J.B. McGee ~ Top Ten Things I’ve Learned Being an Author

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1.  Find someone to be your word police.  For me, this person is Katie Ashley.  The first document had so much yellow from highlighting that I thought I’d never finish, but now I have figured this out, and I try to be hyperaware of it.  It seems with each book there is less yellow than the last.I think when you’re writing a scene, you don’t realize how much you use the same word until a fresh pair of eyes points it out.  Also, reading it out loud will help me identify those areas.  Don’t be afraid of using pronouns either.  Using the character’s names too frequently can be redundant.  Again, this was something I did a lot of while writing my first novel, but as I’ve grown, I do it less and less with each novel.

Oh yeah, and commas!  I’m probably using too many right now.  Make sure you go back and try to re-teach yourself as many grammar rules as you can.  Don’t rely on Word.  It will miss things, as good as it is.

I guess all of this can be said under find a good editor.

2.  Speaking of editing.  If you think you’ll write it now, and then edit it later…DON’T.  It’s easier to edit as you go than it is to go back and have to accept or reject thousands of tracked changes.  I always try to re-read passages if I have writer’s block and see if I can find stuff that I missed while typing.  I also have my beta readers point out things to me as I share with them.Also, I recommend having one person who knows their grammar read your final manuscript.  You know, the final manuscript you think is perfect.  I guarantee you that they will find something wrong.  If they don’t, then pat yourself on the back and rest assured you did a great job.  Finding errors in a manuscript is like trying to find a needle in a haystack to an author.  I can find stuff in everyone else’s manuscripts but not in my own.

3.  Keywords on Amazon.  Can you believe that I thought this was a place for me to name a bunch of genres?  Just last night I was told by one of my betas, who used to be a blogger, that I had this all wrong.  *Epic Face Palm*  This is where you want to put the keywords that your book content addresses.  For instance, if your book is about the loss of a parent, then you could use that for a keyword.  You only get seven on Amazon, so use them wisely.

4.  I’ve had some authors say not to read reviews.  I’ve had others say to read reviews.  I’m one that believes in reading your reviews.  Why?  Because you can use many of them to grow as an author.  You are a company and your books are your products.Let me ask you this?  If you paid $20 for a steak at Outback and it’s not prepared properly, do you send it back?  I do.  I am very picky about how I want my steak cooked.  I want a warm, red center.  If it’s not, then I’m not happy.  I’ll tell the server, “Warm, red center, please.”

I went on a Disney Cruise a week ago.  They told us multiple times that they wanted us to fill out the comment cards.  Although they do not respond to them all, they do read every single one of the comment cards.  Maybe this is why you’re not hearing horrible things about Disney Cruise line in the news like another cruise line I won’t mention.

While you want to make everyone happy, you won’t.  It’s a fact.  Someone isn’t going to like your book.  But if you can take their feedback and use it to make the next book better, then you’ve been able to take a bad review and make it into something good and positive.

Ultimately, you are the one who wins in that situation.  You will grow.  You will become a better writer.  And trust me when I say that nothing bad can come from that.

Be careful commenting on unfavorable reviews.  I don’t recommend you do that.  There are ones who like to “author bash.”  Well, brush off your sleeves and hold your chin high.  It hurts.  It will always hurt.  It never gets easier.  Keep moving forward.  Worry about the things you can change and not the things that you can’t.

5.  Find your cave.  My cave was my kitchen table while writing Broken.  My kids were going to school pretty regularly (they have special needs and don’t go a lot).  I had just purchased a new computer.  I could see all the birds out of the window.  It just gave me peace to write there.  Sometimes when I got writer’s block, I would change my environment.  Sometimes I got a paper and pencil instead of a computer and changed my mode of writing.My point is to make sure you’re comfortable.  I wrote all of Mending and Conspiring at my local public library.  I had great success there.  It was peaceful.  No distractions.  Set hours.  I took advantage of that consistency and was able to really get into a good groove.

With Forgiven, my little room was frigid.  I couldn’t think as I was so cold.  I kept trying to tough it out because I couldn’t believe that I’d have success writing anywhere else after those last two books, but I found that I could write better at home where I was comfortable.  And if I wasn’t, then I could add or remove layers of clothing far more easily at home.  It also didn’t hurt that my husband prepared meals and put them on my desk beside me most days.  I think he enjoyed me being at home so much that he wanted to give me a reason to continue.  J

I think your environment can make or break your writing.  If you’re not having a good experience with one location, don’t be afraid to change it.  Same with modes of writing.

6.  With that being said, let’s talk Facebook.  Now, you might have more will power than I do in regards to social media, which wouldn’t require much.  But I have a really hard time not browsing the Internet every five minutes to find out what’s going on in the world, especially when good reviews started coming in and I realized I could watch my numbers going up live through KDP.  I’ve learned that I have to close my web browser and my email while writing.  Otherwise, I won’t get much done.  I’ve even heard of authors turning off their routers or going to a place with no Internet access to write.

