The Debut Year (After the Book Deal, Marketing, and Publicity)
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Jade: Welcome you’re listening to a 2019 WriteOnCon podcast. My name is Jade and I’m part of the WriteOnCon team and I’m really excited to chat today with author Amy Trueblood on a subject I’m sure many of us daydream about. And it’s about an author’s debut year. So Amy, thank you so much for joining me and talking about this today.
Amy: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to share all of somewhat of my knowledge about being a debut. I have not quite a year yet but it’s been an interesting experience so I’m excited to share today.
Jade: Yeah, I’m excited to hear about it. There’s been many, many questions. So I’ll try and get through as many as I can. But for those of you who may not know, Amy is the author of Nothing but Sky that came out in 2018 and Across a Broken Shore comes out in Fall this year. So, Amy, we have, I would say, a lot of questions about the debut year and I will try and get through as many as I can. But can we maybe start about, a little bit, how your debut year has gone so far.
Amy: It’s been fantastic. Basically, the nice thing about being a debut is, especially if you’re on social media, you find out about debut groups. So, I was lucky enough to be a part of the Electric Eighteens this year. Which is a huge debut group with people who write Young Adult and Middle Grade. And that has been a great source of support and comfort because it’s great to have a big group of people together kind of just to lean on and say oh or some promotion to kind of support each other’s titles too. And, again, a great support base. So, anybody who’s going to be a debut in 2019 or 2020, I know both those groups have already formed or are forming, and you’re gonna be a debut in one of those years — I highly recommend you join one of those groups. If nothing else, just for the lovely support and the number of incredible people you’ll meet through those communities.
Jade: Yeah, it sounds really sweet. But, you know, obviously, you’re all going through the same thing. You have a group together to try and support each other.
Amy: Yes, yes and that’s really been good. And I was lucky, because I was a little bit further along and later in March. So I got to see what the January and the February debuts went through. And then I kind of got to share what I got went through in March. And then watch other people like learn from our experiences and kind of put those to work. What worked promotionally and what didn’t. And they use those kind of tips and tricks to kind of help them as they went forward. So, really cool for that entire group, to be able to learn from each other.
Jade: Yeah I mean I think that was really integral, probably, because you don’t have to be alone during the publishing process.
Jade: Something that one of our questioners wanted to know was, assuming a book is published on the 2nd of July, so like, right in the middle of the year—
Jade: Can you give a quick month-by-month outline of what that debut year might look like starting in January?
Amy: Sure, and I’m just gonna say this. A lot of authors come from a background of just, you know, being a writer. Maybe they have some sort of different job in business and finance. I kind of am lucky. I came in at it from a different perspective because I spent all of my early career, about ten years, in marketing and PR.
Jade: Oh, right.
Amy: It was, yeah. So, I was kind of lucky enough to kind of know how this whole promo thing works. So, I kind of had an idea in my head like, once I signed my contract and I found out what my debut date was gonna be, I started thinking about it. So, this is a great question. I’ll just share, kind of, what I went through because I’m a big planner. I’m very type A. So, what I did was, I looked at, like, integral parts leading up to promotion. So the first thing, of course, is when your announcement comes out, you can, you know, share that. if you’re lucky enough to have, you know, your Goodreads librarian who’s already put your information up on Goodreads. You can talk about that link and get people to add it to your TBR. So that really helps kind of you know further the excitement for the book. And then what I looked at from there is integral things that were hard core that I knew I could actually share. So what I looked at early out, probably before January. So, you’re looking at a seven month time frame, I’m gonna go back just a little bit to maybe about the nine or eight month time frame. It’s usually when cover reveals come out. So I worked with my publicist and talked to my publicist about cover reveal. How we would reveal that, how we would promote that, and kind of ramp up some excitement to when the reveal was going to be so that we get a lot of people pushed to that site. And a lot of times people now, there’s so many great bloggers out there in both the Young Adult in the Middle Grade community, that you can use those bloggers to share your cover. Or, if you’re lucky enough and your publicist has ties to someplace like YA Book Central, or Bustle, or even the BNA Young Adult website, you can work with them to, kind of, really create buzz. So that’s about, I’d say, nine or eight months out.
