Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What You Can Do: Twelve Easy Steps

(Edit—for more on royalties, see this morning's post by Jessica over at BookEnds.)

So, caveat: this isn't meant to be a complete list. I'm sure I'll revisit this post and add to it as time goes on, but I've been thinking about it for awhile now and would rather share it with you sooner than later.

So, without further ado: what can you do to sell you book, and more importantly, when should you do what?

1. Completion of your novel. Congratulations! You've written an entire novel (~60,000 – 100,000 words)! Now go edit it. No, don't tweet about how awesome your book is (yet). Edit.

2. Six months later... congratulations again! Between your critique group, your trusted first-readers, and your biggest editor/critic (i.e. you, at least at this point), you've polished your novel to a high lustre. Such a high lustre, fact, that you've begun using British spelling and grammar without even realising it. Ace! (Apparently you are also stuck in the 1980s.)

Have you written a truly smashing query letter yet? You have? Ace again. All mod cons, as they say. (British slang, incidentally, is weird.) Anyway—time to start querying Nathan, Janet, Kristin, Jessica, and all the rest. Cast a wide net, and remember: no exclusives!

3. Three months later... you're still querying? Of course you are, unless you're luckier than Malachi Constant. What, did you think this was going to be easy? Keep at it.

4. Three months after that... Hooray! After several form rejections, a few polite refusals on partials, and one or two fulls, you've gotten an offer of representation. (To make this as simple a scenario as possible, let's say this is one of your dream agents and you accept the offer immediately.) Don't start the party just yet, though. Now you've got real work to do.

If you've got representation, you're that much closer to getting published, and so at this point you need to start expanding (or straight-up building) your platform. If you've already got a blog, ramp it up; if you've already got a Twitter account, tweet it up; if you're on Facebook, start making connections like crazy. If not, get going right now. Start playing the networking game. Check Go Daddy to see if your name has already been registered as a domain name. If not, consider buying it. If so, try and figure out a good alternate name. (Hint: http://www.newjohnsmith1-2-3today.info/ is not a good name.)

To be honest, there's no such thing as "too early," but the offer of representation is, in my mind, when things get serious. If you haven't given thought to blogging/Twittering/website-ing/Facebooking/&c, start now.

5. Another three months after that... O frabjous day! Your book has been sold to an editor! You must now do the following:

Party. Nothing major: you're a working author now. Live it up a little, but do not get outrageously drunk or stab your wife with a penknife. You are not Truman Capote or Norman Mailer (respectively).

Hit the ground running. Discuss everything with your agent and newfound editor. Ask as many questions as you can think of. If you are, like me, unmarried, childless, and have relatively few obligations outside of your day job, I highly recommend you make promoting yourself and your book your new, all-consuming hobby. Figure out what you're willing to commit to (I recommend as much as you think you can safely handle) and let your agent and editor know you're willing to work hard. If you've got substantial commitments (e.g. sextuplets, reality TV show), find a balance.

Ramp it up. If you haven't bought that mega sweet domain name yet, do it. Blog about yourself and your book. Tweet about it. Change your latest Facebook employment to "author" and announce your good fortune in your status. Network, network, network.

Let your critique group know. Go to literary events. If you don't already know the booksellers at your local stores (national chains and indies) by their first names, now's the time to start. Aside from the fact that they're most likely wonderful people who will turn out to be excellent friends, they're going to be very helpful later on (see below).

An aside: definitely talk this over with your editor, but if you feel like it's a good idea and your advance is big enough, consider hiring your own publicist. He or she may be able to work wonders for you.

Oh, and yes—if you're not too up on all this computer mumbo-jumbo (although you should be), see if you can get your computer science major nephew (or some similarly inclined relative or friend) to help you out for a nominal fee (or, better yet, for free). If you happen to know a web designer who can make you an awesome website, so much the better. At this point, it's all about who you know. Keep asking yourself that: who do you know who is able and willing to help you?

Now, in case you weren't keeping track, in this oh-so-magical best-case scenario, it's been fifteen months since you finished your novel. You now have representation. Is this unrealistic? Yes, I think, slightly, but don't assume that novel you finished fifteen months ago was your first one, and do assume that you're a talented writer with a good story, and suddenly it's not so far-fetched after all.

Oh—and order business cards. You're an author now.

Now then—

6. Nine months before on-sale: You might have comp titles already. Ask your agent to check on them for you. If you're neurotic and wealthy enough, pay to track the sales of your comps on BookScan. Discuss potential sales numbers with your agent. Be as realistic as possible. Do not drive your agent insane.

