*Since this got super long while writing it, please note that this is now part I in a…more-than-that-part series. Let’s see how this goes.
I don’t know if you guys know this, but I’ve had a book out for two whole weeks now, so I’m kiiiiind of an expert at everything relating to publishing.
Whatever, though, because the truth is, no one really knows WTF they’re doing as far as I can tell, and so much of this business is luck, and I’m only one person with one experience. (Though I am gonna speak based on what I’ve learned from others as well, in a general sense.) But this falls under the category of things I don’t think people blog about enough, which tends to be my forte, so, hey! LET’S DO THIS.
Let’s start from the beginning: the actual announcement. Here are the few things you should know, in case you’ve yet to do this part:
- It can take days from offer to announcement, or it can take months. Some deals are never announced. This is really about how quickly things move, your agent’s style/preferences, etc. Not every deal can be announced in Publisher’s Weekly, but all announced deals should appear in Publisher’s Marketplace. If your deal goes up in PW (which mine did not), I believe you generally know when that will happen. PM can be more of a crapshoot.
- Agents are the ones who write the description. They may ask for input; they may not.
- Do not take an announcement as an automatic sign an agent or publisher is legitimate. It really doesn’t take much to be able to get yourself in there.
So, you have a deal, and you’re gonna debut – yay! Now what?
I am a huge proponent of joining a debut class if you can. I’m a member of OneFourKidLit, and while you get to see some great aspects of that – our lovely website, which lists me as a YA author; tweets and Facebook posts that promote our work; a great blog, which also promotes our work in addition to containing other fun stuff; being interviewed by a member of the upcoming class, which in our case is the Fearless Fifteeners (thank you, Becky!) – you also don’t get to see the private forum in which I’ve learned a ton, gotten to freak out a bunch, and generally had my hair held back by people a lot smarter than I am. There’s a ton to be learned not only from the authors who get published before you, but by the other debuts who happen to be in publishing or work as booksellers or librarians. I cannot emphasize that enough.
And then? Chill out. Work on your book – you’ll have plenty of edits to do. Do not go crazy promoting. Do not buy swag until you have a cover. Do not drive yourself crazy thinking about all the ways you should be getting out there right now. It does not matter yet. Forget about promotion until you have a cover and your book is available for pre-order.
The only other thing you should be doing now is building your presence as a person. I firmly believe every author must have at least a website. This is not the same thing as a blog; I really don’t think blogging should be a focus for authors unless they enjoy it and want it to be. But you should have a space that has at the very least your name and a way you can be contacted, your agent’s name, information about your books, and links to whatever social media accounts you have. There are plenty of other optional things you can include, but these are, in my opinion, the barest minimum.
As for social media, focus on that which you most enjoy. You may find you enjoy multiple mediums, and that’s great. But for the love of tequila, do not burden yourself with extra things you find to be laborious. The worst of these if you’re not into it is blogging, but really, anything you hate doing is not worth doing. I happen to be a good example of how social media can sell books – thanks, everyone who bought Behind the Scenes because you think I’m funny on Twitter! – but that’s partly because I love social media. I love Twitter and blogging. That’s why I do them, and I think that comes through.
Do I sell books through Facebook, Tumblr, or Pinterest – accounts I have but don’t really love using? I highly, highly doubt it. And of course you can link social media accounts to post from one place to another; I’m just not personally a fan. One big reason I don’t follow certain authors on Twitter is because I don’t like seeing my timeline fill up with links to the same article on three different media, especially those which don’t open well on my phone.
To go through them quickly, and my very brief opinions on best uses:
Twitter – my personal favorite, and I think the easiest way to be conversational and get to know your readers in a two-way dialogue. Make sure you’ve got both book info and a little personality in your bio, and link to your website.
Facebook – the reason Facebook kind of sucks is because the way it works is that your page is only visible to a small percentage of your followers. (It’s also supposedly not terribly big with teens anymore.) As people Like and Share it, that number goes up, but a given post’s reach is very dependent on people’s interaction with it. That said, I’ve definitely noticed among other authors that Facebook is great for fans outside the US, and at any rate, it’s extremely easy to maintain, so I see no reason not to simply have one that you update with news as relevant.
Tumblr – I really want to like Tumblr more than I do, but perhaps because I find it annoying on my phone, I just can’t get that into it. Some authors use it really well though, particularly the Ask feature, which is something I strongly suggest offering if you opt to make this your main social medium. This is also a great choice if you might want to blog occasionally but don’t want the pressure of a full blog.
Pinterest – My brain doesn’t really work in visual imagery, so while I try to make inspiration boards on Pinterest for my books (you can see Behind the Scenes here and Last Will and Testament here), I really don’t use them very well. Some readers love these though, as they’re great insight into an author’s brain and work.
