Marketing Your Book-18 Months From Launch

Marketing & Promotion

maddi-bazzocco-waNAJOI7Jz8-unsplash

18-24 months out from publication there are still a lot of things up in the air. You probably don’t have a book cover yet. Maybe you don’t even have a title finalized. You may be in the middle of revisions, meaning the actual text is still changing too. This definitely limits what you can share online about your book, which makes it the perfect time to start thinking beyond this one book and to your author brand as a whole.

With more than a year until my publication date (which is also still TBD) here are the things I’m focusing on in the meantime in order to establish connections with potential readers and solidify my online public persona.

1. Become a Regular Patron at Your Local Book Store

I’m a library girl. I love reading on my Kindle, I love listening to audiobooks on my commute, and I love the convenience of having a school library right down the hall from me. I’m spoiled like that. But now that I have some extra income, I want to make it a priority to become a regular patron at some of the local bookstores in my area.

Booksellers, like librarians and teachers, are incredible allies in this industry. But you can’t leverage those relationships if they’re nonexistent. As a traditional publishing newbie, it’s also likely that I could learn a lot from local book people about how certain books make it into certain readers’ hands. Booksellers are also key to arranging school visits and making sure they’re lucrative. In other words, establishing this relationship is essential.

But it must be cultivated genuinely. That means supporting your local indie booksellers financially, attending other author’s events, and bringing family and friends to shop there as well. We all have the same goal, after all. To create thriving book-loving communities.

2. Create a Consistent Newsletter Schedule

Seriously, y’all, my newsletter is what made my self-publishing career and it’s never too early to start one. Even if at first it’s just friends and family interested in your publishing journey, that’s great! What’s most important is that it’s consistent.

My newsletter has evolved so much over the years but I finally feel like I have a format and schedule that works for me. Entice people with behind the scenes exclusives, share snippets of your WIP, record video messages specifically for your subscribers. The possibilities are endless in terms of what you can offer your growing audience. But the point is that it’s growing. And if you start now, by the time your book comes out, you’ll have a personal and immediate way of getting the word out to hundreds of people.

3. Familiarize Yourself with the Cons & Book Festivals Near You

Book festivals and conferences tend to post applications very far in advance. Research all of the festivals within driving distance and map out when and where they are, as well as typical application deadlines.

As a debut, it might not be possible to book yourself for larger festivals, but you’d be surprised to know how many smaller festivals exist that would probably love to showcase you and your book. Definitely, don’t overlook small towns and rural areas. If you’re willing to make the drive you might end up being their keynote speaker as a debut!

4. Recycle Old Content for New Platforms

I’ve been blogging since 2012. That’s almost an entire decade’s worth of words and not all of them garbage.

My old blog posts have given me a treasure trove of inspirational quotes related to writing, creativity, and dealing with mental health issues that I’ve been repurposing for Instagram. I’m using Canva to create some simple graphics and posting them a few times a week. The next step may be slapping these things on some coffee mugs or custom notebooks.

I’m also planning to use some excerpts, essays, and original poetry to make chapbooks to be sold on my website. I’ve seen poets hand selling them at markets and they look like so much fun to create.

Think about what you’re particularly good at and then think about all of the ways that could exist in the world. And remember, you’re only limited by your own imagination.

5. Join a Professional Organization

This step is one I’m taking as much for personal reasons as professional ones.

Making friends as an adult is hard. Recently, I was thinking about how I used to make friends when I was younger and I realized that I did most of my socializing through school and community clubs and organizations.

I recently joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and am looking forward to attending their regular meet-ups and events. I also found some organizations for creatives and entrepreneurs in my area so you definitely don’t have to stick to just writing communities. Any way to get connected with people who may know about local resources that could help you with marketing/promotion later is a good idea. And connecting with people across different industries may inspire you to think outside the box.

*Due to the recent issues with RWA, make sure you’re approaching a reputable organization that shares your beliefs and values. If you attend a few meetings and something feels off or you notice implicit bias or discriminatory practices, know that you don’t have to continue that relationship.

Professional organizations can be helpful but they’re not absolutely necessary. The most important thing is finding a creative space where you feel safe and supported and where you know people from marginalized communities feel safe and supported as well.

6. Keep a List of Marketing & Promotional Ideas from Other Writers and Creatives

One of my favorite things about social media is seeing how others use it, especially other introverts. Usually, when we think of social media we think of something curated or even fake. It can sometimes feel performative and disingenuous. I’ve been trying to get over these hang-ups and one of the things that’s helped has been looking at my social media accounts as another mode of story-telling, except the story I’m telling is my own.

