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This Is Really Happening: Preparing Yourself for the Life
of an Author
Imagine for just a moment that you are at a book signing. It
may be for a book that the New York Times
magazine reviewed and is considered to be one of the best books of the year.
Let’s also say that you’ve been a fan of this author for some time; you’ve read
all of her books and, when you found out that a new one was coming out, you
were as excited as a third-grader having a birthday party at Chuck E.
Cheese—with twenty of his best friends. I went to some great birthday parties
at Chuck E. Cheese while growing up, so I can imagine that being the guest of
honor is one of the most amazing things that could ever happen to a kid.
Now imagine that you’re next in line to have your copy of
the latest title signed by this author. What’s going through your mind? If
you’re like many people who have become fans of celebrities, notable
individuals, and artists, you’re probably going to be pretty excited (and maybe
“pretty excited” doesn’t come close to describing your experience). You may not
be able to contain that excitement, such that you start shaking nervously or
saying, Oh my God! I can’t believe this!
over and over again in your head. You may even stumble over words when you go
to shake the author’s hand, clutching the book very closely toward your chest,
never wanting to let go it.
That is the kind of effect you can have on other people as a
writer. Granted, this is not typical for most authors, or this scene would be
played quite regularly in bookstores through the country on any given day. But
that does not mean it can’t happen for you. Let’s face it: if the material you
are writing about is that good, and the marketing and promotional stuff is
handled in such a way that people are really connecting with it, sharing it,
and singing its praises, this could become a reality. So why not start out with
that as the end in mind? Why not start out thinking you are the person behind
the chair, signing copies of your book? Why not think that you have fans who
come from hundreds of miles away just to see you and hear what you have to
say—and, of course, get a copy of your book?
When I was first starting out in publishing I was fortunate
enough to be working with a really great team who believed very much in my
abilities. I was on the verge of tears when I learned I had received an
internship—an unpaid internship, mind you—at the University of Virginia Press
while I was working on my undergraduate degree. My love of writing had by that
time boiled over and, thinking that I would have some role to play in
publishing, I looked for opportunities to learn as much as I could about the
industry. One of my mentors at UVAP, managing editor Ellen Satrom, asked me why
I was so happy to be there working on manuscripts. I said, simply, “This is a
dream come true.”
I allowed that passion to permeate everything I did while
working at the Press. I was fortunate enough to have a two-semester internship,
and I spent quite a bit of time proofreading manuscripts that were ready to go
to print. One of those manuscripts, which eventually became a book called Paranoia and Contentment (U. of Virginia
Press, 2005), would be released sometime the following year. I just happened to
find out that the author was having a book signing at a bookstore in downtown
Washington, D.C., so, naturally, I found a way to be there.
At the end of the author’s presentation, I waited in line
while he shook hands and signed copies of his book. I had been a great admirer
of his work; I made sure the managing editor conveyed my thoughts about it to
him directly during production. But now it was time for me to do it myself. It
was not often that I had the pleasure of meeting someone who had made such a
profound impact on the way I think, so this was certainly a special treat. As
you can probably imagine, I had some of those Oh my God! I can’t believe this! moments as I stood there in line.
And when the time came to greet him, I remember seeing the look of appreciation
plastered across his face after I told him of my involvement in getting the
book ready for publication.
That moment stands out among many that have developed over
the course of the last few years as a highlight of my career. It represents the
highest aim of my career goal: to make a difference in the world by helping
others. Being able to play a small role in the production of someone else’s
work gave me the feeling that I was fulfilling my life’s purpose.
Over the years I have been present for other authors’ book
release parties and book signings. It’s an extraordinarily wonderful feeling to
know that you’ve worked so hard on something for as many odd months as it took
to get a manuscript ready for printing, only to see an author’s jubilant smile
as he or she reads from a copy of it.
Why am I saying all this? Well, it’s important for you to
know what your real passion is before
you go into publishing.
Why Are You Writing?
There are many different reason people write, and there are
many outcomes from such writing that people expect. Before you venture on in
your publishing journey, it’s important to determine why you are writing. Do
you have a product or service you would like to promote? Do you have a business
that could use a few more leads? Are you a fan of fantasy fiction and want to
carry on the tradition, like a tribal elder? Obtaining the answers to these
questions at the outset is very important if you want to go into publishing
with a clear head.
