I Was a 2018 Debut
On January 2nd, 2018, my first novel hit the shelves. Though my debut year was barely beginning, the biggest moment in it — publication — had already come and gone, leaving 364 days of that year still stretched out before me.
So… now what?
Of course, there’s still plenty to do after a book is released — promotion, events, performing the proper rituals to ensure strong sales — never a dull moment! But getting that milestone out of the way early on did allow me the chance to step back a little and watch as other 2018 debuts arrived, all while continuing to experience how my own year unfolded.
Like many new authors, I was part of a debut group — in my case, the Electric Eighteens, made up of young adult and middle-grade debut authors. A highly recommended group of people, five stars, would join again. Author groups are not for everyone, of course, but having been part of several of varying origins, I can’t imagine a more comprehensive source of experience and knowledge when it comes to navigating the world of publishing. The journey to initial publication and beyond can have a lot of ups and downs; it can be a lot easier to handle when there’s someone you can talk to that knows what you’re going through.
Which leads me to what I think is the most important thing a debut author can have: Support.
Maybe this comes from an author group, or from your writing group, or simply a few close friends or family members. But regardless of the source, support is a must-have. There is nothing as bracing as having a couple of friends in the audience of an event whose attendees can be counted on one hand. (Trust me on this one.) Or, on a more upbeat note, to have your friends and family fill the room at your launch party, buy out the store’s whole stock, and keep the bartender so busy that by the end of the night he looks like he’s coming off a good workout. (Side note: Bookstores with bars make excellent launch party locations.)
A sturdy support system is also super helpful during the down parts of the up and down publishing journey, which leads me to my next point regarding your debut year: Manage your expectations.
Certainly, some debut novels explode out of the gate, get rave reviews, land on bestseller lists, sell oodles of copies, become a major motion picture, and make their author a household name.
Then there’s the other 99.99% of them.
So while that slam dunk is always possible, a slightly different scenario is more likely. Maybe your book will get rave reviews, but the sales won’t quite reflect that. Or your book will, with some fanfare, get optioned for a screen adaption, but otherwise roll out fairly quietly. Or perhaps your book will be released with modest expectations, vastly exceed them, and suddenly your publisher will want to sign you for three more, and by the way, they need all of them drafted in six months. No problem, right?
The point is, publishing is unpredictable. Not having too many concrete expectations can help curb disappointments, as well as keep you from feeling overwhelmed. And know that, if you are part of author communities, you may end up comparing your journey to others’ now and again. It happens, many of us do it, and all you can do is try your best to keep your eyes on your own path.
On that note: Celebrate your wins, but don’t be afraid to mourn the disappointments.
Good news one day, not-so-good news the next. Surprise — your book got a starred review! Yay! Then, maybe, that thing that seemed sure of happening — strong sales, landing on all the best-of lists, the sale of your next book — doesn’t. Emotional whiplash takes hold of you.
Make sure to celebrate what you can. It doesn’t matter if that means hitting a bestseller list or having your novel chosen to be read by your aunt’s book club. A win is a win is a win.
And if something disappointing does happen, let yourself be upset. It’s not being negative or ungrateful or whatever. It’s simply being human. This is yet another point where that support system can come in handy. I highly recommend having at least one person in your life that you can be utterly and totally honest with — the person you can rant to using all the swear words, and then know without a doubt that they will take your words with them to the grave. (Maybe swear a blood oath, just to be sure.)
Finally: Don’t read your reviews.
Hahahaha, right. It’s okay, you’re probably going to. (And if you don’t, you’re a stronger person than I.) Don’t feel too guilty about it. (I mean, they’re RIGHT THERE on the internet, where anyone can get to them, c’mon.) At the same time, don’t let them overwhelm you. It’s too easy to blush your way through half a dozen five-star reviews, only to crash head-on into that one-star, and get fixated on it. It is ten thousand percent true that not every book is for every person. (Of course, convincing yourself of that is the trick. Annnnnny day now…)
In conclusion, I don’t think anyone expects their debut year to be easy. Exciting, yes. Emotional, definitely. But not easy. For most people, they’re navigating entirely new territory, learning as they go along. And even for those people who have a good idea of what to expect (because, I don’t know, maybe your day job is also in publishing, and you’ve been involved with countless debut releases for almost a decade) there’s always going to be some unexpected bumps in the road. But whatever happens, you can’t go wrong with seeing a debut novel and its release year as just that — the first in what will hopefully become many.
Lyndsay Ely spent her teenage years wanting to be a comic book artist. As it turned out, she couldn’t draw very well, so she began writing novels instead. She is a geek, a foodie, and has never met an antique shop or flea market she didn’t like. Boston is the place she currently calls home, though she wouldn’t mind giving Paris a try someday. Gunslinger Girl is her debut novel.