What to expect when you're expecting your book? What's going to happen first, and second, and third? For me, as I waited for the launch of my debut novel, I was overwhelmed with how much I had to learn, had never learned, and perhaps could/would/should have learned -- were there an eight-day week into which I could tap.
During the two to 24 months between signing a book contract and receiving those freshly pressed books, there is much to do and little guidance available. For the secrets of debuting, I turned to the underground, where surreptitious bands of debut novelists come together in the shadows to share the secrets they've learned from already published brethren. I found sister-wives (and husbands) -- 99 percent of us scared of asking too many questions of our frightening publisher-husbands. (What if they snatch away the opportunity?! Only print four books?! Don't like us??!!!)
That's what drove me as (I signed the contract for novel # 2) to write the guidebook, What To Do Before Your Book Launch with M.J. Rose, author extraordinaire, marketing guru (principal of Author Buzz,) and a close friend. (Giving us a chance to work a bit less solo -- but still in our official author sweatpants.) We saw that while there were tons of great books on publicity, marketing, 'how to's' on everything from getting an agent to publishing without one, there was a missing piece: what to do when you actually catch the gold ring of a publishing contract? We felt the need for a guide for authors, covering everything from working with your publisher, to reading in public, to help for publicity and marketing, to using (and misusing) social media, to how to dress for your author photo... and far more, including cautionary tales, worksheets, timelines and even...
Manners & Etiquette for Writers (from What to Do Before your Book Launch:)
1) I am certain there are a number of snappish authors who advocate that dogs-should-eat-dogs, who have managed to hit every bestseller list, but I believe in nice. I recommend that 'nice' (which, by the way, is entirely unlike being a doormat) color your launch.
2) Get into training now. Answer your mail. All of it. When you receive a compliment, say thank you. (I remember getting when a reader complains that you are biased, don't rant at your accuser [especially in public!]. Ignore them or try to answer thoughtfully.) I sent one such email to an angry woman who'd written to me because she thought I'd been disrespectful at one point in my book, and received a more rational answer. We actually found some common ground.
3) Don't be self-important. I've read postings by debut authors complaining about the letters they receive. God, I can't believe what these people write to me. They want me to send a book! They want a signature! They want me to speak to their class!!
Perhaps this public complaining is a way of showing off how very Important one has become. Or perhaps they really are stretched to the limit. Too bad. Every job has its downside, but do you want your doctor to write about how disgusting she found your rash? We've written books -- we haven't become queens and kings of the world.
4) Don't grumble in public. Especially in print. Never online. And never about your fellow writers. (Unless you are looking to build a reputation contingent on your cruel wit. Some do. This is not recommended for the average sarcastic person -- be certain you are at a comfortable doctorate level of nasty and anti-social enough to pull this off this snarky persona.)
5) Unless you are writing a professional review, If you don't like something, keep it to yourself. I never post a negative review on Amazon or Goodreads, or anywhere else. Not because I'm too wimpy to be honest, but because there are enough professional and amateur critics out there and I know how much even the best-intentioned criticism can hurt, and I don't want to add one more bad word. I either give five-stars or I don't do anything. And trust me -- writers notice. When I get a four-star review on Amazon from someone I know, oh, I notice. Never underestimate the thin skin or pettiness of your fellow writers.
6. Do you plan to write about your life as an author? Readers -- and you are seeking readers, folks, not just the guffaws of your fellow writers -- don't want to hear complaints about how tired you are, how much you hate writing, and what a grind revision is. It's better not to show how the sausage is made. Dazzle readers with great writing; don't depress them with what is properly meant for your therapist's ears.
7. The proper audience for swearing about critics, cursing about Amazon reviews, or sneering at the efforts of more successful writers is your trusted team of writer-friends. And if you have complaints about your treatment at the hands of your publisher, take them to your agent.
8. Don't, don't, don't whine in public! You have published a book. This is a fantastic feat. Let people see how happy and grateful you are. I may have broken this rule during the Macmillan-Amazon contretemps, which occurred very shortly after my launch. The corporate wrangle resulted in the inactivation of the 'buy' button' on my book's Amazon page. I wrote a post about it, but limited my comments to my own experience, seeking to be interesting, not to vent anger or assign blame. Did I succeed? Maybe, maybe not -- but the article was cited by The Guardian and The Christian Science Monitor, so I'm awfully glad I didn't embarrass Grandma.
9. Don't forget to thank your agent, editor, copy-editor, cover designer -- everyone. Flowers, candy and bagels are all nice. Paperweights. Wine. Etsy is a perfect source for unique gifts.
10. Readers don't limit themselves to just one book. (Not even yours.) If you are a writer, you are probably also an avid reader. Publicly praise great books you read. Use Facebook and Twitter to spread good words about other writers. Promote their books -- even ones that come out the exact same week as yours. It's good karma. You can't expect help if you don't provide it to others. And it's nice. Just like Grandma said.
And when using social media:
11. Don't be mysterious. (Something wonderful is going to happen to me, but I can't say what!) It is aggravating, annoying, and implies that you think yourself so important that others will stay awake wondering about you.
12. Use exclamation points judiciously!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ALSO CAPITAL LETTERS!
13. Don't post anything ugly about other people -- this includes personal rants and unflattering party photos.
14. Don't send group blasts or group direst messages for events or anything else unless it's a warning that the world is ending and you're the only one who knows. If you want people to take the time to come to an event, buy your book, or spread the word, take the time to tailor your message. Otherwise, simply post your events, etc., on your FB page or send out a regular tweet.
15. And it bears repeating -- as my grandmother always advised: Be nice. It means an awful lot.