Pleasantly Persistent PR Blog
Advice for First-Time Authors
April 15, 2020
Writing your first book is a herculean task, filled with uncertainty on how to write a book, how to publish a book and how to market a book.

As a long-time book publicist, I get plenty of questions from aspiring authors. Below I clarify the exciting and confusing process of writing a book for the first time with this comprehensive advice for first-time authors.
Write the Best Book You Can
This may seem obvious, but many first-time authors plow through a draft without taking advantage of resources that can improve their writing. Sure, following these tips takes time upfront, but the result is a stronger first draft that likely needs less editing.

  1. Read. It's simple: the more you read, the better a writer you will be. Most full-time writers spend as much time, if not more, reading, rather than writing.
  2. Join a writing group. Authors enjoy helping other authors succeed and joining a writing group is a great way to provide you with a different perspective. Also, chat with fellow writers about their writing techniques to see if there are any tricks that could work for you. Some writing groups in the San Diego area, for example, are: San Diego Writers, Ink., San Diego Writers and Editors Guild, and Publishers & Writers San Diego.
  3. Consider a writing coach. Although they sometimes serve an editorial role, a writing coach mostly assists with organizing your draft. This is especially helpful for first-time writers trying to understand the process of writing a book.
  4. Be sure to outline. Every writer has their own approach to writing, but outlining your book is a must at some point. This will give your book a logical structure and flow.
  5. Find good readers. After you are done with your draft, find some good readers to give you substantive feedback. This means giving you their honest opinion, and not what you want to hear. If you don't know anyone you can trust to do this, consider hiring an editor.
  6. Make your edits. After receiving feedback, and taking a step away from your work, go back and make your edits. You may need a few rounds of people reading drafts and encompassing their recommendations.
  7. Work with a copyeditor. After you have a finished draft, it's time for line-by-line copy edits. This is to ensure that the grammar, formatting and spelling are accurate. The bottom line is that you want your draft to be polished before sending it to literary or publishing professionals.

To Use a Publisher or Self-Publish?
There are two main approaches to publishing your book: self-publishing or using a publisher. By self-publishing, you retain the rights to your work and have a much faster publishing-to-market turnaround. The downside is that you are also completely responsible for producing and financing the book (formatting, imagery, typeface, printing, etc.), as well as marketing it.

Traditional publishing means that the publisher retains the rights to the book, but oversees its publication, ensuring that the book looks polished and professional. Sometimes traditional publishers also market the book. The disadvantages are that time to market is considerably longer, and publishing deals are very hard to come by for first-time authors.

Tips for Self-Publishing

  1. Work with a publishing consultant. There are more steps to self-publishing than can be fully enumerated here. A publishing consultant will help demystify the lengthy and at-times confusing self-publishing process.
  2. Consider a hybrid publisher. As the name implies, hybrid publishing is a cross between self-publication and traditional publication. Publishing models vary by hybrid publisher. Some are more self-publication oriented, with the author paying for everything and printing under the publisher's imprint. Other times the model skews more traditional, with the publishing house offering editorial and marketing assistance.
  3. Format the book like a professional publication. Invest the time and money into a good graphic designer to give your cover appeal. Be sure the font size and type look professional. Don't forget details like page numbers and table of contents. You want to make sure that your self-published book looks like one that was published by a traditional publisher. A book buyer should not be able to tell the difference.

Tips for Using a Publisher

  1. Know your hook. When shopping your book to literary agents, or later for book promotion, be sure to know your hook. What makes your book stand out? A good way to get to the nut of what is marketable about your book is developing an elevator pitch: a catchy way of selling your book in a line or two. Also, when sending out inquiries to literary agents, take care that your cover letter is concise and compelling and that you send your best sample of work.
  2. Get a literary agent. A literary agent shops your book and negotiates the best publishing deal for you. Working directly with publishing houses is almost unheard of, making literary agents a must. Unfortunately, literary agents are hard to come by for first-time authors. Still, don't sign the first publishing contract that comes your way; review it closely and make sure you understand the small print. Contractual clauses will include important details about your responsibilities as an author and how much of a percentage the publisher will take from your book sales. This is a critical point that most first-time authors ignore. They get overly excited that a publishing house is interested in their book and disregard the fine print of their contract. If your book is selling for $15, you may only get a $3 royalty from the sale. This is the very reason it's vital to understand exactly what you are agreeing to and if you don't, have a lawyer friend explain it to you.
Work with a Publicist
It's all well and good to write a great book, but how do you get readers to read it?

In today's competitive media marketplace, marketing your book is just as important as good writing. Since few first-time authors are backed with the marketing power of a publishing house, you will likely need to promote your book on your own. Seriously consider a publicist, rather than trying to do all of the grunt work yourself.

Ideally, you will begin working with a publicist about three months before publication. When selecting a publicist, first identify your marketing goals, such as:

  1. Do I want more book reviews?
  2. Do I want to be seen as an expert in a certain field?
  3. Do I want to go on TV or radio?
  4. Do I want speaking engagements?
  5. Do I want to leverage my book for other professional endeavors?
Answering these questions upfront will make finding the right publicist for you a lot easier. For information on working with a publicist, read my blog on Is a Book Publicist Worth the Money?
Feel free to contact me
Julia Brown
Book publicist
Phone: +1 619-888-7956
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