Waiting is hard. Amazon Prime memberships have trained us to expect two-day shipping on everything in life. But that’s not how real life works.
God often calls authors into periods of waiting. Perhaps he wants to use that time to test you or develop your character. Perhaps the time is not yet right for your book.
You may be in a season of waiting right now. If you are, what should you do?
How do you put your season of waiting to good use?
How can we keep our eyes focused on the Lord and use our time wisely while we wait?
I recently asked Author Laura Richmond about her seasons of waiting. She has not wasted the long periods of waiting on her publishing journey. Laura is a debut fantasy novelist with Enclave Publishing. As a traditionally published author, she has learned how to make the most of the long periods of waiting that accompany the road from query to publication.
Why is there so much waiting?
Thomas: Tell us your story, Laura.
Laura: The year I graduated from college, I decided to write a book. In the process of writing that first book, I realized writing was my true passion. When I sent my manuscript to my very direct German mother, she said, “Laura, it’s actually good.”
At that point, I thought I could maybe get it published, and I tried. But, as Thomas often reminds us, you should not publish your first book first. I queried agents but did not get any interest.
I figured I could keep pouring into that first book, or I could write more books. So, I wrote another book. I queried and got some interest, but not from the people that I thought would be the best fit.
So, I decided to write a fantasy novel called The Mermaid’s Tale, which was eventually published by my dream publisher, Enclave.
Thomas: The Mermaid’s Tale was the third book you wrote.
Laura: Yes. It was third or fourth. I actually wrote another book at the same time.
Thomas: New authors don’t realize that successful authors have “trunk books.” They’re books you’ve written that you keep in your trunk and never publish. In the past, authors wrote books on paper and would store those first tomes in their trunks because they couldn’t bear to destroy the paper, but they also didn’t want to publish them because they weren’t ready.
The purpose of writing those early books is to help you improve your writing. You must believe your book is going to be published in order to convince yourself to put in the work required. But you also have to be willing to put it aside later when you realize it’s not publishable.
If you write your book believing it’s just going into a trunk, you won’t work hard enough, so you have to trick yourself a little.
Laura: Some authors are anomalies and do get their first books published. My friend at Enclave just published the first book she’s ever written, but again, she’s an anomaly.
If you want to query your first book, you can try, but it usually won’t go anywhere.
Thomas: Even Brandon Sanderson has trunk books. In fact, his company, Dragonsteel, is named after his first trunk book, which was never published.
It was as if he planted that book in a trunk, and it allowed other books to grow.
The Bible gives instructions about planting trees that illustrate this point:
When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden. For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. But in the fifth year you may eat its fruit. In this way your harvest will be increased. I am the Lord your God.(Leviticus 19:23-25)
Thomas: The little fruit that is produced in those first few years falls to the ground and rots. But that rotting fruit also nourishes the soil and helps the tree grow and produce more fruit in future years. It’s not until the fifth year that you can eat the fruit of the tree.
For many authors, those first few books are like early fruit from a tree.
If you allow those books to sit, they will fertilize the soil of your writing and make you more fruitful and productive in the future.
As you write more books, you may be able to return to those early books to lift a character or a story element and use it in a new book.
Trunk books aren’t a waste of time, but if you reread them after you’ve been writing for several years, you’ll probably discover the writing isn’t as good as you thought it was at the time.
Laura: That’s what I discovered when I signed with Enclave. When I signed my contract, the release date was 17 months away, and that seemed like such a long time.
I remember thinking, “What am I going to do for 17 months?”
Looking back now, I’m so grateful for that time. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. In those intervening months, I connected with people who would want to read the book and started to build an audience who wanted to read my writing.
If you can’t find an audience for your book, it can be a really painful blow for first-time authors.
Thomas: You can find out how hard an author is working on spreading the word about their book by asking, “How many email addresses do you have on your email list?”
If a reader won’t trust you with their email address, why would they trust you with their money? The size of your subscriber list is a good indicator of whether you know how to build goodwill with readers and connect with them.
It takes time to build an email list. You have to learn to write the kind of emails strangers want to read rather than the kind of emails that you want to send.
Most authors write a short story to give readers when they sign up to receive emails. It’s like rewarding readers for taking a chance on your writing. You might even have to spend some money to get your short story in front of new readers.