One of my clients, who has had great success with publishing
mentioned recently that her business had increased 400 percent since she began
her publishing journey. Four hundred percent! That’s phenomenal, if you really
think about. She set the intention to reach more people and increase her
business leads, and her books have helped to do just that: people can read the
material—very detailed information about which she can speak with authority and
with passion. And, should they be in need of additional services, they can
contact her directly.
If you are an expert at something, and you are speaking
about something with authority—again, something about which you are
passionate—there’s a much better chance for success in publishing.
Then the passion you have for your topic is able to filter
through much easier. Even a novelist can be expert. Another one of my clients
has an up-and-coming murder mystery series. The stories she is telling come
from her experience as an attorney. Through her professional life, she had been
able to observe all aspects of the criminal justice system. And she has
combined her love of writing with her professional life to create
larger-than-life tales of a beat cop turned investigator who ends up working on
high-profile cases. I should also mention that she has written nonfiction books
about the criminal justice system that have become bestsellers and helped to
build her law practice.
Yet another one of my clients writes children’s books. He
spent his entire career as an educator. He is able to write from a child’s
perspective because he’s spend so much of his life trying to see things through
a young person’s eyes. He’s on a speaking tour this year and hopes to reach
over 5,000 children—a rather large potential market for his books.
“It’s more important to be interested, rather than
interesting,” as one my favorite clients, Victoria Benoit, once said. She runs
a company called the Center for Extraordinary Outcomes, where she utilizes her
experience as a licensed therapist and life coach to guide her clients to their
greatest potential. Her forthcoming book, What
Would Love Do Right Now? provides guidelines for people to impact every
aspect of their lives and live with meaning and purpose.
By identifying a deep-seated personal goal of your own, you
can have a clear head about why you are writing and what you intend to get out
of it. After all, if you are passionate about something, and your writing
becomes an extension of that passion, don’t you think your journey will also be
filled with passion?
Social Engagement 101
I am introducing the term social engagement early on in this book because I want you to
become familiar with it. Successful writers are masters as social engagement.
Writing is a form of communication, after all, and it naturally follows that
writers are effective communicators. As part of your publishing journey, you
have to be ready to engage with other people. New technologies have made it
much easier to connect with people halfway across the globe. Later I’m going to
offer you some suggestions on how to leverage the power on the internet and
social media to connect with the types of people who will have the greatest
impact on your sales, your business, and your readership.
How Can I Help?
If you own a business, you already know how important it is
to maintain a service-oriented outlook. You know that your reputation relies on
providing great services that are consistent, helpful, and that add value.
Maintaining a spirit of service when you are going about your publishing
journey will also help you make the most impact. People will understand that
you are there to help them, which will make them more likely to help you.
What do I mean by that? Something we’ll talk about a bit
later in the marketing section is using giveaways. If they are planned
properly, giveaways can actually return to you in terms of sales and leads one
hundred fold—or, in the case of the client I mentioned earlier, four hundred
One of my author clients has been in the habit of giving
away free copies of her books and discounted services to people who visit her
website. It seems like a small gesture, but it sends a clear message to the
customer: this person is being of service
to me. People who have received something based on the generosity of others
are more likely to spread that generosity. While we may not be able to
determine how that will pan out, it could lead to more sales, more leads, or
greater media exposure. Sociologists like to call this the Ripple Effect; what
we send out impacts others and spreads, much like a drop of water into an
For the many years that I have been working with authors and
in publishing, it has oftentimes been difficult for me to put a price on what I
do. I have spent my days pouring over manuscripts, fact-checking and verifying
information, and looking for ways to enhance content. Occasionally, I might
have a conversation with the author in which we brainstorm ideas about how a
reader might interpret what they are writing. Then, as the production process
wears down, I might be spending hours in front my computer creating a layout
that reflects the author’s message, or packaging files to be uploaded to
In all of this, there isn’t much that seems like work to me.
Yes, I am spending hours doing work, but it doesn’t seem like what I would
normally associate with the word work.
