You’re done with your rewrite!
Congratulations!! You’ve completed the rewrite of your book! That’s no small feat and you should be proud of yourself. Take a moment and celebrate!
Ok good. Now, time to get back to work.
As awesome as writing and rewriting a book successfully might be, unless you’re only going to share printed copies of the manuscript with your family, it’s time to start thinking about how to put that book into the wider world.
Honestly, it’s long past time to start thinking about it. Every writer dreams of the large advance, the mad Rowling money, quitting the day job, jetting around the world on the glamorous book tour, legions of adoring fans throwing pickles at the feet.
And its not entirely beyond the realm of possibility. Though the publishing industry has changed drastically over the last few years, there is always someone willing to pay top dollar to invest in the next big thing.
But you have to face facts. The odds that YOU are the next big thing are about as good as the odds that my Jewish ex-wife will become the next Pope.
If this is the first time you’ve stopped in on my blog and you’re reading this post first, hoping for the secret sauce, before doing the hard work of writing and rewriting your novel, I promise you, there’s nothing here that will improve your odds of getting published.
But if you’re a hard-working author who strives for excellence, and whose sole goal is to build a body of work, then what you find here will prove useful.
There’s nothing practical about deciding to pursue a career as a novelist. The risks are obvious: low pay, long hours, poor reward, no benefits. There’s no union, no health insurance, no guarantee of selling your work, and no job security. The profession has one of the highest rates of suicide, alcoholism, depression, and divorce — and if you’re looking to get rich, you should probably buy an investment property on a beach in Fiji.
So why do we write?
Brother, It Ain’t About The Money
The irony is that most successful novelists didn’t start writing to make money. They write because they have to. Yes, it’s possible to auction your book to a major publisher, and if you can, maybe you should.
Cue violent objections from proud indie authors. Of whom I’m one. So pipe down. It’s not all (or even mostly) about you. I said, “maybe.”
Most writing careers are built slowly. There are steps involved. It takes time. Lots of time. And patience. And endurance. And at least a touch of madness.
Points to Consider
Now that you’ve completed your book, and I’ve quashed your dreams of mad Rowling money, let’s look at some of the things you can do to build a career. In the coming weeks, I’ll be speaking in more depth to these points, but here are some starting thoughts.
Don’t send your manuscript directly to a publisher. That’s right: DON’T. There are virtually no remaining reputable publishers who will read an unsolicited, “over the transom” manuscript anymore. Don’t take it personally, it’s about liability. So about the only way to reach a reputable publisher anymore is through an agent.
“Aaargh! How can I get published if I don’t have an agent?!”
Getting an Agent
Ask and ye shall receive. There are two good ways to get an agent. The first is through a referral. If you know an agented author, ask them to read your work. If they like it, maybe they’ll pass it on to their agent.
The second way is to submit your work directly to them, just as you might have done to a publisher in ye halcyon days of yore. There’s really no mystery to it. Google “literary agents” and you’ll find websites with endless lists of agents.
I’ll be writing much more about this in the next few weeks, as I’ll be embarking on this journey myself. Join the newsletter if you’d like to join me on this adventure.
Should You Self-Publish?
For all practical purposes, the stigma against self-publishing (aka, vanity publishing) is gone. Rants from certain snobby Huffington Post contributors notwithstanding. The physical quality of self-published books now rivals that of most traditional publishers, but the content is obviously far more erratic. Any nine-year-old with a finished NaNoWriMo project and an internet connection can self-publish the most godawful tripe.
But the cost of self-publishing has made the process democratic and appealing not only to those who aren’t able to secure a traditional publisher, but also to those who recognize that one is no longer a requirement to gaining and building a loyal readership.
And the history of self-publishing is long and honorable: Marcel Proust, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Virginia Woolf, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Walt Whitman, e.e. cummings, Gertrude Stein, William Blake. This impressive list goes on and on, back to the dawn of time.
Publishing companies are run by people. People are fallible. No one can predict with any certainty what will sell and what will gather dust on the shelves. No one knows anything. Having a traditional publisher doesn’t make you a “better” writer. It simply makes you a writer that someone else thinks they can exploit to make money.
I used to be “That Guy in Your Writing Class.” I was well-read and snooty about it. I thought that talent and diligence should somehow guarantee that a writer finds an audience. I used to look down on those fellow creatives who were always self-promoting. It seemed cheap, brazen, tawdry even.
