Do you imagine the writing life to be sitting by the pool, sipping a margarita, listening to the birds chirp, relaxing, and your only worry is a paper cut you might get opening the envelope for the latest royalty check? Or maybe your vision of being a writer is something a little more realistic – enthusiastically churning your thoughts into words and having a strong enough fan base to make it all worthwhile.
Writing a book begins, of course, with the story. That may seem obvious, but a lot of people have trouble just coming up with the idea. Even once the book is written, it will evolve through the editing cycle. Don’t be afraid of change, it can be very good at times.
Eventually you reach the stage where you feel you’ve done everything you can and are ready to get the book on the market. Don’t for a moment think that getting an agent or even a publishing contract is the end of the work, because it isn’t. A good agent will work to get you the best deal from the publisher, and the publisher will likely arrange some publicity for your book – radio, television, and print articles and interviews, and that might explode your work into a best-seller. Or it might not, even if your work is worthy. Take the initiative and use the tools available to do your own exploding.
An agent told me I needed a following, so I started doing some research on the topic to figure out how to build one. Agents want the next best seller, and so do publishers, and so do you, most likely. If you get the word out and a hundred thousand people start screaming for your book, that would tell everyone the score – agents will be incentivized to not only take you on but also to give you a sweeter deal as publishers will be more likely to get into a bidding war for your work.
Is it possible to get a publishing contract without a platform? It’s been known to happen, but you still have to get the word out. Remember the old saying if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound? The same is true with publishing – just getting a book published means nothing if no one knows about it. I recently read about someone who was thrilled to hear she’d gotten a two-book contract, but initial sales were below expectations so not only was the second book canceled but the first one, too. Don’t let that happen to you.
At a recent writers’ workshop we were asked, “how many of you have had a book published?” About three- quarters of the hands went up. “And how many will have a book published this year?” Just about the rest of the hands went up and, for a moment, I felt intimidated – I had no books published yet nor were any being published this year. But then I realized that, in reality, I had the advantage. The clock was ticking for everyone in the room but me, and suddenly I felt pretty good.
The main thing to remember is to not sit and wait for the world to come to you. Instead, here are six areas you should be working to get the word out.
Use your friends and family. Some say this is counter productive, but I say rubbish if you remain objective. John van de Ruit used word of mouth to get support for his very successful “Spud” book that has since been made into a feature movie starring John Cleese. The key is that this is a starting point, so don’t rely solely on this one avenue.
Build a website. This is your “home”, where you put out updates and provide visitors with details of your book. Don’t use Flash, not because it’s too fancy but because it limits who can see your site. The last thing you’d want is to have an agent want to check you out only to find their fancy mobile device doesn’t support it. If you must use it, use it sparingly. Put a tracker on each of your web pages so you will know who is coming to visit, where they are going, and how long they stay. Put in the time to have a decent amount of content and keep it current.
YouTube videos – this can be a double-edged sword at first. You don’t want to come off looking like a dork, and inexperience tends to work against you on this point. However, it’s better you look like a dork on YouTube than in front of a live audience. After all, you can always reshoot the YouTube video, and if that doesn’t work, take it down.
Facebook – build a fan page. If you already have a regular page, direct your “friends” to your “author” page and have them like it. Ask them to ask others to like it, too. However, don’t get carried away with the idea that the goal is to land an agent – the goal is to sell books so there’s little point in having thousands of “likes” if it really only means few sales.
Twitter – get active in tweeting little tidbits that may be of interest to others.
Blog – most recommend blogging about a particular subject that’s pertinent to your book. Since I’ve written a memoir, I chose to blog about my journey to publication, and I update the blog often so there’s always something for people to come back to.
Don’t try to maintain everything individually – that’s a lot of work, and if you get behind, people will likely notice. Instead, link everything together. For example, a post on my blog is copied to my Facebook fan page, my Facebook personal page, and my Twitter account. No fuss, no muss.
Last but not least – the paid advertisement. They say you have to spend money to make money, so consider this option. I haven’t included it in the six because I’m not certain it’s an essential avenue. I’m just getting into it having launched my very first campaign and at this point I’m inclined to suggest caution due to the cost – it’s easy to get carried away, but a small, low-budget test campaign can be useful. Mine lasted eight days and during that time I tweaked the ad and observed the results. While I did not become an overnight celebrity because of it, the campaign nonetheless was both fun and enlightening. Your results may vary.
Obviously, unless you have unlimited funds and all the answers, nothing is going to happen overnight. That’s why it’s called “building” a following. Be patient, keep working all the angles, and keep the momentum moving in a positive direction. Before too long you’ll start reaping the benefits on multiple fronts.
Richard P. Nixon is the author of Over the Hills and Far Away, a memoir about his parents’ attempts to save his older brother from himself, how he dealt with getting caught in the current, and his eventual realization that one must let go of the past in order to move on.
Visit http://www.richardpnixon.com – open your eyes before old age robs you of your sight.