You've finished your manuscript. Yay! But if you think the hard work is over, think again.
The path to publication can be long, winding and bumpy as hell. So, buckle up and suck it up as we embark on the next stage of the journey.
I knew squat about this part, starting out. When I finished my first full manuscript, I had to post - yes, printed paper, in an envelope, with stamps, put in a postbox and no, it wasn't that long ago - a synopsis, partial and cover letter to my chosen publisher. I thought I'd researched the place in their categories where my story would fit best. I was wrong. But thankfully they corrected me on that. I thought I'd written the best story possible. Wrong again. There were three rounds of revisions to get through before it sold and the first one felt like climbing Everest. But even more thankfully, they thought it was worth working on. My learning curve was steep, particularly from book one to book two. And it didn't stop there. I had to learn about editing and Social Media and website design and marketing and promotion and time management and the list went on.
So, picking up from where we left off in the first post of this series...
Feel nauseous at the thought of someone reading your book, can't find a critique partner or beta readers, have one or the other, or both, but don't agree with what they say or feel it's an unequal relationship that's not working for you?
Suck it up.
The whole point of writing a book is so people can read it. Some people won't like it. Some will hate it. Some will never finish it. Some will love it so much they rave about it to other readers (and obviously we hope to find lots of those!). But no-one will feel anything if you don't let them read it. Them's the facts. So, get over the fear of your baby going out into the big, bad world and test the waters.
Let people know you're writing a book when you're writing it. That way, you've made a public commitment to finish the damn thing and can recruit a cheering squad who will feel invested in your career if they've been with you since the start. Chances are, if your story sounds interesting, one or more of the latter might want to read it. If it's the kind of thing they already read by the bucket-load, nurture that relationship and offer to send them a copy of the finished manuscript in exchange for some honest feedback. If they're a fellow writer who writes the same kind of thing, find out if they have a critique partner and, if they don't, offer to swap work. There are supportive groups online and writers groups in the real world that can help, too. Hunt them down. And if that doesn't recruit the support team you need, let your Social Media followers know and see who volunteers or has advice.
From the beginning, make it clear what you need to get from the relationship. Don't like the feedback you get, then take a step back and evaluate what they're saying with an open mind. If it would drastically change the story or your voice, then stick to your guns. It's YOUR STORY and no-one should EVER try to change your voice. If it's something they're not clear on or confused about or found contradictory or that messed up the continuity or made them grimace when they weren't supposed to, that's on you. So, fix it. And if you're putting in a lot of effort as a critique partner but feel you're not getting much in return, walk away. Same thing if they're sending you a bazillion words to every 60k of yours, interrupting your writing time, and particularly if they ignore everything you say. Remember any critique or feedback you get or give should be constructive. There are plenty of people out there who will run you down, what you need is someone who is on your side and wants you to succeed.
Edited the story a gazillion times, sick looking at it but can still find mistakes and feel you have to make another gazillion passes at it before releasing it into the wild?
Suck it up.
Word blindness is an occupational hazard. Because you know the story so well and have gone over it so many times, your mind starts to skip words or believe words are there when they aren't or chooses to ignore a convoluted sentence because it makes perfect sense, to you. You're in wood-for-the-trees territory and you need to find someone who can wield an ax. Ideally, someone who is anal about grammar and spelling. If you have a trusted friend who fits the bill, bribe them. If you have a writer friend who won't get distracted by the parts of the story they'd change, exchange manuscripts with them. Ideally, you want a pro. (And I have very reasonable rates if you decide to go there. Just sayin.)
The last place you want to find mistakes is in the published book. So, find/hire a fresh pair of eyes. Added bonus: While someone else is working on it, you free up time to schedule Social Media, work your way through the mountain of laundry you've ignored, see friends and family who have almost forgotten what you look like and binge watch all the episodes you've missed from favorite shows while writing the damn thing. You could even do some prep work for another book!