Then, after that, you – hopefully at this point, you’re working with your publicist if you have a publicist to kind of block out how things work – so after that, looking more about the four month timeline. That’s when you start look talking about things that you can do in your own community. If you can do local press, if you can talk to local newspapers. If you can even, you know, local TV stations. If they do, like, local color and stuff like that. Work with them and try to plan out how you can talk about it in your community, because you’ll have a launch in your community, hopefully. We’re going to get to that in a little bit, I know, but you want to, kind of, drum up interest and have people come to your launch – outside of family and friends if you can. And so we talked a little bit about how that happens.
And then, when things really start to ramp up, is when you’re about ninety days out. So about three months. That’s when I start telling people to really start thinking about promotion. Of course, you have to plan up to that point, but ninety days is the big deal because that’s when people start doing, like, pre-order campaigns. And that’s a big deal because you know, if you want to create early buzz for your book, you want to do a pre-order campaign. If that’s something that you feel comfortable with. And let me just add, a lot of writers aren’t very comfortable with promo, and aren’t comfortable with, you know, doing this kind of, you know, day-after-day, month-after-month kind of thing. And that’s okay. My big thing here, in telling anybody who’s going to have a debut, is you do what’s comfortable for you. What you feel comfortable with on social media and working with your publicist on. Because some people are really good at this and they will have something every week. And then, other people won’t feel really comfortable with doing stuff all the time. And what you should do as a debut is figure out where your place of comfort is and work within that place of comfort. Because, as we’re going to talk about in a little bit, sometimes you’re also working on another book too, or a book proposal. So you have to make time for all these things.
So, anyways, going back to ninety days out. Pre-order campaign. And this is also the time too, when you’re probably either working on your own, or working with the publicist, to talk to bloggers. Doing interviews, scheduling interviews, kind of getting ramped up for that big release day. And then, about two weeks before you release, you’re looking at when all those interviews start to come out. You want to start promoting those interviews. And you’re also thinking about what you’re going to be doing on your release day.
One of the things that I did leading up to the week before my release is, I was lucky enough to hook up with the ladies over at Mundie Moms. And we worked out a deal where they released my first chapter, a part of my first chapter. So, things like that, just to, kind of, create buzz before the actual release day. Because, what will happen is, on your release day you will get slammed. And you’re trying to do promotion for your publicist and you’re trying to promote on social media, and you’re trying to respond, hopefully, to all the lovely people out in the writing community who are giving you congratulations, and so you’re trying to answer them.
So, really, try not to leave anything except for time to enjoy your day on release day. Because you will be on social media the whole entire time just being thankful for the number of people who are talking about your book and promoting your book. But, again, I just want to go back to, again, you will see, if you’re part of a debut group in 2019 or 2020, you will see people doing all these crazy incredible things which are very, very, time consuming. And that’s awesome and kudos to them. But if that’s not in your wheelhouse, that’s not something you’re comfortable with, and you just want to work really basic with what your publicist wants you to do and maybe do a few things on social media because that’s where your comfort zone is, then lean into that, I’d say.
Jade: Yeah, because me, being English. We are not into the big promotional stuff.
Jade: It sounds like a pain to me.
Amy: So yeah. You just have to do what’s comfortable to you. Because, like I said, you know, a lot of authors still have full-time jobs. A lot of authors have kids at home. A lot authors are trying to work on their second book. I mean, there’s a lot of pressure and a lot of things going on. So you really have to parse things out to a place where you feel comfortable. Where you can get done what needs to be done in the real world versus what’s going on in your promo world.
Jade: And with that in mind, I mean, should, realistically, an author invest in either time or money in promoting their book for the debut year? Does it make a difference how much time, would you say, or just the basics?