7.  Find a great group of beta readers.  I don’t mean a good group of friends.  It’s fine if you become friends; it’s hard not to.  But find people you can trust whom will be brutally honest with you.  I wrote a scene once where Bradley said something about his tummy.  My beta laughed, “Um, guys don’t call their stomachs tummies.”  She was right.  That’s the kind of honesty you need.  If you have someone who is being a beta for you who never tells you your manuscript has flaws, then be very wary.  You might be able to nail it your first try, but more than likely that just isn’t the case.

8.  Be careful how social you are on social media.  Did you just read that right?  Yes.  Networking on social media doesn’t mean sharing your link to your book every day, all day.  It doesn’t mean only talking about your book all the time.  It means that you network.  Networking is two sided.  It means I’ll share for you, and will you share for me.  But don’t ask.  If you’ll just make sure that you promote others, then they’ll promote you.  It’s called cross promoting.  We almost all appreciate it and know how to do it.I, personally, get great joy out of sharing something without being asked.  It’s like holding the door open for someone at the store.  They didn’t have to ask me to do it.  I just did because it made me feel good to help someone.  I’ve noticed if there are double doors to the store, often the person will then hold the next door open for me.  I didn’t have to ask.  I’m sure it gave them as much pleasure as it gave me to do a nice gesture.  Social media is like this.  Interact with your fans, other authors, and bloggers.  Get to know them.  Let them know that they are important to you, not just a way to get you more publicity.

9.  Don’t skimp on your graphics.  Make sure you pay someone who knows what they are doing.  This includes formatting.  Your book needs to look nice on the inside and be easy to read.  You don’t want to do anything that will distract from your story.  If the inside isn’t aligned properly, then it will be difficult to read.  If it’s difficult to read, it won’t matter if your story is awesome.  It’s going to take away from it.  It’s going to cost you in some way.  Don’t let something so simple to fix have that much control over your ratings and reviews.

10.  Pricing.  When I priced Broken, I put it at $3.99.  I’ve seen a lot of debut authors do this or go even higher.  It didn’t take me long to see that I was going to make more money with a lower price because I sold more.  It’s basic economics.  Do you want to sell less but make more per unit, or do you want to sell more and make less per unit?Okay, well it’s more than economics.  Amazon’s rating system comes into mind.  If you sell more but make less, you’re going to have a higher rank.  If you sell less but maybe make more, you’re going to have a lower rank.  So you have to decide what you want.  Do you want the rank or do you want the cash?

I found that as a debut author, most people were willing to pay $2.99 for my book but not $3.99.

I also learned a $.99 promo is magical, if done correctly.

How do you do it correctly?  I’ve learned to depend on bloggers heavily.  At first I felt bad.  I am a very independent person.  I felt like asking for help was a sign of weakness.  But, pride can cost a person a lot.  Bloggers want to help.  It goes back to that holding the door concept.  They want to help, let them.

I can’t stress the importance of forming relationships with bloggers.  Arrange a blog tour around your release dates.  In between releases, a few spotlights might help bring your numbers out of a hole.  Most of all, thank your bloggers.  They are selfless individuals who dedicate their lives to help you.  It takes a special person to do what they do.  Remember that it takes a village to self-publish.  It’s not done by yourself.  Form a team, and pour your heart and soul into making yourself a success.  Believe in yourself.  You can do anything you put your mind to.  I’m living proof of that.

In conclusion, speaking of bloggers.  I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for so many blogs, but the first to find me was Literati Literature Lovers.  They have held my hand through all of this.  Much of what I’ve written in this article was taught to me from them.  So I appreciate you taking the time to read this, and it would mean a lot to me if you’d comment and thank them with me!

10 thoughts on “J.B. McGee ~ Top Ten Things I’ve Learned Being an Author

  1. It is always gratifying when aspiring artists are able to find an audience for their work. Thanks Literati Literature Lovers for all you do for authors!

    • Robbie Lea, Thank you for those very kind words. We are happy to be doing what we love and helping others connect with and find new authors. Thank you for taking the time to read our blog.

  2. Phenomenal advice here. I’ve had the hardest time finding beta readers. I love beta reading for other people, but nobody ever seems to want to return the favor.

      • Robbielea, shoot me an email at briannasoloski at gmail dot com. Let’s chat about beta reading. I’m not just looking for grammar stuff, though. I need feedback on characters, story lines, plot holes, etc.

    • I’m so glad that you liked it. I guess it’s the teacher in me, but it sure is nice to know that my experiences have helped others. I remember how scary it was publishing that first book. I wish that I had been able to have someone tell me this stuff then. Best of luck to you.

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