Let me start off by saying that 99% of the time, I have absolutely no clue what I'm doing. The publishing world is constantly changing, which means it is a constant struggle to figure out exactly how it has changed and to catch up.
However, I still get asked for advice from those wanting to write a story or who are in the beginning stages of their first manuscript. Just as I get asked advice on publishing a first book.
So, here's a little something from someone who will always be trying to figure it out.
For those wanting to write: The best advice I can give is to just write. If you have a story or characters talking to you, then sit down and write--even a little bit--every day. Also, write what calls to you, write what you're passionate about. Don't force yourself to write what you think is "in".
For those who want to publish their first story: First things first, If you want to GET published: Submit, submit, submit. Submit your manuscript to agents and editors of publishing houses. Do your research, see which ones are looking for the kind of book you wrote. If there's a rejection, don't toss in the towel. Rejections happen all the time, just put that rejection in a drawer and keep on going until you get the one you're looking for!
As strange as this may sound, Twitter is also a GREAT place to find agents and editors. Follow them on there, or follow some hashtags such as: #MSWL (manuscript wish list®) #WritingCommunity #WritingTip #QueryTip #AmQuerying #TenQueries #PitMad #AskAgent
If you want to self-publish:
1. Get an editor and a proofreader. They're super easy to find on social media these days because there's no greater place to promote a business, but if you are having trouble finding one, I'll tell you how to find one below.
2. Have beta readers or someone you absolutely trust read your story and give you 100% honest feedback (i.e. proooobably not family), and be prepared to take that honesty.
3. Make sure you have a FANTASTIC cover, which means buying a photo and getting a cover artist. The photo can either be a stock photo or one you bought from a photographer, just make sure you purchase the rights to use it.
If you're struggling with finding editors/proofreaders/cover artists, I'll tell you what I did when I first self-published Taking Chances. Well, I didn't have it edited, but I didn't actually think anyone would buy the book. So......let's move past that. Ahem. I found ten books with my favorite covers and looked at the copyright page where the author typically says who took the photo, made the cover, edited the book, etc. Turned out, nearly all ten of the covers had been made by the same person! So I contacted her and set up a date to have the cover made. Ta-da!
When you're in this process, and already have a set *future* release date, start these next steps:
1. Submit your book on copyright.gov DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Technically, TECHNICALLY, when you self-publish your book, it is "copyrighted" but you will want this certificate if Amazon or the likes ever comes back to you asking for proof. They take time--sometimes a couple months, sometimes six months or more. But once you have it submitted, you're really good to go with publishing your book.
2. Have promotional pictures made, or make them yourself, and promote the heck out of yourself.
3. Ask around on social media for book blogs to see if they would want to read/review your book before it comes out. Blogs are SO awesome and so helpful, but don't get upset if you come across blogs or authors who aren't able to help you. It's nothing against you or that you are "new". I still have author friends and long-time blogger friends who can't read upcoming books or help promote ... it just happens. Bloggers have tons of books scheduled, authors have their own books to write ;) I always, always plan each book's promotions with the mindset that I will be doing it all on my own, just in case, because I never want to rely on anyone else. Remember that YOU will always be your best promoter.
Last, but not least, do not read 1-star reviews. Some of them can have super awesome constructive criticism. I've actually read some for my own books. Normally, they tear apart the book in a negative way or attack the author. And one negative review can negate ninety-nine amazing reviews. It can stick with you and cause doubt, so don't read them!
Hope this helps!