Amy: I think it really depends upon, and I’ll talk about this a lot, but it really depends upon what’s going on with your publisher and what they have planned publicity-wise. And my, always, best rule of thumb is to tell authors to be upfront and to be transparent with their publicist. In that first conversation with that publicist, whether it be via email or if you’re gonna have a phone conversation, talk about what your expectations are. Ask all your questions. Lay all your cards out on the table and ask them for what the reality-based, kind of, outlook is for your book. That way, you won’t be overwhelmed. That way, you won’t be disappointed. That way, you’ll have an overview of, kind of, what’s coming your way and you can plan accordingly. Especially if you have other things going on in your life. And that just really helps. I think from a comfort level and an anxiety level because then you and your publisher on the same page about what they’re expecting from you. And then, you can plan on your own, you know, “okay they’re doing, maybe, XY publishing. And maybe I want to throw a little bit on Instagram myself”. And do, like, a bookstagram. Or a story tour you know – something like that. Then you, maybe, can decide, “okay I have a little money to put aside to do that as well”. But really, my best piece of advice is, when you first start talking to your publisher and your publicist, lay all your cards on the table. Be very transparent. Ask them what they’re planning to do for you and then get a realistic expectation. Because if you know that way ahead of time then you know what you need to do on your end as far as promotion and it’s not, like, a surprise at the end. Like, you can’t be like, “oh my gosh I have two weeks left and I have all these things I have to schedule!” because then you’ll just drive yourself crazy and you don’t want to do that.
Jade: No, that would drive me insane as well.
Amy: Exactly. Yeah, yeah. So, if you have a very clear picture of what your publisher is gonna do and what your expectation is for you from your publisher, then I think that you’ll be much more calm and much more happy with the debut experience.
Jade: Yeah, so what can an author do to get their name out into the world before the actual promotion gets underway? Especially with online presence being you know as important as anything else. What would you give, like, an author’s advice on how to promote themselves rather than a product?
Amy: I think it really depends upon where you are in the process already. I think that, if you already have a really strong online presence, then you can benefit from, you know, leveraging your book and being able to work within people in the community that you may already have relationships with. One of the things that I got really lucky with is – because of my debut group and having some other friends, local friends, here where I live who had books coming out in the same year – we did giveaways together. We did in-store signings together. Things like that. So, I think that if you already have an established presence and an established relationship, you can really leverage that to promote your book. But I know a lot of people don’t come from that kind of background. They have jobs and families and they may have just started on Twitter or on Instagram in the last year. So ,I think what you have to do is, you just have to build things gradually. And just, you know, promote your book as you can. And talk about, you know, even if it’s just as small as— one of the things that I always encourage people if they don’t have like a big social media presence is, just to talk a little bit about the book. You know, do things, like, once a week. Provide, like, a Tuesday teaser you know, from the book.
Or, you know, if you’re somewhat, you know, savvy on the computer, you know, work on something that has, like, a free membership, like Canva and just create your own little teasers and things like that. So there’s things, even if you don’t have a huge presence, that you can start to build a following. If you do some small things just to market and promote yourself – and it’s not the type of things where it takes a lot of money or it takes a lot of time – but if you, kind of, methodically plan those out. Again, even if you don’t have a huge social media presence, if you, kind of, build over time. Especially if you have enough, you know, lengths between, you know, when the debut year starts, you know, and when your book comes out. Then you can be able to do small things that create your promotional, kind of, standing in the community.
But I’ll also say, too, a lot of the YA community is about making relationships and talking to people, and interacting with people. Sharing your own experiences so other people can learn. So, it’s something that can build gradually over time. So, whether you have a big platform or a small platform, there’s still possible ways to leverage it either way.
Jade: Yeah, I agree with getting involved. I mean there’s already hashtags, like, I think #1lineWed and stuff like that, you can probably utilize.
Amy: Yes. Definitely a great way to reach out.
Jade: One thing that you mentioned, actually, that I’d like to just jump back to is the launch party. Now, it sounds very exuberant and wonderful that you’re just celebrating your book baby, but does every author get a book launch? How would you go about planning that? What do you— who do you invite? What do you do with that?
