Liars Club

What I Wish I’d Known Before My First Book Was Published

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by Jon McGoran on April 27, 2010

in Advice for Writers,The Writing Life

There is plenty that I wish I had known before I was published. Unfortunately, I still don’t know most of it. More unfortunately, since much of what I do know about the publishing business is four, six, even twelve months old, it is pretty much irrelevant by now anyway.

Just kidding (mostly), but things are changing pretty fast out there. Shrinking promotional budgets and the explosion of social media have made bookstore events a smaller part of the promotional landscape, but they are still important. My word of advice on the subject: Enjoy them.

When my first book came out, after the book party and the first wave of signings in my local bookstores, I dreaded driving hours to spend time in an unfamiliar bookstore with people I didn’t know. It seems that after spending several years huddled over my computer, I had to become reacquainted with an activity that many non-writers refer to as “Meeting People.” I actually learned to enjoy it.

Sometimes the turnout is great, and it is a lot of fun meeting lots of readers. But sometimes the turnout is not so great. It can be pretty disheartening to drive several hours to do a book signing where no one shows up, and while there are things you can do to minimize the likelihood of a poor turnout (see Don Lafferty’s excellent post on book signings here), if you do more than a few events, it’s inevitably going to happen.

While you definitely want to encounter as many readers (or book buyers!) as possible when you do an event, one guaranteed perk is that you also get to spend some time with the bookseller. Take advantage of that time. No, you don’t want to dominate their time (and definitely don’t keep them from their customers), but spending time with a bookseller is valuable in several important ways.

First, it gives you a chance to kiss up, and kiss up you should. Without booksellers, there are no book writers, so appreciate that fact and let them know that you appreciate it (without being creepy). It also gives you a chance to make a personal connection with someone who sells books. Booksellers are book people, and book people are great. Plus, if you make that personal connection, maybe they will read your book, and if they read it and they like it, guess what book they will be recommending to their customers…

Maybe more importantly, you have a chance to learn from them. Every time I do an event at a bookstore, I learn something fascinating and important from the bookseller about the industry that I work in. (And if any of you booksellers are reading this, thinking, “I don’t remember Jon experiencing any revelations while we were talking,” that is a compliment to a poker face I have developed over years of ignorance on many fronts).

Now, like me, you may not be the most tireless and devoted student of the industry. But if you are, if you have spent your life tirelessly learning all the ins and outs of publishing, you have earned yourself a week off. But when that week is over, you need to start all over again, because most of what you know is now obsolete.

Just kidding. Mostly.

Jon McGoran writes gritty and humorous thrillers under the pen name of D.H. Dublin.  His titles include Freezer Burn, Body Trace and Blood Poison, all published by Berkley.

Jon’s post is part of an ongoing series, where Liars each chime in on a burning question about publishing. To read answers other Liars have already given to “what we wish we knew,” click on Marie’s post, Don’s post, Merry’s post, Dennis’ post, and Kelly’s post.  And check back on this site daily for more Liar responses!

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kelly simmons April 27, 2010 at 10:31 am

Great advice, Jon. Everyone who works at a bookstore is a potential ambassador for your book — or the next one. But try to work the word “ass” into your next post. It’s very good for the search engines.

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