SO YOU’RE PUBLISHING A BOOK
Congrats! Here’s how to do it without losing your goddamn mind.
Recently, the New York Times and Publishers Marketplace reported on the latest crisis facing the book industry — a paper, labor, and facility shortage that forced publishers to scramble to print enough hardcover books to meet demand, and even to push out the pub dates of some January 2019 books in order to ease the burden on binderies.
Yikes. I’ll take “Emails nobody’s agent wanted to get for Christmas” for $500, Alex.
I myself had a new book coming out on December 31st, so when I read the aforementioned articles my first reaction — as an author — was Oh how delightful. Everything is shit. My life is ruined. But I’m also an industry veteran with fifteen years of experience working in New York’s largest publishing houses, so my followup reaction was Oh well, it’s always something.
The latter line of thinking is what will make the difference between surviving your book publication with your panties intact, or twisted beyond recognition. So to occupy myself while I wait for week 1 sales figures to come in (fun times!), I put together this brief guide for prospective authors that takes into account my experience on both sides of the aisle.
After all, publishers can spend six figures hiring an outside consultant to tell them what they want to hear — but you?
You need free, unbiased content. And I’m here to help.
5 tips for not losing your goddamn mind when you have a book coming out
1. Enjoy the good stuff.
You got a book deal! Or you got your ass in gear to self-publish! I’m proud of you and you should be, too. Along the way, be sure to recognize and revel in all the small pleasures of the process. More people will be reading your work. Some of them will even say nice things about it on Twitter. You’ll get to start referring to “my book” in casual conversation. You’ll have an ISBN number of your very own — I’m not joking; it’s very exciting. BE EXCITED ABOUT IT.
You didn’t spend 0–15 years writing this motherfucker to skip over the euphoria of getting published and go straight to the despondent-about-everything-else part. There’ll be plenty of time for that later.
2. Don’t read the reviews.
Don’t do it. They will not spark joy. For every glorious paean to your literary prowess, there will be one that cuts you to the quick. That stings like bug spray on a freshly shaven leg. That makes you wish you’d never been born, or at least that you’d been born without fingers so you never could have written your book and also clicked on that review.
Furthermore, even on your most masochistic day, definitely don’t read any of the 3-star ones. Those fuckers are sneaky. To one reviewer, three pentagrams up means “I am glad to have read this book and I would feel confident recommending it to others.” To another, it signifies “Don’t bother. I certainly wish I hadn’t.” And you’ll never know until you click on it, which I already told you not to do.
But you won’t be able to help yourself. I get it. Which is why, as an editor, I used to offer my authors another option: “For every bad review of your own book that you read, go to your favorite book on Amazon and look at those bad reviews and you’ll feel better.” But now that I’m an author myself I realize that doesn’t make me feel better — it just makes me angry that some jackass would give A Prayer For Owen Meany one star with the comment “Boring, I didn’t finish it.”
Oh, you didn’t finish it, Gavin? HOW NICE OF YOU TO TREAT US TO YOUR FIVE-WORD “REVIEW” OF A BOOK YOU DID NOT EVEN READ IN ITS ENTIRETY.
Seriously, don’t read the reviews.
3. Don’t be an asshole.
I know, I know. It’s not fair that Gavin gets to be an asshole and you don’t, but hear me out, because bad stuff is going to happen during the life of your book, and it’s going to suck for all involved. I can assure you that being on the publisher’s end of any snafu that threatens sales potential and/or an author’s fragile emotional state is about as pleasant as a pap smear. One time, it was my duty to inform a writer that he wasn’t going to get the scratch-n’-sniff book cover he wanted and he responded with a 2,000-word email that included the sentence “You are nothing but a gentle, implacable steamroller demolishing everything I hold dear.”
So…three stars then? Gotcha.
Yes, you’re anxious. Yes, whatever happened is so fucking unfair. I’m not saying you don’t have every right to be upset. But freaking out will not solve your problem, and neither will sending passive-aggressive emails to the very same people whose help and goodwill you need access to in order to right the ship.
Nor does it pay to go all scorched-earth on your publishing team, like this guy.