Uncertain where to pitch or publish your book, suck at synopsis/back-blurb/tagline writing, can't decide on a brand and are almost invisible online?
Suck it up.
Research. Plan. Organize. Execute. Hunt down books similar to yours, find out who published them and study how they're pitched (aka marketed) at readers. Take notes. Read the contents guidelines on publishers websites and learn how to submit to them. Set up email alerts for submission calls from editors so you can check if your story or new WIP would work for them. Bookmark the relevant sites. Ditto for competitions and upcoming Twitter pitches. Follow the people most likely to run the latter. If taking the Indie route, read every relevant piece of information from authors who are successful and give yourself time to learn everything you need to do to prep your manuscript for upload (more about that in next week's post).
When it comes to the dreaded synopsis and back-blurb/tagline creation, find as many examples of them as you can online, dissect them and keep re-writing them until you get it right. Ask for feedback from your critique partner and beta readers. A/ Ask the same people for a handful of words they'd use to describe your writing and B/ Look at how other authors in your genre have branded themselves, then put A/ and B/ together to form your own brand while ensuring it's not the same as someone else. Hit Social Media, hunt down published authors with massive followings, study what they're posting and how often, adapt your posts accordingly and tie it in to your brand/release dates. Schedule posts in advance where possible, link as many of your Social Media accounts as you can without turning your posts into spam and learn how to create eye-catching, original graphics and interesting content that isn't continually pimping your book. Note the kind of posts that get you the most likes and shares and post more of them. Once you've done all of the above, make a to-do list for the run-up to your book launch so you can rinse and repeat with each new release.
Haven't got a clue when it comes to setting up a website, aren't sure if you should use your own name or a pseudonym, don't know what to put in a newsletter/how to get subscribers/how often to send one out and don't see the point in wasting time on any of those things until you've sold/published a book?
Suck it up.
Being prepared for publication matters. Publishers notice it. Agents notice it. Readers notice it. You'll save time in the long run. And you won't have to scramble to toss it all together after you've sold/are published, when what you should be doing is writing your next book. When it comes to websites, look for two things starting out: Cheap and user friendly. Free will get you ads which aren't related to your work and non-specific domain names. Cheap can mean paying a small amount monthly and should include the option to transfer a domain name from somewhere else in case the one you settle on is cheaper on another site. Your domain name and website are investments and as such, can be written off as an expense when you start filling in tax forms. And yes, you should be thinking about that kind of thing from the get-go.
What name to use is a personal decision but should involve a check to make sure it isn't already being used by someone else. It's also worth checking to see whether it's taken as a domain name. Once the decision is made, you should nab the domain name and set up an email address and Social Media accounts in that name so everything can be linked together and it's easy for people to find. Calling yourself writergurl or smexywordz or any of the other catchy phrases that might have worked when you were starting out, won't cut it professionally or get your author name out there. So, settle on one early and use it as a foundation stone to build on. Start posting about your writing and following authors and readers in the same genre, using hashtags like #amwriting to build up your own following on Social Media. Then start building your website, using the brand you have created and taking hints from the websites of authors whose success you seek to emulate. You can and will make numerous mistakes while doing this, but it's all part of the learning curve and by the time it goes live, you'll have a better idea of what you're doing, which in turn will make it easier to update everything when you release a new book. And yes, you want both a contact form and newsletter sign up at this point, because it can take time to build up subscribers and you want the cheering squad you have recruited kept up to date in case they miss something on Social Media.
Send out a newsletter filled with the same repetitive content every week and chances are readers will look at it once or twice, then it will end up in their junk mail folders. Send one out monthly or when you have news and they're more likely to keep opening and reading it. Even then, it can't be all about your book. You should give them something fun or interesting to read, share things you've learned about writing or reviews of books you've loved. You don't have to share your life story or reveal all your deepest, darkest secrets but the content should be personal and reflect who you are so readers can connect with you and continue to invest in your future. That way, your success becomes partly their success and is worth celebrating and sharing with others. If in doubt, return to the authors whose success you wish to emulate, study what they put in their newsletters and how often they are sent out.