And since you don’t want to give away the first short story you’ve ever written, you’ll need to write a lot of short stories before you have one that’s good enough to entice readers to subscribe to your list.
Developing as an author takes time, but it’s worth it. You’ll have much more success if you launch your book to an email list of 5,000 readers than to a list of 300.
If you only have a few hundred email addresses on your list, launching a book is hard. It’s a lot more work, and it’s much more likely to fail.
What did you do during those 17 months?
Laura: I love to write, so I wrote more books. Since I wanted to have a career as an author, I wanted to use that time to build my catalog of books so I could tell a publisher like Enclave that I had more stories in the queue.
I’ve been using StoryOrigin to build my email list, and I’ve had mixed success with open rates. I have added subscribers to my email list, but I periodically cull the people who never open my emails.
Laura: I haven’t yet, but I want to in the new year.
Thomas: Novel Marketing listeners who participate in a BookSweeps giveaway add 300 to 600 email addresses to their lists in a week or two. They usually have a high open-rate because readers are really excited.
Authors XP will yield a similar number.
If your list is less than 1,000 subscribers, it’s an indication that you haven’t spent enough money trying to grow it.
Promotions on both services cost around $60. For $120, you could run a promotion on each service and grow your email list to 1,000 subscribers.
Readers who use those services are the kind of readers who want to be the first to read a new author. They are willing to take risks on new authors, and they’re not stuck on famous authors.
If you don’t have $120, you can solve that problem by getting a job. From my perspective, there’s no excuse for having a small email list.
Inside my course Obscure No More, I have a course called the Author Email Academy. It covers growing your email list, what to write in email newsletters, and how to set up an onboarding sequence. Soon, we’ll have a module on how to clean your list.
Some readers subscribe to your list just to get a free story. They don’t know or trust you yet, so they use their Yahoo account that they never check. Those are the email addresses you need to clean, and there are ways to do that.
I’m okay with a little bit of dead weight on an email list because sometimes those people will open. But if your open rates drop to 20-30%, cleaning your list might save you money since you pay your email marketing service according to the size of your list.
Laura: To build connections with other writers, I attended several writing conferences. Christian writing conferences are a great place to meet people who love books, words, and Jesus.
It will cost you money, but those personal connections are extremely valuable. When you have writer friends, you’re no longer working in an echo chamber. Other writers can tell you what’s working for them.
Connecting with other writers also gives you the opportunity to ask for endorsements. Build those relationships before you ask for endorsements.
Social Media or No Social Media?
If you don’t have the money or time to attend a writers conference, you can connect with people on social media, but your success will depend on how you do it.
On Instagram, there is a large Bookstagram community of readers interested in bookish content. Bookstagram isn’t a different platform. It’s just a hashtag inside of Instagram. Bookstagrammers will engage with you on posts, reels, and direct messages as long as you’re not creepy.
Thomas: I have a guide on how to determine what social network will work for you. Instagram works for people who are young and pretty. If you’re young and pretty, you’re more likely to do well on Bookstagram.
If you’re not young or pretty, or if you’re not really a woman, Instagram will not work as well for you. On the other hand, if you are young and pretty, and you’re also videogenic and tech-savvy, Instagram could work for you.
But for every person who can pull it off, many others are trying and failing. More than any other social network, Instagram is really about how you look.
Laura: You won’t sell a million books by being on Bookstagram, but it can offer connections that help you get people on your email list.
There will always be that question of how to get people to subscribe to your email list. BookSweeps can work, and Instagram can help you form some superficial connections that may help you grow your list.
Thomas: Another challenge is determining whether your social media connections are humans or bots. Bots can use GPT to interact with you in ways that sound human. But bots don’t have money to buy your books.
I’m cautious about spending time on social media because it’s hard to convert someone from an Instagram follower to an email subscriber to a book buyer. And it’s impossible if those followers are bots.
Instead of spending your time learning Instagram or TikTok, I recommend you pay a Bookstagrammer or BookToker, who is already young, pretty, tech-savvy, and familiar with the platform, to talk about your book on their social media platform.
You can pay her $100 to talk about your book to her 10,000 fans. She needs the money, and that $100 saves you all the work of becoming a BookToker.
