It turns out that all you need to do is write a great book. That’s right, you can skip social media, bookstore events, publicity, giveaways, and other complicated marketing plans. All you need to do is write a great book.
Wait for an agent to find you. Oh, so I suppose you will want to send out a query letter. I mean, that’s okay, right? So you have to write a great book, then send out query letters.
Then the agent will find a great publisher for you! I mean, chances are, in that process the agent or an editor may ask for changes to the book, to help ensure that it meets the needs of that partner – the publisher. So all you have to do is write a great book, send query letters, and make edits to your great book based on the needs of other partners.
Then the publisher will ensure your book gets published and shared with readers! But of course, you’re wise to negotiate that contract really well. Your agent is absolutely a key partner in this process, but let’s face it, every small decision may be fraught with a sense of ‘do or die’ because after all, you wrote this amazing book! Film rights? You want those, don’t you? So all you have to do is write a great book, send query letters, make edits based on your partners’ input, and negotiate a contract.
It is happening – your book is being readied for publication! Your publisher has taken the reins to guarantee this book gets out in to the world! Wait, they want to go right to paperback? They chose a cover you aren’t sure about? There is yet another round of edits? You are beginning to get nervous about what the marketing plan is? You wonder which bookstores it may be in?
Lots of questions, right? And of course, this is a partnership, likely with many others involved Not just your editor, but designers, marketers, the sales team, and so many others. So all you have to do is write a great book, send query letters, make edits based on your partners’ input, negotiate a contract, and be a team player in all aspects of publishing a book.
Book launch time – yay! You have seen the marketing plan, heard from the publicist, but still feel uncertain as to what will happen, and more importantly: what the results will be. Suddenly, it seems as though this is your one chance with this book, maybe your one chance to succeed in general as a writer. It all comes down to the launch. Are people talking about bestseller lists? Are book clubs interested — wait, what makes a book club interested? Is the media interested? Are reviews coming in? Are people pre-ordering? Okay, so all you have to do is write a great book, send query letters, make edits based on your partners’ input, negotiate a contract, be a team player in all aspects of the publishing process, and consider various aspects of marketing the book.
The book is out — it is on shelves in bookstores and available to buy! Oh, we are doing a small launch party, and set up a reading at a few local bookstores. How lovely… and terrifying! All you have to do is write a great book, send query letters, make edits based on your partners’ input, negotiate a contract, be a team player in all aspects of the publishing process, consider various aspects of marketing a book, and become comfortable with public speaking and reading aloud to a large group of adults.
How many books sold? Where did you get reviewed in any publications? Did readers leave reviews anywhere? Did the media pick up on the story? What worked, what didn’t? Is this considered a success? Is there anything else I can do to ensure it is? Does this mean I get to do it all over again?
All you have to do is write a great book, send query letters, make edits based on your partners’ input, negotiate a contract, be a team player in all aspects of the publishing process, consider various aspects of marketing a book, become comfortable with public speaking and reading aloud to a large group of adults, and become an analyst, carefully calculating the return on investment of every aspect of writing, publishing and marketing a book.
What I didn’t mention above is social media — the intricacies of online marketing, blogging, websites, review campaigns, street teams, newsletters, and so many other aspects of what gets debated as “Is this necessary?!” by modern writers.
So, can you simply write a wonderful book, and hope that it finds readers? Yes. Of course. And I 100% support you in that if that is your journey. Write great stuff. Repeat.
However, in speaking with many novelists and creative professionals, I tend to find:
- Publishing a book and finding readers is hard work. This is true even if you have awesome partners such as an agent, publisher, editor, publicist and so many others.
- You can’t figure it all out, but you have to try anyway. I have heard convincing arguments against every aspect of publishing and marketing. Yet, though these arguments are clever and rational, you still have to try to approach old ideas in new ways. Even when you have no idea what you are doing. Even when it feels silly. Even when you read an article about why this will never work. I can’t even tell you the number of novelists I have spoken to who found success in the oddest of places. I spoke to one this past week who found a publisher for her book when she blogged about how everyone rejected it. An editor read the post, and then reached out to her. To this day, she still writes for that publisher. Crazy, right? Which is to say, we don’t know what will work ahead of time. Trying lots of new things is the best way to discover what will work for you.
- Identify your strengths, but don’t run away from your weaknesses. Too often, I hear a creative professional disavow themselves of any potential marketing efforts by proclaiming, “I am an introvert!” As if this is a ‘get out of jail free card.’ The reality is that many successful novelists are introverts. Or rather, they have degrees of introversion. But proclaiming a perceived limitation is different than embracing a strength. Identify what you are good at already, and try to leverage that talent. For thinks that you perceive as a weakness, Challenge yourself to find workarounds for the things you perceive as weaknesses. Gretchen Rubin just published a new book on that topic, which may be worth checking out: Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives.
If you are serious about publishing your book and guiding it to success, do the research to understand what the reality of that looks like. Don’t rest on simple “-isms” that justify lack of attention to the other parts of publishing. EG: “I’m an artist, a true artist doesn’t worry about the marketplace.”
I have been interviewing a wide range of creative professionals for a book I am writing, and am astounded at the challenges they have pushed themselves to work through. Not just “I don’t have the time,” or “I don’t have a budget,” which are challenges that all of us struggle with. But other challenges such as learning disabilities, deep depression, introversion to the degree of being nearly non-communicative, and so much more.
You don’t have to be an expert in every facet of publishing or marketing. But you can consider creating a process for your career that answers this question:
“How can I be a better partner for those helping me build a career as a writer?”
Of course, your starting place is to indeed write the best book possible, and focus on your craft. I’m 100% there with you on that one.
But as your career grows, consider the other skill sets that will help you be a better partner for agents, publishers, editors, publicists, marketers, bookstores, event organizers, and so on.
When you consider your writing career outside of the writing itself: What are your strengths that you can build upon? Which areas do you want to focus on improving?