Political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote in The
Human Condition (U. of Chicago Press, 1998) about work being the most
unnatural part of human life because “it takes materials from nature and actively
changes them so that they create a lasting product.” Well, that doesn’t sound
like what I was doing. It felt more like I was being the most natural part of
Your commitment to being of service to others should shine
through in your writing and in all aspects of your publishing journey.
Come Up with a Realistic Timeline for Releasing Your Book
Lots of authors with whom I’ve worked in the past are
unaware of all the steps involved in getting a book ready for release. As a
self-publishing author, you will be
responsible for paying members of your book production team for services
rendered, as well as organizing them to assure a smooth process. In the next
chapter I will be walking you through the standard workflow for books being
produced in the modern digital age. This will help you not only find the types
of people who can assist you with production of your work, but it will also
make your journey though publishing more enjoyable.
I have worked with quite a few authors who weren’t aware of
things that had to be done to a manuscript before it was ready for release.
Some of them set up book release parties, speaking engagements, and other
social events not knowing that there was not enough time to edit the
manuscript, design the book’s interior and cover, set up the title with the
printer, and order copies. You can avoid unnecessary frustration by learning as
much as you can at the very beginning of your journey.
It helps to be realistic about a book’s release date. By
following a few guidelines, you can be sure to leave ample time for all of the
Give yourself about a three-month window for production. In
production you may need to have your manuscript edited, formatted, sent to a
printer or to Kindle, and then checked one last time before it’s ready for
release. Giving yourself a three-month window accounts for anything that may
have been overlooked in the initial production stages. Some of these things may
Creating special graphics (tables, charts, etc.)
for your book’s interior or cover
Time for you to review the contents of a
manuscript edit and address necessary information
Further development of the manuscript and its
Creating an index or supplementary materials,
such as advertisements
Adding endorsements from reviewers and beta
Adding a foreword or afterword from an expert in
Compiling a list of references, research, or
“for further reading” information
Applying for trademarks or service marks
Registering your book with the Library of
Any of these things can add weeks to your timeline, so it’s
best to prepare in advance. As the author, you may not know what you need to do
in the production stages.
The Book Shepherd: Guiding Lost Sheep
If you work with someone like me, a book shepherd who guides
people through the process, you can get a realistic understanding of what may
be involved in your book production journey. This is a step that a lot of
authors do not take. By not hiring someone who can guide a first-time author
through the process of publishing, you run the risk of making many of the
rookie mistakes I listed above. Even someone who is writing a novel series
might want to hire a book shepherd as well. What if you need to design some
maps of that world you created to make your book have that super-mysterious,
polished look? What if you really need a glossary for all those new terms you
invented in your fantasy series so that people can keep track of everything?
Without someone guiding you through the process, you may release your book,
only to find that people are left lost and in the dark.
Find someone you can trust to help you get through the
process. You can search online for book shepherding agencies, or you can find
individuals who have such a great knowledge of publishing they may just call
themselves publishing consultants. At any rate, here are some qualifications
and tips to help you find the right person:
Look for people with extensive knowledge of the
publishing industry. If they have worked in three different departments within
a publishing house, chances are they know the ins and outs of publishing quite
Oftentimes, editors make great shepherds. Many of them
are so accustomed to seeing the big picture when it comes to creating a book,
they can serve as good guides for walking you through the process. Look for
editors who are seasoned in book publishing, rather than other areas of print
or online media.
People who have worked on lots of different titles in
different genres make great shepherds. Since no single project is like any
other project, someone who is versatile is more than likely a great fit for
your project as well.
Look for people who also have great relationships with
other book production people. Ask a candidate if he or she knows a graphic
designer or an illustrator or an indexer or a book layout specialist (even if
you’re sure you won’t need any of them). Well-connected shepherds can make your
publishing journey a lot easier.
Use your gut instinct. Ask for recommendations from
previous clients, and ask those clients about their experiences.
Ask lots of questions of a prospective candidate. If
the shepherd is a good fit for you, he or she will not mind in the slightest.
He or she should demonstrate a passion for guiding people, much like you
display your passion for writing.