Monday, May 5, 2014

What new authors need to know, but no one usually tells them

I’m very fortunate to have been published by two digital-first publishers — Carina Press and HarperImpulse — and with a soon-to-be released fourth book hitting ebookstores soon, I like to think I’ve learned a few things about what to expect. And what to do.

What’s that? Did you just “bahahahaha” me? Oh wait. I think that was my own laughter echoing around my noggin. Sorry.

Still, it’s true. Kind of. I don't proclaim to know everything, or shoot, much at all, but I have learned some things at this point. When I see new, debut authors join my current publishers or come across them on social media or, heck, even in person on occasion, I love to feel their excitement and enthusiasm and can sense that undercurrent of happy nervous anxiety radiating from them like the intoxicating smell of puppy breath. I was that person once. It reminds me of signing my first contract — and not having a clue what to expect next, even as I hoped my debut book would be a breakout hit and zoom up the charts and I’d be able to take a nice vacation with my first royalty check and my publisher would shower me with knowledge and promotion and twinkling fairy dust....

Bahahahahaha.

Oh, those days.


When you first sign a contract, you expect a certain amount of hand-holding to occur, and sadly, it often doesn't happen. No one ever tells aspiring authors what to expect once a contract is offered and accepted.

So, I thought I’d share a few tips for those debut authors out there to clue them in on a few things while, hopefully, shucking them on the shoulder with a “You can do this!” pat. Because, No. 1, you’ve already accomplished a major feat. Be super proud of yourself! There are tons of people still struggling to finish a manuscript, let alone shop it around to agents and publishers. And every experienced writer knows the rate of rejection far surpasses acceptances in this business.

The second No. 1. You’ve signed a contract. Congratulations! So…what happens now?

A whole lot of waiting. Seriously. And a whole lot of “I can’t wait until you’re a best-selling millionaire author” from your supportive friends and family, which feels kind of great at first, but will eventually start to weigh on your shoulders like an anvil — especially when you get your first royalty check. And your second. And…you get the idea. I describe the feeling to my non-writing friends as the equivalent of “Why aren’t you married yet?” from your great-great aunt Martha…even though you’re only 16 and never had a boyfriend. Because people have this preconceived notion that once a writer gets published, she should immediately become a bestselling millionaire or she's done something wrong. You might want to get used to that sentiment early on because every writer faces it. Every. Single. One.

Anyway.

The time period from the moment you sign your contract to the time you get your edits back will start to feel like a long time. After a couple of months, self doubt will set in and you’ll worry your new editor/publisher has changed her mind or forgotten about you because you won’t hear from her…at all. You’ll wonder if etiquette allows you to send an email following up because you have questions about what you should be doing. I have this advice for you. Don’t worry, and just be patient. You haven’t been forgotten! The average timeline for publication (for most publishers) is about a year, meaning you sign a contract and a year later you see your book published. That varies, but that is the norm, even in e-publishing. Depending on your publisher, you can expect to wait a few months after signing the contract before you even hear from your editor again. But when you do, it will feel like you’ve stepped on a roller coaster. You’ll be asked to fill out an art sheet for a cover. You’ll be asked to send your edits back within a relatively short time. You’ll probably get a second round of edits. Maybe a third. And then you’ll experience another lull of waiting, and then…boom! Your book is released. And being told your book will release on Date X only to be told later it has been pushed to a release Date Y is not uncommon either. Patience is a writer's biggest virtue in publishing, and the waiting is tedious. But 99% of the time it's in your best interests to sit back and chill, or you might develop a reputation as a needy and problematic author, which probably won't count in your favor if you want to be published again because, believe it or not, editors and agents are friends with other editors and agents and word gets around. Just sayin'.



Which brings me to No. 2. My publisher is handling all of my promotion, right?

