.  

A writer with a background in publicity may be able to act as her own publicist. I needed help. For Book 2, I did a ton of research and found a skilled, trusted publicist. The cost is a stretch, but one I’m calculating into the “business” of being an author.  

The lesson: Know what you don’t know and decide whether it’s best to learn it or hire someone to do it.  Be realistic about your skills.

Lesson 3: View expenses as investments.

I don’t have a trust fund or a big pile of dough lying around. But every business venture requires investment. I pinched nickels last time, and perhaps slighted my book from its best possible chances for success (though I’ll never know, of course). For example, I didn’t  “invest” in a Kirkus review. By saving a few hundred dollars I may have missed opportunities for the book to gain valuable exposure in wider circles. This time, I’m budgeting for Kirkus and other logical “investments”.  

I still have to be careful with money unless that winning lottery ticket thing works out, but I can’t operate from fear or scarcity. I’m doing some bartering to offset some costs. I’m skipping others. I’m biting the bullet and spending on what I feel is necessary. I worked hard for a long time to write a story that I’m proud of.  It deserves some support.

Besides, all of these expenses are tax deductible.

The Lesson:  Don’t make investment decisions from a place of fear or scarcity. Make thoughtful decisions about which investments are right for you, for your book, your goals, and your resources. Keep every receipt for tax time.

Lesson 4: Measure success in more than sales.

Learning to measure my book’s success in other ways than by its sales has been a bigger insight for me than I’d have anticipated.

Here’s just one example. My novel featured a main character with Bipolar Disorder. I received letters from readers who told me that my fictional story gave them greater insight into their loved one’s mental illness. One reader wrote to me saying, “When I read your book it was the first time I understood what my mother had gone through. After she read it, we talked like we’ve never talked before. This book changed my entire relationship with my mom.”

I wept reading this letter. Now and then, when I wonder if writing is “worth it” I read this and a few other letters like it to remind me. This is a “profit” I neither anticipated, nor calculated. Writing a story from my imagination and to have it mean something to someone else is why I wanted to publish in the first place, though I didn’t know it at the time. Sure, I want my books to sell well, still do. But knowing that my story mattered to someone is invaluable.

The process of writing, editing, publishing, and promoting my first book taught me more about writing than any MFA program could have. If I view expenses as “tuition”, I see that got a bargain of an education!  I am now entering subsequent publishing experiences more prepared because of the steps, and the missteps I took on my first book.  

Another “profit” is one I have no way to measure, but may be the most valuable one of all. My journey as a writer has brought me many of my most meaningful friendships. From my most intimate friends to my most inspiring mentors, from casual contacts to deep partnerships with trusted advisors, I am the richer for all of the beautiful humans this journey has brought to my life. 

The lesson: Whether you sell a few or many copies of your book, don’t miss out on the less measurable, but highly valuable experiences and people you meet along the way.

We write and publish books to entertain, to inform, to inspire, and to have an emotional exchange with our readers—and possibly to make money. It is our stories that express our unique humanity and in sharing them that we connect to one another in the most profound ways. Book 1 taught me a lot.  I can’t wait for the lessons I’ll learn publishing the next ones.  


Betsy Graziani Fasbinder was among the first authors published with She Writes Press with her debut novel, Fire & Water, 2013.  Her upcoming memoir, Filling Her Shoes: A Memoir of an Inherited Family is the story of her marriage to a widower with a young son and how on a foundation of love and loss, they built their family.  Filling Her Shoes will launch in May 2017.  www.betsygrazianifasbinder.com

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  • Kate Raphael

    Betsy, this is such a wonderfully helpful post. I absolutely resonate with every one of your points, especially seeing the expenditures on your book as investments in your career and brand as an author. I always say this to myself: If I had spent $50,000 on an MFA and through that gained connections and savvy or skills that netted a traditional book deal, no one would say that was not money well spent. But investing far less to publish and promote a book I have worked on for ten years, have gotten good feedback on and have absolute confidence in is still somehow seen as suspect (by me as well as by others). Yet both are the same thing: investments in a career, a reputation and a network of great professionals who can help me get where I want to go.