When it comes to novels, publishers know that the first few weeks are crucial. Last year, a study from Northeastern University confirmed it: works of fiction generally hit “best-seller” status within just two to six weeks of publication. The fate of most books is determined in a matter of weeks, but as any novelist knows, it can take years to break into this industry.
Behind every “make or break” moment, there are a thousand smaller moments that happen behind the scenes. As researchers like those at Northeastern University continue to study the numbers behind the best-sellers, novelists are learning the tricks of the trade in real-time. The publishing industry can be mysterious and unpredictable, but with experience, they can figure out how to navigate it–and turn it to their advantage.
We asked ten authors to tell us about the parts of the writing process no one talks about. Beyond the romance of selling a book and seeing it in print, they told us about the details that go into making all that a reality. Read on for their best tips for aspiring novelists. .
Research the business side of publishing.
“In the beginning, I wanted to think of myself as an artist and not a small business owner,” Amy Jo Burns, author of Shiner, tells us. “But the truth is, I’m both. Doing my own research on the publishing industry–how to find an agent, what kinds of books are currently selling, how to build my own website–helped me understand what it takes to get books into readers’ hands. It made me a better writer. Tending to the business side of things ultimately taught me how to value and protect the time I set aside to create.”
Take an active role in publicizing your books.
“You will have to do a fair amount of marketing and publicity on your own with any publisher, but more so with a smaller one,” Nicole Mabry, author of Past This Point, explains. “There are many affordable book PR companies you can use for this. I found one that did a book blitz for my launch, and I had about 100 book bloggers blogging about my newly released book. It was less than $100 for this.
“Most authors will publicize their work on all social media channels. Instagram is full of bookstagrammers. I started by finding authors who wrote in a similar genre as I had and then following their followers. It’s a good idea to beef up your Instagram page before you start doing this so when others go onto your page, they’ll want to follow you.
“Lastly, once you’ve signed with a publisher, join the Debut Authors group for the year your book will be published. It’s an amazing way to help publicize your book and help others publicize theirs. But you will also have a huge support system of other writers who are going through the exact same thing as you–the debut year.”
Build an audience before you publish your first book.
“I wish I’d started connecting with readers and creating an audience long before I published my debut novel,” Daniela Petrova, author of Her Daughter’s Mother, tells us. “If I could do it all over again, I would start blogging about books I love, books similar to the one I’m writing, even before I found an agent. I’d do giveaways of books I enjoy, interview authors, and talk to other readers about the books I’m reading.
“It’s never too early to start establishing yourself as a writer. You can’t build a community of supporters overnight. Promoting a book is hard and you’ll need supporters when the time comes.”
Learn to accept rejection.
“We are all familiar with the statistics saying the average number of rejections from an agent is around 100,” Diane C. McPhail, author of The Abolitionist’s Daughter, tells us. “Most of us are familiar with the astonishing number of rejections received for books that went on to make the top seller lists. Yet, in the process, rejection can become disheartening.
“This tip was a gift to me from my husband: He set 100 as the winning goal, like a scoreboard. Every rejection then became a point toward reaching that ‘winning’ number and therefore cause for celebration. That approach made all the difference.”
Set long-term goals.
“The first novel may not be the one that gets sold,” multicultural mystery and young adult fantasy writer Jennifer J. Chow explains. “In fact, I have several shelved manuscripts.” The secret? Keep going.
“My main tip for writing is BIC (bottom in chair)—because you can’t revise blank pages,” Chow continues. “Publishing is a subjective business, but with perseverance, you can succeed. I urge writers to check out #BeforeMyBookDeal on Twitter for a behind-the-scenes look at the publishing journey.”
For Chow, publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. “For writing goals, I’d recommend setting long-term objectives,” she says. “Also, everyone has a different route to publication: indie, hybrid, or traditional. Research them all and see which path resonates with you.”
Make a powerful first impression.
“An important thing to keep in mind is that the publishing industry loves debut novels, which is great when you are a debut and are shiny and exciting,” novelist and performer Laura Hankin says. “But if your debut doesn’t do well, it can be harder to get a second novel published. So if you do get a book deal for your first novel, first of all, congratulations, and secondly, go all out when it comes to promoting it!
“But if you’ve written a first novel that’s only getting mild interest from editors and agents, and you have an idea for a second one that seems to elicit a much more enthusiastic response, it’s worth considering shelving that first manuscript temporarily and making the more exciting idea your debut, rather than trying to get your first manuscript published in a way where it won’t be set up to sell particularly well.”
Meet your deadlines.
“If you intend to write only one book, you can write and rewrite to your heart’s content,” The New York Times best-selling author Kay Hooper says. “But if you intend to make a career of writing, know that you will never, ever, ever produce a book that is the perfect one you had in your head when you started. Deadlines have to be met, and the professional writer knows that you write the absolute best novel you can within the time given to you–and then you move on.”
Ask a lot of questions.
“Publishing is an incredibly difficult industry to navigate, especially for new writers,” Dan Stout, author of Titanshade and Titan’s Day, says. “But the good news is that the vast majority of people in publishing both want you to succeed and are happy to share their experiences. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, whether you’re talking to agents, editors, or publishers. And don’t forget other authors. You’ll be surprised to find how accommodating your new peers can be.
“That said, I do have one caveat about asking advice: because so much of publishing is idiosyncratic, it’s worthwhile to ask several people the same question. Get multiple viewpoints, and you’re more likely to find a path that’s suited to your writing career.”
Respect your colleagues.
“My biggest tip for writers navigating the publishing world is don’t be difficult,” USA Today best-selling author Carter Wilson explains. “Publishing exists to make money. It’s a business. If you are fortunate enough to have interest from publishers, know that you will be part of a team whose job it is to get your manuscript out to the world. Every person on that team has a role, and they all know their roles better than you know their roles. Listen to their advice.
“Don’t be precious about every single word of your book. Don’t rant and rave because the cover isn’t what you envisioned, or your title gets changed. That doesn’t mean you can’t stand your ground when it’s important, but don’t be difficult to work with. Publishers will turn you down if you have a reputation for being difficult, regardless of how strong your writing is.”
Find a professional community that will support and encourage you.
“I wish I’d understood years earlier that writing and publishing aren’t done in isolation,” National Book Award finalist Julia Phillips says. “Sitting down by yourself to work on your manuscript or read books is absolutely important, but you do those things better when you’re connected to a community. I believe that with all my heart.
“Your reading deepens when you’re discussing books in a book club; your writing develops when you’re in a workshop; your understanding of the publishing industry advances when you listen to what people who work in the field have to say.
“You might find your community in person or online, and what it looks like may shift as your needs do. Whatever form it takes, the act of connection is what matters. Reaching out to others helps you at every step of your creative process and career.”
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