In an ideal world, a writer would have to do nothing but write and never worry about the business end of the business. But, as you've probably noticed, we don't live in an ideal world.
If you are being published by one of the bigger houses, you will probably get a publicist assigned to three months before the book comes out. This person will be 22 and sharing a two-bedroom apartment in Yonkers with five people because she makes close to minimum wage. She will quit in six months. Your job will be to supplement what she does, and to make anything she does easier. Following are what I wish I had known when I was a first-time author.
• Register your domain name NOW. Five days before I went to, some other April Henry took .com, .net and .org. Even if you don't have a web site for a while, you will have it registered for when you do put one up. (Mine is AprilHenryMysteries.com.)
• Don't rely on your publisher to get you "blurbs" - nice quotes from published authors about the book. Find out from your publisher the deadline for the catalog that goes to booksellers, and what the later deadline for the jacket is. While I know lots of people who write mystery series, when my thriller was accepted for publication, I didn't know any authors personally to ask to blurb it. I e-mailed several authors care of their Web sites or publishing houses. I kept my request light and funny. Six of the seven I contacted said I could at least send a manuscript, and three came through.
• Ask if you can proof - or even help write - the copy about your book in the bookseller's catalog and the copy on the dust jacket. These are often written by someone fairly low down on the totem pole, and it's not unusual to find errors, spoilers, and odd turns of phrase.
• It's unusual for a first-time author to get a book tour. But you may be able to use your publisher's travel agent - and their very substantial discounts - if you do strictly book-related travel. I flew from Portland, Oregon, to Washington, DC, for the Malice Domestic mystery fan conference for about one-half of the price of the lowest listed fare.
• Ask if you can have extra galleys for your local bookstores. Then hand deliver them.
• Start keeping track of the book reviewers for papers in your area, especially those who seem to like your type of book. Share their names and addresses with your publishers.
• Take your time to fill out the author's questionnaire. With luck, the publisher will really use it for marketing.
• Start getting names and addresses now of groups or publications that might be interested in your book, such as alumni or professional publications. I got a notice in my college alumni magazine. Submitted articles about myself - all ran - to three local professional groups I'm a member of. Made sure I got written up by the writers' group I belong to - they love success stories. Since my series involved license plates, I pitched the idea of covering it to a national publication that goes out to all the state DMVs- and they bit.
• Your local paper may be interesting in doing a story on local girl makes good. Don't do what I did - contacting them three months before the book came out. You want to do this much closer to actual publication, so that when people read about you they can go down and buy the book.
• Contact free neighborhood publications and ask if they did book reviews. With my first book, most reviewed the book because it was by a local author and set in their locality..
• If your publisher won't pay for postcards, do some yourself. There are businesses which specialize in doing nothing but printing postcards. You can easily find them on the Internet. By ganging them up, they can do a good job much cheaper than your local printer - 1,000 will cost you about $250. The one caveat is there is no color correction, so if your book jacket contains a color photo of skin, the skin tone may come out looking a little off. Ask your publicist for a copy of your book's cover art as a jpg to use with the printer. You can send them to everyone you know. Hand write on each postcard to garner more attention. Your publisher may be willing to cover the postage if you ship all the postcards to them - ask your publicist if they can be charged to "departmental overhead" - then they don't count toward your limited budget. Ask local bookstores or places you will do signings if they want some postcards to set on the counter. They may not, but even if they don't, ask if they will give your labels to mail your postcards to. On the other half of each postcard, stick a label with information about the time and place of your upcoming signing.
• Are there special interest groups who would be particularly interested in your topic or sub-plot? Perhaps you can talk to them when your book comes out.
• Does your book have a topical hook that will allow you to be an "expert" on something? This can get you more features and hard news. Start thinking about this now.
• And after your book has gone out in the world, what should you do? Send thank you letters. Bookstores tell me it's rare that they get them after an author does a signing at their store. For exceptional service, find out the name of the person's boss and send it to them. When the woman who works for HarperCollins' travel agent was especially helpful to me, I sent a note to her boss. I made her week! Not only is it right and polite to thank people - but also it may well result in better service down the line.