Writing can be a tough business, especially when you are just starting out. Of course, I had no idea that it would be simply because I never envisioned myself ever becoming a writer; I sort of fell into it by accident. Let me give you a bit of the backstory.
About six years or so ago I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and then a few months later with Myasthenia Gravis. I was placed off work by my neurologist while he and the Department of Transportation (I was working as a commercial truck driver at the time) squared off to decide whether I would ever be able to go back to work again. After a few months of pacing the floors at home, I got up one morning and told my wife that I had decided to write a book. Always supportive she told me to go for it.
I had absolutely no idea where to start or even the process involved with getting published. I had no idea that would be authors can suffer rejection after rejection before they ever get a book contract, if indeed they ever do. In this case, I guess my ignorance was a blessing……but also a curse. I knew I wanted to write about the paranormal and the history behind some of the hauntings so I did a quick search on Amazon to find books on the same topic and checked to see who their publisher was. Once I decided on a publisher and the topic of my proposed book, I went to the publisher’s website, read up on how to submit a proposal and discovered that I could do it by email. Well, long story short, I sent off the email around 11:00 am and by that afternoon I had an acquisitions editor email me wanting to know more. A few additional emails followed by a brief phone call and by 4:00 pm that same afternoon I was reading through the contract that had been emailed to me. Easy as can be right?
Well, here is where the “curse” part I mentioned earlier comes in to play. I knew nothing about contracts, nothing about book marketing, had never written a book before and for some reason, I was operating under the false idea that once I had delivered the manuscript that all I had to do was sit back and let the publisher take it from there. Boy was I ignorant of the process. My first book, the Haunted Natchez Trace, was a minor success (thank the Lord), and it was also a huge eye-opener about how things really work once the manuscript is delivered.
As I look back now I realize that all I had to do was a little research and I would have gone into the process better informed and with more realistic expectations. So what did I learn from my first foray into authorship? Three key things, really, that would have saved me a lot of time and made me a bit more money right out of the gate.
- Just because you are a new or lesser known author doesn’t mean that you have to accept the first contract that is sent to you. If the publisher likes your book concept enough to send you a contract, they like it enough to negotiate. Now don’t go in with the expectation that as a new or untested author that you should get the kind of advance and royalty percentage that Stephen King could command, but you can still negotiate a few more dollars and a few more percentage points even on your first book. Learn a bit about how the process works, make realistic adjustments to the contract and don’t get greedy. Needless to say, if you have a large enough platform, try and sign with an agent and let them handle the entire sale, negotiation, and rights ordeal. They are a wealth of information and guidance and it’s well worth trying to get signed with one.
- You need to grow a platform, a large platform too before you ever start trying to get a book deal. What is this “platform” of which I speak? It’s your followers and fans across your multiple social media sites, your website, and your blog. It’s the people who like what you write and want to see more of it. But how do I grow a platform of fans and followers of my work if I haven’t written a book yet, you might ask? It’s easy. Decide on your genre and then set up a blog and start writing short value intensive posts. Setup accounts on social media and start posting, liking and retweeting; interact and grow relationships with like-minded folks. Write a few short stories and give them away to your followers or use them to grow your mailing list, or, start a newsletter and build a mailing list; shoot, do both for that matter. Sound like a lot of work and time? You bet it is, but it can also be the difference in a successful book deal and launch. Just remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your writing career. It’s going to take a bit of time and work but it will be worth it in the end. (And it can help you get a really good agent too)
- Understand that you won’t get a lot of support from your publisher once the book is released. They are busy and you most likely won’t be the only book project that they are working on so you won’t be the center of their focus. Sure, they want the book to sell well and make money but they aren’t going to foot the bill for a whirlwind book promotion tour for you or get you booked on major media outlets across the country; you’ll be lucky to get them to set up a few local book signings for you. You have to be proactive and understand that the success of your book rests solely on your shoulders. This is where your platform comes in. Keep them up to speed on the book release, let them know when it’s available for preorder, ask them to share the news with all of their contacts; get the word out about the book release and keep it at the front of everyone’s mind. Make a list of bookstores that you would like to do signings at and then contact them yourself several months before the release to see about getting placed on their event calendar to do a book signing. Once you have a firm date have your publisher’s salespeople contact them to make sure they have an ample supply of your books in stock and that marketing materials are sent to them. Look to utilize other forms of marketing like press releases and donating books to your public library; keep your name in front of the world for as long as you can.
These are just a few of the many things that I’ve learned about the business of authorship over the course of four traditionally published books and two self-published ones, and they are, in my humble opinion, the three most important. If you want to write and market a book don’t do what I’ve done, which is fly by the seat of my pants while I figure it all out, but do some research, read some books, take a marketing class; educate yourself on the process and grow your platform while you’re doing it. It can make all the difference in how fast and profitably you can grow your writing career.