[SWP: Behind the Book] Fast-Track Advice for New Authors

After two years and two novels published, I'd like to share my top tips for new authors, with the hope that my experiences will save you time and minimize stress! Feel free to comment and/or add your thoughts!

Good editorial advice is precious.

The editorial process can be long and painful, but a good editor will skillfully fine-tune your story so it resonates with readers. When faced with an editor’s suggested changes, ask yourself: will this edit improve the reader’s experience? If the answer is yes, then make the change.

Don’t ignore the math. 

Over 90% of traditionally published novels don’t earn out their advances. Most hybrid-published authors don’t break even on their investment. Self-published authors are just starting to find ways to traditionally distribute their books to bookstores and garner more sales. Before you decide on a publishing path, crunch the numbers.

Both of my novels are traditionally published in Canada and other foreign countries, and hybrid-published by She Writes Press in the United States. Before I decided to use a hybrid publisher, I calculated how many books I had to sell to break even on my investment, which included the publisher’s fee and the cost of printing books, hiring a publicist, marketing and travel. The results of these calculations will influence your decisions. Should you print in paperback or hardcover? How much should you pay for publicity and advertising? Should you invest in creating an audio book? I have recovered the expenses incurred to publish my first novel, but I still view these outlays as an investment in my author career.

Personal, reciprocal relationships—with booksellers, bloggers, librarians, book clubs and even hair stylists—sell books.

Unless you’re a bestselling author or a celebrity, your publisher will probably not market your book. Creating a platform and relationships takes time and care, but is vital to long-term success as an author. My hair stylist, Sean, has styled my hair for fifteen years and I’ve referred many friends to him. Sean keeps a signed copy of my latest book at his station and chats up my novels to all his clients. If they show interest, he sends them to our local bookseller. Imagine how many clients he sees in a week! Sean has sold more books locally than anyone else. In fact, he and his manager recently hosted a cocktail party for me at the spa to celebrate the launch of THE CALIFORNIA WIFE. This non-traditional event was a huge success! We sold many books and the spa gained some new clients. Reciprocity is key!

Your loudest cheerleaders may be other authors.

My fellow She Writes Press and Harper Collins Canada authors—along with author friends I’ve made over the past two years—have been invaluable supporters of my work. We cross-promote each other’s books on social media, interview each other for our blogs, write reviews, share marketing or speaking opportunities and commiserate when things don’t go well. Recently, to support my friend, bestselling author Paula McLain, I brought some friends to her local library book signing for CIRCLING THE SUN. As soon as she took the stage, she asked, “Is Kristen Harnisch here?” I waved from the back row. She introduced me, a local author, to a packed auditorium and encouraged everyone to check out my historical novels. What class, what kindness! As a result, the library invited me to give a book talk there this fall. I’m always humbled by the generosity of my fellow authors.   

Choose sales & marketing activities that feel natural to you.

Early in my pre-author banking career, I underwrote high-end real-estate loans. My duties also included selling my bank’s products to real estate brokers and their clients. Many of the marketing activities—like cold-calling on real estate agents and pitching potential clients at open houses—didn’t come naturally to me. I wasn’t good at it and I hated it. Now, when deciding which marketing and publicity tactics to employ, I ask two questions: 1) how effective has this strategy been in the past (for me or others)? and 2) does it feel authentic? I prefer the softer sales techniques, but some of my author friends are fabulous hard-sellers. We learn from each other, and that’s the silver lining.

A handwritten note makes a lasting impression.

A friend of a friend passed along a copy of my debut novel to bestselling author Ann Patchett, with the hope that she’d carry it in her Nashville store, Parnassus Books. Weeks later, I received an exuberant, handwritten note from Ms. Patchett, congratulating me on the monumental achievement of having published my first novel. I flipped with joy—and yes, it’s framed. In this age of impersonal Facebook messaging and e-mail, this gesture reminded me how powerful and memorable a handwritten note can be.

Your time is valuable.