Very influential Bookstagrammers and BookTokers with large followings may charge thousands of dollars, but there are plenty of influencers in the middle who will gladly talk about your book to their moderate following for money.
If they’re a good fit for your book, it could be a really good investment for you.
Laura: Finding an influencer who is a good fit is key with BookTok and Bookstagram. Many influencers are very secular and espouse things that Christian readers are not okay with.
To get Bookstagram to work for you, you need to know your niche and find a clean readership. That population is much smaller than the general reading population.
Thomas: There’s also an anti-Christian bias in many of the algorithms.
I sometimes use GPT to generate questions for interviews, and I’ll ask it, “Do you know who this guest is?” If the person is famous enough, GPT will give me their bio.
Then I ask it who I am, and it will provide my bio. Seeding GPT with those kinds of questions before you ask the real question helps it give you better answers.
I’ve recently noticed that GPT is no longer saying that I’m the host of the Christian Publishing Show.
It says I’m the host of the Novel Marketing podcast and the CEO of Author Media. It will even say that I hosted the Creative Funding Show and Liberty Buzzard, which are podcasts I haven’t done in years. But it now excludes the Christian Publishing Show.
The other danger of social media is that these companies are very anti-Christian. The AIs they’re building are anti-Christian, and they’ll filter you out if you’re not careful. Even if you are careful, they may still filter you out.
Don’t build your platform on social media, but if you want to visit and try to make connections, it can work.
The best question to ask is, “What is my next best alternative?”
If you live in the middle of nowhere and have no money, you may not have another alternative, and connecting with Instagrammers or TikTokers might be your most useful activity. But getting a job and attending a writer’s conference may be a better use of your time and money.
Laura: Spend your time discovering the best marketing strategy for you and then learn more about that strategy.
I’m a stay-at-home mom with three little kids. I have time to listen to podcasts like Novel Marketing while I’m washing dishes. In my stage of life, that works for me.
Figure out what will work for you. Find the thing that will be profitable and help you create a real connection with readers. Maybe you can learn about those methods, tools, or strategies by reading books in the carpool line or listening to podcasts on your commute. Thomas hosts live, free webinars you can watch. You can also pay for online courses.
Authors have many options for educating themselves, and I recommend spending your time learning what works for you.
Thomas: If you invest in education early in your career, you will get a better ROI on what you learn. You can apply what you learn in the next book you write.
One of the most common pieces of feedback we get from students of the Book Launch Blueprint is that they wish they had taken the course earlier.
Many authors take the course when they’re launching a fourth book. As they go through the modules, they start to understand that their first books didn’t sell because they didn’t launch them well.
You’ll find educational resources at every price point:
- FREE: Podcasts, Blog Posts, Webinars
- $15: Audiobook Credit on Audible
- $20 (or free at the library): Books on Marketing and Writing Craft
- $20+ Online Courses
- 300+ In-Person Conferences
Some webinars cost money. I offer a monthly question-and-answer webinar for my patrons. People pay me $4 per month to be a patron, and they can ask me questions in the monthly webinar. The cost of my courses ranges from free to several hundred dollars.
Some people charge thousands and thousands for an online course. The most expensive form of author education is either a high-end course or a conference. A conference usually means buying a ticket, flight, hotel, and rental car. But conferences also allow you to learn while making in-person connections. That’s why they’re so valuable.
Be smart about what conference you attend. To connect with other fantasy writers, Realm Makers is probably the place to go. On the other hand, the conference nearest your home is potentially better than the perfect-fit conference since it will be much less expensive.
Laura: It depends on where you live. Readers in a small town will be excited about a local author. They’ll want to support the hometown author.
Thomas: If you’re in a small town in the middle of nowhere, you can start a writers group. Find other writers in your town, post a flyer at the library, reach out to your librarian, or visit meetup.com.
If you don’t have a group to join, start one.
Ideally, you want to meet with people who are at a similar place in their writing journey. Working with beginning writers can be rewarding. If you’re more advanced, it’s still rewarding to work with beginners, but the rewards will be more psychological and spiritual.
If you organize the group, it will only cost you time.
Dollars and Sense Tips
Laura: Another financial tip while you’re waiting to be published is to start a book marketing fund. Your first book won’t generate income. Instead, you’ll be pouring money into the launch.
You need a marketing nest egg to pay for the things that will get your book in front of new readers.
