First things first: Congratulations! By being commissioned, you’ve crossed the toughest barrier to being a published writer. Because, for every published author there can be (and often are) a hundred unpublished ones, whose works haven’t been able to interest publishers or literary agents. So yeah, you deserve that beer.
But wait, what happens next?
Here’s a breakdown of what you need to do once your book has been commissioned (and signed the contract, of course).
Let your commissioning editor go through the entire text before you make changes.
Writers are constantly editing their work because, as you know, the perfect novel just does not exist. But wait till your editor gets back to you with their suggestions. Often, you will find that the editor may not think along similar lines as you. Does the gun need to change? Can the two lovers not be in college? Does the ending need more of a punch?
These are questions you and your editor will resolve together. Try to get a sense of where the editor is coming from, and their vision of the book. From now on, the editor is your ally – they will negotiate internal discussions about the book with the folks in sales and marketing, who don’t always believe in your book the way your editor does.
Edits: check. Copy: check. Proofs: check.
Be prepared to go over your book rigorously. Edit it with care, and not whenever inspiration strikes. Do not assume you can introduce a new character, or kill off some old ones, at a later stage. Do not assume you will be indulged even when the book is ready to go to print.
Allow the book to be copy-edited and proofed by professionals at your publisher. Do not mark “F&*k you” in the margins of your copy-edited document if you don’t agree with the edits – that’s not only rude but probably not best for your book.
While proofing (ie, when the book has been typeset and you get an idea of what it will look like), be prepared to pore over the commas and not the text. It doesn’t help if you want to grant extra lives to a character at this stage.
Judge a book by its cover
If you’ve written a commercial thriller, do not expect an artsy cover. If you’ve written a romance, you don’t want it to look like a swords-and-guns epic (unless it’s a historical sword-and-guns epic romance).
In short, go for a cover that is both familiar and striking in its originality – but always remember who your reader is. If you want help, trawl Amazon and see what book covers in your genre look like. And while you’re there, picture what your cover will look like on those pages – especially on a mobile – because half your sales may come from online booksellers.
The editor will send you cover options, designed either in-house or by freelancers. You may have a sense of design, and therefore suggest changes. But unless the cover’s completely off, doesn’t make sense for your book, or features semi-naked humans riding dinosaurs, do not demand the cover be completely scrapped and redesigned by you (or your colleague who makes social media banners).
Get ready to sell, sell, sell
Once the book’s been sent to print, you’ve got to prepare yourself for the most difficult part: you’ve got to sell the book!
Now you may wonder: isn’t that the publisher’s job?
Yes, it is. But what happens when the publisher begins to promote other books, like they have to? What will you do then?
At a time when books are being published by the dozens, and mainstream media has very little space dedicated to them, the author is no longer just a writer. An author is today a writer, marketer, salesperson, and publicist all rolled into one. Even bestselling authors like JK Rowling and Stephen King promote their new books, TV series, films, or games on their own. So you have no excuse.
Let the publisher do their thing, but make sure you understand how the publisher views your book. If you’re a first-time author, they will rarely dedicate the resources a bestselling author gets. If you’re a commercial writer, it’s not always necessary to insist on a launch (in fact, don’t do launches unless someone else is organising them!). Resign yourself to the possibility that your book may not be reviewed by the mainstream media.
So how do you sell your book? Although this can be a whole new post by itself, here are some beginner’s guidelines:
Sell it on social media
If you’ve got more books in your kitty, create a Facebook page with your name (and not the book’s). Facebook is, among all social media outlets, the most “engagement-friendly”. Targeted advertisements connect directly with the sort of readers you want to attract. Use other social media channels too – Twitter is great for recommendations, especially if they come from “influencers”. Instagram needs great visuals. And LinkedIn works excellently if your book has anything to do with a professional environment.
Sell it to your friends
Word of mouth is sometimes more effective than the best marketing campaigns, and there’s no better starting point than your own friends. Get in touch with them, get them to talk about your book, and spread the word. And insist they review it on a public forum like Amazon reviews if they’ve read it. Sure, they’ll come to hate you for shameless hustling, but what’s a little bit of hate when it comes to friends?
Reach out to bloggers
Blog reviews can be an effective marketing tool in the absence of mainstream media reviews. Your job as an author will be to identify bloggers who’ve reviewed books similar to yours, reach out to them, start a conversation, and get the publishers to send them the books.
Events and festivals
It’s not always easy to be featured at these, but there’s a way around it. Reach out to your alma maters, and see whether they’d be keen on having you speak about a book. Students are sometimes the most engaging audience any author can find, and it’ll do you a world of good if you can break down your book so that they can understand it.
Today, there are multiple media outlets on the internet. Pitch stories to them. Build a reputation as a writer. Pick a subject that interests you, or correlates to the book. Only when you put yourself out there as a writer will others consider you one — – and not just because you’ve written a book.
That’s about it. Not every book will end up becoming a bestseller, so there will be disappointments. But the key is to remember that you’ve succeeded in making a book – or twenty.
Amish Raj Mulmi is Consulting Editor at Writer’s Side Literary Agency. He blogs on publishing here.