Sorry, Charlie, but unless you’re JK Rowling, you’re out of luck. Sure, I’ve heard of a few small press publishers, such as Entangled, who provide promotional support to authors, but it’s a rare case these days. You’ll be expected to handle pretty much everything, so here are a few tips to get you started while you’re waiting.
• Make sure people can find you online, be it a website, blog, Twitter account, Google Plus account, Pinterest page, or Facebook page. The standard recommendation is that you have ALL of the above, but for heaven’s sake, at least have a website — even if it’s only a page. It might feel crazy egotistical to do at first, but best case scenario, someone will read your book and like it enough to want to see what else they can buy from you. Make sure your website or blog or personal cybernetics system or whatever has buy links, a description of what you’re working on next, a little bit of info about you, and contact information. Throw an excerpt from your book on there for extra credit. I recommend Weebly.com because it’s free and fairly easy to use. There’s also Blogger.com and Wordpress.com
• Create an author profile on Amazon. Amazon has a cool thing called Amazon Author Central. Join it, add your bio, and link it to your book. And once you’ve done that, go to Amazon Author Central UK and do the exact same thing because, for whatever crazy reason, the two are NOT linked. Trust me. It’s super important to be on both, and to keep it updated as you publish more titles. 
• Sign up for an author account on Goodreads as soon as your book has a listing, and link to it. 
• As soon as you have a release date and a final copy of your book in epub or PDF format, start querying reviewers. Most reviewers won’t even consider reviewing your book if you query them close to your release date. Some will. Most prefer two to three months advance notice…for simple consideration. So while you’re in that waiting period between signing your contract and waiting on edits, use your time wisely to familiarize yourself with book bloggers and review sites. It’s okay to introduce yourself to them on twitter or Facebook, but for heaven’s sake, don’t be pushy about it. And for heaven’s sake, read their submission guidelines and review policies to make sure they review your genre of book; otherwise, you’re wasting their time and yours. 
While you're doing these nifty things, you'll want to think a lot about something people in the biz like to refer to as author branding (aka an author platform). When I hear the words author branding, I hear angels hum and imagine the words brightly shining under a spotlight. That's how important it is. Basically, you need to define yourself as an author as catchily as possible. For example, don't be that author who describes himself as "That weird guy who writes mystery with some romance in it, but you know, mostly it's urban fantasy, even though there is some nonfiction in it too and, oh yeah, I love guns and fluffy white poodles." Don't be that guy. Just don't. Think of yourself as a movie. Come up with a tight logline to describe what you write. Make it good. And paste that sucker all over your personal cybernetics system, or you know, whatever you're using for your web presence. Because there's this insane theory going around that readers, or potential readers, like to know what to expect from an author before they commit to buying her books.



So…No. 3: What about advertising? Am I responsible for that, too?

Yep. But don’t worry too much about this unless you happen to have a good chunk of expendable change lying around. I’ve done some print advertising and I’ve done some online advertising, and the truth is, it’s hit or miss and tends not to have huge impact on sales in the long run. Actually, I’ve spent more money on advertising than I’ve earned back, so…take it or leave it. A marketing representative for Harlequin told me once that advertising’s best benefit is to get your name out there, even if it doesn’t sell books, because name recognition for an author is HUGE. If you want to experiment, look into Facebook ads and Twitter ads. They’re both relatively inexpensive and easy to control the dynamics.

Which leads to the biggie. No. 4: Royalties. This can’t be right…can it?

We all hoped that signing with a publisher would lead us to fortune, but the truth is, very few debut authors make money from their first royalties. I’ve heard some claim they do, but mostly, I’ve heard authors despair over low or no royalties. Honestly, I’m lucky if I can buy a full tank of gas with my quarterly royalties. Generally, I’m lucky if I can buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks with my royalty checks. So, don’t freak out when you get your first checks. Keep in mind it also takes time for third parties such as Amazon to report your earnings to your publisher, so that first check will probably be smaller than your second. And hey, there’s a chance you’ll be one of the lucky ones who hits it big, but if you aren’t, it’s okay. Don’t. Give. Up. You’re a writer. So, write!

Because, No. 5: It takes a backlist to earn a living as a writer.

That seems to be a hard truth in this business, especially these days. Unless you’re lucky enough to get signed to a mass distribution print line (such as one of Harlequin’s category titles), you will have to work hard to gain a readership. Chances are, your publisher understands this too, and will encourage you to keep writing and submitting to them. And when I say it takes a backlist to earn a living, I’m not talking three or four books. I’m talking 10…20…25 books. Maybe more. But it’s true that the more you write, the more readers will latch onto you. I’m starting to see this with my own series, but even I have a long way to go.

Got any questions or (experienced authors) any advice to add? Leave a comment!

But most of all, good luck. Because, heaven help you, you're a writer. And everyone knows...


And if you want to read another author's perspective on this, I recommend stopping by this blog post written by the lovely Aimeé Duffy.
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