After two years of promoting my books, I know which events sell books, and which don’t—and I schedule my time accordingly. When I’m on book tour, visiting booksellers, libraries and book clubs to promote a new release, I usually don’t negotiate a fee. However, for speaking engagements at private clubs or universities, for example, it is customary to ask for an honorarium, or at the very least require that the purchase of one’s book be included in the price of admission. If you’re not sure how much you should charge, ask your agent, publicist or fellow authors, but do place a price on your time! 

Your book may not be a bestseller—and that’s okay.

My interviews with NYTBS authors have taught me that most of these authors don’t achieve bestselling status until they publish their third or fourth book. In the meantime, they’ve kept writing and worked to perfect their craft. None of us are immune to the daily frustrations of this industry and many of us are raising families and/or working full-time while trying to write and publish. Check out this witty YouTube video in which some well-established authors take aim at mean reviews: https://youtu.be/JOD8i-HUgc0. Ladies, we're all in this together--let’s savor the journey!

Let's be friends

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  • Thank you for this wonderful post, Kristen!  Congratulations on having your book published.  I have a long list of books I'd love to read that have been written by SheWrites authors.  Some day I will get to them.  Home-schooling my daughter presents challenges to my reading time, especially since I need to work around it, but as she grows older, it'll get easier.

  • Kristen Harnisch

    Thank you, Loraine and Linda, too, for weighing in! Let us know, everyone, if you have some marketing techniques/tools that you find particularly effective. Granted, it's hard to track sales that result from some of these efforts, but eventually it pays off - especially by the time you publish your next book!

  • Linda Kass

    Solid advice, Kristen! I loved the questions you ask yourself when deciding which marketing and publicity tactics to employ. It is so important to do what we feel works for us and our books and, as we go along, what has been effective. Thanks for sharing!

  • Kristen Harnisch

    Thanks so much for all your feedback, ladies! Akinyi, you raise some interesting questions. I don't know any reviewers of interracial romance, but there are many romance bloggers out there whom I'd imagine would love to take a look at your work. Are there any romance authors reading who can offer some guidance?

    Catherine, I love that you're going to ask your hair stylist! And do approach any friends who own businesses to see if they'd be willing to help spread the word or distribute bookmarks/postcards that promote your book.

    Vivienne, these are exactly the types of activities--Virtual Book Tours and review writing--that help you make and keep connections with other authors and eventually promote your writing as well. One of the things I haven't done (simply b/c I've lacked the time) is really maximize my connections here in the She Writes community. I'm making the effort this month -- so you all will be receiving "friend" requests from me!

    And Irene, how lovely to receive your note. I'm so glad I could help in some small way. Keep me posted on your journey!!

    Thanks again, everyone! Kristen

  • Irene Allison

    What helpful advice! Thank you, Kristen.

    I especially love your comments about personal contact and the tremendous camaraderie and support from other writers. And I know firsthand how true you are to your words because you very kindly took the time to share your thoughts with me when I asked for advice a year and a half ago. I haven't forgotten that kindness. Your advice helped me on my path to publication. 

    I am so grateful for your generosity of spirit and support for other writers.

    Wishing you boundless success with your new novel!

  • Great article. Some authors have been very helpful in reading and promoting my books, and I have done the same for them by either hosting their Virtual Book Tours on my Blog or reading and writing a review their books on Amazon and Goodreads. 

  • Thanks for posting this , Kristen. I am going to ask my hair stylist if I can prop my book up in his shop. That was a practical suggestion. I also liked the comment that not all marketing techniques are natural and therefore not all are worth the time to implement them. The Youtube at the end made me cringe. The fact that these authors had the objectivity to read them aloud on camera, showed me these things can be survived. Why do people read books they don't like and then review them? There's a special place in hell of their kind.

  • Loraine Despres

    Excellent article. Should be read by all aspiring writers.

  • Thanks for this piece, fellow scribe Kristen.

    I'm published traditionally and just started self-publishing using Create Space. My biggest disadvantage when it comes to events, libraries, bookshops, fellow author meets or book clubs is that I live in Germany but write in English. Anybody here with similar problems? I'd love to connect with fellow authors but attempts over Social Media such as Facebook have proved very inadequate. BTW Do you know any serious reviewers of interracial romance, Kristen?

    Once again, thanks for sharing this.