This has allowed me to think of it in terms of my values and priorities. What do I want to amplify? What do I want to celebrate? What do I want to share with others that brings an even deeper meaning to my work? I’m a writer, yes. But it’s the experiences and unique perspective that I bring to my writing that gives it life. That makes me interesting.

Luckily, there are so many writers out there who have mastered the art of being authentic, unique, and accessible. Now when I’m scrolling through social media, I’m looking for inspiration. Who is posting content similar to the things I’d like to create? What glimpses into their personal lives do readers resonate with the most? How are they engaging the community both on and offline? What’s aesthetically pleasing about their feed? What design resources are they using? Can I access those same resources? Can I learn those same skills?

I have a Pinterest board full of aesthetic and design ideas and a checklist in Trello of marketing and promotion ideas. Right now I’m collecting everything that seems relevant to my book and sounds like fun. I’ve heard over and over again that you should only invest time into marketing and social media that brings you joy. Otherwise, you’re going to be overwhelmed and miserable.

So far there are things on my list like character quizzes and Instagram polls, custom pins and accessories, collaborating with a  local bakery, creating custom postcards for teachers and librarians in my area, pre-order giveaways highlighting Latinx artisans and shop owners, developing an educator’s guide, and creating annotated copies to giveaway through my newsletter.

Every single one of these ideas I got from other writers and while I might not end up doing all of them it gives me a starting point. From there I can determine which things are actually feasible, which I would actually enjoy, and which just aren’t a good fit for me and my project. After that, I’ve got the information I need to create a marketing budget and timeline, which I can then use to plan and complete things in between drafting and revising new projects.


These are the things I’ll be tending to between projects until summer break. Then, for the first time, I will NOT be teaching summer school, which means I can complete some of the more time-consuming things on my to-do list as well as experiment with some ideas I wouldn’t otherwise have had the time to try.

And that’s the point. Not to do this whole social media thing perfectly. But to just try. To take chances. To have fun.

This brainstorming phase when your book is still just a tiny blip in the future can be incredibly blissful. The future is full of possibilities and despite all that’s out of your control on this traditional publishing journey, there are still things you can do to try to get the word out about your book. That’s a great feeling because it means we don’t just have to sit and wait. We can do something. And it may not move the needle quite like our publisher can. But if the result is a supportive community, or the discovery of a new creative outlet, or even just one reader, then it is absolutely worth it.

I Did It

Mental Health, Writing Process

hannah-grace-j9JoYpaJH3A-unsplash

I did it.

I turned in the first round of revisions on my debut novel. Without spiraling. Without losing sleep.

All I’d ever heard about writing under contract was that it was absolute torture, psychological warfare to the tenth degree. Agonizing. Anxiety-inducing. Almost impossible.

So when I finally got my edit letter, I’m not going to lie, I. was. scared.

But I didn’t have the luxury of procrastinating. I didn’t have the time to doubt. I just had to do it.

So I made a plan thanks to some amazing resources shared by Julie C. Dao on the Publishing Crawl website, I read through the manuscript and made my list of changes, then I set goals for my first pass. I took a four-day break before setting goals for my second pass. And then I just chiseled away at it.

Some scenes were really difficult to write and I saved those for days when I was operating at 100%. Some problems lacked clear solutions and I kept looping back to them until something clicked. Some days it was tedious and emotionally taxing. Others, the words poured out. But every time I got stuck and that voice crept in, whispering that I was never going to figure things out, that I was never going to get it right, I swatted it away. I did not allow those doubts to fester. I did not allow myself to give up.

Because I wanted so badly to prove to myself that I could do the work, that I could meet expectations, that I could survive in this industry for the long haul. That’s what these revisions were really about for me. Knowing that this isn’t still some pipe dream. Knowing that I have the discipline and the stamina and the creativity to sustain an entire career.

I needed to know that the pressure wouldn’t destroy me.

And when it didn’t, I learned something even more important about myself. That I was no longer interested in sacrificing my mental health in order to achieve. This process was going to have to work alongside rest and self-care. There would be no all-nighters. No writing while sick. So I paced myself, anticipating days of rest, scheduling grocery deliveries, and planning meals. Doing whatever I needed to in order to take care of myself so that I would actually be well enough to create.

