My book was officially released today, so I’m feeling a little nostalgic.(Excuse that horrible picture, please.) I can’t help but think back to that day a year ago when I got the long-awaited email from Jennifer, the acquisitions editor at Cedar Fort, saying that my writing was “engaging and entertaining” and that they were “pleased to offer me a contract” for my book, HOW TO HAVE PEACE WHEN YOU’RE FALLING TO PIECES.
I had NO idea what I was getting into.
It’s been a crazy, heart-wrenching and elating roller coaster during the last year. When people ask me if I’d do it again, I tell them my second book is nearly done–so yes, I hope to do it again, but I’m changing a few things this time around. Experience is a painful teacher, especially in the publishing business! Here are five tips for perspiring–ahem, I mean, aspiring–authors:
1) Schedule a writing time and place–and stick to it.
With three kids underfoot, writing anything was hard for me. It took awhile to realize that I just couldn’t do it when the kids were awake. So I started getting up at 5am and writing until 7am, and then writing when my toddler was taking a nap in the afternoon. That meant my four year-old got a precious hour or so to play video games, during which time he was banished (happily) downstairs, and I got some precious writing time in. My housecleaning slipped a little, and I had to learn to let a few things slide. But if you wait until the house is quiet, with scented candles and a bubble bath is drawn, it just won’t happen.
2) Make it absolutely perfect, whole, and complete before you send in that manuscript.
It sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often this rule is broken. In my case, I actually only wrote a chapter before pitching the idea to Jennifer. I found out about a publishing fair at the local university two nights before the event and decided, why not? So I wrote the chapter really quick and pitched the idea to her at the fair (not even knowing what a pitch really is). I didn’t even look up the submission guidelines first. I know, it was a bit foolish and naive, and I still can’t believe I did that.
But miraculously, she loved the idea and wrote back within a couple weeks asking for more. I spent two weeks on four more chapters, got feedback from a few friends, tweaked them a little, and then emailed them to her. At this point I still didn’t take it seriously, so I didn’t write anything else. I didn’t want to get my hopes up.
Imagine my surprise when a couple months later, that email arrived. I pumped my fists in the air like I’d just scored a touchdown and called my husband at work. He was elated, of course, until I read him the contract. Then my jaw dropped.
They wanted the entire manuscript in 30 days.
Oh boy. Hmm. That was a problem. I was going on a two-week vacation in the middle of those four weeks, and even then–how do you write practically an entire book in thirty days? But with the help of my dear husband and my critique group, I got down to business and got ‘er done. It was a stressful, sleepless, panic-filled month.
Please, don’t do this to yourself. Obviously fiction is different–editors require the entire manuscript to be finished before they’ll even look at it. But whether it’s nonfiction or fiction, have enough faith in yourself to get it perfect (and DONE) first. Then take a break and go back through it later with a fresh perspective.
You’ve worked too hard to sell yourself short by turning in a less-than-perfect manuscript. Many editors complain that authors have great ideas and that their writing style is wonderful, but that they didn’t spend enough time editing their work. It’s worth the extra few months to make sure it gets considered seriously.
3) Start building your platform as early as you can.
In the old days, authors would turn in their books and then sit back and watch the publisher do the rest. But the market has changed dramatically. Even the big boys in New York City require a lot of marketing from their authors, and the smaller the publisher, the more promoting you’ll have to do. (If you self-publish, you’ll have to do it all by yourself.)
It takes time to build a reputation. If you wait until your book is released, or even until your book is accepted, it may be too late. Publishers look for two things: great writing and a solid platform. Even if your book is fantastic, many publishers may not take a chance on you if you aren’t trying to get your name out there. No matter how wonderful the book, if people don’t know about it, they won’t buy it.
As soon as you can, start a Facebook account under your pen name. Start using Twitter, and build up a reading list on Goodreads. Get writing quotes and interesting photos up on Pinterest. Start a blog. Enter writing contests and submit articles to magazines. Get your name out there, anywhere you can.
While you’re at it, attend writer’s conferences and meet editors and agents. Learn your craft and do your research. It will pay off a hundred times over when your editor reads your manuscript, likes it, and goes online to find out more about you. And believe me, they will. It’s a big risk for a publisher, so your job is to make that decision easier by having a platform already in place.
I was lucky, because I’d been writing for KSL.com and a newspaper called the Deseret News for a couple years. So my name was already out there, and Jennifer was able to read some of my work and decided that my writing wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t until six months before my book came out that I started a Twitter account. But now that release day is here, I’m wishing I’d begun promoting a lot sooner.
4) Keep writing, no matter what.
Writing should be fun. There will be deadlines, of course, and there will be tough days when the last thing you want to do is plop yourself in front of the computer and force your brain to work. Take a break and refresh yourself, but come right back. Even if your work is rejected, start on something else while you continue to submit it. Write different types of things to keep your mind fresh.
Writing takes practice just like playing an instrument or learning a sport. Even if your first or second (or tenth) books aren’t accepted for publication, it doesn’t mean you can’t write. Don’t give up. Being published doesn’t necessarily mean an author writes better than others, but they had the right idea at the right time and submitted it to the right publisher. Book publishing is fickle and extremely competitive. Take a break, but don’t stop writing.
You can get published. It happens every day to lucky authors across the world, so why not you? Best of luck.
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