Amy: That’s a great question. A book launch is something, usually, — and I’m just gonna caveat “usually” because I don’t know a ton of other people’s experiences beyond what I know from the debut group — but, usually, that is something that’s left in the authors court because, usually what happens is that, the authors in their own community know about the local bookstores. Some people in their community will only have a Barnes & Noble and you’ll want to work with your local Barnes & Noble about a book launch.
I’m lucky enough in Arizona, there is an independent bookstore called Changing Hands which does a beautiful job of supporting local authors. So, what I did is, I reached out to Changing Hands and I said “this is the day I’d like to have my launch” and then I, basically, connected their events person with my publicist so that they could organize a book purchase and stuff like that for the day of the event. But, a lot of times, quite honestly, responsibility for the book launch falls on the author’s shoulders. So, it’s kind of something, we were talking about a little bit before, and planning out, you know, that timeline, that you really need to look at.
I did mine, I got in contact with my events planner about three months beforehand to make sure I could get on the calendar, because they do a lot of events in store. So, I got on their calendar. And then I just, basically, had her talk to my publicist for book orders. And then, what I did was — and I highly, highly recommend this to anybody who’s a debut — check in once or twice with who that event planner is and just make sure that you’re on the calendar, that you’re doing a follow-up. Because I have heard some horror stories of people checking in at three months and then coming back, like, a week or two beforehand, and checking in with the store, and asking about, you know, whether they could bring cupcakes or whether they could bring food or whatever. And whoever it was, that, maybe the event planner has now moved on or left, and there’s a new event planner and there’s not that synergy of communication.
So, my best advice is just to book it and then follow up again and then maybe one more time closer to the launch. Just to make sure you’re on the calendar. Because the last thing you want is that worry and anxiety that, like, you’re not on the calendar, or they don’t know you. And, unfortunately, in retail, you know, turnover can be huge. And that happens. That’s just common. And that comes, again, from my marketing background. And, just, you know, checking once, and checking twice and checking three times. So, you’re gonna do a book launch — just follow through, make sure they have you on the calendar.
Now, expectations. Usually the bookstore, if they have any presence in your community, they either have, like, a newsletter or they have a great website. And so, most likely, what will happen is, they will promote your launch. But, if you’re a debut, you probably don’t have a lot of buzz behind your name. They’re not selling tickets to come to your launch and requiring you to buy a copy of the book. So, the best thing you can do is, just really, really check your expectations. Invite your family, invite your friends, and invite your local writer friends. And just think of it more as a celebration of the day and the celebration of the accomplishment rather than expecting, like, every single chair to be filled and being disappointed if that’s not gonna happen. Because that’s really not what this is about.
I really feel, at least for the first book, it is a celebration of your accomplishments and a celebration of what you’ve achieved with your family and friends and everybody just coming together as a celebration. Now, if you sell a ton of books on top of that, that’s, you know, icing on the cake. But really, I think I see a lot of people disappointed at the turnout. Sometimes they get at their launches and it just ends up being family and friends. And that’s okay. I mean that’s the typical reality of what a book launch is, like, for a debut author. Unless, for some reason, you have a big connection in the community, or you’re somehow a celebrity, or somehow you have this great presence where you can pull a lot of people in. But, for most people just like me, you know, they’re just starting to build connections in the community and they have local friends, and they have family who support you, and that’s okay. That’s okay to have those people there and support you. It doesn’t have to be a big blowout thing where, you know, you sell 150 books. Because that’s really not common.
Jade: Yeah expectations of it are quite something that we need to address here in a minute. I think that it’s mostly about how an author, maybe, manages their expectations of a debut. For instance, how could they deal with their disappointment of not landing a big number 1 or number 10 on the New York Times bestsellers list? You know, it doesn’t enter with that kind of splash. How would an author maybe manage those expectations, compared to the reality of, maybe they won’t get there?
