You’ve written one draft, two drafts, you love your novel, your retired 5th-grade teacher loves your novel, so you must be ready to publish, right!?
Whoa back, wait up, hold on a sec, Pardner.
Before you even think about sending your book out into the big (sometimes bad) world to publish, you must make sure you’re both ready! That means getting a professional copy edit, finding qualified beta readers, deciding between traditional and indie publishing options, and researching accordingly a) overall market b) agents or c) indie publishers.
Of course, while you’ve been writing your book, you’ve been building your author platform: your website content and SEO rating, your social media presence, guest blogging, interviews, articles–in short, your “discoverability.” Oh…maybe you haven’t done all of this? Okay, do not panic, in an upcoming post, I’ll address steps you can take to increase your visibility. Right now, tip one: gain clarity on your publishing goals!
Okay, back to the 5 must-take-action steps for your publishing success:
- Have your book professionally edited.
A reputable, skilled editor can tell you if you need more than a copy-edit. If your thriller’s pacing drags, if your historical mystery suffers from expositional excess, if your coming-of-age novel suffers from stilted characters forced to serve your plot–then it is worth investing in a substantive edit. Only your very best novel should go out into the world.
- Use beta readers.
After your edit, use beta readers before you send to agents, editors, or before you push the “publish” button. Some editorial services offer sign-ups where you can pay interested beta readers a fee for their feedback. Before I send a final draft of one of my novels to my agent, I have at least 3 beta readers ready to give honest critical feedback. When I’m working with writers, we decide upon 3 or 4 or more suitable beta readers and we use a customized questionnaire. How do you pick your beta readers? Go for sensible variety. Do choose your target market readers (older teens for YA, young adults for NA, women for Romance, etc.). But don’t choose cookie-cutter readers. If you expect mostly but not exclusively female readers, make sure you have a male reader in the bunch. If you are writing military-action-thrillers choose men, yes, but also ask for feedback from a female reader who enjoys thrillers. Also, seek diversity–cultural, ethnic, social–especially if you are writing for young adult, new adult, mystery, thriller, historical, mainstream markets. You get the idea, always widen your reach when you can. While you are not writing for everyone, do seek to become aware of unintentional bias in your work.
- Review your publishing goals and balance your dreams with market realities.
Back in the day, there was one way to get published: find an agent who could find you a publishing house. Thankfully, you have many more choices these days. Those choices present challenges as well as opportunities. Submitting to select agents is a must if you aim to publish traditionally. In this case, you need your submission package to be just as polished as your novel: a pithy, on-point query letter, succinct synopsis, and riveting sample chapters. If you plan to publish independently, it’s your business to understand the steps to reach readers. You can publish your book electronically with very little effort–but that does not mean anyone will want to read or review it. Before you publish, you must have your marketing plan in place with a budget that includes publicity and promotion. Also, while you can pay to have books printed affordably, how do you get them into stores? Your book marketing plan should be geared to interest book distributors–again that means you have a platform, you are “discoverable” and you can become a brand.
- Re-Evaluate your publishing goals.
Do you have one thriller finished, two more in development, and three more in your “creative hopper”? Is your protagonist hard-driving and complex, your stories filled with twists, your style smooth and your pacing unrelenting? You might realistically be aiming for a big publishing house and the bestseller lists. In contrast, do you have one meticulously researched historical mystery with a wonderfully unique setting and colorful, memorable characters? If the book is strong enough, your voice distinctive enough, you might interest an agent, but she will want to know that you plan to write more books because she will be selling you to acquisitions editors as an author with a brand, whose “literary gems continue to surprise and delight readers” or whose “mysteries are historically accurate and deliciously consumable” or…fill in your tag line. Perhaps you’ve just completed one witty, wonderful novel about a bank-caper-gone-beyond-wrong-and-back-again in a town called “Yesterday.” You love your book and you know it will be your “only child.” It’s quirky and you would love to touch a few readers and more than a few if you can. When it comes to your publishing options, your time and resources might best be spent submitting to smaller presses while you also explore the myriad indie publishers, comparing their various packages and (a must!) feedback and ratings from authors who have used their services.
- Expand your platform.
Yes, we’re back to you, and the marketing of you as well as your book(s). I know writers who despair at the thought of self-promotion and who say, “I just want to hide away and write my books.” Hey, I get it. Many storytellers are introverts used to observing life, standing outside the “window,” nose to the glass, watching the action inside. And you can hide away to write your books–at least for a little bit–but then you must stand up and be counted! You must believe in your books and translate that belief into action to sell your books. That is true if you are aiming for traditional publishing, and it’s just as true if you are publishing independently and you want to reach your readers! You do want to touch as many readers as you can, I know you do. After all the blood, sweat, and tears, and all the TLC, and all the passion and attention and years you’ve devoted–all the heart you’ve put into sharing your story–you want to reach readers and move them so they tell other readers and they know where to find you!
Sarah Lovett is a best-selling novelist and the author of the award-winning “Extremely Weird” natural history series for kids. Blowback, co-authored with former CIA covert officer Valerie Plame Wilson is currently under film option. Sarah is busy revising her latest novel, The Book of Riddles. For more, please visit, SarahLovett.com and WritingCoachSarah.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.