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Lessons Learned

My fourth book baby is born. Sniff!

My fourth book is out today. Huzzah! It’s been an amazing three years in publishing, filled with ups and downs, joys and less-than joys. I figured I would mark this occasion by sharing some hard-won wisdom I’ve gleaned from walking my own path and by watching how successful authors do it.

1.     The writing doesn’t necessarily get easier. You’d think after “breaking through” and achieving publication that you’d unlock the secret code to writing a fabulous book with no struggle. Well, no dice, as the saying goes. Each book is its own joy and its own nightmare. Some are easier than others and that doesn’t have much to do with their chronological order.

2.     Everything else about publishing a book does get easier! Once you understand the workflow involved in bringing a book to market, there’s less mystery involved (ahem) and you appreciate your role in the process better. You get to know the people on your team and form real relationships with them. You make friends with your local bookstores and librarians. Maybe you even develop relationships with some of your readers. Knowing who to talk to about what makes the whole process less confusing and more enjoyable.

3.     If you read reviews from readers, pay most attention to what they enjoyed about your book. These are your strengths; lean into them. It can be easy for the nay-sayers to have the loudest voice in your head. If you have twenty-five readers who love your main character’s crotchety attitude, the one reader complaining that she’s unlikeable and too negative stands out. If a couple of readers complain you use too many big words, you might be tempted to tone down the language next time, despite the other 98 readers who luxuriate in your rich language. You are never going to please everyone, so don’t try. Be true to your voice and the stories you want to tell.

4.     No one cares about your book as much as you do. This means you have to be the most detail-oriented person in the publishing chain. It’s okay to advocate for your book as long as you do it nicely and not every five minutes. And speaking of every five minutes…go easy on the social media promotion. It’s normal to have a flurry of events, posts, etc., in the few weeks around publication. But if you are talking about your book every day, you will turn readers (and friends and family) off pretty quick. Instead, talk about things that are writing-adjacent. Books in the same genre that you have liked. Research you are doing.

5.     Be nice. I like this one as a life philosophy in general. But publishing is a small corner of the world. If you are a jerk, it will get around. As authors, we’re often tasked with networking up the chain, trying to catch the eye of a Big Name Writer who might blurb our books or Big Name Agent who might sell our books, etc. I have been to networking events where people I was trying to talk to were nakedly looking over my shoulder the entire time, searching for someone more important. This is dumb. For one thing, some of the most important people in publishing don’t look important. These are people who may not have a lot of fancy publications themselves, but they are book buyers for a library chain or they sit on committees that decide on conference panelists or they quietly judge the Edgar Awards. The little-known author today may be the bestseller tomorrow. Be nice.

6.     When you hit a bump in the road, write the next book. The writing is all we control anyway, so it can feel good to take the reins again if you’ve had a setback. Book didn’t get an agent? Write another one. Your novel didn’t sell the way you’d hoped? Write a new one. Publisher went out of business? Write a fresh book to capture a new one. The solution to pretty much all publishing disasters is a new manuscript.

7.     Each new book brings its own particular joys. Maybe you got to write a character you’ve always loved in your head. Maybe a reader writes to say your book got them through a tough time. Maybe you land a review at a site you’ve long coveted or are asked to give a talk at your local library. Each time, there is a new and precious reward…which should be motivation to write that next book.

4 Responses to “Lessons Learned”

  1. Cherie Honeycutt

    I have totally fallen in love with your books!! I own a used bookstore and your first book, The Vanishing Season, was brought in by a customer who highly recommended it. I was hooked immediately! This was three weeks ago and I have since then bought and read the following three books in the series, passing them along as I finish to customers. I hope that you plan on writing a fifth book!!

    • Joanna Schaffhausen

      Thanks so much, Cherie! I am delighted to know you’ve enjoyed the books. There is a fifth Ellery & Reed book coming next year, titled Last Seen Alive, along with a book later this year that is with new characters, called Gone for Good. Thanks again for reading and for letting me know you’ve liked the books. I really appreciate it!

  2. Chazzie Medley

    Yay! Can’t wait for the fifth book in the Ellery Hathaway series. Also looking forward to your new book Gone For Good.


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