Amy: Yeah, I think you have to look at the number of people who hit the list and the number of people who actually have a book that come out this year. I mean the percentage is, like, I mean, I think sometimes winning the lottery would be easier than hitting the list. But I think that that’s part of what you address. What I think is so important, which is expectations. I think that, you know, you have to go in with realistic expectations.
I’m always the type of person that always tries to look at the silver lining of things and tries to go and be positive about it and hoping for good things. But, I think, you have to also come at it from a reality standpoint and that really comes down to, you know, the promotional dollars that are attributed to your book. You know, whether or not you have name recognition in the community — which a lot of debut authors don’t. You know, what kind of support you’re getting from your publisher at conferences and things like that. I know a lot of people who have hit the lists who are debuts and, it just so happens, you know, their publishers have just done this incredible push for ARCs at big major conferences and really gotten the word out, and done this great job of spreading the word.
And so, I kind of feel like, New York Times is this weird kind of unicorn of, you know, uniqueness, in that it’s this magical combination of promotional dollars plus word-of-mouth plus how many, you know, purchases pre-orders have made. I still, you know, can’t quite figure out what the magic combination is. But I think if you go into it just thinking, “I hope my book does well. I hope that people embrace it. I hope that people love it” and just go in trying to be as positive as you can, and knowing that the likelihood that you’re probably gonna hit the New York Times list is small. I just, I feel like it’s better to manage your expectations that way, than to get disappointed if it doesn’t happen. And to know that you’re in good company if it doesn’t happen. Because the majority of debuts don’t hit the list, and that’s okay.
What I always say to people is, if you find people who love your book and champion it in the community, and spread the word, and post about it on Instagram, and make these beautiful pictures, then, hey, you’ve already won. You’ve made connections with those people and those are the people who are gonna read your next book and your next book. And sometimes that’s how you hit the list. Is, you just slowly build that following until you get to a point where you write the book where you’ve built enough following where all those people are out on that first week buying your book. And it’s a process. And kudos. I mean, there’s so many great, incredible authors in my Electric Eighteen group who made the list. And, oh my gosh, I’m so happy. And we all cheer for them and we do happy dances and parties for them and stuff like that. But I really feel like, you know, if you go in with realistic expectations and just hope that you make those connections with the readers that that’s probably gonna be something that’s gonna last you in the long run versus being so sad or being down in the dumps that you didn’t make the list the first week.
Jade: Yeah, and if you have made the connections with readers they’re gonna want to read your next book. So, how would you write book two while focusing on the promotion of book one and that looming publication date?
Amy: This is actually a funny thing, because this is a topic that comes up a lot in the debut groups. Because, either a lot of us are looking an option book, or a lot of people wrote like, signed two-book contracts, so, there was a second book that was expected to come based on the original contract that was signed. And, it’s difficult, I’m not gonna lie. The problem is that you’ve got the promotion expectations along with trying to train your brain to work on a new project while you’re still kind of thinking about the old project. So it’s not like there’s this fine, defined line as far as where you can stop thinking about one and move on to another.
I’m just gonna share what I did. I know that there are probably tons of other debut authors out there that have great advice about this, but I’ll just share what I did. When I wrote Across a Broken Shore and I pitched it to my editor, I basically sat down one day. I knew I had to do it. I had a deadline. And I just committed to shutting off the WiFi in my house. And I shut off the WiFi for a couple of hours and I just worked. And then once I, you know, I would commit to a couple of you know, hours a day and then I would just do it, and do it, and do it. And I just really tried to not go on social media. I tried not to go on Goodreads and look at reviews of my debut, because that, sometimes can get in people’s heads. Whether they’re great reviews, then you feel like there’s this onerous expectation that your next book has to be just as great, or if you get not such a great review, then you start to doubt your writing abilities. So, stay off Goodreads is my other piece of advice. Only because, I think that there’s this thought about, “oh yeah we want to see what readers love about our book or what readers connect with” and that’s okay. The only problem is that you have to remember that Goodreads is a website for readers, not for authors. And so, sometimes, that can play with your head a little bit.