Uncertain what to do marketing-wise, find meta-data confusing, think cover art is a problem for someone else, tend to undervalue your work price-wise and haven't thought about your next story or how many books you can produce?
Suck it up.
When you sell a book to a traditional publisher or choose to self-publish, everything involved with the marketing, promotion and retailing of that book should be of interest to you. This is your career and you have invested time and money in it, because even if you haven't spent physical $'s or £'s, time is money. How a book is marketed is as much a part of your branding as the content. How visible that book is to readers is of paramount importance, you don't want it to get lost in the crowd. How much it sells for could draw a line between eating or starving which in turn effects the decisions you make about a day job and how many hours you can free up to write.
If you sign with a traditional publisher, you form a partnership. An editor will work with you on the content of the book and when it meets the required standard, it will be handed over to the marketing department who will oversee things like the cover art and promotion. But your work here is not necessarily done. How much better you know your characters and the story will be of use to them. You may be asked to fill in an art fact sheet with details of how the characters look, the setting and examples of key scenes. This will help them decide on a cover. You may be asked to provide a few key words to describe the story, like friends-to-lovers or secret baby or billionaire or New York or Rom-Com, which will become metadata, so the book is easier for readers to find. It's all part of selling a book and is the exact same stuff you will use when self-publishing. The only difference is the level of control and the input you will have to make in terms of $'s or £'s and time. When traditionally published, those costs are absorbed by the percentage of cover price you have agreed to give them in your contract. When self-publishing, you either pay for the rights to a pic and add the time it will take for you to produce a cover or you pay someone to do it, the latter requiring the same info you provide in an art fact sheet.
Pricing is a different beast and when traditionally published, you will have no say in it. You trust your publisher knows the market and what they're doing and that any promotional prices have been carefully considered. When self-publishing, you have to take on that role. Research what books of a similar ilk and length within your genre are selling at while taking into consideration how new you are to the marketplace, the percentages offered on cover price and how the price can be used as a promotional tool, particularly if the book is part of an ongoing series. Undervalue your book and the reader will, too. Have another book or books linked to your first one and you may decide to use a lower price or free copies to entice them to buy the others.
First thing an editor/reader will want to know when they buy your book and love it is if you have anything else they can consider buying and/or what the next one is about. And regardless of whether you go the trad or Indie route, you must be realistic with your predicted output. Some books will be easier to write than others. Sometimes real life will get in the way. If you have a day job, you have to work around it. Take all of that into consideration when signing a contract for more than one book or advertising a release schedule. Remember the partnership you hope to form with a publisher and your readers and don't break their trust by making promises you can't keep. Yes, there will be times when books are late or release dates have to be pushed back, but you can't make a habit of it.
Bottom line: Prepping for publication may seem optimistic, particularly if you haven't completed a manuscript (and the latter is most definitely your first priority!), but there is more to the business end of writing than putting words on a page. Networking with other writers is the first step towards building a platform. Letting the people who may be interested in reading your book know you are writing one is another step. Having those people visit your website and sign up for a newsletter gives you a mailing list you can market your book to before it's released. That platform can help generate a buying buzz on launch day, which has a knock-on effect on the algorithms online retailers use to increase a book's visibility. A professional attitude prior to publication and regular, reliable output of quality content, garners trust in both you and your work. Knowing the market, what you're aiming to achieve, how much time you've allowed yourself to reach that goal and how seriously you take you work, makes you less of an investment risk. A chef won't serve a culinary masterpiece without sourcing the ingredients and laying them out prior to cooking. Prepping for publication is no different.
Next week in the Suck It Up series, we talk about what you need to do to self-publish your book and market a new release to readers. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments, let me know below or track me down on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.