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

by | Aug 19, 2015 | Get Published, Publishing | 29 comments

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?