There is nothing more exciting or more terrifying for a writer than the launch of her first book. It is the culmination of years spent dreaming, crying, and working hard hard hard. Other people (aka those not related or otherwise known to you) will finally be reading your words. For anyone about to venture down this path (or hoping to in the near future) here are my words of wisdom, based on my experience.
It's easy to get swept up in the idea the promotion will make a book a hit. As authors we control so little in this business, so much of our fate lies in the hands of others, I think we grab onto promotion as something we can do to direct our path. The hard truth is that there are two ways for a book to become a hit. Either it gets an astronomical push from the publisher (who can do more with their pinky finger than you could with your entire advance and every waking hour) or it builds by word of mouth. Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games weren't bestsellers out of the bat. They took time to build. People talked. Friends told friends "You have to read this!" And they did. The only way get word of mouth is to write the best, most compelling book you can.
You Can't Do Nothing
Okay, so it's true that an author is expected to do more than just turn in a well-written book. Very few can get away with the hermit life, completely shut off from the public world, and still expect to have a successful career. (And since you're here, reading this blog, I'm guessing you're not one of those people.) At a very minimum, you need to have a website or blog, with a way for readers, reviewers, librarians, and booksellers to find out more about you, your books, and how to contact you. It doesn't have to be super shmancy or crazy expensive. Just something clean, easy to navigate, and that reflects your writing voice.
Let Them Read Words
As I said in my first point, word of mouth is the best promotion you can get. And the only way to build word of mouth is to let people read something so they can talk about it. Whether it's posting an excerpt on your website, sharing a bonus short story related to your book, a regular blog, or just flat out giving books and ARCs away (I cannot count how many copies of my books I've given away in the past three years), give as many people as possible an opportunity to read your words. If the words are enough, they'll buy your next book and the ten after that. If they aren't... well, then make sure that they are in the next book.
Keep Looking Ahead
Besides making sure this book is the very best book you can make it, the next best thing you can do is write the next book. Whether it's a contracted sequel, something new in the genre, or something altogether different, keeping moving forward. You never know when you will find that magic spark. Ally Carter published two chick lit novels before finding her niche with her bestselling Gallagher Girls series. Suzanne Collins wrote a successful middle grades series before writing her phenomenal Hunger Games trilogy. Susan Beth Pfeffer wrote... holy cow, I don't know how many books before Life As We Knew It, but she's publishing her 77th this year! The point is, don't get complacent with where you're at. Always look for exciting challenges and new directions. Who knows where the next book will take you?
So, in summary, my advice for authors who want a career in publishing:
- write the best book you can
- make yourself accessible online
- let people read your words
- make the next book even better
Anything beyond this basic list (blogging, vlogging, bookmarks, Twitter, Facebook, whatever's next...) is bonus. Do them if you enjoy them. Don't if they make you cringe. It's as simple as that. Don't waste your energy on something you hate. Save it for the next book.
Others have given great(er?) advice before me. Kiersten White dished hers recently. I can't find specific posts, but I'm sure Diana Peterfreund and Justine Larbalastier have excellent ones buried in their archives. Take theirs and mine with a grain of salt, because we can each only speak from our personal experience, and there are always exceptions to every rule. But I've seen enough common threads in my path, the paths of my friends, and those that others have shared online to believe that these are true and universal.