Thursday, November 6, 2014

6 Things You Should Do BEFORE You Sign Your First Book Contract

by Lynn H Blackburn @LynnHBlackburn

You’ve been writing for a while now. You’ve got a book or two written. You’ve entered a few contests, pitched to a few agents, even attended a few conferences. 

You’ve been doing this writing thing long enough to know you want to keep doing it. You know you want to see your name on a book. But what do you do while you’re waiting for that first sale?

6 Things You Should Do BEFORE You Sign Your First Book Contract

1. Set Your Priorities
How many hours a day/week/month are you prepared to devote to writing? This isn’t a trick question and there isn’t one right answer. But if you don’t know the answer BEFORE you make that first sale, your writing career may take off and you’ll find yourself with so many deadlines that you don’t have time to eat a hotdog, much less grill some with your family on a Friday night.

Take a hard look at your current obligations and decide in advance what you’re willing to sacrifice. Getting up early or giving up your favorite TV shows are no problem, but there’s no book deal worth losing your marriage over. It happens. Don’t let it happen to you.

2. Get Organized
I know you’re an artist and you want to be free to create. And I really do hate to be the one to lick the icing off your cupcake, but while writing is an art, publication is serious business. Those contracts you want to sign? They are legal documents and they obligate you to create on a schedule.

You need to get a calendar and use it. Paper, electronic, both. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that when you get “THE CALL” you don’t agree to a deadline that forces you to write on your anniversary trip to Hawaii. Trust me, when you get the call, your brain cells will desert you and you’ll be struggling to form coherent sentences. You need to be able to look at your calendar and see everything coming up in the months ahead.

Not to mention that all those things you currently do—the soccer team you coach, the classroom you volunteer in, the Sunday school class you teach—you don’t get literary license to drop all that the day you sell a book. You may decide to lay some of those things aside as you move forward in your career, but in the beginning, you’re going to be hopping.

Organization isn’t optional. It’s critical.

3. Stay Healthy
Or get healthy. Now don’t get mad at me for bringing this up. I’ve had more than one writer tell me that writing has seriously damaged their health and no book deal is worth that. (Right? See my first point if you’re on the fence about this.)

If that writing contract you’re waiting on goes the way you hope it will, your life is going to turn into a revolving door of deadlines. When that happens, it’s going to be exponentially harder to find time to start an exercise program or learn to cook new foods. Now is when you need to discover that you love CrossFit or yoga or karate. This is the time to experiment with zucchini noodles and coconut milk and try out all those recipes you’ve pinned on Pinterest.

When your edits are due, you won’t have the mental energy to experiment in the kitchen and it will be way too easy to skip your workout if it hasn’t already become a regular part of your routine. Taking care of yourself now will help you avoid burnout later.

4. Make Connections
I’m not talking about stalking your favorite writers. I’m talking about developing friendships in the writing community and with the people you hope will one day be your readers. Blog, Tweet, post to Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest. Comment on other people’s posts. Review books on Goodreads. Join a critique group, go to conferences, enter contests.

It doesn’t take hours of social media time a day to form the foundation for a thriving platform. And you need a platform.

5. Read
Everything. In your genre. Outside your genre. Fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poetry. Good stuff. Bad stuff. Read it all. If you’re targeting a particular publisher, study their books.

Do it now, because after you sign your contract, you’ll long to curl up with a good book, but every time you do, you’ll start thinking about your own book and how you should be working on it. Or if you’re like me, you won’t trust yourself to just read a few chapters a day, so you won’t read any fiction for a couple of months and then you’ll realize that your creative soul is starving for a good story. Don’t be like me. Read!

6. Write
I know how hard it is to keep writing when you don’t see any progress. When your proposals are sitting in slush piles or when the rejection letters keeping coming in. But you’ve got to write. Give yourself a deadline. Sign up for NaNoWriMo (it’s not really too late…). Ask your writing friends to join you in a 10-day writing challenge. I can guarantee you there are others out there who need the accountability and would jump at the chance. For that matter, I need the accountability, so feel free to invite me to whatever writing party you’re throwing!

Write poetry, flash fiction, devotions, blog posts, short stories, or newspaper articles. No matter what, always keep working on the stories that won’t leave you alone.

Because someday, your editor is going to ask if you have any other ideas and you’re going to want to say Yes!

So that’s my list. Do you agree? Disagree? Want to add something?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!


Lynn Huggins Blackburn believes in the power of stories, especially those that remind us that true love exists, a gift from the Truest Love. She’s passionate about CrossFit, coffee, and chocolate (don’t make her choose) and experimenting with recipes that feed both body and soul. She lives in South Carolina with her true love, Brian, and their three children. You can follow her real life happily ever after at


  1. Great post, Lynn. There's so much in it for authors-in-waiting like me. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Sybil! I don't think the "in-waiting" part is going to apply to you for much longer!

  2. Fantastic list, Lynn. All such great reminders of the preparation that goes into becoming a published author. I'd merely add, identify seasons. Those times when you know you are not going to get writing done. Like, for me, I may not be able to get quite as much writing done during baseball season because I have two kiddos in the sport. Recognizing those seasons and planning ahead can be helpful. Thanks so much for sharing this post, Lynn!

  3. Michelle - that is an great point! I recently learned that lesson the hard way. I completely underestimated how busy August/September would be with the start of the school year. It didn't "look" that busy on paper, but it was a tough time to be on a deadline. The month of May is like that for me as well. Thanks for adding to the list!

  4. Great list. Can I add celebrate your victories? Take time to acknowledge what you have accomplished and treat yourself for it. Read your favorite book, take a long bubble bath, grab some chocolate (M&Ms are my favorite), or whatever you want to do to celebrate each step. No matter how small they are!

    1. I love celebrating! Great addition to the list! Thanks!

  5. Good ideas and reminders, Lynn. Thanks!

    1. I'm glad you found them helpful! Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Yes, yes, yes! And some might not agree with me about this, but I took part of my advance to pay for housecleaning services for the six months I was writing the book. It sure was nice to have, but REALLY hard to give it up when the book was done. But since we all know writers don't make much money, I knew I couldn't support that lifestyle forever!

    1. Oh Vonda, I'll agree with you 100%! We've had someone helping with the cleaning for about 10 months now. I know it's not always an option, but I see it as an investment in my sanity!