Instagram – This is probably the fastest growing social medium with teens, so for YA authors, it’s a great thing to be good at. I kind of suck at it, but it’s probably a great way to connect with teen readers if you don’t!
YouTube – There is a good chance you will never, ever see me vlogging. But if you do like vlogging, and actually possess some video skill, this is a great way to show your voice and personality. This is the only social medium I personally do not use.
And a general protip: Whenever you’re stressing about what to talk about on social media, I can promise you this – recommending other people’s books never fails on any medium 🙂
Again, none are mandatory, and I don’t think any one medium is proven to sell books most successfully. It’s about the person using the medium, and the comfort level with it. So don’t bother pushing yourself into one you don’t enjoy; it will never, ever come out as worthwhile on the sales end, and that time will always be better spent working on your next book. (The only situation in which I’d say to push yourself to strongly embrace at least one, whether you like it or not, is if your book is digital-only, meaning your entire consumer base will be online.)
In fact, you’ll notice this as an overall theme of promotion: Pretty much nothing has a proven success rate 100% of the time. Yes, really. I know that’s super frustrating to hear, but it’s just a fact. I’ll talk about options and the things that worked for me in later parts of the series, but for now, I’ll finish with the really fun stuff that begins in this phase:
Emotions and Expectations
Here is a fun list of things that you can drive yourself crazy about once your book has sold:
- Are people adding it on Goodreads? (Not to anger the GR gods, but this doesn’t really matter. Goodreads is only representative of people who might buy your book and use Goodreads. Do your IRL friends and family use Goodreads? Because a thing I learned when I was freaking out about this was that 95% of them have no idea what Goodreads is. Stop freaking out about this.)
- That other book sounds like my book! (Premise and execution are not the same things. Your book is not that book. Stop comparing them.)
- No one is going to care about my book because it is light, fluffy contemp! (It is true that a lot of people are not going to care about your book because it is light, fluffy contemp. It’s also true you will bump up against a lot of people who don’t respect that genre and will never, ever consider giving your book more than four stars, even if they find no flaws in it. You will not be a Printz contender. You will not be a Morris contender. You might hear things like, “I read your book in an hour!” and initially be hurt because you worked on that book for months. You need to remind yourself of a few things: 1) You didn’t set out to be a Printz contender, or Morris contender; you set out to write a light, fluffy contemp, which is nowhere near as easy as people think it is, but is something a lot of people need/want. As long as you did it well, you succeeded. 2) I don’t know how long your light, fluffy contemp is, but mine’s almost 90,000 words. If people are speeding through 90,000 words without realizing it, I’m gonna pat the hell out of my own back for my skill with pacing.)
- No one is going to care about my book because it is [insert other genre here]! (Sorry, my personal experience only extends to light, fluffy contemp so far, but at least you know someone else feels your pain.)
- A lot of people don’t take my book seriously because I’m with a small press. Yup. Sucks. And it’s one of the things you’ll have to learn to deal with if you sign with one, so make sure you have the capacity to own that choice. I find that getting a review from SLJ and seeing my book in a crap-ton of stores really helped with that.
- A lot of people don’t think my book is a real book because it’s digital-only. If reading ebooks counts as reading a book (and I’m prettttty sure it does), then writing an ebook counts as writing a book. I want to say “That’s just science!” but it’s not even science. It’s more obvious than science. Again, you have to have the capacity to own your choice, but also that’s just a really dumb thing for someone to say, so, there’s that.
- That other book is getting so much attention/love/recognition of its importance, and mine is not 😦 Yup. This is really hard. I am not going to pretend it isn’t. I’ve spent a lot of mental energy on this one, both because I’m with a small press, and we get less respect, and that’s hard, and because I genuinely envy those who can write the kinds of books that change people’s lives, and I’m not one of them. One big thing I learned during this process was that I don’t particularly “envy” professional or financial success (probably largely because it’s not something I’ve ever expected or even hugely wanted for myself, hence being cool with a small press), but I very much envy the ability to write something people love, something that makes people feel different, something that makes people want to be evangelical about a book. And that was a really hard lesson. But at the same time, I think it’s something that pushes me to work as strongly toward it as I can, to prize potentially making a difference over making a buck (which, again, easier to say when you’re not a fulltime author), and it’s a huge part of what’s driven me to write a lot more diversity in the past year. (BtS is the last book I wrote in which both the MC and LI are white and straight. I’m working on my fifth book since.)
- Bad reviews! (Yup, you’ll get them. Everyone does. Nothing I tell you will make you feel better about them, including how many times JK Rowling was rejected, or the fact that some people even hate your favorite book, or that you’ll probably get more good reviews than bad ones. You’re going to get them, and they’re going to suck, and eventually you’ll get over them.)
Tune in tomorrow when I’ll be back with part II, covering aspects of self-promotion from when you get your cover and onward through ARCs. Until then, please leave and questions, personal experiences, or general thoughts in the comments!