Writing Your First Book: 5 Tasks to Focus on Besides Writing

writing your first book
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Writing a book has always been at the top of my bucket list. On more than one occasion I’ve been known to say the words aloud: “I’m going to write a book someday.”

I was a banker with a business degree, yet English had always been my thing. As a young student, I never grasped the point of solving for “x”, but I applauded subject verb agreement and diagrammed sentences with the ease most seventh grade girls turned cartwheels. How hard could it be?       


For those of us passionate about reworking a sentence until it melts in the mouth like hand-churned vanilla ice cream, the writing part is fun. But the publishing? The publishing part is throw-in-the towel and run-to-the-market-for-pints-of ice-cream tough.

Publishing is an entirely different animal than writing.

During my writing journey, the surprising thing I’ve learned is that writing is so much more than writing. Whether your goal is to self-publish, work with an independent press, or attract a large publishing house, to successfully publish, you must do all the things.

All. The. Things.

And you need to start well before you finish your manuscript — like last year, or three years ago.

While you’re writing and researching and editing the next great American novel, work on these five things today to make publishing easier tomorrow.

Plus, these five things will provide an often-needed break in routine, a way to keep ideas fresh and to stave off burnout. Let’s be honest, no one can write all the time.

1. Network

When I exited the banking arena, I thought my networking days were over. Bye-bye cold calls.

I was so wrong.

Networking is more important to me now than ever before. As a bank officer, customers came to me to request loans. With the exception of my mother, no one has knocked on my door begging me to publish a book or write an article.

Sometimes it really is about the connections you make, who you know, and how hard you promote yourself.

A common networking problem for writers is that many of us are introverts, including myself. I’d rather sit at my desk for three days rewriting a paragraph than chitchatting with people I don’t know, but putting myself out there is necessary.

One thing to note — our world is social and immediate and networking is available in multiple formats. Find a local writer meetup to join, attend conferences, participate in virtual book launches via Instagram, join writing communities on Google+ and Twitter and become active.

The good news? I’ve found networking to be enjoyable because writers, bloggers, editors, publishers, and readers all share a common passion for the written word. Passion makes all the difference.

2. Build a platform

Been in a bookstore lately? Millions of books are published each year, but sales are declining. Publishing is competitive business. Your platform is like networking on steroids.

No matter how well-written your story, it’s about you. The whole package. A social media presence is essential. Unless you’re famous (or infamous), you need to build an audience through articles in magazines and newspapers, and guest blog posts.

Although it isn’t necessary to be plastered across every social media outlet, choose two or three that best fit your story and consistently share posts that reflect your brand. Be choosy about what you share and always professional. If a publisher googles your name, what will the search reveal? Why should a publisher invest its limited resources in you?

3. Be a voracious reader

If we have to talk about reading, you probably aren’t a writer. This seems a given, yet I often hear wannabe writers say, “I don’t have time to read.” What!?

Reading should be like breathing or blinking. Something automatic. Something you do with every spare sliver of time.

I grew up surrounded by books, saving all my spare change for the school book fair and spending hot summer days at the public library. As an adult, no matter how busy my career or hectic my kids’ schedules, reading has always been part of my routine.

Today, when I need to recharge from writing, disappearing into a good book replenishes me. Reading is also research. A writer must be familiar with the market and the competition. Of the famous protagonists, who is yours most like? What makes your story unique?

4. Find your tribe

Writing is solitary. We work from home or the local coffee shop. We read aloud to our faithful pets that desperately paw for attention. Social escape often takes place online. While the quiet, peaceful, flow of ideas from pen to paper is one of the beauties of writing, as English poet John Donne so eloquently said, “No man is an island, entire of itself.”

Other writers provide encouragement and support and, yes, much needed critique. Synergic energy happens when you spend time with your tribe.

I have several tribes, including a group of blogger friends and two small writing groups. We meet periodically for writing-related events as well as pure social fun. These are the folks who will never roll their eyes when I talk nonstop about my writing.

My tribe helps keep me going when I feel like shredding my manuscript and using it to compost the flowerbed.

5. Improve your craft

There’s always room for improvement.

Join classes, read articles, listen to podcasts, attend seminars at the library. Change your perspective. Find ways to keep fresh ideas churning. A few tricks that work for me: going for a walk, listening to music, reading, trying out a new recipe.

Learn to write an excellent query letter. Work on your elevator pitch. Study how the great writers write — Anne Lamont, Stephen King, Robert Olen Butler — they’ve written engaging books on the craft of writing.

You’ve heard the saying, “Practice makes perfect.” It’s true for writing, too. Choose a time and create a writing schedule. Treat it as your business, because it is. I’m an early morning person. My routine begins with a pot of coffee, a blank page in my journal and freewriting.

Writing leads to better writing — publishable writing.

Have you written a book? What must-do tips would you add to this list?

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Talya blogs at Grace Grits and Gardening and has been published in Arkansas Review, Front Porch Magazine and several online publications including the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute blog. Her first novel, Accidental Salvation of G... .

Grace Grits and Gardening | @GraceGrits

Talya Tate Boerner
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  1. Your list is outstanding, Talya. As a book editor and ghostwriter, I encourage my clients to be ready to put in ten to fifteen hours a week dedicated solely to marketing efforts that include much of what you’ve mentioned here, and that it is ongoing after the book is published. In addition, I teach them to be personally involved in groups or organizations that are centric to the book’s topic and their platform. This serves to establish them as a valued resource and expert on the subjects that resonate most with their message as an author. Finally, though I know many writers are introverts, the best way to connect directly with readers about their story is to speak, teach, or attend events – targeting organizations, civic groups, and churches whose attendees will be “champions” for their book. Thank you as well, Talya, for your exhortation to be a voracious reader. I’m always surprised at how many of my clients aren’t regular readers.

