10 Things I Didn't Know About the Debut Year
When I started out on this journey to getting published, I thought I knew what I was in for. Turned out, I had no idea. So let me share a few things I have learned along the way with all you yet-to-be published authors.
Getting published is hard. If that came out a little whiny, I’m sorry. It sounds a little shrill to my ears and yet, it’s true. Getting a book from idea to final project isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s full of rejection and uncertainty. When I signed with my agent, the first thing I thought was, “Whew. I don’t have to worry about being rejected anymore.” Yes, that would be incorrect. Being out on submission means your book has passed one hurdle and is now in front of fewer eyes, but that also means they are taking on fewer projects (in some cases) and there is a smaller pool to get a yes from. So when I signed my contract with Sky Pony Press, I thought, “Yes. Now I really don’t have to worry about rejection.” And once again, I was wrong. Because now, my book is out there for anyone and everyone to see. And to judge. And to reject. That’s just the way it is. Not everyone is going to love your book. And they are going to make that clear. However, none of these layers of rejection mean you shouldn’t try. Because being in the middle of your dream coming true is worth every one-star review or agent query letter rejection that comes just a few months after you sign your publishing contract. (True story.)
The time frame for everything is hurry up and wait. I’m serious about this. Revisions: Hurry up and wait. First pass pages: Hurry up and wait. Publicity: Hurry up and get a bunch of stuff done and wait. The only thing that isn’t hurry up and wait in this business is the cover art. I swear, it feels like you are just waiting forever for that milestone. But never fear because about one month out from release the waiting part ends and it’s a frantic dash to the finish line.
Just because you have a contract doesn’t mean the sailing is going to be smooth. In November 2013 I excepted a contract to publish It’s A Wonderful Death one year to the day that I finished the first draft. The publisher was in the UK and I had an October 2014 release date. Little did I know that seven months later I would be driving along on a sunny afternoon only to be knocked to the ground by the news that my publisher was going to close effective the next day. To say I was devastated is an understatement. When something like this happens, the only choice you have is to pick yourself up (after several weeks of wallowing in self-pity, which is a completely valid lifestyle choice) and get back on the horse. The writing world is full of challenges. The people who succeed are the ones who don’t let the negative overshadow the positive.
You will have fans. This will seem very weird. Now, most of us will ever have a mall-filled crowd of screaming tweens and teens chanting for us as we take the stage with the actors and actresses bringing our characters together life. But if you do your job right, your book will connect with readers. Not everyone is going to love you, but some people will. When they come up to you, be gracious, say thank you and smile for a picture like it’s the first time it’s ever happened.
Librarians are your friend. And to some of them, you are a rock star. Google on the other hand, can become your nemesis if you let it. As a librarian, I totally geek out over authors. And if there is any way I can get an author in front of my students, you can bet that I am going to do what it takes to make it happen. Plus, they can talk your book up when you aren’t around. Spend time talking to them on a personal level whenever you can. It’s a great way to spend your time. What is not a great way to spend your time is “googling” yourself. I have to admit that I have wasted way too much time checking to see if anyone was talking about my book. Trust me. When they start talking, you will know. Until then, try to stay focused on the writing.
It’s never too early to start working on your signature. As a reader, even if I’m a complete stranger to an author, when I’m getting a signed copy, I am always curious about the author’s signature and what they say. And so, when I was waiting for one of the kidlets to finish practice or rehearsal, I would scrawl out samples of what I thought I wanted my signature to be. Yes, I know, it sounds a bit narcissistic, but honestly, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve screwed up my signature. And no one wants to mess up a reader’s prized possession.
Social media isn’t important. Being nice and positive on social media is incredibly important. Over all, I think authors are a pretty friendly bunch. But every once in a while, any one of us is prone to a bad day. Those are the days that it’s probably better to avoid social media. Because I have seen some authors get a little snippy online and it’s like open season commences on them. So when it comes to twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets, it’s probably best to stick to the whole “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” adage.
No matter how many people work at your publisher, when it comes to creating buzz about your book, you are your best PR person. Remember how I said googling was a distraction? Well it’s true. However, if you don’t bust your butt to try to create interest in your book, no one else will. And there are tons of ways to do that. Giveaways, blog tours (like this one), engaging with people who mention your book, which is where Google can actually help. Just make sure not to search more than once a day.
Let other people help you help yourself. There is no way I would have gotten through this year, especially the last few weeks before my review without a little help from my friends. I have essentially relinquished the planning of my release party to some of my best friends who have not allowed me to say no. If you are anything like me, you don’t want other people to help you out. You would rather do everything yourself even though you know it’s going to make you crazy and everyone else around you miserable. If people ask if they can help, say yes. The truth is, from my experience, those nearest and dearest to you want to help you make your debut as awesome as possible. Just be careful not to diva out.
The world of authors is small, competitive and wonderful. I don’t know what to say about the authors I have met over the last couple of years. I met a lot of them because we were in the same debut class. Still others I’ve met going to conferences and retreats, but regardless of who I have met, the one thing they have all had in common is how incredibly kind and supporting they have been. Since most of the people I have become friends with are YA authors, we’re all “competing” with each other for your book dollars. And yet, when you look at twitter, authors who are launching on the same day are still out there promoting each other’s books. It’s wonderfully crazy. I’m so proud to be a part of the world of authors! It’s been an amazing experience!
So that’s it. Ten things I have learned over the past several years. For those of you who haven’t had the fun of the debut year yet, keep working hard! For those of you about to embark on your debut year, have fun! There will never be another year like this. Make the most of it and cherish every moment!