7. Six months before on-sale: You signed your contract long ago and the book has already been through launch meetings over at your publisher's house, meaning that everyone who's going to be involved in selling your book to retailers (marketing, publicity, sales, &c) has known about your book for a few months now. You've got your very own ISBN, retail price, descriptive copy, sell sheets, title information sheets—the works. What's happening now? Well, sales calls. And, if you're lucky, co-op. That means book stores are about to find out all about you.

Remember those friends you made at your local book stores 6+ months ago? Call them. If you haven't already told them about your book, tell them now. Ask if you can do author events, readings, signings, everything, anything. (Discuss this with your agent first.) If you have friends who are established authors, talk to them. See if they'll blurb or promote your book, allow you to guest-blog for them, read with them at area book stores, and so on. You can't do too much of this. You really can't.

Continue to blog, update your website, tweet, guest-blog, &c. The more people hear about you, the better. (Assuming you're always polite and professional—and you are, aren't you? Good.)

8. Three months before on-sale: Keep up your relentless self-promotion, but keep it classy. Follow through on everything. Keep the lines of communication between you, your agent, and your editor open. If you've committed to readings, tours, podcasts, blog posts, e-mail blasts, local radio shows, infomercials, impromptu subway performances, &c—make good on those commitments. If you got your own publicist (see Step #5), he or she will be helping to organize all of these things. Oh, and speaking of organizing, have you scheduled yourself a release party yet?

9. On-sale date: Breathe. Do not check the sales figures yet, they won't be up. Relax. You feel good, you feel great, you feel wonderful. Have that release party you planned three months ago, publish one more blog entry or tweet, and call it a week. You've earned it.

10. One week after on-sale: Your publisher will have your week one sales available. Ask your agent/editor if they can forward them to you. If you're sufficiently neurotic and wealthy (see Step #6), compare these numbers to your BookScan numbers and to the first-week sales of your comp titles. Celebrate or panic accordingly.

11. One month after on-sale: You might have some reviews. If they're positive, blog, tweet, podcast, &c about them. If they're negative, say nothing. Do not try to explain away a bad review in your blog—you're only creating more links to negative press. And for the love of God, do not pull an Alice Hoffman.

12. Three months after on-sale: You're hard at work on your next novel, mate. (This British slang thing is seriously addictive.) Publishing is a business and you're a professional now; celebrate your victories, be gracious about any pitfalls or shortcomings, learn from your mistakes, and keep writing.


  1. Not only is this list going to be helpful when I get to these different stages, but it's a great help now and a way for me to visualize what it will be like.
    And yes, I was daring and bold by using the word 'will', not 'might'.

  2. Twelve EASY steps? What a lie. Hehehe. But thanks for the guide -- I've bookmarked it for soon. ;)

  3. Eric,

    A most excellent and timely post (for me, anyway. I've just entered step #6, and I'm in the process of writing an email to my editor asking about ISBN number, blurbs, etc.)

    I better get started on some comp title research!

    Your blog is great, btw. Very informative, just the kind of inside baseball that makes for compelling reading. Thanks!

  4. Now this is a 12-step programme (note British spelling?!) that I can get on board with. Thanks for the great post!

  5. Wow! I'm at step 4.5 (on submission) and look at all the awaits after that! Thanks, Eric, fantastic run down.

  6. Oh bloody hell, is there no end to this bollucks?

  7. Thank you, Eric! I'm saving this page in Favorites, even though I shudder every time you use the word "promote" - I'm far too shy for the self-promotion business. Sigh. Thank goodness for email!

  8. Thanks, fantastic post! Bookmarking it now. :)

  9. Excellent post (and fun to boot!)

  10. Wonderfully entertaining breakdown of the entire process. I'm sure I will refer to this for months to come.;)

  11. Good post! Although I'd say that during all this, you should already be hard at work on your next novel.

    If only we could all be so lucky as to get representation so quickly!

    Thumbs up for the Sirens of Titan reference, btw.

  12. Great post, though if you're hoping to write a book a year, you should probably be done with novel number two by the time number one hits the shelves.

    I know a lot of people aren't book-a-year folks, but it seems to be a good idea to aim for that if you can keep up the quality (and/or if you write genre stuff). At least, that's my perception...

  13. Been reading ever since your guest spot on Nathan Bransford's blog and you continue to be a wealth of information. Great post and recommended reading for all of us unpubbed.

  14. Thanks for the great post. Loads of good information in it. The only thing I might do a bit differently is #12. I would start working on my next WIP after the first book sold at least until I got my editorial letter.

