Before I began working on my first novel, I dedicated several years to learning all that I could about the publishing industry. By the time that Killing Red sold, I felt I knew what to expect going forward. As it turned out, I was both right and wrong, and I’ve learned that getting your first book published is like a lot of other important events in life—there are things you simply cannot fully understand until you experience them.
I learned, in fact, many more than six things during my rookie year as a published author. But the ones I will discuss over my next two blog entries cover the most basic and, I believe, the most universal aspects of my experience.
1. BE PREPARED TO INTRODUCE YOURSELF—AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN
Before my first novel was published, I spent a great deal of time at writer’s conferences and book festivals, and was even involved in the running of one. I saw how some authors were prepared to meet and greet readers while others seemed surprised that someone wanted to talk to them. I also noticed which group of writers usually sold the most books.
Part of this is just basic human nature. Some of us are more outgoing than others. But when an author is at a conference or a signing, they’re on the job. And in this case the job involves introducing yourself to potential readers.
Be prepared in advance. Have a brief but compelling description of your book, your “elevator pitch,” ready for when someone asks you what your book is about. If you are fortunate, that’s a question you will answer many times. It’s important to project a genuine enthusiasm about your book and yourself. This may sound pretty basic, but I’ve been amazed by how many authors show up to signings and events and don’t seem to know why they are there.
When you’re a published author, readers will be happy to meet you, even if they don’t buy your book. Don’t disappoint them.
2. YOU HAVE A BOOK, BUT NOT QUITE A CAREER
You may no longer feel like that person who attended countless festivals, conventions, and signings. The one who sat through panel discussions, seminars, and college courses, combed through writer’s guides and trade magazine looking for a way inside. But you’re not who you hope to be someday, either.
I have a long background in sports, where there is always a pecking order—established veterans over rookies, stars over role players, etc.—so I understood exactly where I fit in the world of published authors. I think this helped me keep my expectations grounded in reality.
Enjoy your first success, you’ve certainly earned it, but you still have a long way to go to be more than a new author. Getting that first book deal will open some doors—run, don’t walk, through them. And always keep looking ahead and moving forward. There will be setbacks, but they’ll be easier to overcome if your focus is on the goals that you still have not achieved.
3. NOW YOU HAVE TO WRITE
An author’s first book is something of an indulgence. You have no guarantee that it will ever get published, still you sacrifice time away from family and friends, perhaps even work, to fulfill the desire or need to tell a story. Sure, most of us are fueled to some extent by the hope of a book deal and the dream of seeing our work on a store shelf. But that is such a long shot for anyone starting out, that it has to be considered an indulgence. And that’s okay. It’s a good indulgence.
Most authors write their first book for themselves. Many write all of their books for themselves. But if you’re fortunate enough as I was to land a multi-book deal, the outlook will be quite different when you sit down to write your second book.
No one had to sign off on your first book before you began writing it. You simply sat down with an outline next to you or an idea in your head, and got to work. That’s how it was for me with Killing Red. But before I began writing Mourn the Living I was told that it needed to be at least as good if not better than Killing Red. That makes all the sense in the world, but those thoughts did not enter the picture when I was working on my first book. And though you should always begin a new book with a belief that it will be the best one you’re capable of writing, knowing that expectation was out there was a new experience for me.
Most authors working on a multi-book deal are required to turn in an outline for their editor’s approval before they get the green light to go forward. This too makes sense. Your publisher has made an investment in you, and they want to feel confident that you will deliver a book they can sell.
When I was writing Killing Red I was not planning on it becoming the first book in a series. I approached it as a stand-alone (Which, incidentally, I think was a good thing). After Killing Red sold and I began thinking about my second book, I realized I had to take into account what would make my publisher happy, and balance that with my long term goals. I had a number of ideas that I was excited about, so the choice was not an easy one. One of those ideas eventually became Mourn the Living, and I decided to write a follow-up to Killing Red. I’m thrilled with that decision.
NEXT: 6 THINGS I LEARNED DURING MY FIRST YEAR AS A PUBLISHED AUTHOR PART 2