Saturday, April 28, 2012

Are You Ready To Be Published?

When I spent my years writing novels that ended in the slushpile, I also spent a lot of time planning what would happen when one finally was published. And part of that planning was, of course, the nuts and bolts of completing a manuscript. Not only do you need to have it finished, but once it is, you need to sit down and complete the business of writing, that is, you need to write a synopsis. Not just the full synopsis for the benefit of your agent or for getting an agent, but you’ll need the 25 word pitch, the paragraph, the one page, and then the full. All of these are handy to have. The pitch is for queries and for networking when you answer that inevitable question, “What’s your book about?” Know it. Memorize it. Use it. The others are handy for query letters to agents. I also found the 25 word pitch useful in conjunction with the synopsis as a sort of introduction. I still use it on my outlines that get pitched to my editor. My agent loves them.

So you need all that to get an agent and for the agent to use to send to an editor. Given. But once that’s all done it’s time to think beyond the writing stage and start thinking about the marketing stage. When you sign a contract these days, very often the publisher wants to see a marketing plan from you.

Marketing plan, you say? Didn’t I already do the hard part and write the bloody novel? These days, that is only the beginning.

Part of that marketing plan is, of course, your online presence. Do you have a blog? Do you have a website? Are you on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads? Are you keeping up with the ever-changing industry?

First, let’s talk blog and website. But you aren’t published, you say. What would I have to put up on a website or a blog? True, a website won’t have much more than your bio, maybe some short stories you wrote, and perhaps a few awards. But even if all you have is a bio, it’s a good idea to nail it down and to get that all important domain name (places like can help you with that). As for content, tell us about your series. Give us an excerpt of the first chapter. It’s a chance to hone your skills, to create your public persona. Are you going to be outgoing and open? Funny? Mysteriously aloof? Once the book is published it’s almost too late to get that presence on the internet, so start getting that presence well before you even finish the manuscript.

Once the manuscript is done, it will be helpful to upload a discussion guide right onto your website. A book club I visited once said that readers want as much information as they can get on a book as well as about the author when they decide on a book for their group. And providing a discussion guide is one more step in offering added value about you and your novel. In fact, my publisher picked up my discussion guide right off of my website and put it in the paperback edition, and I have done subsequent discussion guides for each of my books ever since.

Same with the blog. Please don’t give us another newbie blog on “how I’m working hard to get published” with stories about your cat and your Aunt Sadie. Unless your Aunt Sadie is a famous actress or explorer, leave her out of it. In fact, get used to being a professional. Lose the personal Facebook page or blog. Do you really want your family, your kids splashed all over the internet? Frame your blog on your book series. Is it about a detective who quilts? Then let it be about quilts. Is it a thriller set in L.A.? Then become the expert on the down and dirty of Los Angeles. You are the expert on whatever it is you write about.

And speaking of being an expert, you will want to get yourself speaking engagements at your local and not-so-local libraries, at professional organization luncheons, at any place they want to have you. And so you need to prepare some presentations, something that says a little about you and a little about your books. You can’t always do a reading of your book and, let’s face it, a lot of authors are pants at reading aloud. Have something interesting to offer by way of a presentation. I talk about medieval history and the myths people have about the era. And I bring props, my medieval weaponry. You can bet that gets an audience’s attention. Word gets out that your talk is interesting and fun. You will get asked to a lot of places. Again, remember you are the expert in whatever it is you are writing about. If you are writing a cooking mystery, then get ready with that hot plate and start talking...and cooking.

Just as you’ll need several lengths of pitches, so, too, will you need several versions of your talk. Depending on the venue, you might need a fifteen minute talk, half an hour, or full hour. Be ready and flexible to talk about you and your book in any version. But don’t hard sell it. You’re selling you as much as the book itself.

Is all this part of your marketing plan? Yes, it is! Include your marketing strategy all the places you plan to go to talk about your book and what that presentation will be. Do you have an email list to announce about your book release? You should be working on amassing that. Goodreads friends? Friends on Facebook? Do you Tweet? Do you have followers? These are the things to start on now before the book is in print.

Is it a lot of work? Yes. Is it rewarding to have your book on bookshelves and in people’s hands, in audiences that have come to hear you talk? You bet it is. But it happens because you are prepared. Prepared to hit the ground running.


Susan Oleksiw said...

A very thorough post on what to do after the book is written. I'm writing a series set in India (the second book is officially out in July), and I hadn't really thought about props and cooking for events, but you've definitely given me some ideas. I'm also a photographer, so I get other chances to talk about my work. And now I think I'll add something on recipes for Indian dishes.

Jeri Westerson said...

Ooh, Susan. Sounds good! You also might wish to put together a powerpoint talk from your photos. I have that, but barring problems with available projectors, I also have a flip chart sort of affair for photos and images to talk about when I have a small group.

Michele Drier said...

Good, concrete, sensible advice, Jeri! Writers would do well to follow your example.

Jeri Westerson said...

I'm all about sharing the wealth, Michele. Belonging to organizations like Sisters in Crime (mentioned in an earlier post on the page), I love to pay it forward. A lot of this advice came from other authors that came before me.

GBPool said...

Boy are you right about doing these chores before the book comes out or even before you get an agent. The fact you have them under your belt will attract an agent and publisher, and having them finished will save you so much time, time you will need to write the second book and do publicity on the first one. As you said, the work never ends, but you want some of it done ahead of time. Great post, Jeri.

Lara Britt said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! This let me know that by-enlarge, I am on the right track! And also gave me a head's up as to what I need to be shoring up.

This post is not only worth a tweet or two, but a bookmark, in my book!

Did I say, thank you?

GoingVeggie said...

Thank you for this post! It confirms that I'm not just procrastinating hunting for an agent. My humorous non-fiction manuscript on vegetarianism has been complete for a while, but the platform has taken on a life of its own. I love giving veggie cooking classes and interviewing people for my podcasts, but it would be nice to have my book available to sell. At what point do you know when you are ready to start querying agents?

Muddy said...

Great info here! Thanks for sharing it!

LittleWing said...

Thanks for this. Great advice that I will heed. I have a lot of work ahead of me :-).

Jeri Westerson said...

Thank you, Lara. That's what it's all about for me. Please learn from my experience!

Jeri Westerson said...

Going Veggie, you are ahead of the game. Brava! When do you know if your ms is done? Well, that's one of the many elusive traits of being a writer. Have you had beta readers--that is, a critique group--look it over for plot holes, dialogue blunders, sense of flow? Reliable readers who, ideally, are writers, too. If you've done that, made changes based on their suggestions, then go for it! And don't send one out at a time. Get a game plan. Make an A list and a B list, and target your A list first. Ignore it when agents say they want an exclusive. Who has time to wait for that? You're the one who should be choosing. And if more than one agent wants the book at the same time, that's a win for you.

Your platform is an excellent marketing tool for the book.

Rica said...

Well, so I am just going to say : KEEP IT UP! You are doing your very best. I think you just have the right marketing strategy for it.
Thanks for sharing.

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