Simple daily checklist for aspiring authors

If you intend to make creative writing your profession, then clock in to the job at least five days a week. You won’t need to be reminded to do the writing part. Don’t clock out until you’ve also accomplished all five of these marketing and business-related tasks each workday:

  1. Put in place one component from the Platform Hub graphic created by Anthony Puttee. Recognize that your online presence will require maintenance, because some of its components involve ongoing efforts. Eventually, put in place will become maintain and update, but first you must put the component in place.
  2. Multiple choice—pick one:
    • Submit or pitch a short piece of writing for publication somewhere.
    • Apply for a fellowship, residency, or grant funding.
    • Send out a book review request (when the time comes).
    • Invite someone to guest blog on your site.
  3. Learn something new related to the craft or business of writing. If doing is the way you learn, then get hands-on.
  4. Do something nice for someone in the book publishing ecosystem. Be inventive. Write a fan letter, comment on someone’s blog, review a book, attend and be supportive at an author event, write a blogpost, send out a podcast, give advice. Be generous, and you’ll be remembered.
  5. Add a new person to your list of professional contacts. Categorize or tag, file, and back up the data, so you can locate contact information when you need to ask for a return favor, such as a book review, advice, a blurb, or a referral.

Structure these five tasks as a daily checklist. After a few weeks, you’ll be surprised by how efficient you’ve become at getting them done each day. It will become second nature. If the work seems onerous, then you probably don’t want to make creative writing into a profession. You’ll be much happier as an amateur, concerned with no one’s expectations but your own.

Photo courtesy of Cathryn Lavery

How will readers ever find your book?

It may well be that you don’t have enough time for a career as a book author, and writing is really just a hobby, a side gig, or a form of therapy for you. No problem. In that case, you don’t need a literary agent, or more correctly, the literary agent doesn’t need you. If you want to make money as an author, on the other hand, then your books must be discoverable. Readers won’t come to you. You’ll need to find ways to get on their radar. You’ll need to become an author whose books are recommended by one reader to another. That’s how books and their authors become bestsellers.

Let’s say your book was published in 2013. More than 300,000 new titles were traditionally published in the U.S. in 2013. In the same year in the U.S., more than 1,000,000 new titles were non-traditionally published, a figure that includes self-published books. How many of those books did you read? How many can you name? How many of the authors can you name? How would a stranger have ever found your book among the 1,300,000?

browsing books Manning

When you’re browsing in a bookstore, how many books do you leaf through before selecting one to buy? What attracts you? What makes you put a book down and choose another? Do you typically search for new titles from authors who are known to you? Do you like to read what your friends are reading? Your book is evaluated in the same ways.

If your book’s page on Amazon lacks a compelling description and any customer reviews, and the Amazon customer who happens to come across it has never heard of you, and you have no online presence to give the prospective buyer any information, then why would you expect the person to pay for your book instead of the latest from Clive Cussler or one of the titles longlisted for the Man Booker or the novel everyone at the hair salon is discussing?

If you know anything about online booksellers and social media, then you know it requires effort to capitalize on the exposure they can offer books and authors. It takes time and technical ability to maintain multiple online profiles and learn to write compelling sales copy. Working at it every day for three years might get you up to speed, provided you already possess some basic social skills. There are no shortcuts. Thousands of writers are there ahead of you.

Don’t know where to start with self-promotion? You can join the crowd of writers who remained clueless. You’ll know them. They’re the ones you’ve never heard of.

Everything you want and need to know about book marketing and self-promotion has been debated at length online, where you can find vast amounts of information on author platforms. Start with Jane Friedman’s excellent blog. I’ve gathered links to “Publicity tips for book authors.” Good advice comes from Joel Friedlander, Joanna Penn, and Penny Sansevieri. Self-published authors are generous with recommendations. Don’t assume that marketing strategies for traditionally published authors should differ from strategies for self-published authors. The main addition is the need to coordinate marketing and publicity efforts with a publisher or publicist, if there is one.

Learning about the business of selling books is doable if you want a career as an author and are willing to work hard for it. No one will mind if you prefer to remain a hobbyist. Just don’t make the mistake of asking me or a book publisher to donate time and money to support your hobby.