I just passed my six months to publication date for my debut novel, Gina in the Floating World (She Writes Press). I sent in my last review of my galleys, and my baby is about to be sent to the printer for my ARCs (Advanced Review Copies), the ones sent out to reviewers. It’s really happening. I’d love to be able to sit back and enjoy the ride until my book launch on October 2, but that’s not the way it works in this do-it-yourself day and age. If you are fortunate enough to get published, a chunk of your writer’s life will be devoted to putting yourself and your book out there, so that people actually buy it. Sadly, it doesn’t happen by magic. Your job will be to CONNECT and ENGAGE! And it’s never too early to start—even before you have that book contract in hand.
As a newbie at this game, I thought I would share some of my publishing journey with you, both to highlight lessons learned, including possible pitfalls, and to keep myself honest as I hurtle forward into what feels like an alien world. I still have a lot to learn, but at the six-month mark, here are my best pieces of advice, based on my own experiences, research, and advice I’ve picked up in this ever-changing publishing world.
Continue your training. You probably took classes and workshops to improve your writing. This part of the process is no different. There are a lot of online freebie seminars for authors (check out Tim Grahl), some better than others, as well as articles and books (e.g., Burke, Online Marketing for Busy Authors). Ask your friends who have published recently for recommendations.
Consider whether you want to hire a publicist and make your decision early in the game—no more than six or seven months out from publication. The role of the publicist is simply to get publicity for your book. Since most publishers do little to provide publicity to anyone whom they don’t deem as a possible best-seller and since as a debut author you may have trouble garnering appropriate publicity yourself, you may want to consider springing for this. Interview possible candidates and their clients before signing on. After talking to a number of other authors, I decided to hire one. I figured I had only one debut novel.
Create an inviting writer’s website, and update it if you designed it (or had it designed) prior to your current novel. A website acts like a landing pad for you and your book. Even without a lot of technical know-how, you can do it yourself if you have the patience and design skills. Many website builders (e.g., WordPress, Wix, Squarespace) have a variety of templates for you to use. These help to keep your design elements compatible while still giving you room to express yourself. Alternatively, hire a professional to design it for you. But definitely pay to use your own name, or a reasonable facsimile, as your domain name. Unless you plan to write only one book, don’t use your book title as your domain name. Have other people critique your website as they critiqued that novel of yours.
Set up your book launch. I thought I didn’t have to do this until about three months out, but when my publishing buddy (see below) informed me she had already booked her launch, I got on it. I discovered that the date I wanted at my bookstore of choice was already taken. So, I locked in my second choice and then reserved a place for my after-party. One less thing to worry about, and it was super easy, completed all by email. (Lucky are we who live in towns with bookstores.) Your main argument will be to assure the bookstore that you can bring in bodies who will buy your book.
Sign up for an author’s Facebook page. I know that Facebook is the enfant terrible at the moment and supposedly people are deserting it in droves, but the fact is that it remains a huge platform. Use your name and “author” or “writer,” if you want, to distinguish it from your personal Facebook page. One advantage of this kind of page is that you can pay small amounts to “boost” a post and, thus, get more eyeballs on it. If you want to shun Facebook, put energy into other social media.
Learn the strengths of the different social media platforms for your purposes, find the two or three you like the best, and post regularly, more often about others than yourself. Don’t try to do it all. I never used Instagram much before, but I like its creative potential. You will find a lot of book bloggers on Instagram. Follow them. The key to using social media at this stage is consistency, I am told. Don’t post and then disappear for weeks at a time. The other crucial points are to comment on others’ posts (engage!) and when posting, don’t focus entirely on your own news, especially on Twitter.
Discover the joys of hashtags. There are numerous ones that writers and readers use, and when you attach hashtags, more people are likely to see your posts on Twitter and Instagram. (Don’t use them on Facebook, as I’ve heard they can actually work against you.) I’m still getting the hang of these.
Use the same professional headshot on all your promotional and social media sites. You don’t have to be all dressed up, but don’t do anything too nutty here—no pictures of you after a drinking binge, for example. Use the same photo for consistency and recognition.
Tap into your various networks and develop an email list. More than one author marketing specialist advises that email gives you the most bang-for-your-buck in terms of sales and a reliably direct way to communicate with your “fans” on a regular basis. Many of the people you know want to see you succeed and will happily give you permission to send them your updates. Place an upfront subscribe button on your website and add an incentive for signing up. As authors, especially those of us who are introverts (a lot of us!), we have to try to get over our fear of bragging or imposing ourselves on others. If someone isn’t interested, they don’t have to respond—at least that’s what I tell myself. Right? (And in that spirit, I invite you to sign up for my updates by visiting www.bellebrett.com/contact and be entered for a chance to win an original piece of Japan-themed art by me! Thank you!)
As soon as you have a jpeg of your book cover, share that sucker everywhere! It can be in the cover photo of your Twitter and FB pages. Hint: Canva, a free app, allows you impose your book cover image over another image.
Create a list of possible content ideas related to your book, your writing process, and other pertinent topics. What story do you want to share and how? Maybe you don’t like writing blog posts. Maybe your content will be shorter, more pictorial, or video-based. But make it useful, entertaining, engaging—something that will attract your potential readers.
Check your Amazon listing to make sure it is correct. To my horror, I discovered early on that my title was wrong. My current listing is still incomplete, showing only the Kindle version, not the paper version. But once everything looks correct, include an ordering link on your website, right on the homepage. Add IndieBound, Barnes and Noble, and Books-A-Million as well to give people choices. If you are launching at an independent bookstore, encourage possible attendees to your launch to buy at that bookstore and not pre-order online. These stores count on the business you bring in.
“Claim” your book on Goodreads and BookBub. This one is still a mystery to me, and Goodreads couldn’t “find” my book, probably because of the aforementioned Amazon problem, but I am told one needs to do this.
Give back to other authors. Write reviews, share their posts on your own Twitter feed, promote their books, attend their events. What goes around, comes around.
Find a publishing buddy. I am fortunate that my press has created a secret Facebook page for other women publishing during the same general time period. Another local woman from my cohort linked up with me, and we have vowed to be there for each other every step of this voyage, by providing resources, giving feedback, interviewing each other, and cheering each other on.
Break the tasks down into bite-size chunks, prioritize, and keep track. For a number of years I taught time management. The biggest problem I found was that when faced with a large task, people became immobilized. You don’t have to do everything at once. Make a to-do list of specific tasks with a timetable for when you need to do each one and refer to the timetable regularly. Check off completed items for a sense of satisfaction and a record of what you’ve done. Keep track of people and places you contact.
Find your joy in the marketing process. So many of these activities are not what we signed on for when we started writing. Nevertheless, they aren’t all grueling; some build on skills you already have and like using, like writing; others may tap into other sides of you. I love taking photographs, and Instagram encourages me to do that. I also enjoy the essay writing of blog posts. Find your niche.
Reward yourself. This is hard work. Take long walks, treat yourself to chocolate, read for pleasure, live your life, drink a glass of wine and watch your favorite TV show, delegate when you can. Keep on writing the next great American novel. Don’t forget your partner, your pet, your kids, your friends.
Most importantly, regularly remind yourself that you wrote a novel, for heaven’s sake, and someone wants to publish it. Now, take a deep breath…. plunge in and make the magic happen.