Ideally, you’re moving quickly from book to book and you have very little downtime between projects, but sometimes professional writers will find themselves with a few weeks off. I strongly encourage my clients to do something with this downtime and I thought I’d share a few ideas.

Work on your wish list

Maintain a sort of “Bible” of ideas you’d like to tackle in the future, and be sure to share this with your editors and agent.

Market yourself as a technical editor

Let your editors know that you’re open to tech editing. The pay isn’t great but it’s a good way to understand the tech edit process, make more contacts within a publishing house, and you might even find a gig helping another author finish his or her book. I sometimes help to find tech edit gigs for my clients, so be sure to tell your agent if you’re up for this.

Work on your website

Blog, update your site, add an Amazon store, add a FAQ for readers, update your bio, or write bonus material and errata for your books. If you spend too much time head-down in your book projects, you may not be spending enough time marketing yourself and your site.

Attend a conference or expo

Some writers are conference regulars, others hardly get out of the house. No matter what you’re doing over email, voice mail and on the web, it really helps to see editors face to face, and it’s also a great way to network with other writers. If you haven’t attended a conference in the last two years, you’re probably overdue. Microsoft has a regular Publishing Summit, and O’Reilly has a great series of open source and emerging technology related conferences. You can always hit MacWorld, C.E.S. or larger expos as well. Even a local writer’s conference can be a great way to get your creative juices flowing. But if you’re planning on attending, network ahead of time, find out who will be there and be sure to set up meetings.

Read your competition

Spend time in the bookstore and read various authors and series. Find out what they’re doing well and learn what you might do better. It amazes me the number of times I’ve asked a client about a notable competitor and find out they haven’t read the book. You might find that your agent has an opportunity for you in the “X” series, and if you’re already familiar with the series the entire process will be much easier. You might also find there are publishers which you’ve overlooked.

Pitch an article

Have an idea that might be a book but you’re not sure there’s a market for it? Pitch an article to a magazine or newsletter. At the least, write it up on your website, blog about it, or find some way to demonstrate that you’ve got a great idea and that people want to read about it.

Do a work-for-hire

“Work-for-hire” is rarely an agent’s favorite phrase, but if you can put yourself in a position to help an editor on a book that’s in trouble, you’ll have a great long-time ally.

Network and teach outside the industry

If you’ve been focused exclusively on books, do some research and try to find some related teaching gigs: online training, video training, or teach an extension class at your local community college. Even your Chamber of Commerce needs speakers. Anything you can do to become a better teacher and speaker will pay off that day when you find yourself on the dais at MacWorld, Photoshop World, or even YogaWorld, for that matter (made that one up).

Spy on the future

You don’t need to be Faith Popcorn to spy on the future. If you’ve been networking all along, take some time to talk to the product or marketing managers at your favorite software companies, find out what’s coming down the pike, and work to add yourself to future product betas whenever possible. It helps to be the first person out of the gate with a proposal on a new product, so do everything you can to be there first. One of my favorite memories this year was sitting with a Peachpit editor at MacWorld while her cell phone went crazy with calls from writers just back from the keynote: these writers were in the right place at the right time, and even better they had their editor’s cell phone number and knew when to use it.

Learn something new

Expand your interests, research a book on your favorite hobby, do something new. Enough said. Variety of interest and focus keeps your mind open.

Insert your ideas here

These are all pretty straightforward ideas. If you’ve got some good tips, please feel free to comment. Thanks.

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