I've been doing a lot of reflection lately.
Next year is the 10th anniversary of the release of my first book, A Book About Design; Complicated Doesn't Make it Good. Getting a book published through a major publisher is one of the things, if not THE thing, I'm most proud of accomplishing in my life so far. It's amazing to think it's already been that long.
In 2005, my eyes were the size of dinner plates. My first book had been released, positive reviews were coming in from all sides and I was even favorably reviewed by The New York Times!
Almost 10 years and 7 books later I'm now a little closer to reality. My feet are planted firmly on the ground and there are a few things I wish I had known then as a first time author.
In no particular order.
1. You've got about 6 months to make sales.
So many books come out every year, there's always the next new thing. With the advance of self publishing, the white noise is only that much louder. Your book is just one more struggling to be noticed. After about 6 months, if it hasn't caught lightning in a bottle, it's probably old news.
2. So You're probably not going to make more than your advance.
Traditional publishers typically give advances. Money provided to the author against the sales of the book. Unless you're the next Polar Express or Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (and I'm certainly not either of those) that's likely all the income you'll see from your books. Publishers have it pretty much down to a science, they know what to expect in sales and they know what to offer. Everything else is a surprise.
3. If it's not ready, don't do it.
I really like the idea behind my 4th book, A Wish For Elves, but it wasn't ready. I was trying to do too many different things all at the same time with it. I wanted the art to be simple but I wanted multiple panels per page. I wanted it to be colorful but monochromatic. I wanted it to be funny but sentimental. Mostly, I wanted it to be better. It needed more time and I wasn't brave enough to tell the publisher that. The graphic artist in me didn't want to blow the deadline. I regret that and always will.
(Side note: The Spooky Box is much more like what I was hoping A Wish for Elves had been.)
4. It's up to you to promote yourself.
Don't wait for the publisher. Don't wait for anyone else. Put yourself out there and make connections with people. If they don't like what you're doing, screw 'em. That's something I didn't do nearly enough in the beginning. When I started, Facebook was barely a thing. Twitter didn't exist and you had to dial up the web over your home phone. It's a hard thing to ask for support. It feels too much like begging or bragging or both for me. I'm still trying.
5. It's the best job/not a job in the world.
I wanted to end on a high note. I love this. This is the life I've wanted since I can remember wanting anything at all. I literally can't see myself doing anything else. I hope I get to continue doing it. There are amazing highs and miserable downs but every day is a new opportunity, a new idea, and a new page.
Thanks for reading.