I thought this first experience writing under contract would teach me all of the practical things I needed to know like how to manage my time, how to create a plan for revisions, how to interpret editorial feedback. Instead, it taught me that what I really need to practice is setting boundaries. Because the work will always be difficult. There will always be that sense of urgency to stay up all night. There will always be that self-doubt making me question every word. But those thoughts can come and go. If I let them. If I let them go.

And letting go is not easy. It’s terrifying.

But when I am lighter, when I don’t have my destiny in a death grip, the things I want are more inclined to come. The words show up, the fear fades, and I’m not so afraid of failing.

There is No Getting Rid of the Unknown

Mental Health

gabriel-bnohZ9c4lqg-unsplash

I am used to things being out of my control. I teach teenagers who have helped me cultivate a level of patience that even I find impressive at times. So while I’m (still) waiting on my revision letter from my editor, it’s not impatience that’s stoking my anxiety. It’s the need to know what comes next so I can plan for how to handle it.

But, the rub is, there is no getting rid of the unknown. I can “pretend problem-solve” all day long with hypothetical scenarios I think are coming but that doesn’t actually alleviate any of my stress. In fact, it just creates more, to the point that even positive things, even things I’m genuinely excited about, are causing me anxiety.

For seven years I have blogged and written about having anxiety. I’ve written about trying to treat it, live with it, and trick it into submission. I’ve written about how it affects my creative process, how it keeps me up at night, how it haunts me in my dreams. But my anxiety is absolutely at its worst when I am in transition, moving from one phase of my life to the next. When I am shedding old skin. When I am becoming something new.

I used to think that was my intuition telling me that I was on the wrong track, that I needed to turn around, to run. And sometimes my fear is instinctual, warning me of real danger. But mostly, it’s misinformed; well-meaning but bad at communicating. The truth it wants to tell me is that these fears I’m having, the pricks of worry deep in my gut, are signs. Signaling that I’m actually getting closer to the things I want, which only feels scary because it feels good.

And…my brain can’t process good. It takes my new book deal and turns it into an opportunity to fail, to disappoint, to derail my entire career. It takes the advance money and turns it into a chance to make horrible decisions, to destroy my financial future, to become destitute. It takes my WIP and turns it into quicksand. It takes relationships and turns them into booby traps. It takes my ability to tell stories and turns them into lies, into snares that trap me in endless cycles of what ifs?

Doing this work, doing any kind of work when you have a scared child clinging to your neck and whispering terrible things in your ear is not easy. But the tighter anxiety’s hold on me, the more I cling to the hope that even if I never find balance, or a cure, or even some semblance of consistency when it comes to my mental health, I can still keep doing the work. Day by day. Pen to page. One word at a time.

This is what I can control. Not when my contract finally comes or when that first advance check hits my bank account or whether or not my editor will even like book two or if I’ll have to go on sub again or if anyone will ever buy another thing I’ve written. I can’t control most of what may come next.

Luckily, that small piece of the equation that I can control–the writing–is the most important part. That’s what I’ll keep reminding myself. In the midst of the insomnia and the nerve pain and the tension headaches. I am still in a body that can hold a pen. I am still connected to a mind that can make things up that make people smile, that make me smile. I am still telling stories from the deepest truest parts of myself. And if that’s all there is, if that’s all there will ever be, I will choose to make it enough.

How I’m Spending My Book Advance

Motivation & Inspiration, Self Publishing

Twitter was on fire this week in response to an article about a YA author who mismanaged her advance money and ended up with basically nothing. This is not a critique on the author or the article.

What I will say in regards to my personal reaction to the piece is that like many people who read it, I was struck with a gut-punch of anxiety. See, I have a complicated relationship with money. It wasn’t something I was really aware of when I was a kid but when my father passed away during my teen years, money, or more specifically, the lack of money, was like this big scary monster that followed my mother and I everywhere.

I won’t get into the specifics but the compounding trauma of being broke while also grieving (and all of the scary stressful events that went along with that) solidified in my psyche that money = safety and security and that no money = danger and chaos.

When I found out how much my publisher was going to pay me for my book, one of my first thoughts was–this is more money than my parents ever had. I don’t actually know anyone who has this amount of money. And that’s scary.

As much of a blessing as this is, it’s also scary venturing into this great unknown where no one in my family has been before. It’s scary to think that with the right choices, I could elevate us all and it’s even scarier to think that with the wrong choices, I could destroy everything.

I don’t actually believe that I’m going to choose ignorance, that I’m going to make terrible decisions, or that I’m incapable of controlling this part of my life. I’m a teacher, which means I’m teaching myself new things constantly.