Writing and promotion are distinctly separate skills, as I’ve learned through the last hard four years of wishing I’d taken a few marketing classes in college. And I still don’t love marketing. I’d much rather be writing fiction right now that this blog post.
But I genuinely love people. And I’m enamored of the creative process. Talking with writers about writing and the writing process is something I honestly enjoy.
I used to think marketing was beneath me, but the truth is, I was just scared. The writing means so much to me that I was (and still am) afraid that people might not like it.
Get over yourself. J.K. Rowling still shows up for movie premieres. You can certainly post ads to Facebook.
Should you have an author website? Yes, absolutely. And it should be clean, clear, and easily navigable. People want to know who you are, what you’ve done, how to contact you, what you’re working on, how many pets you have, and whether you’re single.
A website takes time, energy, and regular maintenance, and it costs money. But if you want people to know about your creative work, it’s the cornerstone of your creative business.
As such, I’m going to be taking some time off this year to redesign and relaunch my own website, this one right here that you’re reading. So expect me to take a few weeks’ hiatus from blogging this summer.
Social Media & Blogging
Are you on Facebook? Twitter? More to the point: Are your books on social media? Social media is the way we connect to our readers. There are infinitely creative ways to maintain and grow this connection, from blogging about current events and social issues, to providing information and content (such as I do), to holding contests and offering giveaways of products and services. I know some writers who hold regular competitions and offer their books as prizes.
The secrets to social media are consistency and engagement. Don’t binge and write six blog posts in a day, then none for six months. At the beginning, no one will be paying attention to you. That’s ok. Just keep going. Write about what interests you. You never know, it may become your next book.
Must you have a blog to be a successful novelist? No. Must you be on social media? No. But it helps. Unless you want to write novels for forty years before anyone starts reading you.
Media & Book Reviews
This is one of my own weakest points, I freely admit it. But there are many legit publications (Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, and Library Journal, among others) that review books. They typically take a few months to do so, they often charge a fee, and most will only do so for books not already available to the public. Major publishing companies have been doing this forever, and there’s nothing shameful or unethical about paying to have your work professionally reviewed. Most of these publications put your work into a “pool” for their reviewers to draw from, and pay those reviewers a pittance, so you’re not actually paying for an unethical “good” review (and there’s no guarantee you’ll get one), you’re paying for their administrative and operating overhead.
I have mixed feelings about trading with fellow authors for quid pro quo reviews. I’ve done it once, and the other party wrote such a glowing recommendation of my book that I felt I “owed” it to him to write a similarly good review. But his work was atrocious, and I hated the ethical quandary it put me in. I ended up sending him a note saying that I couldn’t in good conscience offer him a good review, and asked him to remove his review of my own work.
The major distribution outlets, particularly Amazon, also take a dim view of this practice, as well as the practice of paying amateur reviewers (i.e., those on Fiverr and other platforms who aren’t employed by the “legit” publications), to the point of removing such reviews without notice. Which isn’t to say don’t send your book to your book review bloggers and Goodreads friends. Just have a care about it, be respectful and ethical, and try to stay under the radar of Amazon’s thought-police.
You can write articles based on the subject of your books and link them to similar articles on the Internet.
Schedule book readings, particularly once your book is available. But you don’t have to wait that long. Even if you don’t have a physical book to sell, or even have your work published, you can exhibit your work at open readings in libraries, cafes, coffee shops, bars, and any other venue that will have you. Check with likely venues near you. More on this in an upcoming post.
There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of book awards. You can find them online and submit to them yourself. They generally require a small payment to cover administrative costs, and sometimes require copies of the book in order to be considered. Winning awards is another way to gain visibility and validate your work in the marketplace.
America is a young nation, and not particularly given to introspection. American writers—even successful ones—are often met with disdain. If you don’t believe me, take a meeting in Hollywood some time.
But why is this, do you think? It’s because the writer has power. The whole creative publishing process starts with us. Without the writer, the publisher can’t publish, the agent can’t agent, the producer can’t produce.
But with the bark of a birch tree and a charcoal stick, the writer can still write. And today, one can even publish and produce one’s own work if one wishes. The writer’s power increases daily.
It’s important to remember this. There can be a desperation that sets in: “I have to get an agent/publisher/readers! I just have to!” But you can’t forget the most important ingredient:
All of your power rests in you, and your ability to put your truth to your pages. All the rest is just window dressing.
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