An Author’s Pre-Publication Route Map

An Author’s Pre-Publication Route Map

by Chris Hamilton-Emery

You will already have some marketing experience, even if you don’t think of it in quite this way. You will be taking your writing life very seriously, giving long hours to perfecting what you write, and no doubt, to how you see yourself and want others to see you. You will already have writing friends. This article isn’t about your profile as a writer, or how to enhance it, it’s about how you can plan for a specific book – each book you write, and think of each plan as a cycle that will repeat through your writing life. Let’s look at some simple steps.

  1. Be early in everything you do. Plan your personal marketing for your book at least six to nine months in advance of publication, but if you haven’t managed this, start anytime ahead of publication. 80% of the success of a book lies in the months ahead of its release. Reaching readers after publication is exceptionally challenging. If work is to be done, it’s best done early. All publishing is a gamble, and you will want to stack all the odds in your favour.

  2. So, what’s it about? It might seem trivial, but being able to summarise your book in one short sentence, 100 words and 300 words is very important. The summaries should be spoiler-free, but should grab the attention of both readers and the people who will serve readers. Everyone will ask, So, what’s it about? You should be able to answer in a way that is compelling, commercially inviting and above all, truly tempting.

  3. Endorsements. If you have writer friends or writers you feel confident will like your work, call on them early to provide a few words in support of your new book. Everyone is busy, and writers are faced with many daily challenges, not least making a living. Seeking endorsements early can often mean something will turn up as opposed to nothing. Remember that fewer words can often be better than lots in an endorsement. Ask for ten words, that will signal to any writer that you aren’t asking for a review, just an inspirational comment. Never nag. Don’t beg. But do always ask. If a writer is genuinely interested in your book but simply cannot find a moment to provide an endorsement, ask if they’d like a review copy later in the year.

  4. Backstories inspire. Write features around the backstory to the book – where the ideas and inspiration came from, how the concerns arose, who helped, where you went to research ideas, what the journey was like. Tell stories about the experiences of getting the book ready for your agent or publisher. Tell stories about the publishing cycle. Stories about the cover ideas, and their realisation. Never give away spoilers. Whatever you write, direct it to potential readers and not writers. Focus all your efforts on readers. Place as many features as you can with other websites, writers’ centres, literary blogs and, if you can’t place a piece elsewhere, your own blog or website. Be visual. Use imagery extensively. Look out for opportunities to write about topical issues that may relate to your book. Remember that stories sell stories.

  5. Take time to find friends. Collaborate with writers. Collaborate with everyone: literary editors, festival directors, journalists, anyone working in literary development, workshops, teaching centres and create the best network for your book (and for yourself) – make this a natural process – never force friendships and remember that friendships are selfless, precious and fun, not transactional. Imagine you are preparing a significant secret birthday party for the book – a party that will be its publication day, and you want to bring the largest gathering to the party. No one can pull off the party without a team to support them. No writer succeeds alone. No book succeeds alone.

  6. Share opportunities. Sharing news with others of training and funding opportunities, courses, competitions and prizes and is an important gesture in support of your new friends. Share information widely, be selfless and focussed on helping others as much as preparing the right path for your own work. Everybody needs the support of their writing community. Play a part in the development of others and they will be there to help you, too. If you can, formalise how you share news in the shape of a regular blog feature or newsletter, be the place where people can go to discover more about how they can move their own writing forwards.

  7. Always accommodate. Amenable and accommodating people will always be presented with more opportunities. Why? Because we all like working with people who are polite, helpful, can be counted on for support, and are hard-working. There aren’t any surprises here. If you can’t work with people, you will find that people won’t work for your book. If you enjoy being grumpy (and we all do at times), best to keep that largely private. Remember that opportunities arise from solving problems for others and being the person everyone enjoys working with. If this isn’t you, don’t worry, there are other ways here to get your work noticed.

  8. Plans are better than reactions. It goes without saying that if you don’t write this stuff down you won’t stay on top of it. Especially as you are also trying to write the best book possible, to make every word carry meaning and value and beauty. How can you possibly fit in networking and promotions? It should not surprise you that early effective and studious planning is more successful than reacting to events and people once the book is available. Build your own headings, subheadings, timeline and have that calendar spread out in front of you. List all the people involved in the plan. Stay in touch with them. Tick off each step in your plan and make it a living document. Add things to it as new ideas arise. Let key people share in your plan. Especially share it with your publicist, if you have one.

  9. Don’t run away. It’s easy to think that the marketing, sales and publicity teams will do all the leg work in getting your book out there. You might think your work is over once the book is delivered. Of course, your publisher will do a lot to take it to audiences you may not know well: independent booksellers, national book buyers from the chains, rights agents, librarians, wholesalers, festival directors, literary journalists, the media, literary scouts, film and TV rights managers and so on. However, be warned and do not run away from your book once it is available. All the work you have done in your plan is now ready to come to fruition. Be there. Turn up. Stay attentive to every opportunity that arises and above all follow up on your plan.

  10. The long haul. It’s easy to lose interest in your book after six months. You may have another writing project on the go; you want to hole up in the study and get that idea moving. However, after publication, give your book around a year of your attention in promoting it yourself. The harder you work for your book, the more the publisher can do in supporting you and building sales. You may be asked to tour, to appear at festivals or bookshops, to talk on radio or be interviewed, to run workshops, to be a guest lecturer, to teach. In every case, remember steps 5, 6 and 7 above – let these steps of your plan become a cyclical feature of your writing life. Befriend, share, support.

Good luck.

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Chris Emery is a poet and director of Salt. He has published three collections of poetry, a writer’s guide, an anthology of art and poems, and edited editions of Emily Brontë, Keats and Rossetti. His work has been widely published in magazines and anthologised, most recently in Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poets (Bloodaxe). He is a contributor to The Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing, edited by David Morley and Philip Neilsen. He lives in Cromer, North Norfolk, with his wife and children.


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