In fact, the first thing I did after getting my deal was begin working with a financial advisor. I also have an accountant who I’ve been working with for several years and who I’ll be meeting with next month to discuss how much I should set aside from this first check for taxes. I recently worked hard to pay off one of my student loans.

I’m doing the right things. And yet, there is still a part of me that worries something will happen, something horrible and catastrophic, and all of the money will suddenly disappear–just like it did when my father got sick–and my life will once again devolve into chaos.

This fear is unlikely to come to fruition but it is not entirely irrational. I suspect that other creatives who’ve had negative experiences involving money might feel the same anxiety upon receiving that first check. What has helped me though, is getting crystal clear about what I value in life so that I can see how my money does or does not honor those things.

In case you’re curious how I’m applying my first royalty check to those values, here’s a breakdown of how I plan to allocate these funds:

1. Financial Planning

Financial planning isn’t free. If someone tries to tell you that it is, making promises that they won’t charge you a cent until your investments with them turn a profit, be wary. Instead, you want to work with a fee-only fiduciary because they actually have ethical standards they must adhere to and instead of selling you investment products, they sell you professional education and advice.

Try to find a CFP who specializes in or is familiar with variable income (bonus points if they’re used to working with creatives like my financial advisors at The Art of Finance in Austin, TX). FYI, the Art of Finance works with clients via Skype as well, so if you’re not able to find someone in your area, feel free to check them out.

6-months of coaching: $1,525 ; 3.5% of 1st advance check

2. Taxes

It’s recommended that after securing your deal that you incorporate ASAP. Establishing an LLC through which to process your earnings can help protect you in the case that you’re ever sued, as well as open up your options when it comes to filing your taxes. This can be done by a lawyer (usually for a very expensive fee–I previously paid about $1,800 for this service) or there are online DIY options for much cheaper.

When you meet with your accountant, ask them if filing as an S-Corp may be right for you. This option softens the blow of that 30% self-employment tax by allowing you to designate some of your earnings as dividends, which are not taxed, as opposed to claiming it all as salary. If this isn’t a good option for you, make sure your accountant is at least familiar with all of the deductions available to writers.

Because I’ll be filing as an S-corp this year, my accountant has advised me to set aside $10,000 of my 1st advance check, which is about 24% of the total amount, with the caveat that not all of this will actually go to the IRS. But better safe than sorry, especially since I’m still earning royalties from my self-published books and don’t know how much that’ll total to by the end of the year.

Accounting Services: $1,000-$1,200 ; 3% of 1st advance check
2019 Taxes: $10,000 ; 24% of 1st advance check

3. Student Loans

You better believe I am getting rid of this thing with my very first advance check. If one of my values is financial freedom, being debt-free is a crucial part of that. It’s hard to be creative when you’re worried about paying off loans or credit card debt. Having debt delays so many important financial milestones: saving for retirement, investing in your business, buying a home (if that’s a goal of yours because it totally doesn’t have to be).

I worked hard to pay off one of my loans this past spring and I’m definitely going to celebrate once I finally knock out the other two because it means that money can now go towards reaching other, more important, goals.

Student Loans: $8,600 ; 20% of 1st advance check

4. Roth IRA

Putting some money towards retirement might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you get your first advance check. But it should be. Living paycheck to paycheck is stressful and scary and you don’t want to still be stuck in that cycle when you’re finally at retirement age.

Sometimes creative risks are only possible once you’ve mitigated your financial risks. In other words, you’ll be able to work longer in the creative industry of your choosing if you don’t have to choose between your art and a corporate 401k. Look out for you now by setting money aside for your future self.

I recommend stashing that money in a Roth IRA because it grows tax free (you pay taxes in the present to avoid paying them in the future), which means you’ll have more buying power later even after inflation. Also, if you’re an investment newbie, stick to index funds that are tried and true like the S&P 500 through Vanguard (they have super reasonable fees).

*If you’re not sure what I’m even talking about, ask your financial advisor.

Roth IRA: $6,000 (this is the maximum contribution you can make per year) ; 14% of 1st advance check

5. Emergency Fund

Having an Emergency Fund has saved me a few times in my life and I recommend starting one ASAP! In case you’re not sure what an Emergency Fund is, here’s what it is and here’s what it isn’t.

To summarize, an Emergency Fund is not for “true expenses” or the things we pay regularly but not frequently enough to show up on our monthly budget and therefore have a tendency to slip our minds (i.e. semi-annual vet bills, scheduled car maintenance, annual doctor’s visits, etc.). The Emergency Fund is for just that, emergencies (i.e. layoffs, trips to the emergency room, roof replacement after a hail storm).

