Here’s what I thought:
I thought that on the magical day of my book launch, Oprah would call, and I’d be instantly catapulted to fame, riches and the top of the New York Times best seller list. B-List parties. John Grisham on speed dial.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.
Ask almost any author about their first publishing experience and they’ll laugh and snort and tell you that getting published is a lot like losing your virginity: You keep expecting fireworks, a swing band, and maybe the scent of warm peanut butter cookies, but usually it ends up being months or years of agonizing build-up for a speedy, clumsy and thoroughly lackluster event.
Lots of authors complain that they aren’t being toured. That our publishing houses giggle over “The only good author is a dead author.” That the publicity department isn’t doing enough (or frankly, anything at all.) That the books we pour our hearts and souls into are in and out of the book stores faster than you can say, “Ethel, box up those returns.”
And all of that is true. Sometimes.
But here’s what I’ve learned about publishing: your publisher will follow your lead. If you call up your publisher-designated publicist every day at 4:00 to whine about not being on Oprah, she’ll stop taking your calls after a week.
Publicists, at least those of the publishing house variety, are overworked and underpaid.
And if you call her up once a week to say, “Hey, can you please ship a poster of my book cover to Cleveland? I just booked myself a speaking gig at the CHICK LIT PANCAKE BREAKFAST at the Elk’s Club. Three-hundred and twelve senior citizens in funny hats, all hungry for a good love story,” she’ll bend over backwards to support you.
The more you do for yourself, the more they want to help you.
“The harder you work, the lucker you get” is a quote from Samuel Goldwyn, distilled from a quote by Thomas Jefferson. It’s also one of my favorites. I think a lot of the authors kvetching about their horrible publishing experiences are the same ones who die on the remainder table. The authors who sell books are the ones who do whatever they can to make a little rain themselves. Even if nobody’s helping them.
So here’s what I’ve learned from my five short years in publishing:
— If you whine, nobody will want to take your calls.
— Yes. They’re not doing as much as they could for your book. It’s the same for everybody who’s not Stephen King. Get over it.
— Publicity sells books. Keep pitching the media forever, and if you don’t know how, learn.
— Make your own press kits. Otherwise, your book will probably go out with a one page press release jammed inside it, possibly written by someone who has not actually read your book. If you need to know what goes into a press kit, email me and I’ll be happy to tell you.
— Be really, really nice to your readers.
— Be really, really nice to other authors.
— Don’t focus on what’s not going right, focus on the joy of what you’ve accomplished. And then, send out a press release. It helps to feel like you’re doing something — besides, there’s no reason you can’t type while you’re waiting for Oprah to call.
–Don’t let the imperfection of the publishing process suck any of the joy out of it for you.
Fifteen Minutes of Shame feels a little bit like a second chance at virginity: It is my first novel, but I’ve learned a lot from the experience of my other book. And you can bet I won’t be waiting around, hoping my publisher will make March 25 the greatest day of my life.
I’ll be hiring the swing band myself.
13 Replies to “Publishing, Schmublishing by Deb Lisa”
Such great advice and so very true. There may have been a time when an author could hunker over a yellow legal tablet toiling over their next great novel while others did all the dirty work, but for any author today, the legwork is as much of the sum total of having a book published as is the writing (and rewriting) of the thing.
I think this reminds us that just like anything else in life, we should step back and remember to enjoy the process, something most of us forget to do on a daily basis. Meantime, some warm peanut butter cookies would be lovely, thank you!
You had me at the description of losing your virginity (love how you threw the scent of cookies in there!). But in addition to that, this is good solid advice and I thank you for sharing it! I’m printing this one out…
You are spot on with your take on how this industry works. In writing, as in life, it is important to put yourself in other people’s shoes. The publicist, your editor, even, dare I say the media has to work within the reality of their fields–something we need to respect. Everyone has a perspective. Like you, I believe strongly that the harder I work and the nicer I am, the more positivity comes my way. And of course, it never hurts to bring along a band!
I have to be nice? No one said anything about having to be nice. : ) Great advice and spot on from what I have seen/heard from those further down the publishing trail. Plus- if you’re hiring a swing band I want to go to your book launch.
Excellent advice, Lisa! The learning curve for and level of personal investment in your own publicity has been one of the biggest surprises to me in publishing. I feel like I learn something new every day!
I just read a VERY helpful bit on strategy for approaching indie booksellers once your book is out. (To build goodwill towards hand-selling, ask them to stock and re-stock your book, etc.) Seems they prefer handwritten notes to phone calls & surprise drop-ins, and while cookies are nice, volunteering to help prepare for events, gift wrap at Christmas, or read / review ARCs is nicer. Of course, their #1 recommendation is to write a damn good book! 🙂 There is so much to learn about all of this, but at the same time, it also boils down to common sense, kindness, gratitude, and professionalism.
Great comments, everybody!!
Eileen: (and everybody else), you’re invited.
Gail: Wow, that’s so nice!!
Lynne: You’re absolutely right 🙂
Jess: Great advice!!
Jenny: A lot of unpublished writers believe that the hard part is writing the book, and/or selling it to a publisher. I think that by the time you write your book and publish it, you’ve maybe completed about 10% of the job. In my case, it took me 6 weeks to write my non-fiction book Stop Getting Dumped!, and I’ve been promoting the thing for five years. So in my case, writing the book was only 2% of the total effort.
Yikes, scary to write that down…
I’m a little freaked thinking that I still have 98% left on 15 Minutes of Shame…
Must. Eat. Cookies.
I LOOOOOVE THIS —> “The harder you work, the lucker you get”
Clearly I have not been working hard enough. Great post!
Whatever you’re willing to give of yourself — for who is this about anyway? –, the more you’ll get in return. Yes, it’s definitely another Law of the Universe. And here’s hoping, Lisa, that you land a CHICK LIT PANCAKE BREAKFAST at the Elk’s Club in Cleveland and every other major city!
Larramie–you make great point. After all, who is going to be a bigger advocate for you than you? (well, maybe someone’s mother could do that, but, generally speaking…)
Larramie — Thanks, you’re so sweet! I hope you land a PANCAKE BREAKFAST yourself!
Jenny –You’re absolutely right.
March 25 is already the greatest day ever — my Mom’s birthday 🙂
I too, will be printing this out, Lisa. We are very lucky to have you, with your sense of humor and your wisdom! Thanks for yet another fantastic and helpful post.
Danielle — Thanks, what a nice thing to say.
I’m so grateful to have landed here with the debs.
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