Trying to Do It All: Priorities for Authors

Authors must promote their books to be successful, and the more they promote, the more likely success will come, but while the process can be exhilarating, it can also be exhausting. Here are some simple tips for authors to keep things in perspective and manage to enjoy rather than be overwhelmed by being an author.

Recently, one of my fairly successful author friends said to me, “Boy, I’m starting to understand why so many movie stars and rock stars turn to drugs and alcohol.” My friend has worked really hard to be a successful author, and her last book has gotten a lot of attention. She is thrilled to watch her book sales steadily climb, but at the same time, she sometimes cringes when the phone rings and she sees the caller I.D. is a bookstore asking for another sixty books she then has to sign and lug down there, or when she gets yet another request to speak to a group because she has so much to do. Many of us long for such problems, but we all know the feeling of guilt, the feeling that we should be doing more to promote our book. If you don’t know those feelings, my guess is you’re not trying too hard to sell your book and it’s not selling very well.

Whether authors are selling books by the truckload or one at a time, they are constantly being told by local author groups, bloggers, publications, publishing experts, and even me, about all the ways they can improve the marketing of their books. The lists are endless—what to do with your website, your press kit, get a book video made, go on a blog tour, call bookstores, talk to local groups, improve your SEO, send out marketing postcards, attend book expos, join an authors association, and on and on and on. All you could do can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t mean an author should give up.

Once people start to respond to your efforts, you may start to feel successful, but it also means you’ll be faced with more work and demands on your time. You’ll be busy fulfilling book orders, going to speak to groups, being invited to be a guest on a radio or TV show, and wondering when you’re ever going to find time to write the next book. We don’t want any author to turn to drink or pills—despite his fame, F. Scott Fitzgerald is not the author to model ourselves after.

So here are a few simple tips for keeping things in perspective:

  1. 1.      Create a To Do List: I recommend you use a spreadsheet because you can easily move things around by cutting and pasting cells. You might lay it out as a calendar format with what you need to do each day, but I think it’s better just to list what you have to do. Put at the top the urgent things like mailing out postcards about your new book, and at the bottom the less urgent things such as an update to your website that isn’t as important. By creating a list and prioritizing what needs to be done, you will feel more organized and better able to cope with everything you have to do. If things keep getting pushed down the To Do list and you don’t get to them, it may turn out they aren’t that important.
  2. Commit to a (Flexible) Schedule: Schedules can be difficult to keep, but if you promise yourself you’ll work on promoting your book every day from 10am-Noon, and you’ll write everyday from 1-4pm, try your best to keep that schedule. A schedule is a goal. Try to keep it, but be flexible within reason.
  3. Learn How to Deal with Interruptions: Don’t just ignore interruptions. Don’t not answer the phone because it’s your writing time, but make a decision about what interruptions are acceptable and which ones aren’t. If your friend calls to chat during your writing time, you might want to let the call go to voicemail. But if a bookstore calls because it wants more books, you might feel the need to take the call. If your writing time is 1-4, take the call, finish your writing time, and then deliver the order.
  4. Schedule Events: The holidays can be especially busy for authors since most books are bought in the months leading up to Christmas. Many authors I know have book signings every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Just remember to pace yourself. Give yourself a break by clearing your calendar of all events in January when book sales are lower anyway. In the summer, schedule a weekend at home for every weekend you schedule events so you can keep your balance.
  5. Reward Yourself: Don’t take the world on your shoulders. If you’re at an all day event and you sell a lot of books, you can go out for dinner rather than making dinner at home. If you didn’t get time to write that day because you were at a conference, you don’t have to write that evening. Count it as having put in your time and watch a movie instead.
  6. Enjoy the Moment: Do your best to be in the moment. Too often authors are running to get one task done so they can move to the next. I know one author who told me she was really stressed about her first book signing until a friend reminded her that it’s “supposed to be fun.” Now she makes sure she always has fun. She puts herself in the right frame of mind so she enjoys whatever event she is attending.
  7. Be Helpful but Know Your Limits: Once you become an established author, a lot of people will want your help. Establish some boundaries for yourself—maybe you’ll give a presentation to a writing group, but don’t agree to become president of the group. Be realistic about what you can do. The more responsibilities you take on, the more exhausted you will be.
  8. Gauge How Activities Contribute to Your Goals: If your friend wants you to join her book club and you are busy, just say “No.” If the book club has six members, you can go and talk about your book but becoming a regular member probably isn’t going to help you sell books beyond those six people. If you are asked to emcee a charity event, do so if you believe in the charity or you feel it will get you some publicity. If the audience, however, is unlikely to consist of book buyers, you might want to think twice about it.
  9. Create Reasonable Goals: I know one author who says her goal is to do five things each day to promote her book. That’s great, but she’s retired so she has time to do five things. If you’re a single working mom, maybe doing one thing a day is all you can manage. If so, just do your one thing. Don’t beat yourself up for not doing more. Just pick the most effective thing you can do that day.
  10. Measure Your Results: Within reason, you can try any activity once. You might even try something twice to see whether it works the second time. But don’t keep doing something that is getting you nowhere. If you go to an annual art fair to sell your book and you don’t sell any, don’t waste your time going again next year. If you make a hundred dollars in sales at an all day book show, ask yourself whether you could have done something else that day to get the same results with less time commitment. You can best determine what your time is worth. A hundred dollars might be a successful day for some authors and unsuccessful for others. You know how much time and work you had to put into that show. Would a two hour book signing at a store have had the same results as an eight hour book show?
  11. Ask for Help: Most authors don’t realize people are out there to help them. If you’re not good at updating your website, pay someone else to do it. You can find better ways to spend your time that might make you more money than what it costs you to pay someone to do the work. Consider who you can hire, who is reliable, and what tasks you’d rather not do or someone could do better. Could you hire your teenage daughter to be in charge of order fulfillment, preparing books to mail or deliver to stores? Would the local high school have a student willing to help you a couple of hours a week by updating your social networking pages? Is there a college student who could make marketing pieces for you as an internship for her graphic design program? You will be surprised by the number of people willing to help you, often for little or no money, just so they can get experience and a good reference. You can’t do everything—get help so your business can grow.

Bottom line: You can’t do it all. There will always be more to do. Do what you can and do what you enjoy and what will produce worthwhile results. Strive to do what will produce the best results. Strive also to do what will result in the most book sales or publicity with the least work involved. Make a to-do list with measurable goals, analyze your results, and then readjust your goals. Ask for help when needed, and remember to take time for yourself. Balance is the key in maintaining good spirits and high energy while acquiring sales and publicity for your books.

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.


  1. says

    What a timely column! I was just chatting with another author friend last evening about feeling overwhelmed by all of the “stuff” (book-ish and otherwise) that one must do to keep one’s author career alive. This post is a great summary of how to keep it all going! Thanks, Irene!

  2. says

    Hi Irene,

    Thank you for these great tips. Personally, I love the tip #6(Enjoy the moment). Most authors tend to forget that thing.

    -Lester J.

  3. Drew says

    Great guide. Lose everything but not my to-do-list. It is my goal chart every day and I finish each task at the end of the day. Without it, it’s like going to a place where you do not know where your destination is.

    Thanks for the post.