Publishing your book: What I wish I’d been told

When my first book was published, the overwhelming feeling after the initial flurry of excitement, was of being alone. Left to your own devices being an author can be a solitary business. In my case, and I know this isn’t true for some authors, I had lots of time to obsess over the book. How was it doing? Did people like it? Was it on sale in lots of bookshops? All perfectly legitimate questions but, not very helpful when you are running through them many, many times a day. I wish I had known not to make the classic mistakes below, so here are my top tips for what not to do after your book is published:

  1. Don’t read the reviews. Of course reviews are important, we all know that. Your publisher will tell you to encourage readers to leave reviews on Amazon or Good Reads or other sites, as it will help the visibility of your book and this is true, however obsessively looking at these reviews isn’t a recipe for a happy author. Try to remember that most reviewers will not have spent agers crafting their review, it will most likely be an off the cuff quick opinion. Some will be good, some will be bad. It isn’t personal. However, reading and re-reading negative reviews will only have a negative impact on you and the way you see the book. So, try not to do it. While the good reviews will undoubtedly make you feel ten feet tall, the bad will have the opposite effect, so steer clear. You’ll feel so much better.
  2. Don’t expect too much from family and friends. While publication day will be one of the most significant moments in your life, for your family and friends it is just another day. Count yourself lucky if you have a super supportive bunch around you, that’s wonderful, but if you don’t then it isn’t a reflection on you or the book. The chances are that everyone is busy just getting on with life. Stop and think about how much interest you take in your friends’ jobs and that may give you some perspective. It is lovely to have your own cheerleading squad who get out there and spread the word for you but don’t expect it.
  3. Don’t check for your book in bookshops. Ok, this is a difficult one. There is nothing like the thrill of wandering into your local bookshop and finding your book on the shelf. When I was on holiday in Australia and discovered The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau in Sydney airport, I was thrilled (and pretty surprised), but in those first few weeks after publication it might be that your book has a limited release. The publishers and retailers may be waiting to see how well it does first before ordering more copies and so combing your local area’s book shops to find your book, only to come up blank, can be a dispiriting exercise and give you a false impression of how the book is doing. My advice would be to check in if you happen to be going in to a bookshop, however don’t go making special trips on a searching mission. Whether you see it in situ or not, won’t make a difference to the book’s overall marketing.

How much power do you have as a first time author? 

I remember the first meeting I had with my publisher about my book, The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau. The room was full of people including my editor, several members of the sales team, publicity team and the publisher. I was thrilled they had all made time in their schedules to meet and talk about the plans for the book launch. It was a really positive meeting with lots of ideas on how we could all work together to make the book a success. I was pleased they were keen to hear my ideas too, despite me having very little experience of the publishing world. I went away happy.

Over the next few months there was a lot of back and forth over the book and there was no doubt that I was kept in touch with what was happening on my behalf. However, and this is a crucial point, I wasn’t in control of the process, which at times felt like an uncomfortable place to be. As a writer I think you are very used to working alone, toiling over your manuscript before sending it out and then waiting alone once more for any sort of feedback. However, once the initial euphoria of securing a book deal has died down there is the actual business of getting it out there to contend with and to do that you have to put a lot of faith in people you may not know very well. It is the nature of the business and once you have signed that contract you have to relinquish quite a bit of control.

So, in the lead up to the launch I left it in the hands of the experts. Professionals that knew the industry really well and wanted the book to be a success. I checked in regularly, asked if there was anything I could do to help and did as much advanced publicity as I could. And this is one area where you can make a difference. While the placement of your book in local and national bookshops is very much the domain of the sales team, publicity works best when the publicity team and the author work together. My suggestions and ideas were taken on board and when I showed a willingness to use my background as a journalist to develop my own opportunities this was appreciated. After all, the publicity team are usually launching a number of books at one time and anything you can do to maximise the book’s visibility to potential readers is welcomed.

Despite these collaborations, for me the whole process did feel a little uncomfortable. I was painfully aware of my lack of knowledge of the industry, so perhaps at times didn’t push my ideas, as I wasn’t quite sure whether they were realistic or not. After going through the process, for future books I would have more confidence in presenting ideas anyway and wait to be told if I was way off the mark. I also had a distinct fear of being labelled the “annoying author” or the “difficult one” if I contacted them too much. There was no basis for me to feel this way but for my second book I wouldn’t have this fear.

It just goes to show that the first time you do anything is usually scary and you are beset with self doubt, particularly when you have invested a lifetime’s worth of dreams in the moment. The stakes feel incredibly high. My advice to first-time authors though would be to push your ideas as much as you can, as no one is going to be a bigger advocate for your book than you are. Don’t be afraid of what other people will think. Often your ideas will be welcomed or at the very least considered and if they really aren’t appropriate the worst that your publisher can say is no.