Thomas: I recommend you open a separate bank account for your marketing and publishing expenses. When you start earning income, you can deposit your earnings into that same account.
The IRS will consider you a business, even if you’re just a sole proprietorship. As a sole proprietor, you can take tax deductions. Your $500 writers conference ticket is a tax-deductible purchase.
Having a separate account for your business expenses and income will help you on tax day. It keeps your books clean and prepares you for success down the road when you create an LLC.
As you become more successful, your business burden increases. If you want to learn more about running your author business, check out my course, The Tax and Business Guide for Authors. You’ll hear from my dad, a CPA who has been working with authors for 40 years.
Even if you’re still a hobbyist in the eyes of the IRS, having that separate account is helpful. You can set up an automatic monthly deposit from your family account to your author account. Over time, you’ll grow a marketing and publishing fund that will help you decide how much to spend on which marketing activities.
Don’t ask if a certain marketing strategy will help; ask what strategy will give you the best return. Ask how one activity compares to your next best alternative.
For example, “Should I buy a new computer for writing, or should I buy a BookSweeps promotion?” If your computer is broken, getting a new one is critical.
Having a little bit of money set aside is helpful because it keeps you from having to discuss every single marketing decision with your spouse.
If you don’t have a fund, every expense feels like a surprise and a sacrifice. At that point, authors are tempted to take on debt to publish and market.
Don’t go into debt for your book. It’s like going into debt to buy lottery tickets.
Most people lose money in publishing, and everybody loses money at first. Don’t go into debt with the hopes that you’ll be one of the few that makes a lot of money. Some authors do make a lot of money, but it takes a long time to get there.
Laura: If you don’t go into debt, you’re more motivated to work hard because you know you’re trying to earn money, not merely pay off a debt.
Thomas: That’s right. You can also get a part-time job delivering pizzas. That income can go into your book fund, and it elevates the purpose of your work. You’re not just delivering pizzas; you’re helping your future writing career.
If you’re the kind of person who only uses free stuff, you become the product. So many online companies will take advantage of you if you’re not paying money to use their services. As I’m fond of saying, “The food is free for chickens in the chicken coop because they’re the product being sold.”
Laura: In some jobs, you can multitask. When I worked for DoorDash delivering food, I could listen to podcasts while I was driving and delivering.
Thomas: That’s a great point. Some jobs lend themselves to writing on the job or on the way to the job.
Chris Fox wrote his book on the bus he rode to work. His hour-long bus ride to and from work was his uninterrupted writing time.
Laura: Emma Sinclair would write her books while on her elliptical machine.
Thomas: With dictation software, you can now write (dictate) while you walk dogs for people in your neighborhood. There are many ways to maximize your writing time.
What would you do differently?
Laura: I’ve learned so much from everything I’ve done that it’s hard to label anything as a mistake.
Looking back, I would have tried to pour more effort into building my email list. I would have invested more time and money into my email list sooner.
If you want to attend a writers conference, don’t wait until the last minute to book your tickets. If you’re trying to save money, take advantage of early-bird discounts.
Thomas: And as somebody who is hosting his first conference in January, I happily give an early-bird discount because it helps me plan. When you register sooner rather than later, you’re helping yourself and the conference director.
Avoid Social Media Heartache
One mistake was caring too much about social media. It can be a useful tool, but if your heart is wrapped up in how many likes you’re getting, you’ll have unnecessary heartache, stress, and pressure.
Thomas: I turned off Facebook notifications for likes, and that actually basically breaks the addictive element of Facebook. You have to dig for the setting, but you can search Google for how to turn off Facebook (or Instagram) like notifications.
It dramatically reduces the noise and addictive interaction. I get notified when someone comments on the post, but I only check Facebook every three or four weeks.
You can be a successful author who earns a living from writing without being on social media. If that sounds unbelievable, listen to my interview with an author who built a platform without social media.
Few of the authors who are making a living writing have social media as a part of their marketing mix. It’s usually beginning authors who are using social media to try and get started.
Some authors, like Larry Correia, are on social media, but it’s not part of their marketing strategy. He’s very active on social media, but he never talks about writing on social media.
He embraces the Twitter political fights. But for him, it’s his way of venting, and it doesn’t help him sell books. He sees his Twitter activity as completely separate from his book marketing.
