I feel qualified to write this post for a number of reasons. First, I am a successful author. Second, I have worked in publishing, as have several close relatives and friends. I’m assuming that you’re interested in writing for traditional publication; I intend to cover self-publishing in a different post. So here are my ten top tips for successful book authoring.
- Remember that publishers need you more than you need them. You can write and publish, online and in hard copy, without ever going anywhere near a publishing company. Conversely, publishers can’t function without authors.
- Find a book that needs to be written: ideally one you’ve looked for because you want to read or recommend it, and definitely one that doesn’t exist yet.
- Learn how the publishing business works. The more you understand about the process, the better you’ll be able to work with your publisher. This will also help to reduce the likelihood of potentially stressful surprises.
- Research different publishing companies and choose one that you think will suit you and your book. Don’t hesitate to ring one or more commissioning editors for your subject area to discuss your idea; their phone numbers should be on the publishers’ websites. It’s worth asking whether they already have something similar in the pipeline. If they do, finding out at an early stage will save you work; if they don’t, you can have more confidence in your idea. Also, a phone chat gives you a chance to suss them out and get a feel for whether you will be able to work together well.
- Negotiate a contract with deadlines you will be able to meet. You can ask for changes before you sign the contract; once it’s signed, there is no going back.
- If you’re in the UK, as soon as you have a draft contract, join the Society of Authors and ask them to vet the contract for you before you sign. (You can’t join the Society before you have a draft contract, unless you have already published a book or equivalent.) If you’re not in the UK, find out whether there’s a comparable organisation in your country – or, if you can afford it, get your draft contract checked by a suitably qualified and experienced lawyer.
- Calculate the number of words you need to write each week to meet your deadlines while leaving some time in hand for contingencies. Write that number of words each week.
- Be kind and courteous to the publisher’s staff, even at times when you may not feel particularly well-disposed towards them. Respond to their emails and phone messages in a timely fashion, and deal gracefully with feedback. Remember, they’re busy professionals too; just because publishers need authors doesn’t give you license to behave like a prima donna.
- Meet those deadlines.
- Be prepared to help publicise your book. The publisher’s marketing department should help, particularly around the time of publication, but they have new books to work on every month so they won’t be able to keep the focus on your book. But you can. Promotion doesn’t need to take up a huge amount of your time and effort, but it’s crazy not to do some basic tasks. Such as: add a link to the book to your email signature; get flyers from the publisher that you can hand out at conferences and other events; put the cover image on any slides or handouts you create. If you can use social media, so much the better, but anything you can do will help.
Of course there’s a lot more to becoming an author than that – but if you follow these top tips, the rest should fall into place. Good luck!