Friday, January 25, 2019

Establishing Yourself before Your Book Is Published: Submitting, Platform, and More

Book journeys are divided into very distinct experiences:  the creation of the book and the selling of the manuscript.  Many writers struggle more with one than the other.  I worked with a private client who was aces in marketing; she already had a website for her book before she'd finished editing it.  Another had a background in graphic design and was all about the book's beautiful appearance--we mostly worked together on the writing, which came harder to him.  You may cringe at the thought of promoting yourself (selling your manuscript involves selling yourself too!) or you may be all over it.  

But since publishing is a business--meaning, however altruistic the agent or publisher is, however much they love books and writing and want to support authors, there's financial gain behind each imprint--it makes sense that publishers look for books they can sell.  Not just support, but make money on.  A lot of this, nowadays, is in our courts as authors.  Publishers rely on us to spread the word, connect with book clubs, be savvy on social media, get blurbs.  We often hire pros to help (publicists) but if we can establish our online presence sooner rather than later, all goes much more easily.  

This week's newsletter talks about a couple of ways to approach this process and shares links I've found useful.  

1. Submitting excerpts of your book pre-publication.
A reader from the UK recently did the end-of-year review in my post at the beginning of January (scroll down to see).  She was pleasantly surprised at all she'd accomplished on her book and felt ready to tackle the next task:  get some of her shorter pieces published.  

It's a good move.  But how do you go about it?  

Agents love seeing credentials.  They are businesspeople too, and you're a better bet if you've already tasted the publishing world with essays, short stories, articles, and other publications.  As part of your query letter, you get to list these.  You can also talk about contests you've won, awards, anything that spotlights your business worth as an author.  

Equally good, especially for nonfiction, are life credentials that support your book's topic and garner you an audience.  Think of lectures given, volunteer jobs, service that relates to your story.  All part of your cred.

But sometimes it's hard to move from writing to marketing yourself--the essence of submitting work for publication.  You may feel stalled when you contemplate it.  It helps me to break it down into steps.

* Research:  begin a list of lit journals, magazines, websites, blogs, etc., that might be a good fit for your kind of writing--and especially your book's topic.   Think of special interest groups that address that topic.  Take time with this--there's no rush and it's important to find the right fit.  Otherwise, you'll waste effort and get discouraged.  I give myself six months to gather information.  Then I select the top ten places and decide what to send.

*  Try an excerpt:  If you can excerpt your book, choose a short section and craft it into a stand-alone piece, it will serve you in two ways.  You get the cred and you get interest in the book to come.  

Here are four articles to check out:  from BookBaby blog, from Writer's Relief (here and here) and one from BookSpark.   Also, a word of caution against too many of these, just to present the other view.

2.  Establishing an online presence.
Another reader recently asked how to get started with websites, videos, podcasts, and other online presence.  It also starts with research--where are the best places to present yourself, that tie into your book?    

Here's a free workbook from Writer's Edit with some great ideas.  And from one of my publishing gurus, Jane Friedman, a great article on online presence.  And finally, one from Joe Gallagher, marketing pro.

What I've learned:  it takes time.  A year or more.  Time to research, to learn, to decide the best avenues.  

It takes time away from your writing.  Plus, it's a completely different kind of skill than writing requires.  I have hired marketing pros to help me, get me started, get me going when either didn't have the time or I didn't want to take energy away from my book while it was cooking.  

If you feel the urge, consider dedicating an hour or two a month to such tasks, in early stages of book writing.  You'll need most of your energy to craft that first draft, or the book can die a slow death as you read about the unfamiliar terrain of marketing and decide it's not for you.  Again, it's a completely different kind of skill, and don't assume you'll have it down when you start.  Talk with other writers.  Join online forums and hear what works.  But keep most of your time and attention on writing.

Once you're revising, you may have enough momentum to get really engaged with the marketing research and it gives back.  You get excited about your book being in readers' hands.  And that's the best kind of marketing there is.  

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