    • Thank you, Adam. Yes, becoming involved in organizations centric to the book’s topic is a great idea. The more folks willing to champion a book, the better, right?

      • Absolutely! And congratulations on your success as a writer…and for your helpful and informative piece. 🙂

      • Thank you so much for this Tayla! Too true about preferring writing and reading to getting yourself out there!! I made myself join 3 writing groups and 1 where you have to stand up and read–and I am still alive!!!
        I thought all writers were reading addicts. Isn’t reading writers of all kinds what led us to write? Lit the spark? I glean so much information from reading. It’s my bedtime delight!

  2. Great advice, Talya. I couldn’t have said it better myself!

  3. Laurie Marshall says:

    All great tips (and reminders!!) and I am determined to make this happen. 🙂

  4. “For those of us passionate about reworking a sentence until it melts in the mouth like hand-churned vanilla ice cream, the writing part is fun. But the publishing? The publishing part is throw-in-the towel and run-to-the-market-for-pints-of ice-cream tough.”

    You know what that made me think? I thought, “Wow. That sounds like something Talya would write.

    I did not know. Did not pay attention. It was you. Ha.

    Good sign, I suppose. I was applauding that paragraph for quite a while until I checked and was sidetracked, laughing at myself.

    A tip I would add: Save every thing you write and organize it while you’re at it. It’s all good. You never know when it will be exactly what you need for your next chapter.

    Another: When a book rivets you, analyze it. And if you find yourself on page 86 having forgotten to take notes, start over–it’s the one that will feed you most.

    Thanks for all you have shared, here.

    Going to write, now. 🙂

  5. Talya, I was also a banker in a former life! I have found that this nugget of my background has helped me to function as a business owner, and obviously it has done the same for you.

    Self-promotion is hard for all of us freelancers, I think, writers and editors alike. At some point, you just have to say, “Darn it, I have a skill that isn’t half as common as some people like to think, and I’m going to put it out there for other people to buy!”

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Freelance Editorial Services

  6. So true, Trish! And let’s not forget about the stories we gained while working in banking 🙂

  7. Thanks for the tips, you definitely made me think about how much I’m really doing for my book… not as much as I thought! I’m going to work on that.

    Could you provide any clarification on what you mean by “your brand”? I’m still fuzzy on the term in general – are you referring to writing style or personality?

    • Hi, Phoebe. Thanks for asking. One of the easiest ways to understand branding is to think of your “brand” as the way others see you. For example, if you write a book about home decorating, align your Twitter comments, Pinterest and Instagram with a similar home decorating theme. You don’t have to be home decorating all the time, but when people think of you, you want them to begin thinking of you in terms of home decorating. For me, my blog, Grace Grits and Gardening, is a little broader. My tagline (so to speak) is farm, food, garden, life. I write about the South and nostalgia and vintage recipes, etc. Although my book (Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee) is fiction, the setting is rural, South, farm, so I can easily tie it back to my blog. I think about this brand I’m trying to create whenever I accept a sponsored blog post. If the product or service doesn’t fit my brand, I pass on it. I don’t want my readers to be confused about why suddenly I am writing about children’s toys. I hope this helps and good luck with your book!

  8. Great tips! I never thought about writing a book, but now I might turn some of my old blog posts into an e-book (with some added content). The writing is basically done, but I still have a lot of other things left to do anyway. 🙂

    • I hope it’s a success, Kayla!

      Don’t forget to budget for professional editing.

      Remember, everyone needs an editor, even an editorrrrrrrrr.

      Trish O’Connor
      Epiclesis Consulting LLC
      Freelance Editorial Services

  9. Woww, what a gem! Thanks Talya. So helpful and sincere. Even The Write Life guys adore you.

  10. This is a lovely post Talya,
    Indeed writing a book is a very good thing and i guess we should all write one right? But like you said, there are so much to it than just writing. Writing is actually one side of the coin while publishing your book is the second side and both should be done well.

    I agree with all the tips you shared here. Networking is a must if you really want to build a successful internet business and it also applies to every other walk of life. You can’t possibly do it all alone NO, you’ll absolutely need the supports of others at one point and thats why you should network.

    And talking about reading, i think that anyone that says he has not time to read is actually insane (Sorry for my language) but is it not true? You will have time to watch movies, play games and sleep right? You’re really not helping yourself.

    This is really a very interesting topic Talya.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Hello, Theodore. Not everyone shares the same dream of writing a book—although based on the number of new books published each year, it sure seems like it!— but for those of us who do, we must carve out time to do the work. You make a good point. It’s often about choices. We find time to watch television that could be devoted to writing. Of course, down time is essential, too!

  11. Talya,

    What a great article!! I agree wholeheartedly on every point. You’ve come so far and I cannot wait to *buy* your book!!!!! Maybe you’ll even autograph it for me!

    And we really do miss you in our writers group, of course.


  12. Thank you, LindaLee. I miss you guys, too! I’ll have a book signing in Dallas, so maybe I’ll see you there??

  13. Barbara Tate says:

    I think of you as a writer now. Great article.

  14. I wrote some books which I like and command the topic. That makes me easy to write rather than I write fiction that is not my passion.
    Thank you for the tips.

  15. This list is beautiful. Thank you for this piece of information. Being a blogger and guest writer, I am usually midst of really busy schedule, But yes I do agree Reading is like meditation to me. It surrounds me with happiness. I attain inner peace in fact.

    I am working on my novel these days and I’m hoping that these pointers would help me in the long run.

    Thanks a ton for the article

  16. Great tips. Writing is only 50% of your job as a writer. You have to wear many hats to be successful.


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