Selling Your First Book – What you Should Know

First books, like first husbands, can turn out to be a surprise. “If I’d only known he squeezes the toothpaste from the top…” “I should have asked his mother if she’d tried to cure him of dragging dirty boots throughout the house. At least I could have saved myself the trouble of ordering eggshell white runners in the hallways.” Do your research and you can save money on a shrink later on. Not to mention, you’ll make more money on a book that’s been planned strategically from the beginning.

Over a cup of tea at Barnes and Noble, I asked TJ Wray, author of Surviving the Death of a Sibling (Random House, 2003) and co-author of Grief Dreams (Jossey-Bass, 2005) what advice she would give to a new author.

She said, “You’re getting into a new business. You wouldn’t attempt to trade stock if you know nothing about the market. Why would you publish your book without understanding the field of publishing?” Good point, Tina. Inspired by Tina I have put together a list of my favorite resources on the publishing field which can be found on my website, under the Resources section.

Tina added, “Learn the lingo before you speak to your publisher. I thought a pub date meant going out for a beer. I didn’t want to say, ‘Huh?’ so I kept quiet. Later, I wished I’d asked sooner.” Tina’s advice rang so true, I decided to add a glossary to my website. After you read this article, you can click on my Glossary of Publishing Terms, and learn all the things Tina and I learned the slow way.

“Are there other things you didn’t know, things that your agent and publisher assumed you did?” I asked her.

“Things like, I have to pay back my advance?” she asked.

Wow, must have been a bummer the first time that statement came in with a few thousand books in sales and no check.

“I wasn’t very assertive,” Tina confided. “I thought I was being nice and easy-going, but the truth is, I neglected to research. I tell my students, ‘Knowledge is power,’ and here I was giving up all my potential power. I would advise new writers to understand the entire publishing process before the book ever comes out. Then they can actively develop a timeline and plan for promoting the book.”

I chime in, “Yeah, many writers assume that the publisher will promote their book. Even those of us who know it’s our job often think the publisher will provide some guidance. By the time we figure out that there isn’t going to be any guidance, we’ve missed the boat on some of the important, pre-publication work.”

Tina, full-time Professor of Religious Studies at Salve Regina University and the mother of three teens, tells me her secret is working one hour every night on book promotion efforts—writing letters, making calls, working on her website, answering e-mails. “Publicity isn’t challenging or difficult, it’s just time consuming. I follow up on every lead I get. My publicist just did the standard mail-outs with no follow-ups and he didn’t like to take direction or advice from me. Every single radio appearance and interview I got, I got on my own. Of course, he’s busy working on other books written by more trade-worthy authors. If I relied on him my book wouldn’t sell.”

So… have you published a book? Send me your “What I wished I’d known” if you’d like me to post it on my site and share it with others.