In April 2021, I became a published author. My book Kicking and Screaming: a Memoir of Madness and Martial Arts entered the world after years of writing, editing, pitching, fielding rejections, more editing, more pitching, and finally publishing. I’ve learned a lot during the publishing process and am at a point where I can begin paying it back (and forward) by helping other authors.
Here are my top ten pieces of advice I’ve learned over the years it took to deliver my book to readers’ hands:
1. Practice writing ABOUT your book.
Learn how to write a proposal (more appropriate for nonfiction but good practice for fiction) and query letters. Submission instructions will vary, so save each query letter and other information you send (sample chapters, author bio, etc.) to be re-purposed later. Jane Friedman’s site has a wealth of information for emerging authors.
2. Get a good headshot.
I had professional photos taken by an artist I found on Facebook after discovering we had a few mutual friends. I did a photo shoot in January 2020 and have used the photos dozens of times ever since.
Photos can cost anywhere from $200 to over $500 or even more. If this is not feasible, have a friend help you with a good camera phone. Be sure to credit your photographer when you use your photo, whether you used a professional or a friend.
3. Have your manuscript edited before you even think about submitting it.
If you don’t want to hire an editor, at least have it copy edited and proofread. I wish I had done this because the team and I spent several hours editing, re-editing, and re-re-editing my work. You can find freelancers on Reedsy.com. If you can’t pay someone, ask a scrupulous friend to proofread it. They may not be able to help you with content, but they can help you flush out typos.
4. Publishing is more varied today than it ever has been, which means it’s both full of opportunities and a bit overwhelming.
Research the three main vehicles for publishing—traditional, indie/hybrid, and self-publishing—to determine which is right for you. Again, Jane Friedman’s site is a great place to start, as well as Writer’s Digest.
5. Read your work aloud as you are editing.
It’s amazing the things you’ll catch when you are speaking your words rather than scanning with your eyes. I read much of my work out loud now, whether it’s personal or professional, before I turn in the finished product.
6. Give yourself time to gush and be excited when you see you final manuscript, your cover design, and your “pages” (what the manuscript looks like in book layout form). THEN, after you have gotten over the initial excitement and can be more objective, get back to work scanning for any errors or needed changes. You need a clear head for this.
7. Plan social media posts in advance.
You don’t have to do everything in advance, but if you have an ongoing theme or are doing a run of similar posts up to publication date, you can save time by doing the planning and pre-posting up front. I ran a chapter campaign for about forty days up until my memoir’s publication date. I also worked full-time, so I knew I would need to have things ready to go quickly on busy days. I selected a line or a few favorite lines from each chapter and a picture to accompany it, along with a picture of my book’s cover. This worked well because my book was a memoir, and I had plenty of personal photos to accompany it. If your book is fiction you may want to do different “teasers.” A novelist friend posted songs and videos that embodied his books as well as character sketches and snippets of the books’ contents.
If you have a professional author page with Facebook, the publisher/business suite allows you to pre-schedule Facebook and Instagram posts.
8. Write articles on your subject matter in advance.
Again, this applies more to nonfiction, but fiction writers could get creative and write about topics their characters are experiencing. See if your publication date falls near any relatable “awareness” days, weeks, or months. My memoir about mental illness was published in April 2021, so that was an easy tie-in to Stress Awareness Month and Mental Health Awareness Month in May.
9. Interact with people in the industry, authors, and influencers.
Asking for endorsements is a necessary evil in publishing. It was extremely uncomfortable for me (I’m still pretty shy and sensitive and hate asking for “favors”), as it is for many authors. I’d luckily formed a relationship with one of my “blurbers” at least a year before publication, so I was comfortable asking him to read my manuscript and write a blurb for my book, and he in turn was comfortable responding. Build relationships early and be sure to support others in turn. Support is not a one-way street. I recently had the pleasure of reading another author’s work and am excited to write my first cover blurb for her.
10. Hire a publicist or learn some DIY publicity.
Book publicity can be quite expensive, but in my personal experience it was well worth the money. My publicists had in-roads to media and experience pitching that I didn’t. I also work a day job and simply didn’t have the time or energy to do that myself. I wrote articles and did podcast interviews (which I loved to do) while they made the arrangements. It’s like working with a realtor to purchase your first house—they do a ton of work so you can easily make the major decisions and show up where you need to.
These days book publicity firms are more flexible and will with work with an author’s budget, whether it is a few hundred dollars or several thousand.
An alternative is DIY publicity, and there are resources that can help you. Learn from people who have done their own publicity. My paid publicity campaign is over, so I am using Matchmaker.fm to book myself as a guest on podcasts.
Good luck in your publishing endeavors!