Sunday, September 1, 2013

Seven Things I Wish I Had Known

Being a debut author is like entering any new phase of your life.  It's like walking into middle school for the first time as a shy 11 year old, unsure of whether you will be able to find your classrooms or remember your locker combination.  It's like joining a yoga class where everyone else knows the routine, and you need help just to roll out your mat.  And it's like becoming a parent, holding a tiny baby in your arms and not having any clue what to do, but doing it anyway.  When my first novel, JANE IN BLOOM, was released, I wish another author had given me a checklist of things to do.  I would have happily clutched that list in both hands and checked off every single task.  So, for any of you who are debut authors, here are the seven things I wish I had known:

1.  Secure your ARCs.  In standard first time author contracts, the publisher provides a certain number of Advanced Reader Copies.  This number is relatively small, such as 25.  However, if you are going to generate any buzz for your book before it officially debuts, you need ARCs.  Blogger reviews are a good way to get the word out about your book.  But you need to provide ARCs to the reviewers.  Twenty-five ARCs will go fast!  Publishers will send some ARCs out for you to the major reviewers and some bloggers you request.  But you can do more yourself.  And every bit of buzz helps.  If the publisher doesn't want to provide more than 25 at no cost, you can ask for a provision in the contract to purchase them (it will be a nominal fee) and believe me the cost is well worth it. 

2.  Order postcards, book plates, notecards, and bookmarks.  At my publisher's recommendation, I ordered postcards with my book cover on the front and reviews on the back with the ISBN number and my website address.  I can't tell you how many of these I have used.  They make nice give aways at book signings and can be tucked into the cover of your ARC when sending off to reviewers.  I especially like Modern Postcard.  The quality of their printing is very good, and the turnaround is fast.

The front of my postcard

The back of my postcard
I did not discover the wonderful world of book plates until later.  Book plates (for this of you who are like me and think they are plates with images of classic book covers on them) are little square stickers you can autograph and send to people who already have your book. 

My book plate designed by

Notecards are an absolute necessity.  Order some cards with your name across the top or buy a non-personalized set that fits your website/book cover style.  My first set of notecards was pale yellow with my name in red across the top--the cards matched the cover of JANE IN BLOOM.  You will use these when you mail your ARCs to bloggers, when you send copies of your book to teachers or contest winners, for thank yous to your agent and editor.  I have reordered notecards three times already!
Some authors also order bookmarks and matching business cards.  You can format them to include your book cover and a favorite quote from your book.  My friend, Ann Haywood Leal, printed these beautiful bookmarks and business cards for her debut novel, ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER.
Ann Haywood Leal's Bookmark and Business Card
3.  Lists.  Keep lists of all the people you contact and the people who contact you.  It is time consuming to copy email addresses and names onto a spreadsheet or word document on your computer.  But you are the only person who can compile these names and you can reach out to people when your next book is released.  It is worth the time to maintain your contact list. 

4.  Book Trailer.  Some publishers will create a book trailer for new releases, so if your publisher is creating a trailer for your new release, this item is not for you.  If your publisher isn't providing a book trailer for you, consider making one yourself.  A book trailer is a wonderful marketing tool and is worth the investment.  Read my post with YA author Joy Preble.  Her book trailers are extremely engaging and very well done. 

5.  Write.  Do not sit and wait for your book to come out.  Keep writing.  Your best time to sell another book is between your sale and release date.  So write, write, write! Laurie Halse Anderson is running her Sixth Annual Write for Fifteen Minutes a Day Challenge right now.  Join in.  Here's the link.

6.  Network.  I can't say enough about this.  Get out there.  Build your Author Platform.  (See my interview with  author and blogger Cynthia Leitich Smith for guidelines on the best way to do this).  Sign up for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Tumblr--whichever one feels most comfortable to you.  But be present.  Today's authors have to be visible online and can no longer hide behind our book jackets.  Find your author voice and establish yourself.  It will help you promote your book and build your career. 

7.  Don't Compare.  This is the most difficult of the tasks to accomplish.  Don't compare your path to anyone else's.  Your reviews, your sales and your journey are unique to you alone.  Don't let the business of being an author get in the way of doing what you love best.  Write.

I wish you all the best!


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