If you’ve found your way here, it’s probably because you’ve just finished writing your first book. And first, let me say—CONGRATULATIONS!!! That’s something to be seriously fucking proud of. Good for you. Take a minute, or a week, to pat yourself on the back. A lot of people start a book, but a tiny fraction of that number actually finish one.
You might be thinking, I’m going to reach out to my favorite author and ask them for advice, but you can’t just message them and say, “HEY YOU. I did a thing, and I want you to read the thing, and then I want you to promo the thing because it’s the most wonderful thing ever written and we’re going to be best friends!!!!”
No, you can’t say that, because that would be insane! And it stinks of stay-at-home-mom-from-high-school asking you to buy into her Tupperware company because you can make money at home, just like her!
Nah, you’ve got more social skills than that!
So instead, you’re probably plotting to take the subtle approach. Yeah, you’re going to tell your favorite author how much you love their writing, their characters, and ohhh sweet baby in a manger—their world-building! It’s the tits!! Yeah, you’re going to take this shit nice and slow. Make a friendship connection, and then, after weeks (or months, for the truly savvy), you’ll mention that ‘Hey, I just finished writing my first book…’
Stop. Doing. This.
I can only speak for myself, but it’s been happening to me since the Literotica days. Nearly ten years now. Don’t get me wrong, established authors are happy you’re thinking of publishing. I mean it, there’s tonnes of space in this industry for all of us, because no matter how amazing you think your books are, the readers will be the ultimate metric of your success.
And yeah, established authors have a literal metric fuck-tonne of information to share. Personally, I do nothing BUT think about this industry. I dream of it, and wake up, text my best friend with answers to questions we had the day before, and then go back to sleep to dream of some more epic plots. I barely live on the planet Earth most days. But before you message your favorite author, oh-so-subtly asking for guidance, think for a second about how many other people are doing the exact same thing you’re thinking of doing.
I promise you, it’s a lot.
We cannot possibly help every newbie who messages us, even though we might want to. On top of that, and speaking from personal experience, your favorite author has probably been burned for trying to help someone too many times to risk doing it again. This industry is filled with wonderful women and men who want to see people succeed, but it’s also rife with jealousy and predators who don’t understand just how big this market really is, or how the market really works.
So I’m making this list for you, because no matter how awesome your first book is, it’s going to take a LOT of work to get it to turn a profit. After that, it’s going to be a full-time job, tears, years, and thousands of hours burned doing things that may or may not work out. It’s making mistakes, learning from them, mastering something only to see the industry change the rules overnight, and then it’s starting all over again when you fail.
And you are going to fail.
You’re going to want to whip your laptop into the ocean just to watch it pffizle in a cloud of smoke.
I know, because I’m just coming out of a fog of thinking I’m not good enough to do this. It happens to all of us, and it’s enough to stop a lot of us from ever writing more than one book.
Those few authors who can actually make a living doing this? They work their tits off, pretty much every day, with few breaks.
They do the work, and if you want this rewarding, wonderful career to be yours, you’re going to have to do the work too. I’m not doing it for you, sugar tits, because I can barely keep my head above the shit most days, and my time ain’t free.
You have to do this work. I’m not doing it for you, no matter how fuckin’ nice you are in a private chat. I’ve been building my career for nearly ten years. Making connections, learning my craft, and finding the people I want to see my name beside.
I’m not just going to hand that over on a silver platter because you asked so very nicely.
But if you’re willing to Do The Work™, I’m willing to cheer for you.
We can all succeed together.
So without further todoodles, here’s a list of 20 things you need to do before you message your favorite author asking for help.
1. Write a book. So you finished your first book. Congratulations. Really. I remember the rush of finishing my series, The Last Tritan, for the first time. It’s since gone through 3 years of editing, but each time I got to The End, it was an awesome feeling. Revel in this. Take a moment to celebrate how awesome you are.
2. Register copyright. The US government’s system is an archaic beast that’s nearly impossible to navigate, and yeah, you’re almost guaranteed to make a mistake and waste some money to start with, but please learn from my mistakes and register your babies before you let anyone else see them. Click this link, make an account, then register your work. https://www.copyright.gov/
3. Post your work on a free forum. I know, I know. I knowwwwwwwwwwwwwww. You don’t want to wait before jumping headfirst into publishing. Your baby is a polished gem of glorious perfection, and it’s time to start making that NYT Bestseller monayyyy. But this is advice a lot of us Indie authors give, because this is how a lot of us started out. Furthermore, no. Your favorite authors don’t want to read your raw, unedited manuscript. No, we don’t have time to beta read for you. It’s not personal, we’ve just have the experience of looking back on OUR first manuscripts, shuddering, rewriting, and thinking, “Good god. Why does anyone even talk to me?”
