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8 Lessons I Learned Writing and Publishing a Book for the First Time

Get Signed: Find a Book Deal, Land an Agent, and Become a Published Author (Hay House; February 2024) is a playbook for aspiring authors looking to find an agent and land a book deal. But what happens after that? Author of Get Signed, and Lucinda Literary’s President & Founder, Lucinda Halpern imparts a few important lessons she learned first-hand.

It all begins with your reader avatar.

Greg Alexander’s The Boutique was one of the first books to introduce the average person to the idea of a customer avatar. I re-fashioned this for Get Signed, spending hours scheming, refining, and redrafting the profile of the students I had met in our classes, thinking critically about how I could create a book that spoke to them, in the exact language I had heard.

Here’s my resource to help you build your own reader avatar.

Find the right collaborator. 

I always thought I was a strong writer. I wasn’t. At least, my writing wasn’t strong enough to write in long form, in a completely new format that would deliver clarity and value in the most accessible way for my avatar. I engaged Liz Morrow to help me as a thought and editorial partner. We had so many rich debates on Zoom and over Voxer. Reading the book now, I see all of those creative struggles. The ways in which we found solutions, the areas in which we couldn’t.

If you work best collaboratively, a partner who is as dedicated and brilliant as Liz is essential. Without a Liz in your life, you cannot just rely on your spouse or your editor to be in the trenches with you, while offering a well-rounded perspective.

Voice is best, better than all the rest.

I struggled infinitely with having my English literature education as well as my mother in my head (the best editor I know). My editor had to whack me around a few times to say: “Don’t strive for perfection. We want your voice. Just as you would say things, not as you would write them.” I tell my authors this all the time, but had such trouble doing it myself. Perfection is so often the enemy of the good. The more brief and spare and essential we can be with our prose, the more it can sing.

After reading On Writing Well, I cut, and I cut, and I cut ruthlessly. And now I apply this to all of my writing.

Engage a reader committee, well before you think your manuscript is “ready.”

Here’s another way in which perfection goes against the grain of the good. We neglect those critical readers who can tell us what’s working well and what isn’t BEFORE we’re too far along. Getting a sense of this early on can help you determine the structure of your book and avoid common pitfalls later in the process, from the people who actually fit your reader avatar rather than professional editors. Here’s an example of the survey I shared and used for my own reader committee!

Speaking of editors… don’t fall into the email trap.

Editors are oversubscribed. Most new authors (guilty!) have questions arise night and day, and we are often ahead of ourselves—asking about who to approach for blurbs before we’ve even delivered a manuscript. Too many questions and emails will drain your editor’s (or publicist’s) attention. But all of your questions deserve answers! To avoid inflicting death by a thousand emails upon my editor, I kept an ongoing list of questions in a Google doc, organized by answered vs. unanswered so we could both keep track.

I can’t vouch every editor will take to this…but it worked for me.

Create a cover inspo deck.

After a decade of having “I hate my cover!” conversations with authors, I now recommend that my authors get out in front of the inevitable early. Once your manuscript is in, create a deck, or even just a document, to act as a vision board for how you wish your cover to appear. Two points to highlight:

1) Be really specific in providing instruction (or feedback) as to what you like or don’t like, and why.

2) Don’t choose book covers in genres or with audiences that are entirely different to yours. A beautifully packaged novel from Knopf (they do the best jackets!) is likely not the way your self-help book should appear.

Here’s an example of what I created here.

Don’t tackle everything at once!

So many of us are busy with careers, families, and now, our book. It’s tempting to think we can juggle everything at once, but at the end of the day, it’s best to space yourself out. For example, I incorporated Offline Wednesdays in order to dedicate one entire workday out of the week to just my upcoming book.

Read the book aloud before you deliver the final draft.

I loved reading the audiobook for Get Signed. It was challenging in the best possible way. All that diaphragm! But ready for my big mistake? I didn’t read the manuscript aloud before I turned it into my editor. I’ve been telling my authors to do so… but I didn’t find the time. As a result, there were repeated words and a few repetitive concepts I could have easily caught. I would have realized that maybe my practical content would have been better balanced with personal story. Or that too many of my book examples featured similar characters.

OK… not venting. Just saying: lesson learned.

Here’s a snapshot of me recording the audiobook. The best part was re-living the success stories of my authors, students, and reading the query letters that got them signed! You can learn more at getsignedbook.com.