This post is for everybody out there that wants to write a book someday, but doesn’t know what happens after you land that first book deal. If you are like me you imagine the scenario goes down something like this: you get a call from your agent “hey we sold your book, now you are famous!” Then you have a big party, with clowns and champagne. And after that you basically become Hemingway and spend the rest of your days going to bullfights and marlin fishing of the coast of Cuba.
Ok, maybe my imagination ran away a bit. But honestly, I didn’t have a clear picture of what happens after you sell your book to a publisher. It turns out that getting your book accepted is just 50% of the battle. You still have a lot of work to do between when the ink dries on your book contract, and when your book (hopefully) climbs up the best seller list and does what it is supposed to: sell books!
So, here is my list of top 12 things I have learned recently about what you have to do once you do sell a book. And if you are an aspiring author I recommend checking this out now, because you can actually start building a lot of this stuff now, and it will make you and your book more attractive to prospective literary agents and publishers. Hell, I wish someone had told me this stuff 3 years ago!
1. You need a platform. (Try blogging)
What’s a platform? Well, the ultimate platform is being famous. If you are named Shakira or Justin Bieber you can already skip to step 12. Indeed, if you are Justin Bieber you could probably write a book called “101 Recipes for Plain Oatmeal” and sell about a million copies. If you don’t happen to already be famous, you need a platform. A platform is anything that gets your voice out there. It can be a blog, a podcast, a radio show, appearances, interviews, twitter. It is ways that people can see you on the media.
Think of it like this. The equation that a lot of publishers are going to be thinking is:
A x P = book sales.
Where A = Awesomeness of book. And P = Platform. We writers often tend to just think about one half of the equation.
Don’t know where to begin with building a platform? Here is my recommendation try blogging. It’s free, it’s fun, it will build your platform slowly. Perhaps best of all, it is a great way to practice your writing on a small scale in front of a live audience. Think of it as practicing your scales. You know what made John Coltrane the best sax player of all time? Hours and hours of practicing scales in his garage! Start practicing now.
2. If you are a fiction writer you don’t need a platform quite as badly as a nonfiction writer. If you are writing nonfiction YOU NEED A PLATFORM!
I really don’t know why this is. It’s not fair, but that’s how it is.
3. You need to know how to position your book.
What’s position mean? Think of it this way, when you look your book up on Amazon, what’s going to be the “customers also looked at these titles” books that also appear? Or try this, walk to the place in the bookstore where your book is going to be shelved. Now, what’s the competition? Now, just because your book is going to be next to some other books that are super-famous-big-sellers is not a bad thing! That just means you are writing about a popular subject. That said, you don’t want to position your book so that it is the less sexy book on the shelf. You want it to be the sexiest thing 20 feet in every direction!
You also don’t want your book to fall in the shadow of any other books. I was talking to a guy last night who has a dream to one day write the go-to book on Apple Orchards. I talked with him about positioning his book idea. Apple Orchards is obviously way too broad a topic. “You want something that fits in a unique niche,” I told him. With a little bit of brainstorming, we were able to tweak his Apple Orchard idea to make it unique, sexy even. We gave it a good position, so it stands out from the other gardening books. (Obviously I can’t tell you what that is, but I think he has a much better chance of impressing a publisher now.)
4. You don’t get paid right away
Sold your book? Congratulations! Now think twice before you quit that day job as a barista or whatever. I’m not saying that you can’t, but just look at the facts. You don’t get your lump sum all at once. They (the publisher) pay you 4 times. First when they buy the rights to the book. Second when they accept the manuscript (after it’s been edited). Thirdly when the book actually get’s published (which in many cases is 1-2 years after you sell the book!) and fourth, if you’re lucky, when you sell the foreign rights to the book. I’m just saying, those checks are pretty spaced out . . . a part time barista job might not be the worst thing in the world . . .
