This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers at any stage of their career can talk about seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning. This installment is from writer Tom Leveen.
Tom is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Marcia won.)
Random House Children’s Books, now available in paperback.
website, www.tomleveen.com, on Facebook, and at Twitter @tomleveen.
1. Adore booksellers. Most aspiring novelists don’t grasp how instrumental hand-selling at brick and mortar bookstores is to their career. Booksellers, if they like your book, will push it at checkout. They are asked their opinions all day by people coming to the store for one purpose: to buy books. Treat booksellers—from district managers to cashiers—like emissaries of the One True God, because as far as your career goes, they just might be. Don’t kiss up or be a boor (or bore); be yourself, but be your best self. And buy from their stores and urge others to do so.
2. Make appearances. For free. Hand in hand with publishing YA and MG novels are school and library appearances. Accept every opportunity to present your book or teach a class. For free. Many authors disagree with me on this, and they are right to an extent. The argument goes like this: Every hour you spend not writing is potentially lost income. Make an English teacher happy, however, and you’ve earned a lifetime fan, with potential “little” fans coming in each year. Word of mouth may be more valuable than an appearance honorarium. I think getting paid for school visits is something that comes during the middle part of a career. For a first novel, it’s free advertising and PR. Books two, three, or four may be another story.
Local bookstores can arrange school visits, and have a set amount of books the school must purchase; say, 10 to 25 copies. You may not walk away with cash in hand, but you just sold ten or more copies, and many potential fans—who blog and tweet about books and authors—just met you face to face. You can’t top that.
3. Calm down. Nothing moves more slowly than waiting to hear from an agent or editor. I lost many hours my first year in being overwrought, overdramatic, and overwhelmed by the fact that I controlled next to nothing. My advice: Suck it up. Move on to the next project. Sooner or later your agent/editor will get back to you. There is nothing wrong, however, with a polite email to ask how things are going. Underscore polite.
4. Pimp your novel. Wanna sell a million copies of your novel?! Here’s the secret: Tell people it exists. Selling your book often comes down to letting people know it’s available. Be your own best cheerleader. Have postcards and business cards on your person at all times. Be ready with an “elevator pitch” to give at a moment’s notice. Answer the question, “What is your book about?” in thirty seconds or less in an intriguing way.
5. Network. Hey, I’m guest blogging on the GLA blog! Why? I love writing about writing, and maybe a few of you will buy my book. Let us not descend into total fantasy here: one reason to write guest posts (for free!) is because it’s a good way to be seen. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube … you cannot expect good sales without utilizing these online social networks. Upon publication, you’re not just a writer anymore—you are a small business owner.
6. Write more books. My next novel (Zero, due Spring 2012 with Random House—see, I’m pimping my book!) was first written in 1993, and completely re-written several times. But it wasn’t the only book I was working on, and wasn’t the first one published. Imagine submitting your opus to Dream Agent, who writes back, “Loved your voice, but this story isn’t for me. Let me know if you have anything else.” This is your shot! Except … uh-oh, you don’t have another book to send her? Bummer.
Furthermore, don’t put all your creative eggs in one vampire-urban-fantasy-romance-YA-with-series-potential basket. You are a writer; write. Write novels in other genres. Maybe your first won’t land you an agent, but your second—or fifth—might.
7. Have something to say. We all (hopefully) have something we are passionate about. Have something to say, and be able to say it well in public, like a book signing. Passion is more infectious than a stale reading from your novel, which is like reverse Shakespeare: it was meant to be read silently, not performed aloud. Consider skipping a reading in favor of talking about something that makes your whole face light up, and tie it to the plot or theme of your novel. More people will pay attention, and the applause may move from polite to thunderous.
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