Tuesday, October 31, 2017

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Selling My First Book

By Levis Keltner, @KnightoftheLion 

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: There's so much to learn before publishing a novel, and it's not all about the writing. Levis Keltner visits the lecture hall today to share in sights and tips on what to do before your sell your debut novel.

Levis Keltner is the author of Into That Good Night (Skyhorse, 2018). His fiction has appeared in Bull: Men's Fiction. He is the managing editor at Newfound and teaches writing at Texas State University.

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Take it away Levis...

Great writing makes a great book. But a great book doesn’t always mean great success.

The sale of my debut novel Into That Good Night taught me how little I knew about the publishing industry. Perhaps, like me, you grew up with the crazy dream of being a writer and devoted all your attention to craft. While the writing matters most, a successful debut requires a lot of legwork. Even if your publisher has an experienced publicist, you will need to work hard to put the book in readers’ hands.

The good news is it’s never too late to set yourself up for greater success. To help, here’s five things you should do before attempting to sell a first book.

Build Your Platform

Platform—does the word make you cringe, too? As artists, we can snub industry advice as insincere and a waste of our precious creative time. Then when the time comes to shop our books, we’re left unprepared to deal with the business side of writing. If we want people to know our writing exists, however, it’s best to set aside the angst and get to work making a name for ourselves.

Platform is your presence in the real world and online that allows for interest in your projects. According to Writer’s Digest writer and platform guru Chuck Sambuchino that means “your visibility as an author.”

The simple answer to why building platform is important before you shop your book is because your chances of landing an agent and publishing the book (and future books) can be dependent on the size (or existence) of your platform. These days, industry gatekeepers assess the size of your platform in conjunction with your work.

I was lucky and landed an agent, having little platform. Fiction writers have some grace left if an agent loves the book. That lucky break didn’t allow me to skip the step of having a platform, however, it only meant that I needed to build mine in a hurry.

This is a book length topic, so I recommend reading Sambuchino’s Create Your Writer Platform. In the meantime, here are the essentials to building platform.
  • Be well published: Get your name out by writing blogs, essays, and articles on topics related to your book project. If you write short stories, push those into the very best journals (I too want to slap myself for the glibness of this sentence). All those by-lines drive web traffic to your website (you do have one, right?) and establish you as an expert on your subject matter/obsessions. Once the book is out, reach out to previous publications and see if they’ve an interest in reposting the news through their social media or conducting an interview. Good press for you makes them look good, too.
  • Be social: Be on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads—all the things. Do one of them very well. Start a mailing list.
  • Be community: Organize or volunteer fora project with a public face to build relationships with other writers

Meet Blurbers

At some point in the publishing process, you will be asked to round up writers and/or experts in your field to blurb your book. A blurb from a well-regarded writer establishes your credibility like a literary seal of approval.

I hate to say it fellow introverts: you need to socialize to accomplish this. More than socialize, you need to form relationships with other writers and generally be less of a hermit (talking to myself here). The rewards go way beyond jumping this industry hurdle.

Your publisher should provide a blurb deadline. When asking writers for blurbs, be real and be polite and expect less than half to say yes. To read your entire book and then characterize it in a few sentences is not a small task. If they say no, profusely thank them for even considering. Also, choose blurbers whose body of work jives with your own. They will be more likely to rep it proudly.

Find Your Cover Artist

It’s almost cruel that your book cover, not the words you’ve toiled over, will be your future readers’ first impression of the book.

I hope you land with a publisher that has an award-winning in-house cover artist or freelancer in their pocket.However, it’s almost too easy these days for a graphic designer to throw a generic font on a stock image and make a forgettable book cover—or worse, unforgettable in a bad way.

Save yourself from this nightmare by finding a cover artist that understands the book’s aesthetic. Many artists would be thrilled to promote their work through the project. If the design must be done100% in-house, your artist can at least work with you to create one or more sketch covers to send along when your publisher asks for your input on the cover.

Bottom line: don’t make the first impression an afterthought.

Have the Manuscript Well Revised

This bears repeating: Don’t rush to sell your manuscript. Set it aside awhile, come back, and push harder with another revision. Set it aside and return for another revision, then another, until you can say with as much certainty as any self-effacing writer can, yes, the book is pretty damn good.

When in print, your book is more or less locked in that version forever. A rushed book could mean a poor debut. You want the book to show at its best for readers and for reviews to continue writing and publishing for many years to come.

Meet Reviewers

Reviews matter. They play a huge role in determining the success of your book and potentially can fuel the success of your next book.Logic dictates you would do well to have the very best publications reviewing your debut.

You could hire a publicist to help if you have $5-10k lying around. But even if your publisher has a great publicity agent, all doors will not magically open until you’ve impressed and/or intrigued reviewers.

Broaden your platform and your writing is bound to cross reviewers’ paths. Keep pushing thoughtful blogs, articles, essays, and stories. While meeting people in the writing community, create a list of potential reviewers to politely query later. Again, ensure the manuscript is worth reviewing—revise, revise, revise.


Don’t wait to lay the groundwork for a successful debut. Get these gears in motion before shopping for an agent. Most importantly, don’t let this stuff slow you down. Do what you can as best you can and keep writing.

As the publishing industry changes, we’re all still learning. Have a great tip or need further advice? Comment below or feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or Facebook.

About Into That Good Night (Skyhorse, 2018)

Doug Horolez is a talentless boy hopelessly in love with his only friend, E. Summerson. That’s the good news. When E.’s sister is murdered in the woods behind town, Doug joins a group of local pariahs—led by an ill and eerily charismatic boy—to solve the girl's mysterious death and to prove his devotion. But as bonds within the group deepen, their methods become cultish and vengeful. Doug must then find his voice and act according to his conscience before the price to be loved becomes unspeakable violence.

Into That Good Night is a coming-of-age novel and literary thriller that investigates recurrent mysteries—loss, loneliness, and the precarious desire to belong.

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1 comment:

  1. This is something I have been dreading but a reality I must face. Luckily I am a social person. I have always enjoyed the company of others and tend to be a chatter box at times. Hopefully those inherited skills will make my platform easier to build. Thank you. Your advice will go a long way.