5 Things I Learned as a Debut Author
Being a debut author is an incredible experience. It’s also a terrifying one. You will probably feel a lot of feelings over the handful of months before and after your release date, such as joy, disappointment, frustration, and excitement. There will be times you’ll read an email full of good news and feel like you’re floating in outer space — and the very next day you’ll receive a negative review from a trade magazine and feel the crushing weight of OH GOD THE WHOLE WORLD IS GOING TO SEE THIS HOW WILL I EVER SELL A BOOK.
It happens. It’s normal. Also, you will still sell books.
But sometimes it’s tough to remember that many authors have felt what you’re feeling when it’s actually happening to you. So, to help out, I’ve made a list of the five most important things I’ve learned as a debut author.
1. Lower your expectations.
I’m not saying this to scare you, or to imply I had a bad experience with the publishing process. But the reality is, most debut books don’t get massive amounts of promo. Sure, you might be one of the lucky ones who get the splashy deal and the parade of wonderful opportunities that follow. But if you’re anything like most authors, it will be much quieter than you think. A lot of promotion is done behind the scenes anyway, and it’s almost impossible to really see the effects of that until after your book has been out for a while.
It’s important for debut authors to be prepared for the reality that you’re one of MANY books publishing in 2018, 2019, 2020, etc. So don’t expect a red carpet, or a feature in a major magazine, or even a massive ARC drop at one of the big book festivals. Because it might not happen. And if it does? Enjoy the great news, and embrace the opportunities being thrown your way! Just don’t expect it, because you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment, and believe me — you don’t want to be the person who is constantly comparing themselves to the authors getting starred reviews and hitting bestselling lists and getting movie deals. They’re on a different road than you, and that’s okay. Keep your eyes on your own paper, and focus on the things you actually have control over — like writing your next book, for example.
2. Thank people, often.
I’m sure you know this, but your road to publication will be full of many, many people who promote your book, pass it along to the right people, design the cover, get it into the hands of readers, and so much more. You’ll owe them a lot, and gratitude goes a long way.
You might also end up interacting with other authors — some seasoned, some debuts like you, and some who are still unagented or unpublished. You will get more support than you realize from the writers around you (and book bloggers too, for that matter!). Let them know you appreciate them, because this industry is small and people will remember how you treat them. Plus, writer friends can be indispensable. (Remember those reviews I was mentioning? Writer friends are everything when reviews trickle in and you need someone to vent to.)
3. Start planning for promotion early.
After my deal was announced, I spent a lot of time reading other writers’ advice on promotion. Or more specifically, when to promote. Some said to wait until six months before your release date. Others said three months. And while I agree that the promotion coming from your publishing house tends to pick up three-to-six months before your release, I don’t think it’s ever too soon to start planning.
In most cases, three-to-six months is not enough time to get blurbs. It’s not enough time to build connections with book bloggers. And it’s cutting it close for planning a pre-order campaign, when you take into account you might need graphics made, or items shipped from other countries, or time to build buzz around the campaign. Not to mention, you’re a debut — you’re still figuring this promo thing out. Don’t be afraid to use the extra time to your advantage before things start to get hectic, and remember: Part of promotion is promoting yourself as an author, and it’s never too soon to start building your brand.
4. The mute button is your friend.
Social media can be very toxic. But it can also be a fantastic resource to reach out to other writers, book bloggers, and even readers. HOWEVER. Remember those reviews I mentioned earlier? Well, the reality is that there is someone attached to each and every one of them. And sometimes, that someone wants you to know how much they didn’t like your book. Maybe they didn’t even read it, but they hate it anyway. Maybe they’re just an internet troll looking for attention. But whatever the reason, some people will go out of their way to make sure you hear their opinions.
Again, I’m not trying to scare you. And most of the stuff you’ll be tagged in will be lovely and supportive. But there is no such thing as a perfect book for everyone, and inevitably, at some point in your career, you will probably have someone who has a lot to say about why yours is the worst.
Do not engage. (Repeat this as many times as it takes to sink in.)
Readers are free to interpret your book however they like. Yes, you might disagree with them. Yes, you might feel they took things out of context. Yes, you might feel like they’re attacking you personally. Yes, they might ACTUALLY be attacking you personally. But you’re the author, and they are the reader, and there is a power imbalance if you engage. You also don’t owe them your time. Mute freely and generously, block if you need to, and get back to promoting your book and writing the next one. You will forget about it soon enough, and they probably will too. And if they don’t? Well, at least they won’t appear on your timeline anymore. And this brings me to my final lesson learned…
5. DO. NOT. READ. REVIEWS.
Even if you really, really, really want to. Even if you think taking a “peek” will be enough. DON’T DO IT. The best book in the world to you is the worst book in the world to someone else. And that’s fine — we all have different likes and dislikes. But bad reviews don’t need to exist in your head. They get in the way, and they add so much negativity to the emotional roller coaster you are probably already feeling. Ask a trusted friend or family member to vet things first if you really need that bit of an ego boost, but honestly? It’s not worth it. Reviews are for readers — it’s that simple. And the negative affects of reading a review that doesn’t sit well with you will hugely eclipse any reassurance that people like your writing. Remember: you have a debut out! You’ve already had reassurance people like your writing. And you might already be on deadline for book two, or outlining a new idea you’re getting ready to send to your agent. You have work to do. Stay focused, and stay off Goodreads. Seriously.