The fatal mistake even the best first-time authors make

Photo: Tim Evanson

You’ve just sent the manuscript of your first book off to the publisher. Your brain is bursting with endorphins — and more ideas. What should you do now?

Get started on the next book?

No, no, no!

You’re forgetting something. Your book is not done, and it is certainly not popular. You need to be working on a promotional plan.

Get your head in the game.

People who’ve just had a baby don’t spend their time thinking about the next kid. They need to be getting the first kid off to a good start. The first kid needs lots of your attention. And your first book does, too.

The book may be “done,” but your work on it isn’t

I’ve worked with dozens of authors and I see this all the time.

You’ve done the research. You’ve done the writing. You’ve responded to the developmental edits. You’ve done the fact-checking. You’ve even done the damn footnotes.

You package up the whole thing into a file and send it to the publisher. Great job! This deserves a celebration. Pour yourself a glass of something special.

Those ideas from the book are fresh in your mind. Time to start thinking about another one, right?

First, let’s be clear about what’s left to do on your book that seems “done.”

Your manuscript is going to the copy editor. It’s going to come back soon with lots of detailed edits. You’ll need to block off time to deal with those. If you don’t maintain your attention to detail, you’ll ship a book full of errors, which will put a few holes in your credibility.

After that, you’ll have deal with page proofs. The publisher (or, if it’s self-published, someone you hired to lay out the pages) will send you a PDF of the book laid out in pages. Again, here, if you don’t pay attention to detail, you’ll end up with a crappy-looking book.

But even if you scrutinize every detail of the pages, you’ve got a bigger job to work on right now.

You now have months to plan how to promote your book — don’t waste them

The time interval between when you submit the manuscript and when people can buy varies based on your publishing model. It is at least six months if you’re working with a traditional publisher, four months if you’re working with a hybrid, and two months if you’re self-publishing.

But what’s going to happen when the book is finally published?

Absolutely nothing. It will sink like a stone. It will create barely a ripple. Unless you’ve planned how to promote it.

A book launch is a big, complicated undertaking. It might include blurbs (back cover quotes), media outreach, recruiting a posse of reviewers and promoters, social media, recording videos or podcasts, blog posts, bylined articles, and speeches. None of that just happens. You need to get hustling and planning. You might decide to hire a publicist. You’re going to reach out to hundreds of contacts and make plans to generate and place promotional content in a carefully synchronized crescendo of promotion.

It’s like setting up the new baby’s room and making those first appointments at the pediatrician. You need to be ready, because it’s a lot of work to prepare, and a lot of work to execute.

Luckily you have time now to spend on that.

In the next few months you will create and execute your launch plan. And in the year or so that follows the book’s launch date, if you’ve set things up properly, you’ll be busy talking about it everywhere you go — at conferences, at clients, on other people’s podcasts and video series, and so on, and so on.

If you’ve got your head in the second book, the first book will go nowhere. And if it goes nowhere, you’ll never get the chance to do that second book.

How to tame that “next book” impulse

It is simple human nature, having just completed an act of creation, to want to create more. It’s fun. You feel omnipotent.

Here’s what to do. Start a file called “next book.” Just down all the ideas you have. If you get more in the next few days, keep adding to it.

It will still be there when you’re ready to get to work on it.

And I’ll tell you a secret. After you’ve submitted that first manuscript, and published that first book, and spent a year promoting it, you may find that your ideas about the next book have evolved a lot. Getting out there and talking about it generates a lot better ideas than just sitting in front of a keyboard.

At that point, you’ll be glad you spent the time on promotion. It will make Book 2 so much better.

So type those ideas and file them away. Your first book needs you to nurture it. Don’t make an orphan of it!

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