Career Authors

5 Tips for a Successful Debut Novel

by Joanna Schaffhaussen

When you’ve worked long and hard to polish your first book, you want to do everything you can to launch it successfully. Here’s some advice on how you can be your debut novel’s biggest cheerleader.

1. Get involved early with your writing community

Writing is a solitary pursuit, but publishing involves a small army. Join your local writing organizations and attend literary gatherings. They’re fun events, and you’ll make friends while soaking up knowledge from those who have walked the path before you. These folks have great advice, and they’re the ones you are going to need to help publicize your book.

2. Always say yes

Grab any opportunity to get your debut novel in front of people, whether that’s an interview in your company newsletter or a guest post on your writer friend’s blog. Advertising dogma says people need to see a product seven times before they’ll remember it, so run up the count whenever you can.

3. But know when to say no

As a new author, your job is to be agreeable and helpful with your fellow authors and especially with your publisher. But you may be asked at some point to do something that you feel could harm your book. Maybe the editor wants a change that alters the entire atmosphere of your book, or perhaps a fellow author asks you to publicize their book in a way that makes you uncomfortable. You can say no, politely, and if you are overall a good citizen who uses your “no” sparingly, others will often respect it.

4. Find your readers

Yes, it would be fabulous if everyone in the world wanted to read your debut novel! But the truth is that not every book is for every reader, so you need to find the people who will love the kind of story you are telling. If you write young adult books, that may be Twitter. Or perhaps it’s a Goodreads group devoted to thrillers. When you find them, don’t yap about your book all the time. Instead, listen to what they’re saying about books they love. Talk about books you love. Engage as a person and not as a salesperson, and you will build your community.

5. Keep writing

Always keep writing—when you’re shopping your unpublished work, when you’ve signed a contract, when you’re doing publicity for your wonderful debut novel. You want to be ready when the publisher says, “What else do you have?”

You can spend years writing that first book, but the next one better be ready in about a year.

If you are always working ahead, you’ll meet those deadlines with ease.

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JOANNA SCHAFFHAUSEN is a scientific editor who spends her days immersed in research on potential new therapies for cancer, addiction, and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Previously, she worked as an editorial producer for ABCNews,where she advised and wrote for programs such as World News TonightGood Morning America and 20/20. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and daughter. The Vanishing Season is her first novel.