Writer, editor, TV and radio personality, and author of “Basic Bitchen” cookbook, Joey Skladany shares a first hand account of the new author advice every creator needs to know as they write or publish their first book.
When lightning strikes
Writing and publishing my first book was a bucket list item that, frankly, happened a lot sooner than I had anticipated. Sometimes a good idea strikes like lightning and you have no other choice but to wave it around like a metal object and let the current of ingenuity take over your body.
Dramatic metaphor aside, the process of putting out my debut cookbook, Basic Bitchen, was a whirlwind of an experience. I went from signing a contract to writing to photographing to editing to submitting my final manuscript in a period of only seven months. While this model was very untraditional (but common for my imprint), it was still reflective of the chaos and madness that comes with knocking out hundreds of pages of soul-baring text in a limited time.
I say that I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world, but there are certainly a few things I wish I would have known before diving in head-first without a life vest. Here are five takeaways for any new or aspiring author.
Advice for the new author
1. Familiarize yourself with competition
By scoring a book deal, you’ve already proven that you have a unique idea that resonates outside of your immediate social circle (or mom and dad). Consider this step one.
As you delve into the writing, it’s important to continue your research and ensure that what you have to say hasn’t been said before—or is at least presented in a way that’s different from your competition. What will it take to stand out? What other books on the market are similar? How can you differentiate your message? Is there a potential audience you’re forgetting about? What is currently trending in your industry or genre and will this be the case one to two years from now when your book actually hits shelves?
Put in the work
These are the questions you need to ask yourself since it’s likely your editor won’t be asking them for you. Sure, they will steer you in the right direction with internal market research. But it’s ultimately your responsibility to be an expert in the space and constantly familiarize yourself with authors who are tackling the same themes and issues. Nobody wants a repeat. And you certainly don’t want to be accused of any type of plagiarism.
2. Value feedback
Maintaining authenticity is, perhaps, the most important element of any work of nonfiction. I can’t begin to tell you how many drafts I sent to the friends and family members who know me best to provide constructive feedback.
Continue to surround yourself with those who are not shy about being open and honest. They will be the first to flag moments in your text where a joke seems off or your voice isn’t reflective of you as a person.
Let creativity shine
Sometimes our creativity suffers when we’re bogged down by deadlines and hours of rewrites. Or maybe there is a simple sentence or word that you just can’t figure out, even if your life depended on it. These people can be the ones to help bring much-needed clarity when coffee or a cocktail just can’t. Just don’t forget to thank them in your acknowledgements!
3. Prepare for an overwhelming amount of copy edits
Cookbooks obviously follow a very specific set of style and grammar rules. But I near dropped my laptop when my first round of copy edits showed over 5,000 revisions in a Google Doc. Granted, one adjustment of a period or semicolon counted towards this number. But I was extremely intimidated by the initial revision process.
Do not be discouraged. This isn’t a reflection of your writing skills—or intelligence, even though it may feel that way. It’s the editor’s responsibility to be as nit-picky as possible to guarantee that there are zero errors before a final manuscript is sent to the manufacturing warehouse.
The road ahead
The journey of correcting these errors will be laborious. And you may question why you decided to write a book in the first place. However, it’s just a necessary step in preventing future “critics” from emailing you and pointing out an extra comma on page 84, paragraph two, sentence three.
My recommendation is to tackle these over the course of a week or two and first thing in the morning when your brain is clear and free of most distractions.
4. Expect to self-promote
You are your own publicist, which I’ve discussed in detail on Teachable in the past. This is especially true if your book is published by a major company that boasts a roster of best-selling authors. Assume that you will never be a priority unless you come in already-famous because your book will likely pull in sales without much effort.
Chances are likely that an internal communications team isn’t going to do much to move the needle when it comes to media opportunities. This means it’s your job to create an extension of your brand beyond the book.
Cast your net
For a lot of you, it’s your brand that probably helped you lock a book deal to begin with. So, now is the time to market yourself in a way that you haven’t done before. Maybe it’s time to start a newsletter or podcast or delve into the world of TikTok to create a few viral videos.
Landing TV appearances and lengthy feature articles will not happen overnight. So take more creative promotional approaches (that you can control) so that your book can reach an audience beyond the one you’ve already established.
5. Truly celebrate you launch
In a major unpredictable moment, Basic Bitchen came out in 2020 during peak pandemic mode. The dreams of a national book tour, launch party, and in-studio press were dashed by COVID rules and regulations. This led to a ginormous reality check for this self-proclaimed control freak.
As a result, I really lost sight of all the hard work I put into the project and dwelled mostly on what went wrong or what I could have done differently. I didn’t savor the exciting emotions surrounding its release. And instead, wallowed around in self-pity.
Live the dream
If this happens to you, let me say: Stop this nonsense. What you’ve accomplished is an incredible feat and something a lot of aspiring authors can only dream of. You now have a piece of work that will live on in perpetuity to be enjoyed by generations. And it’s one that can serve as a portfolio for future employers and clients.
Take the time to bask in the glory of this achievement. This is your moment. And this moment (and the feelings associated with it) will be fleeting. You owe it to yourself to celebrate.
Create and preserve this memory so it will inspire you to come up with the next great idea. Because even after all of the hard work, all of the tears, the frustration, and the 5,000+ Google Doc edits, I can promise you this: You’ll be crazy enough to want to do it all over again.
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