5. Get comfortable with the idea of public speaking
Sold your book? Congratulations! Now guess what’s in your future: readings, conferences, interviews on television and radio, podcasts, cold calling book store owners to set up events. If the idea of speaking in front of a crowd makes you jumpy, you might want to practice getting comfortable in front of others now, so you’re ready when the time comes.
6. Get comfortable with new media
When I was younger I thought I could like, write books on a freaking typewriter and they would be genius and that’s all I needed. If I had a time machine I would go back to my younger self and say “PShhhhaw, yeah right kid!” Twitter, Facebook, podcasts, blogs, the internet as a whole; these things are not going away, my friends. And they are terrific ways to get your name out there.( See principle # 1 building your platform.) I am telling you this now, because no one is more guilty of ignoring this stuff until the last minute than I am. I have held out against Twitter for years. It wasn’t until my wonderful editor at Perigee books told me I should really try out Twitter that I finally succumbed. And guess what, it’s actually a lot of fun! Duh. So what are you waiting for, it’s just another way to write! It’s not like we should pretend to be Shakespeare and write with just ink and a giant goose quill. Trust me, if William Shakespeare were alive today, not only would he be tweeting, (@billshakestweeter) he would have 9 million tweet followers. Get with the times! (Oh, btw you can follow me @anth_alvarado)
7. Know who you wrote the book for
Ask yourself; who is my ideal reader? Figure that out and get to know your ideal reader.
Now you just have to figure out how to connect with that ideal reader. That’s going to be different for different demographics.
For example I wrote DIY Magic for a younger version of myself. I wanted to write a book of tips, tricks and wisdom that is all the stuff I wanted to learn in college but nobody was teaching. You know, the really cool underground ideas that you have to go digging for? Because of this, I now want to really make an effort to reach out to University and college campuses etc., to make sure that my book is available in the local campus book store, and to do as many appearances at colleges as I can.
8. Get a decent author photo taken.
“C’mon Shel, smile for the birdie! . . .”
“No. I will not.”
“Uh, ok, it’s your face.”
9. Hold off on that celebration party until you actually send in the manuscript.
You sold your book? Congratulations. But guess what, you still have a lot of work to do on the manuscript before you send it off. So if you are planning a vacation or a celebration you might want to wait awhile.
10. Using quotes in your book can be a real pain in the ass.
When the first edition of DIY Magic came out, I used a ton of quotes without bothering to get permision. I quoted Built to Spill, David Lynch, MC Chris. Turns out you can really only quote stuff freely like that if it is from 1922 or earlier. In retrospect this is kinda obvious, but I just didn’t think about it. Yeah, you can try to get permission from everybody you quoted. Good luck getting David Lynch on the phone! I ended up just cutting some of those quotes, or finding older (and better) quotes to use.
10. Your Bio actually matters.
It’s your life story in a paragraph! Originally I sent in something dumb for my bio, like ” I live in Portland with a cat and a dog.” Ugh. That’s the bio for half the books ever written: “Lives in Portland with a cat and a dog.” I’m working on making that a more compelling bio now.
11. At the end of the day, it is really the quality of your book that matters.
I know, I know, I’ve been telling you about platform, and Twitter, and your author photo, and so on. But guess what, when it comes right down to it none of this stuff is going to make a difference unless you wrote an out-of-the-ballpark, awesome book! That is what comes first, and don’t forget it. The writing!
12. Have fun with it!
If you have gotten to this stage you are already incredibly fortunate. You should enjoy yourself. When I first sold my book to Perigee Books, I kinda freaked out and got stressed out for awhile. All of a sudden I felt a lot of pressure because it felt like my writing was now on a bigger level than it had been. I went through that experience, a sort of dread of success, for a couple weeks, than I realized that, hey, If I ‘m not going to loosen up and enjoy this, I might as well go back to my boring old job! Screw that! Since then I’ve tried to loosen my grip, and approach the whole thing as a game, and I’m having a lot more fun, and enjoying the whole experience. Writing is the best job in the world. It is hard work, and challenging, of course it is, if it wasn’t it wouldn’t be the best job a person could hope for.