When I read that linked “article,” which I will not deign to quote in depth here, the editor in me thought Oh, hey, I hope you don’t need to walk across that bridge someday because YOU DONE BURNT IT PAL. You burnt it not only with your editor and publicist and publisher, but with the other editors and publicists and publishers in town who forwarded your petty screed to one another with the subject line: thank u, next.
In fact, because the publishing industry is both volatile and incestuous, probably within less than two years literally everyone involved with this book will wind up scattered around the only other four major publishers in New York — and trust me, they don’t get paid well enough to forgive and forget.
4. Focus on what you can control.
In my experience, marketing managers will often assign tasks to keep an author out of everyone’s collective hair (don’t @ me, Little, Brown and Company, I’m on to your tricks) — with the potential side benefit of said author nabbing an awesome blurb from their famous MFA professor, developing a true flair for social media, or, say, launching a web series in which they dispense advice while wearing a bikini and a silly hat. (Why yes, my YouTube channel is live now — why do you ask?)
Of course, we can’t all be Instagranimals or besties with Joan Didion, and not every author is lucky enough to have a marketing department, let alone one willing and able to assign them tasks. But you have me! And I say there are plenty of things you can do to improve your book’s chances of success.
Or just to keep yourself occupied between refreshing your Amazon ranking and questioning all of your life choices up to this moment. Whatever works.
The fact is, you’re going to be a fucking basket case regardless — so why not be a productive one? In Calm the Fuck Down, I refer to this practice as Productive Helpful Effective Worrying (PHEW). For example:
- You could visit all of your local/regional bookstores and introduce yourself to the staff in a non-creepy way to let them know you have a book coming out, and ask if they’d be interested in having you sign stock.
- You could finagle a speaking gig with your college alumni association.
- You could make a concerted effort to befriend other authors and help them publicize their books to be a good literary citizen and also so they will one day be inclined to help you with same.
- You could ask your friends, family, and social media followers to post online reviews (WHICH YOU WILL NOT READ), to boost word-of-mouth.
- You could take a nice bath.
5. Let go of what you can’t control.
I once had a boss who said that publishing a book was like trying to land a jumbo jet on an icy runway. In a tornado. With a drunk pilot.
It’s complicated and difficult, and there are lots of moving parts. Many of which you can’t control. If it wasn’t the Great Paper Shortage of Twenty-Eighteen threatening your precarious first week sales figures, it would be a blizzard wiping out your tour schedule or a big news day bumping your drive-time radio appearance. (And that’s assuming that you book any tour/radio appearances to begin with.)
Frankly, all kinds of stuff could go wrong long before you even get to publication day. Your editor could get fired mid-edit, your publicist could get into grad school, the trade magazines could completely ignore you. (Fun fact: Publishers Weekly has reviewed exactly zero of my books.)
Ooh, or maybe Amazon is showing the wrong version of the cover! That’s always a party. Or your galleys got printed upside-down. Or perhaps another book on the exact same topic is going to come out at the same time as yours and you don’t even know it yet, like when two movies about hapless shopping center police premiered within 90 days of each other in 2009.
It happens. And when it does, it’s only marginally less funny than Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
For my part, this week I started getting messages from random Canadian fans telling me there were no copies of Calm the Fuck Down to be had in their national chain store, coast to coast. One said her pre-order, due to arrive January 1st, had been updated to “mid-March.” WTF?
Well, as it turns out, the truck carrying every single carton of my new book destined for the Chapters Indigo warehouse BROKE DOWN IN OHIO on its way north, delaying stock for that all-important first week on sale.
You can’t make this shit up, people.
So take a deep breath.
Remember that publishing a book is like landing a jumbo jet on an icy runway in a tornado with a drunk pilot.
Some of that stuff you can control; some of it you can’t.
Focus on the former and try to let go of the rest.
And if you need more pointers, I know a book that came out on December 31st that might help.
Sarah Knight is the New York Times bestselling author of four profane self-help books (and one journal) with millions of copies in print worldwide. The newest is called Calm the Fuck Down: How to Control What You Can and Accept What You Can’t So You Can Stop Freaking Out and Get on With Your Life and it will hopefully be available in Canada very soon.