Some people advise starting with a 1-month Emergency Fund. Others advise 3 to 6 months. I already have a 1-month Emergency Fund built up and my goal is 12 (my risk tolerance is low and since it takes me about 8 months to write a book, I want to have plenty of cushion built in to develop something and go on sub with it). With this first check, I’m contributing what I can while also leaving some room for writing-related expenses and a few *fun* things (see below).

3-Month Emergency Fund: $8,500 ; 20% of 1st advance check

6. Writing Expenses

I know some people actually warn against paying to attend conferences and writing retreats because the cost can be ridiculously high but next year AWP will be in San Antonio, which makes it much more accessible to me this time around than probably any other. I can drive instead of fly and split hotel or Airbnb accommodations with family. Being a debut, I’m pretty certain I’ll find value in so many of the sessions offered and I look forward to learning as much as I possibly can about the industry.

AWP Registration: $250
Lodging: $425

7. What’s Left

After all of the above expenses, I’ll have $6,000 left, which will be deposited into my checking account in $800 intervals over the course of nine months. Month to month, I’ll decide how much of this to put towards the following: my HSA account, a vacation fund, self-care activities, clothing, and household remodeling/repairs.

These are technically low priority items because they’re not necessities. Are they important to some degree? Yes and I’m grateful that I will have some extra money to prioritize them in a way I haven’t been able to pretty much…ever. I’m especially looking forward to how some of these things will help me stay healthy and balanced while writing under contract for the first time. But if I was in a pinch and that money needed to be used elsewhere, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Also, those four months will bring me pretty close to my second advance check (I hope) so if I need to make adjustments at that point, I can.

Miscellaneous: $6,000 ; 14% of 1st advance check

Please keep in mind that I am not a CFP and I don’t have a degree in finance. Everything I know about handling finances as a freelancer I learned through self-publishing, which is just as unpredictable as traditional publishing, if not more so. There were some months when I made close to $7,000 and some months when I barely made $20.

When I first started making consistent money, I absolutely made some rookie mistakes but I also did some smart things too. This time around, I’m grateful that those hard lessons are behind me and that I have an opportunity to make even more smart choices that will hopefully allow me to create a sustainable career in this industry.

The categories above are by no means an exact template for you to follow. You have to think about your values and what’s right for you and your family. But if you’re feeling any anxiety or apprehension about what to do with your advance, I hope my examples and explanations above are helpful in some way. Maybe they’ll help you realize that some of those things are your values too. Or maybe they’ll help you realize that you value something totally different and that’s okay.

The most important thing is that you take the time to really listen to yourself so that you can make the kinds of decisions that will safeguard your creative life rather than put it at risk.

*Stay tuned for what I’m prioritizing with advance check #2!

Being Struck by Lightning

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

breno-machado-in9-n0JwgZ0-unsplash

Since getting my book deal, I’ve felt this flood of creativity. Sparks of so many different ideas and not just for new stories but multimedia projects, creative giving, and new collaborations It’s like this very public validation has somehow given me permission to explore other aspects of my creative identity and I’ve found myself, a few times, being struck by an idea so big and scary that it I know it’s my heart’s desire.

I’ve spent the past four months trying to untangle my intuition from my anxiety; trying to see which fears signal that I’m actually moving closer to my goals and therefore should keep moving in that direction. But it’s hard. I’ve made so much progress. I’ve had so many setbacks. This journey of becoming is not a straight line and sometimes I worry that I’ll be stumbling the entire way.

And it feels so familiar, this hesitancy. This apprehension about what comes next. About all of the ways I might screw it up. But hasn’t writing, more than anything else, taught me that the only way to make something is just to begin.

A lot of the ideas I’ve had are in a completely different medium than the one I’m used to working in. They require me to be creative in a completely new way. To learn new skills. To reach out to strangers in order to build relationships, to ask for help. And the first thing my brain wants to do is worry and tell myself terrible stories about how it could all go wrong.

But hasn’t writing taught me that too? That failure is part of the process. A necessary part of the process. One that no forward motion can be achieved without.

So I’m going to stop waiting for the right time. I’m going to stop waiting to be ready. There is no ready. No perfect circumstances under which to create. All creativity requires a bit of risk-taking. It’s the part of the process that makes me feel alive. That’s like being struck by lightning, every dream and desire illuminated from the inside.

I want to coax out those tiny flames, letting them grow. Even if I get burned in the process.