How I Got My First Book Published



by Maya Chendke

As a self-published author, one of the most frequent questions that I get is why I didn’t work with a large, traditional publisher. But I also get asked how much it costs to self-publish, and how fast a writer can expect to be on the New York Times Best-Seller list.

While we’re both waiting for a call from the Times, here is the story of how I got my first book published.



When I started writing Awake but Dreaming back in 2007, it was truly a labor of love. I was expressing and daydreaming, squeezing out pages on lunch breaks at work or into the wee hours of the night. I wrote relentlessly, feeling driven to share the amazing dramedy I had built up in my imagination.

My 500-page book – note, less is more – took me about a year and a half to write while juggling a full-time job and life’s other commitments. But it was what I could manage, and so it came about in a slow and steady way. Many writers that I’ve met started out this way, too, as it’s a big risk to abandon a salary and dive headfirst into low-paid (or unpaid) writing work.

As I was getting close to completion, I began having conversations with potential agents in the US and Canada, where I live. There was interest, but the book wasn’t quite yet done, and I was overwhelmed by the back-and-forth – and lack of response from many – during the querying process. I made a lot of stupid rookie mistakes, like typos or frankly, total dipshit-sounding query letters. There were times when I wanted to hide under a rock.

Takeaway: Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Before you decide to set out to find the agent of your dreams, read “mistakes 101” agent-search articles on the internet. There are steps and expectations and you’ll save time and anguish if you know how the process works before you start making calls and firing out letters.


Editing & Producing

Disheartened by the closed-off book publishing industry, I quietly set about finishing the manuscript and then sat on it for a while, futzing over it, editing compulsively. Eventually, I came across a self-publishing company and I impulsively set the wheels in motion without fully understanding what I would get in return or where my book would be distributed. After getting halfway through the production process, I realized that their distribution wouldn’t work for me, and I switched to another company. But in doing so, I lost a few thousand dollars and had to restart production. Fortunately, as a self-publishing author, it was only my own money, so I ate the cost and continued on my merry way. On April 1, 2011, my book went live on Amazon, and it felt like all the stress and heartache were worth it.

Takeaway: Take a beat and understand what you’re getting into. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of thinking you found “the one,” especially after feeling rattled by the traditional process. But it’s important to read the terms and conditions thoroughly and understand how distribution will fit with the marketing plan. And naturally, you’ll have generated your marketing plan well in advance, right? Right?



Some people may be intimidated by the writing of the book, others may be more overwhelmed by the promotion of it, and promoting it is no easy task. It is supremely important to have a marketing plan in place to sustain public interest in your book once it’s released. When it first comes out, all your friends and family will want a copy, but how will you get strangers to buy it?

I started out strong with guest blogging, industry parties, and workshops, preaching the sermon of self-publishing. I attacked my grassroots hustle like a boss! But when my time and attention shifted to other areas of my career and personal life, it became next to impossible to sustain the effort. I wanted to sell the book to film, work on sequels, and take up more guest-blogging residences. But I couldn’t do it all, and I had to accept that, life had shifted, for the time being.

The thing is, in my day job, I am passionate about helping small businesses with their marketing. I learned that, as an author, I needed help with my own – because an author is effectively a small business, too.

Takeaway: If in doubt, reach out. Finding people to help you is crucial; you need to build a backend that lets you do more. Once you start publishing, the biggest asset you will create is your following, so invest your time and resources wisely.



Today, in addition to building my entrepreneurial work in marketing and digital, I’m working on two new books – one fiction and one non-fiction. Self-publishing is a lot of work, and I’m not opposed to re-visiting the traditional book-publishing arena, now that I understand exactly how much time, effort, and resources are involved in bringing a book to life. I have a few literary agents on my wish list and may explore that avenue again. But ultimately, the first step is to just write it out.



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