Path to Publication 3.4: Gearing Up For A Big Year, and How Deadlines Change Everything

Polis Books will release my debut novel, New Yorked, in June, with the follow-up, City of Rose, tentatively slated to follow in October. This is a monthly column about taking a book over the finish line.

There was no Path to Publication column in December. The holiday season is a source of constant stress—parties and family obligations and shopping. Plus, City of Rose is due to my publisher on Feb. 1. So on top of everything else, I had a book to finish. Seemed like a good time to hit pause on some stuff. 

My plan was to finish the book by Christmas, so that my agent and a select few beta-readers could look at it before it was filed. I'm happy to report that I (nearly) met my deadline. I finished it the day after Christmas. Close enough. One of my beta readers has already gotten back to me with some very constructive criticism and, even better than that, some very strong words of excitement and encouragement. Which is a humongous relief. Despite some brief flashes of confidence, I was worried I was headed toward disaster. 

New Yorked took at least 15 drafts, two of which were ground-up rewrites. I started it in 2010 and delivered the final copy-edit a few months back, toward the end of 2014. It ended up at 76,000 words. City of Rose took six months and only three drafts. It's a little rougher, sure, and bit shorter at 65,000 words. I plan to take one more run-through, but that's where it is.  

'New Yorked' took at least 15 drafts, two of which were ground-up rewrites. 'City of Rose' took six months and only three drafts.

Which is good, because I've already got a tentative release date: October 19. 

It's a quick turnaround, for sure. My publisher believes (and I agree) in the benefit of momentum. Kicking off a new series character is tough. Giving your readers the second adventure not too long after the first keeps things fresh. And since these are coming out in trade paper instead of hardcover, it's not prohibitively expensive to keep pace with the story. 

It was a little taxing, mentally. Besides that constant creaking sound (the Sword of Damocles, hanging over my head), there was that feeling of inadequacy: How am I going to maintain any level of quality when I'm turning a book around that quick?

But a couple of things worked in my favor. The first book did the heavy lifting of introducing the character, so there was less of that work to do. Plus, I've got the benefit of having found a formula that worked, so it was a little easier to replicate. I know the voice now. Slipping into it was like putting on a well-worn pair of boots. They fit so well you don't even feel them. 

I'm still waiting to hear back from a few people, and then my publisher has to read it and decide whether I'm an idiot or not, but as for right now, I feel good. Because after trying to hack this for so long, I suddenly have two novels on tap for release in 2015. That's nuts


The pre-order page has been up for a little while at Amazon. And I know people are pre-ordering the book. Some of them tell me, but also I've added a new step to my morning routine: A quick check of the sales rank. The number creeps up slowly and then suddenly drops. I couldn't guess how many pre-orders there've been, but it's been a handful, at least. 

I'm also excited to see that pre-order pages have been added at Barnes & Noble and Powell's. Pre-orders are pretty damn important—if retailers see that a book has some heat before its release, they're more inclined to stock it. I don't have a horse in the Amazon v. Rest of Publishing race (I'm on Team Author, which often finds no real comfort in either side). But I've been trying to nudge people toward Barnes & Noble, only because it'll increase my chances of the book getting carried there. 

So, um, y'know, if you want to pre-order a copy, I won't be upset, okay? 


Now that we're in the new year, and six months out from the release, I've got a stronger eye toward marketing. I'll be having a talk with my agent and publisher soon about that, but I've already got a couple of things I can work on now. First is, adding promo copy to my self-published novella, The Last Safe Place.

The trade now has the cover, the synopsis, and blurbs for New Yorked. The eBook is going to get coded with an excerpt and some direct links in the front and in the back. At some point, soon, when I have time to re-code it. This is part of my master plan: A month out from release, I'm going to do a KDP promotion and give the novella away for free. That kind of thing is worth a few thousand downloads, if not more.

A lot of people will probably download it because it's free and never read it. Some might read it and not like it. But I've got to believe a few folks are going to be intrigued enough to click through to the novel and order a copy. At this point, the novella has earned back the money I spent on it for cover design, and then some. Using it as a loss leader into a debut novel makes sense.  

