What I like about the book industry is that someone has an idea and then shares it. Something didn’t exist, and then it does. Writing makes ideas happen. It’s one of the purest forms of capitalism. From nothing comes something, and that something can be tweaked, prodded, and then sent out into the world. This year alone, The Hate U Give and All-American Boys reshaped my understanding of prejudice. That’s real power, with real currency.

Books and Ideas Matter

Ideation—and nudging something to percolate—is exciting. At this stage (post conception, right around the time you undertake the task of creation), if you’re a first-time author, it’s in your interest to:

  • Make sure your concept is original. Google it or search for it on Amazon. Happening upon something similar doesn’t dismiss your idea and isn’t a reason to scrap it, but it helps to know what already exists and shape how yours is distinct.
  • A working book title is helpful (and often changes). If you’ve put any thought to potential titles/subtitles, research these. (This isn’t fail-proof. I’ve a pal whose book, Along Came a Spider, came out the same year as James Patterson’s first novel of the same name.)
  • Be thinking about potential readers, who they are and how you can reach them.
  • Wrap your head around book metadata and your book’s discoverability.
  • As you write, forgo stylistic measures; leave book design to the design phase. Focus your efforts on storytelling, not yet the look of the book.

Work Toward Perfection

The metaphor I use to sum up novel-writing is it’s akin to emptying a dozen jigsaw puzzles on a table in order to create a single, narrative “image.” This workhorse stage—the crafting of plot, subplot, character, subtext, the whole of it—has two objectives:

  • Write with abandon.
  • Go wherever it takes you.

Once you’ve accomplished a first draft, it’s time to finesse. As you refine your manuscript, it’s also time to think about the bigger book publishing picture. In this order:

  • Reread your book, then read it aloud to catch mistakes your brain may gloss over when reading silently, make your revisions, and then self-edit.
  • Write a short description and take a first stab at the back cover copy.
  • Have your book professionally edited.
  • Finalize your title/subtitle.
  • Craft a longer book description; ask your editor to weigh-in (along with other marketing content you pen along the way).
  • Once you and your editor feel good about the work, send it to beta readers. This is a stop-gap that can help with book marketing.
  • Begin to clearly articulate your promotional efforts and create a marketing plan. Figure out financial aspects, such as whether there’s a budget for a publicist.
  • Secure interior design; if you’re outsourcing, get comps.
  • Secure book cover design, include back cover and spine; if you’re outsourcing, get a few comps (while interior design enhances the reading experience of a book, a cover can make or break it).

So Many Books So Little Time

Sylvia Plath wrote, “Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.” Don’t let your manuscript rot in a drawer somewhere. Share it! And share it widely by making sure your book is available on every single, viable platform around the world. As a general sequence, I offer:

  • Secure an ISBN; each different platform requires a distinct ISBN.
  • Organize your author website that, depending on your goals, is either author or book-centric.
  • Print ARCs (advanced reader copies).
  • Create EPUB/MOBI files for ebooks.
  • Secure book reviews. (Whenever someone offers to read or review your book, take them up on it and ask them to post their review wherever they’re able).
  • Reach out to local libraries and booksellers.
  • Set up author pages on GoodreadsAmazon, and other platforms.

What I’ve offered herein is loose, general, and abridged. Best-selling books require boldness, forethought, a pinch of luck, and a solid plan. Whether you’re a wild horse (read this as independently published) or a stabled one (read this as traditionally published), a lot of work goes into taking an idea, making something of it, and then getting it across the finish line to share it with the world.

Ellie Maas Davis owns Pressque, a publishing consultation firm located in downtown Charleston that offers editing and ghostwriting services to authors and publishers.

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