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5 Things I Wished I Knew Before I Published My First Book

photo by Flickr’s jacilluch

When Therese asked me to contribute to WU’s “inside publishing” month I was excited. Because I’ve always wanted a forum to expose the dark underbelly of the publishing industry House of Cards style—murder, and mayhem, and plotting… Kidding. Well, maybe not about the plotting… (terrible pun!) There’s no dark underbelly to the publishing industry. Well, okay, there is, just like there is in any industry, but exposure’s not really my thing. I went into publishing wide-eyed and innocent, and while I couldn’t call myself that anymore, I still need my editor to remind me what the difference is between the “on-sale” date and the “in-store” date and the “publishing” date, along with a whole host of other things that would bore you to death.

But publishing does have its rules and regulations and complications—again, just like any industry—and there are a few things I wish I knew before I started along the path.

So, here are The Top Five Things I Wish I Knew Before I Published My First Book.

  1. Publishing Can Be A Full-Time Job. Don’t Let It Be. I’m fond of saying that I took my fun hobby of writing books (I work full time as an attorney) and turned it into a second job. And while this is a quip, it’s one with a deep truth to it. There are so many steps to getting a novel out into the world after you get your book deal or decide to self-publish (and a million other steps once it is out in the world) that it can easily take up all your time. All your writing time, anyway. The important thing is: not to let it. Your job is to write books. While the rest of it is important and necessary, you need to continue to make writing a priority so you can get that second book done. And so on. Doing that is hard. It takes discipline. But that’s how you got your first book done, right? So you know how to do it and you can do it again.
  2. Promoting A Novel Can Be A Full-Time Job. Don’t Let It Be. This is very much related to the point above. Having a website, a blog, a Twitter feed, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Stumbler (I just made that last one up (I think), but I like it! Dibs.) can take up all of your time. The polar vortex is made up. The Internet vortex is a very real phenomenon. Do not get sucked into it or you will never accomplish what you need to do: write your next book. Here’s a tip. Limit all book promotion etc. to one hour a day. Have a running list of things you need to do and work at it like a job, but one you can do in an hour a day (this sounds like a late-night infomercial but it’s important, and possible). If you limit your online presence to things that you’re good at (not everyone can blog or be good at Twitter but everyone can be good at something online) and use tools like scheduled posts, you can avoid the pitfall of The Book That Never Got Written Because The Internet Ate It.
  3. You Are Running A Small Business. Treat It That Way. Even though we’re artists (we are artists, right?) that doesn’t mean your book business isn’t your book business. Whether you go indie or traditional publishing doesn’t change this (it just means you have a partner in your small business if you go traditional). This means lots of things—you should treat it like a business as much as you can, it can be precarious, it can be exhilarating—but mostly, to me, it means that no one will care about your business as much as you do. Of course my publishers care (a lot) if my books do well and they want to help them do so. But I’m the one who’s going to notice if my book’s sold out on Amazon, or if a link isn’t working on my website or if the promotion someone was supposed to run didn’t run on the day it was supposed to etc. It’s a hard balance to strike: being the squeaky wheel that calls these things to your publisher’s attention v. being that annoying author who takes up too much space. But ultimately, your name is the one on the front cover of your book, right? That’s you out there. And your Inc. (oh, another terrible pun!) is yours.
  4. You Are Never Going to Know Everything You Want To Know. I’ve often thought that there should be a boot camp for authors once they know they are going to be published (again, this would apply to both kinds of publishing). There are books out there (What To Do Before Your Book Launch being a good example), but like in many things, there’s nothing like experience, and every publisher has its own set of rules and regulations. For example, when my first book, Spin [2], came out, I didn’t know it was okay to ask to see the marketing plan for the book—in truth, it didn’t really occur to me that there would be one. Positive side: an amazingly pleasant surprise when I found a huge pile of my books on a front table next to Audrey Niffenegger’s latest book. That being said, four books in, I know there are things I can ask and things I can’t. I’ve accepted that even if I ran my own publishing company, there would be things I didn’t know the answer to (just exactly how each bestseller lists work, for instance.). But figuring out those boundaries can be hard, though important.
  5. Don’t Forget to Celebrate. Perhaps it’s just my personality, but I’ve found over the years that I often don’t celebrate milestones in the book business like I should. I think part of it has to do with the process. If, say, you got your book deal (yeah!) and a month later you were at your book launch (woohoo!) it would be easy to keep the celebration going. But in reality there’s often a long, long time between those two events. In between there’s lots of little cool things that happen—seeing the cover, getting your first pass pages, getting your first reviews—but there’s a lot of work too. By the time the book actually comes out into the world, it can seem like it’s just one more small step in the big process. But hey, you’ve published a book! And whether it’s going to be read by millions or just your immediate family, that’s something.

Authors, what do you wish you knew before you were published? The floor is yours.

About Catherine McKenzie [3]

A graduate of McGill University in History and Law, Catherine McKenzie practices law in Montreal, where she was born and raised. An avid skier and runner, Catherine is the author of 11 bestselling novels, including HIDDEN, THE GOOD LIAR, I’LL NEVER TELL and YOU CAN’T CATCH ME. Her most recent novel, SIX WEEKS TO LIVE, releases in Canada April 20 and the US May 4, 2021.