I really believe that while it's always good to be working on raising your profile, it's wasted energy to do a lot of targeted promotion before a pre-order page is up.

It's nice to have that option, and another reason why I'm playing at this hybrid author thing, with a mix of traditional publishing and self-publishing. It gives me the flexibility to use previous work as a marketing tool. 


With all this talk of New Yorked—maybe you're interested in reading a tiny bit? Then check out the latest issue of Thuglit. My buddy Todd Robinson was putting together the latest issue and found he had a couple of extra pages to fill—so he asked if he could preview part of the first chapter of the book. Of course I said yes. It's fucking Thuglit, yo. 

Now, for a promo like this, it's a little early in the process. You want to save your big pushes for when the book is about to come out—one or two months being better than six.

But Thuglit has a loyal following, the book is aimed squarely at the mag's readers, and the pre-order pages are up. That's the key. If the pre-order pages weren't up, I might have declined. But as long as someone can go someplace where they can click a button—whether that's doing a full pre-order or adding it to a wish list, I'm good. 

As someone who publishes and markets books for a living, I really believe that while it's always good to be working on raising your profile, it's wasted energy to do a lot of targeted promotion before a pre-order page is up.

All that said, the new Thuglit is available, in paperback and eBook. It's generally a kick-ass package of crime fiction, but this issue is even more special, as it includes one of the winners of our Arrest Us! writing challenge. So click the link below and get yourself a copy. 

Galleys and book tour and questions

Galleys are coming soon, which is exciting. I've requested a couple to hand out to my contacts, and I know that at least one is going to be given away in this column. I haven't decided how yet. I'll do a contest or something. I want to get them first, then I'll get that sorted.

I'm also sketching out ideas for a book tour. Probably no more than a week (my wife and I are having a kid in January, so I can't go gallivanting around the country for a month). But I want to hit a couple of major cities outside of my little New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania universe. Maybe Austin, Chicago, somewhere in California. I want to come to Portland because of how many people I know there, but given that's where I set the second book, I may wait until later in the year for that one.

If you've got any suggestions on rockin' bookstores in cool cities, share them in the comments. 

Also, fire away if you have any questions about the publication process. The second book, marketing, whatever—have at it. 

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Rob Duffy's picture
Rob Duffy from London is reading Chasing the Scream' by Johann Hari and by James Ellroy; 'The Black Dahlia January 7, 2015 - 5:43am

Hi Rob,

I'm a little late to the party, but have just read all your columns on this process and found them interesting, uplifting, depressing (for what happened to you the first time around) and funny.

I came into litreactor today to get me going and hopefully lift me from a bad day with my writing projects, and you have done that.

Many thanks and good luck with your books!


voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin January 7, 2015 - 2:38pm

Congrats, Rob :)

I'm curious if you'd agree that a deadline is a great motivation for writing? That while already having a familiar voice and character to fall back into helps, the second novel may have been quicker because someone was waiting for it? (And not just a someone, but a someone appreciative and enthusiastic about your writing)

Anyway, good stuff, thanks for sharing.

Deets999's picture
Deets999 from Connecticut is reading Adjustment Day January 8, 2015 - 9:05am

Great stuff as usual, Rob! Two questions for you;

What do you mean by 'ground-up re-writes'? Is that to say you retyped the previous manuscript from the start, making changes along the way? Or did you literally change huge plot points of the story? POV? Tense? Adding removing characters? What in your mind constitutes a group-up rewrite?

Second question - how much is a reasonable amount to spend on a professional cover design - I know you've been through this process, sometimes on your dime, sometimes not. Just curious what a fair range would be.

Thanks, Deets

Looking forward to reading the book, glad we won't have to wait long for the follow up

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this January 8, 2015 - 9:07am

Rob--thanks for the kind words!

Em--Having a deadline definitely helped. I tend to have a horrible work ethic--I may come home with every intent to get some writing done and decide that instead I will play video games for four straight hours. So knowing this was due at a certain date really pushed me away from that. And now, with the second one down, I feel even more of an impetus to work. The third book is nothing more than an idea, and it hasn't been signed, but I want to get cracking on that soon. Get far ahead of the series enough that I can finish it strong and move on to something else. 

When it rains, it pours.