After registering copyright, post your books on Literotica (like I did), fictionpress, fanfic, AO3, or any of the many free reading sites online. You get the benefit of having a few thousand anonymous readers who don’t give a shit about your feelings, and are willing to say the brutal honest truth about your writing skills. There’s literally nothing better for growing a nice thick crust of indifferent skin that you’re going to need when you eventually dip your toesies into the publishing world. Added bonus, you start to build a humble following. Win/ win.
4. Join a local author group. In real life n’shit. Romance Writers of America meet in chapters all over North America. You get to meet authors in person, talk to them about craft/ business, and hang out with some other weirdos who want to spend every waking minute talking to the voices in their head. If RWA isn’t an option, Google a local author group. They’re more common than you think.
5. Find yourself an editor. The Internet is a bottomless resource of information that will give you valuable metrics on how much you should be spending (there are tonnes of people who will try to get you to spend MUCH more than you should. Hell, they might not even be a professional editor). I’d say more than half of this job is actually editing what you wrote, and a lot of books go through three or more rounds of editing before the public gets to see it.
6. Decide if you want publish traditionally or go indie. There is no magic button that’s going to make you a millionaire overnight, and if there is, it’s so rare that you’re better off preparing yourself to—and say it with me now—Do The Work. Both traditionally published authors and indies do a lot of work, and both have a unique set of challenges facing their budding careers. This list pertains to indies, because that’s what I am.
7. Pick a pen name. Or don’t. Some people are born lucky with catchy names, and some people don’t care about their parents knowing what they write. There’s always going to be a debate about the ethics of using a pseudonym, but basically, do whatever the hell works best for you.
8. Create a Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) account. If you decide to go indie, this is going to be the main platform you use to do business, and reading the terms of service for the website you’re pinning all your hopes and dreams on just makes sense, doesn’t it? No? Well if you break Amazon’s TOS, they can, and will, boot you from the platform. So you should know what you can and cannot do unless you want to get blacklisted. But up to you.
9. Facebook. Create a Facebook profile for your pen name. You’re also going to need a fan page and fan group.
12. Goodreads. Create a Goodreads account, then never check your reviews on that platform ever again. Goodreads is a well-known snake pit of brutal honesty, and if you’re not ready to hear, “One star. This book was just odd, I had no ideal about Kai [spelled wrong] or the world this character lived in, should have done better at world building. Never really understood the attraction between the two main characters. Also, I could not stand the female lead, she was awful and I really didn't care what happened to her.~ An Actual Goodreads Review of my first book, Ravenous Innocence,” then don’t hurt yourself by going to Goodreads. But you do need the account.
13. Pick a Newsletter platform. The most common for newbies, and free until you’re over 2000 subscribers, is Mailchimp, but there are others worth looking into when you’re more established.
14. Website. Perhaps not essential when you’re just starting out, but there are plenty of cheap website builders out there you can do yourself. Personally, I use Wix.
15. Bookbub. It’s a great marketing tool. Make a partner account.
16. Start looking up cover artists. That’s it. Just start googling. Look at the front matter for the books with your favorite covers, and start sending out emails to see if the artists you want to work with have availability. AND BE POLITE if they don’t.
17. Pick 5 authors to model your career after. You don’t have to do everything they’ve done, because trust me, we all make mistakes and some of them aren’t worth repeating, but we all have idols in the industry. Humans are just the smartest monkeys.
18. Join author groups and like author fan pages. This is the best way to see what your favs are doing. Go join their groups to watch and learn. You’re not stalking them—that’s what the groups are for.
19. Gather your tribe. All authors have tribes. Our close-knit groups that we rely on to ask questions, learn together, promote our books across platforms. Without a tribe, you’re going to be doing a lot of this learning by yourself and it’s a colossal waste of your time and energy. You need a tribe. But you don’t just get to join an established author tribe because you’re nice and wrote the best book ever. Do the work, prove yourself, and find other authors who are at your level. This isn’t meant to be cruel, clique-ish, or elitist. This is a business, and if the only thing you can offer your favorite author is a daily list of questions about what you should be doing, that’s not a fair exchange.
20. Be polite & professional. This is probably the most important item on this entire list. Established authors have been burned by stupid drama too many times to tolerate unprofessional bullshit. If you ask them for something and they say no or don’t respond, that doesn’t mean they’re evil. They’re not rude. They’re not too good for you. They’re just busy. That’s it. Assume you are one of a dozen people to message them that day alone. And speaking as someone who’s been burned badly enough to take a vow to never mentor another newbie ever again (hence this list), let me just say, we can smell drama from the other side of the sun—and we talk. We warn our tribes about that newbie who’s acting like a crazy person, because we want to protect our friends from wasting time on someone who isn’t worth the effort. Making connections in this industry takes time and energy. If you’re not willing to be polite and professional, why should we hand you a career on a silver platter?
That’s it. Do these 20 things before you even consider messaging established authors for help. This is only the very tippy top of the list, but it’s the most basic version of the things we all had to do before publishing our first books.
Tootles, crazy noodles.
<3 Myra Danvers