    Celebrate the sale of your novel for a day or two, but then it's back to work writing your next book.

  15. @Rick Daley - surely you mean bollocks...

    Thanks for this - relentless self-promotion is difficult for us shy and self-effacing Brits.

  16. I'll keep it short and sweet - this is awesome. I have it bookmarked for after I get through those first few steps!

  17. OH my God,Thank you Eric. I so needed this. I am at step five and had no clue if my thinking was right on the next steps. Looks like I'm doing fine. Although, I do need to have a party.

  18. This post reminded me of sex. It made me elated and exhausted at the same time. So... I'm bloody well off for a nap. Cheerio, ta-ta, and all that sort of rubbish. Carry on, mates!

  19. I'm bookmarking this. Very valuable information.

  20. In fact, Rick, this isn't bollocks at all. This post is the dog's bollocks.

  21. Jolly well done, mate!

    I'm just chuffed to bits you wrote this smashing post. No more faffing around for me.

    Seriously, it's so kind of you to help. Lots of useful info and good tips. Thanks so much for a thoughtful post and a bit of humour to boot.

  22. Thanks, I so needed this!
    I just signed a contract for my second sale this morning!


  23. Love, love, love you Eric! Thanks for this. I really hope to be moving from step one and two soon. Definitely starred this in my reader for later. Love all the blog! Keep it coming. :)

  24. Great list but you could do with a lesson on real British slang ;)

    Anyone saying anything like 'ace' or 'mate' around here is asking to be shot, and would most likely also be classed as 'foreign'.

    'Foreign' in Britain tends to be slang for 'speaks with a funny accent or uses weird words or speaks too quietly'.

  25. This is exactly what I wanted to see today. Great information, easy steps, things every author can do NOW and THEN. Thank you!

  26. What a great post. If you decide to make post links on the side that are the most helpful posts, I think you should add this one.

  27. A very helpful post (as viewed from step 3)! I bookmarked in case I get to step 4 and beyond.

  28. Are you still going to do the post about bestseller lists you mentioned on another site? I was really looking forward to a breakdown of how they work!

  29. Just discovered this site. You got me at Malachi Constant -- I LOVE Sirens of Titan!

  30. What a valuable guideline :) I printed it off and have it in my "writing research" file at home for reference.

  31. Awesome post, thanks! I landed my agent about 3 months ago, and they're just beginning to pitch it to publishers, so this was extremely timely.

  32. Would it be different for me? I've written a non fiction book about Lewis Carroll and all my time is sumptuously occupied on tracking down page numbers for references, organising permissions and panicking because I've written 1861 instead of 1862 etc.

    Do you know of a good publicist - British naturally. (Actually I am British. )

  33. Read, saved and will look at over and over!

    Sheesh. Long way to go.

  34. This is a wonderful list for all new writers. I've already went through most steps. Still working on getting my book out there. Thanks for the tips. They will help me for my next book. I will repeat to myself that I'm now an accomplished author.


  35. Hi, I am an new author and my new fantasy novel, "Gateway to DreamWorld," was released on August 12th. I have followed your steps and I am now in the promoting phase of the process and it is overwhelming.

    I would like to invite readers who enjoy fantasy/sci-fi to purchase a copy from Amazon.com or Barnes&Nobles.com.

    Any and all reviews are greatly appreciated.

    Brenda Estacio

  36. this is helpful, thank you! although now i'm whining in the knowledge that, yes, I will be 50 before my first book ever gets published. i suppose I'll be 50 even if my book doesn't get published, so I should just go with it, right?

  37. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I think it's probably a bit optimistic on the timing, but it would be nice to be pleasantly surprised with this time-line some day.

  38. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm overtly fond of lists, and naturally drawn to anything that's bulleted or numbered. Breaking down this process not only showed me how daunting the writing process is, but how much up I'm for the challenge.

    And....I'm in between steps 1 and 2. Awesome. Only eleven more to go.

    A million thanks.

  39. Great information! It's good to know up front what we're up against. I'm in between steps 1 and 2, have a website up and going and another manuscript waiting for its turn at editing. I know it's going to be a long haul, but I've been working on these two novels for the past four years.

    Patience is a virtue? No! It's a necessity!

    Thank you for sharing your insight.

  40. I sold my first novel a month ago. I think you just became my bible. Thanks!!!!

  41. Excellent post - so helpful! Very glad to have discovered your blog... I'll be back for sure!

  42. Just found this. Terrific list. Great blog. Thank you.


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