Well. I can write, you whisper in your own ear. I can still remedy this situation—to a degree, of course. I can become a published author, you think.
Writing, and writing well, is only a small step in the path to the Promised Land, where your masterpiece becomes published, then read by an audience, who may or may not recognize and appreciate your special talent. But even though you think you can write well, you might be shocked at the discovery that you are not perfect. I know. You were confident that your writing was flawless; your spellchecker caught and fixed your typos, your words and phrases were expressive, your dialogs were relevant, your punctuations and prepositions were the envy of your German-born English teacher. Hell, no! Those trifling errors kept sneaking into your manuscript. You didn’t realize it until your little fifth grader, after reading your Preface section, pointed out that she did not understand the sentence: “seize to exist.” “Shouldn’t it be “cease to exist” instead?” she asked. “And how do you “hit the breaks?” Shouldn’t you say—“hit the brakes?”
Oops. This dumb spellchecker; it’s its fault, not yours. Well, you’d better find someone who would spare the embarrassment that would turn off your potential audience, joke about your silly writing style, and ruin your reputation for the rest of your irrelevant life. Your confidence got shaken a bit—you just experienced your first lesson on the way to becoming a published author.
Now, your mother always told you that you should not judge a person by their looks, but rather, by their character. You believed her, (only because you didn’t look like Brad Pit with those ugly glasses), then applied the same logic to your book. Don’t judge it by its cover, you said to yourself. The contents, the real beef, is the stuff that counts. You didn’t care. Professionally designed book covers are a total waste of money, you reflected… Oh Yeah? Have you ever been to a bookstore? Have you watched the random browsers, the ones who pick up the most attractive book, the one with the red and blue front cover, turn it over to read the excerpt in the back, then rush to the cashier and flash their Visa card before it expires? Not to worry. Your publisher will take care of this little detail, unless of course, you are him. And if you are, then you’d better spend time and effort on this little detail. It’s the first impression you make on your potential audience; you would not get a second chance with this selective bunch. They must be ruthless, saving their reading appetite for shining objects, not minding true quality, like your book.
“But why does it take so long?” You ask your publisher. “Why so many months before it is published? You thought it shouldn’t take more than a couple.” You didn’t realize, but editing, typesetting, book cover design, proof reading, even pre-pub marketing, printing, distributing—all must take place before your book is tanned under the florescent lights of the bookstore, or displayed inside the shiny pages of the Amazon site. It takes time, and your publisher is not in a hurry, or so it seems. You ruminate--He must be lazy, unlike me. I could easily shave a couple of months out of his schedule, and still get it done. No. Don’t be an amateur. The publishing process does take time. And you’d better get it right, than fast and sorry.
Your book is finally ready. Your publisher sent you the allotted free copies he had written into your contract, so why did he set the publication date several months out into the future? Your anxiety is showing. You want to see your name displayed on the shelves in the local Barnes and Noble store. But wait, you need time for pre-publication publicity. Your publisher wants your book to hit the ground running. Books are like freshly baked bread. They taste better when they are fresh. Most books, like most movies, sell more copies on their first year after publication, when they are still fresh and hot. People like to buy new stuff. Go figure.
Your publisher does not want to spend money on advertising. How is he going to generate exposure? There are millions of books out there. How will anybody know about yours? He explains that paid advertising is much less effective that the free stuff. And you always believed that there ain’t such a thing as a free lunch. But he is right. He is not kidding.
Free publicity is not entirely free, although it feels that way. You haven’t thought about it, but here are some examples. Book reviews, press releases, media interviews, virtual or actual book tours, blogging, social networking—all can generate huge exposure if done well. They are not entirely free, however. Free copies cost money. Mailing, shipping, mailing lists, travel, PR agents, the time spent on blogging and social networking, online and offline listings, are not cheap. Some may be less expensive and more effective than paid advertising, but you will have to study and master the free advertising market before claiming victory. The biggest surprise you may be facing is your publisher’s unwillingness to go all the way and do everything possible to promote your book even when it’s “free”. You will have to invest your own time and money and “help” your publisher provide proper exposure to your book. The amazing part is that the more you do, the more your publisher will do. If your publisher foresees success, he will be more willing to invest and promote it.
And finally there are three more surprises, with which you will probably be facing. If you become a successful, published author, your fans will seek your attention. At first, it may seem like fun, but once you become a hot celebrity, the new status may yield all the known side-effects associated with the lack of privacy. Be careful of what you wished for. It may happen. Regardless of annoying fans, the positive part of success is the new respect you would gain from family and friends. The wife or husband will start bragging about you with their friends; they might even treat you with more respect; stop telling you to go wash the floors since you are not doing anything important anyway. Before you became a published author, writing down in the basement was not considered real work. It’s different now. She will stop telling you to go and get a real job.
Some friends will invite you over for dinner. They will want to be seen in your company, so they may invite more friends and call it a party. Some other friends may want to keep you all for themselves. They may do the opposite, invite you to a party where you’d be the only guest.
Well, it’s time to get started on your next book. You are not done yet. If you like your new status you ought to remind yourself that it is temporary unless you keep at it relentlessly. Hot dishes become cold after a while. Freshly baked bread turns stale two days following its birth. And authors lose their glow if their creations fade into the used books section next to the dumpster. So be aware. What goes up must… Not if it’s up to you.