It’s always tough being the new kid, and taking that final step from author to published author is no less scary. There’s no definitive list out there telling you what you should or shouldn’t do, but thanks to that magical all-seeing, all-knowing entity known as the interweb, there is plenty of advice out there to help you find your way.
I’ve been published for a whole five months. I know what you’re thinking: what could you possibly have learned about the publishing world in five months? Loads. Believe me, from the moment you decide you’re going to unleash your story upon the world, you’ve already stepped foot onto that roller coaster, so buckle up.
Granted, I still have a lot to learn and will continue to do so for a very, very long time, but there are a few key points I picked up on right away which has made my journey far smoother than it could have been. Some have been learned through personal experience, some from the experiences of others. Either way, I’m here to share some with you.
1. Research. I’m not talking about book research. I’m talking about where you plan to submit that manuscript you’ve poured your heart and soul into for the last (insert sleep-deprived time frame here). It may seem like common sense to some folks, but when you’re just starting out and don’t know a great many people, it’s not easy knowing where to turn to. Unless you’re friends with an author who’s already established, chances are few authors are going to come right out and warn you away from a publisher, especially if they still have work contracted with said publisher. Of course there are exceptions. If a publisher has really pulled one over on an author or three, you’ll hear about it. The internet is littered with horror stories and cautionary tales, so be aware. There are also plenty of sites that offer warnings, such as Predators & Editors, Writer Beware, or Erotic Romance.
When you’re looking to get your first work published, you’re eager and excited, but don’t let that cloud your judgment. Here are a few things I’ve picked up from various sources.
- You should never be asked to pay in order to get your work published. Nor should you be expected to give out your work for free. Non-profit publishers and writing a charity submission is a different story and does not fall under this. We’re talking about publishers who either want money to publish your book or won’t pay you for your work whether it be under the guise of exposure or the promise of something better later on.
- Check out the publisher’s website. Is it professional? If the content on their site is practically incomprehensible from the sheer amount of typos and bad sentence structure, walk away. Especially if they say that stuff doesn’t matter. Oh, they’re out there.
- A publisher should not be unprofessional when communicating with you. There’s a big difference between a friendly, laid back conversation, and someone who’s bullying, patronizing, or disrespecting you. No one should make you feel as though you should be grateful to be breathing the same air as them.
- Look into the publishers who house your favorite authors. In my experience, where there are happy authors, there are good publishers, and authors will never be afraid to give a shout out to their publishers. This is what I did. I read a lot of MM Romance before I decided to write it, and when the time came, I looked into my favorite authors and the publishers they were with, when, and how long. Then I narrowed it down depending on how my story and I might fit in. Many authors have more than one publisher, and that’s not because they prefer one over the other. Every publisher has different submission guidelines– which you should read very carefully, and it may be that a particular story didn’t meet those guidelines or wasn’t right for that publisher.
- Always read your contract thoroughly. If none of it makes sense to you, get someone else to help you with it. Which leads me to…
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I’m not saying you should interrogate folks, but asking for some friendly advice won’t hurt. Authors offer a fountain of knowledge and experience, and most of them love to help. Even if you aren’t comfortable talking directly to an author, visit their blog or website. Keep in mind that your experience won’t be the same as theirs, but you can pick up all sorts of great tips and advice from them. In the end, you’ll have to do things your way, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be aware of all the options, and pick what’s best for you.
3. Be Proud. Unfortunately there are folks out there who believe that unless you’re published by one of the ‘Big Six’ book publishers, you’re not a real author. Well, they’re wrong. Simple as that. I could come up with something more colorful, but let’s keep this post PG. You’ve worked your butt off. You’ve summoned all manner of bravery, dedication, and gumption to get your book out there. You are a published author and should be damned proud. I read somewhere that about 80% of people say they have a book in them. That’s all fine and dandy, but how many of those people actually put forth the blood, sweat, and tears to make that book happen? Aspiring to write doesn’t mean squat. I’m sorry, but it’s true. If you really want to be a writer, you have to write. Published or not, you have to write.
4. Be open to growth. There is a big difference between keeping your integrity, and shutting yourself off from personal and professional growth. If you’re not prepared to learn from your mistakes—and you will make mistakes, or from your experiences, you’re in for a hard time. As an author, it’s important to keep learning, to absorb information, and use it do develop your craft. You don’t have to do every little thing everyone says, but you should at least be open to listening.
5. Social Networking. This may not be for everyone, but some kind of online presence is necessary these days, even if it’s just a website. You don’t have to be on every social networking site available. In fact, whatever you sign up for, make sure you’re going to have time to dedicate to it. Striking the right balance is important, or you’ll find yourself either spending too much time on there, or not enough. Sign up to whatever works best for you. I have a website, Blogger account, Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter, because I know any more would just be too much for my little brain to handle at the moment. Also, don’t use these sites to spam readers or other authors about your books. That’s a one way ticket to the naughty step. Talk to people, get to know them, and let them get to know you.
6. Having a website and a blog. These are probably the most essential, and you should get them going before you get published. Why?
