Most people admit that writing a book is work, hard work. We envision Jo March from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, scribbling away in her attic. Or we remember Mrs. Muir from The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, a movie based on the novel by Josephine Leslie. The ghost dictates his story and she cleans up the grammar to make it publishable, all the while leaving his swashbuckling spirit in the words. Even Jessica Fletcher, in the first episode of Murder, She Wrote, types away on a novel that her nephew submits (without telling her) to a publisher friend.
Then presto! The book is published and sells like hot cakes.
I fell for all of this, and began writing and dreaming of having published status many more years ago than I care to admit. And I did find that writing is hard work. But the presto & selling like hot cakes? Not so much.
Today, an author has many more hats to wear than just the introverted, muse-driven scribbler of great words. Here are some of those hats you might consider before deciding that you’ll write that novel next summer on your vacation time:
This is the most important hat to wear. As a writer you need to write, not just occasionally, or when the feeling hits you. Writing is a daily commitment–seven days a week. Will everything you produce be publishable? No, but it has to be done. Whether you get ink-stained hands or carpel tunnel syndrome on your keyboard exercises, you need to write until the thoughts in your head meld with the words on the page and truly communicate with your readers.
Let’s say your work is accepted for publication. Suddenly, you need to put on a business hat, and fast. There are contracts to sign (and yes, I’d recommend having either an agent or someone in the business help you review these), promotions to plan, bookkeeping to take care of. In short, the minute your book is accepted for publishing, you become a sole proprietor. And if you self-publish, that mantle falls even more quickly upon your shoulders.
Best face it now; your book and even you as a brand, need to be promoted–constantly. Your book is a product and it is in competition with not only every other book out there, but with all the other luxury items people buy. You’re literally competing with televisions, movie tickets, and dinners out. Mr. and Ms. America have limited funds, and your book needs to be appealing to them to the point where they say, “Yes, I want and can afford this, and I’ll buy this instead of that new curling iron I was thinking about.” To bring your book to their minds means that you need to create a strong marketing plan and execute it.
Isn’t that the publisher’s job you say?
Today, there are so many books published and so few marketing dollars, you can’t necessarily count on the publisher for your financial success. They have standard programs (which their audiences have seen a billion times), and solid contacts who will do one more review for them, but the bottom line is that if you want a successful sales figure (and royalty check), you need to have the passion about your work to be able to promote it to friends, family, strangers, and more strangers. Constantly.
HAT FOUR: SUBJECT MATTER EXPERT
You say your book has tree toads in it? In order to sell your book, maybe you should consider doing a tour of tree toad loving groups. Talk tree toads with them, and then happen to mention your book. This means, you may want to join a group like Toastmasters, or hire a speaking coach. Get your name onto the sites that journalists go to for expert quotes, and list those things you can talk about with some degree of in-depth knowledge. You may even write up fact sheets that you can reference and share as you build a reputation for being a “foremost authority in the love life of tree toads.”
Actor! No, I’m not asking you to fake your author status, but as a person who writes, you need to be prepared for opportunity whenever and wherever it strikes. What this means is that you create for yourself a persona as an author, then dress, talk, and be in that persona any time you go out in public. No, the National Enquirer or OK magazine aren’t going to do those sensational stories about you, but empathize with the actors they do cover and remember that in a small way, you are a celebrity too.
These are just a few of the things that authors do. So when you hear that they write for a couple of hours each morning, understand that a lot of the rest of the day is spent on a lot more than eating bon-bons, and sleeping. Writing is a 24-7 commitment. It just doesn’t always look like writing.
I’m off to the hat store, but you have a creative week, okay?