As you become more successful, you should view social media as something you do for fun and not as a tool to sell more books.
Laura: It’s always good to remember that there are impersonal marketing strategies like ads, but marketing usually boils down to creating a real connection with a person.
If a friend recommends a book to me, I am 100 times more likely to buy it than if I just see an ad for it.
If you’re truly connecting with people and fostering one-on-one interactions on social media, then maybe it’s worth it for you. On the other hand, if your next best alternative is connecting with people via email or starting a writer’s group in your town, then that’s where you should be spending your time.
It’s the personal element that I would stress.
Thomas: If you want people to recommend your book to their friends, the most important element of that equation is the quality of your writing. You must write the kind of book that someone recommends, regardless of whether they like you or not.
Readers could potentially say, “I don’t really like Laura, but man, her book is so good. You’ve got to read it!” People love to hate J. K. Rowling, but they’re still buying and reading Harry Potter,
If your writing is good enough, it doesn’t matter whether people like you personally.
How does writing more books help improve your writing?
Thomas: The best way to get better at writing is to write more books and submit them to honest critique. Honest feedback may be hard to hear, but it will help you learn how to improve your writing.
As you continue to write, you’ll learn how to write for an audience. You’ll learn to write the kind of book someone already wants to read rather than trying to change people into the kind of people who want to read the book you wrote. It’s a big worldview shift, and it requires dying to yourself.
You probably wrote your first book for yourself, and that’s why it’s doomed. It needs to go in the trunk. You need to find your reader and then write the book that reader needs, not the book you wanted to write. As you learn to do that, your books will get better, according to your reader.
Writing more books also helps you earn more money. Very few authors can earn a living by publishing one book per year. Most successful authors who earn a living from their book sales write multiple books each year. They’ve written so many books that they’ve learned to write faster.
Your tenth book may only take you one month to write.
Laura: In the traditional publishing industry, you’ll have seasons of hustle and seasons of waiting. When you’re in the middle of edits, cover reveal, or launch day, you’ll be hustling. But when you’re waiting, you can use those seasons to work on writing more books. That way, you won’t have to write under pressure, which only makes writing harder and worse.
Thomas: That’s really good. When I was in college, I took a four-week summer class. It was intense, but I found it easier than a regular semester. While it was intense, the assignments were spaced out. I never had two papers due on the same day, so there was far less pressure and stress.
For Everything There is a Season.
Thomas: In some seasons, you’ll have external pressure to get things done. It’s easier to be disciplined in those seasons because public schools have trained us to respond to external pressure.
But in seasons of waiting, when if you don’t have the external pressure, it’s harder to be disciplined. You can waste the whole season by watching Netflix, and you will have missed your opportunity to improve your craft by reading books or improve your marketing by listening to podcasts.
If you’re trying to meet your manuscript deadline while learning about improving your craft and marketing, you will have much more stress.
Laura: That might sound like you have to work all the time without stopping, but that’s not what we’re saying. Use your waiting time wisely, but remember that God also commanded a day of rest every week.
Be intentional about your working and resting.
Numbing out in front of Netflix isn’t a good use of your time. But if Netflix helps you decompress for one day a week and refreshes you to start writing again, then do it.
Reading good books while you wait can also be productive and relaxing. Read books with great characterization and plots.
Spend that time in a way that will relax and recharge you but will also get your creative juices flowing.
Thomas: Another strategy is to read a book on craft and then read a book in your genre. You’ll learn more from both books that way. For example, if you read a book on dialogue and then read a book by the bestselling author in your genre, you’ll start to notice how that author uses dialogue. You’ll start to understand why the author is successful.
What advice or encouragement would you have for Christian authors who feel like they’re stuck in a season of waiting?
Laura: Every time I’ve tried to push something and hurry it up, it’s never worked very well. As Christians, we believe that God has a plan and he uses things.
I believe in being proactive, but I also recommend leaning into your relationship with God. Rather than viewing the waiting as a hindrance and an inconvenience, say, “God, I believe this waiting has a purpose. Help me see why you’re giving me this space.”
Practical help and encouragement for overcoming self-doubts, writer’s block, rejection, procrastination, and more with Scriptures to study, questions to apply the message to your life, and space to write your response.