- Building a blog readership takes times. You may have lots of folks you chat to, or friends who sign up to follow your blog, but for the rest, those folks want to see what you’re about before they follow you. So get posting. You don’t have to post every day—though when you’re first starting out, the more you post, the more people get to know you. After that it’s up to you and the amount of time you have. Some authors post once a week, some once a month. Whatever you do, try to be consistent. If you’re not sure which platform to use, find an author’s blog you like the look of and see what they’re using. The most common are Blogger and WordPress, but there are others out there.
- When your book is out there and folks want to know more about you and your writing, you want to have somewhere for them to go. It doesn’t have to be big or fancy, but it does have to be professional. Blogs are more personal, so you have more freedom to let the crazy out, but your website represents you. So if you’re planning to make a career out of writing, get a professional looking website. No one says it can’t be fun or creative, but keep in mind that readers may not be the only ones looking for it. Anyone from agents to organizations could be looking you up, and these folks don’t know you or how serious you are about doing what you do. There are plenty of good folks out there who won’t ask you for your first born in exchange for a nice site. Also, keep it updated. There’s nothing more frustrating for a reader, than trying to find out information about your next book and coming up with nothing. Especially if it’s a series.
- Once you’re published you’ll have plenty to keep you busy: editing, promoting, networking, writing. The last thing you want to be doing is designing or putting together your site, unless someone’s going to be doing it all for you. If you’re doing it yourself, you don’t want to have to rush it to get onto other stuff, and the more titles you have out, the more content you have to upload, so it’s best to get things started soon as.
7. Reviews. They say you have to have a thick skin to be a writer, but that’s easier said than done. No matter how prepared you think you are, when that first unpleasant review pops up, that protective armor vanishes and leaves you in your birthday suit. Why? Because you care about your work, and let’s be honest, you want people to like what you’re writing. Whether it’s from a reviewer or a reader, a bad review will hurt. What do you do? You learn from it and move on. You learn to distinguish the difference between constructive feedback that can help you improve your next manuscript, and someone’s personal opinion. You also have no control over how someone chooses to express that opinion. It may be polite, stating how your story just wasn’t for them, or it may be mean-spirited and rude. What you do have control over is how you will react to it. Do you get defensive with that person? No. Do you let it shatter your confidence in yourself? No. Do you stomp into the kitchen and break out the triple chocolate chip Haagen Dazs? You betcha! Then you sit that keister down behind that computer and you get back to writing.
8. Patience. Once you have your first book published, you’ll feel like you’re moving at a snail’s pace compared to everyone else. Suddenly you’re surrounded by authors who are getting new contracts, announcing releases, just finished that 100k manuscript, while you’ve got 3k of your latest book with five others swimming around in your head waiting for you to give them life. Every writer goes at his or her own pace, and you have to learn to be comfortable with yours. It’s good to push yourself, but don’t let yourself fall into despair when you don’t get as much done as you want. There will be good days and not so good days. Don’t beat yourself up over it because it won’t help you get any closer to finishing that book. Which leads to…
9. Stop worrying. Aside reviews, there are plenty of things that can stifle your mojo. Comparing yourself to other authors is one of them. I love visiting author websites and blogs, chatting, seeing what their up to, celebrating their success, and offering a hand where I can if someone should need it. What I don’t do is compare myself to them or my progress to theirs. Every writer goes through ups and downs. On some days you’ll feel like an amateur, questioning everything you do, wondering why the heck you’re doing it all in the first place. Then on other days you’ll feel exhilarated and wonder why you didn’t start sooner. Your confidence will fluctuate, and that’s okay. It’s all part of being a writer. Sometimes you’ll have to find strength where there is none, and if you need to take a break, you take it. Step away from the PC, and do something else. The emails can wait, Facebook will still be there tomorrow, Twitter isn’t going anywhere, and neither are your readers. Just take some time to relax or you will burn yourself out.
10. Keep writing. That’s probably the most important thing to remember. If you don’t write, there will be no books. Even if you’re having a rough day, write something. Doesn’t matter if you think it’s all crap. No one says it has to stay in there. Write some dialogue between your characters or some random scenes. Even if you cut it all the next day, you wrote something. Many authors fall into a lull after a new release, which is why it’s so important to always be working on something. Some authors only work on one thing at a time until it’s done, while some work on two or more stories. What you do is up to you, but always write, write, write.
Well, I hope that my little list has helped in some way. Remember that you’re not alone and there are plenty of folks out there who are happy to help. As authors, we’re all in the same boat, and although we all want to succeed and move up in our careers, we also want to support each other and our genre.If anyone has any questions, my inbox is always open. I’m always around and will do my best to answer any questions you may have. In the meantime, welcome to the neighborhood!
Charlie Cochet is a passionate author of M/M Historical Romance who loves to get lost in eras long gone, specifically the Roaring Twenties and Dirty Thirties. From bootleggers to hardboiled detectives, speakeasies to swanky nightclubs, there’s bound to be plenty of mischief for her heroes to find themselves in, and plenty of romance, too!
When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found reading, drawing, or watching movies. She runs on coffee, thrives on music, and loves to hear from her readers!