So, my two pieces of advice is, if you’re trying to write that next book, give yourself time to step away from social media and from the internet. Turn off your WiFi or go somewhere where you’re writing a cafe and you just don’t connect to the internet there. And the other thing is, don’t let the anxiety, and the whispers, and the outside noise get in your head. Try to stay away from review sites and stuff like that and just concentrate on writing the book. Because, like we just talked about, I mean, you’re gonna have readers, you’re gonna have a fan base, and they’re waiting for the next book from you. And so, think about those people who are supporting you and loving your work and wanting to get, just, that next book in their hands.
Jade: Yeah, I think it’s very good to sort of block everything out. As hard as it may be to switch off that WiFi, you need to focus. So, yeah, I get that. As hard as it would be, for me as well, I think that’s the best advice. But what advice do you have for writers who may have just got book deals and they know the debut year’s approaching, but they probably haven’t really thought much about the reality of, “Oh my gosh I’m being published” yet?
Amy: I think, again, it’s kind of back to the idea of managing your expectations and being very communicative with both your agent if you have an agent, and being communicative with your publisher and your publicist. And just talking about the realistic ideas of what the expectations are. I also know for a fact that there are lots of debut authors who’ve been really great — either in threads on Twitter, or on in their own newsletters, or on their own websites — about sharing about their experiences, and what they’ve learned, and what they’ve not learned, and things they would do again, and things they wouldn’t do again.
That’s a great thing about the Young Adult community and the Middle Grade community, too. Is that there’s this great transparency of our process, and what worked, and what didn’t work. So, I would definitely try to tap into that and just, as an example, Rachel Lynn Solomon, who’s in my debut group — she just put out her newsletter and in it she wrote this beautiful, really insightful and honest article about what debut year was like for her. And some of the ups and downs and the expectations and things like that. And so, trying to find things like that, and reading things like that and, kind of managing your expectations, and knowing what’s the reality of being a debut. I think will help, just, really, really, you know, erase, well — maybe not totally erase — but, kind of, tamp down some of the worries that you may have going into your debut year. And, like I said, the community is so great about sharing what’s happened to them and the pitfalls of, you know, being a debut. And, you know, sometimes people spend too much money on preorder swag. Or sometimes they said, “oh, I wish I would have reached out to teen vloggers more”. Those types of things. You can learn from all those things if you’re just willing to go and search for that information, because, like I said, the YA community is just great about being honest about what their experiences have been like.
Jade: Yeah, I think honesty is something that, maybe has just coming through a little bit faster now. But — apart from people, maybe, on Twitter or other authors — are there any other resources that debuting authors may want to check out, what they feel useful?
Amy: I think — one of the things that I did, I was really lucky about this. I reached out to people who were friends in the YA community who had been previously published in years before, and I just basically said to them “if you feel comfortable, would you be willing to share with me one or two or three ideas or pieces of advice about what worked for you, what didn’t work for you?” And this is where, kind of things, like, you know, being clear about your expectations with your publicist. And being honest with yourself about timeload. And how much you can actually accomplish on your own. Those were all things that came to me from talking to previously published authors and asking for their advice. And them telling me, you know, “you know, don’t do this”, “you know, don’t spend your money on this”, “work on this”, you know, “spend more time here”, “reach out to these bloggers”. You know, that’s the type of thing that really helped me. I wish they could say there was, like, a craft book or there was something, like, that, you know, a tome that said, “this is how you, you know, you navigate your debut year.” And I’m sure somebody will do that someday, but the thing about that is, that, you know — one year, everything in there will be, you know, important and then two years later, things will have changed on social media and all of it will be negated, you know. But I definitely think, you know, there’s so many, again, I keep, you know, retouching on this time and time again, but there are so many people who are just really great in the YA community. And, I think, if you’re struggling and you have a contact or connection with somebody, it doesn’t hurt to reach out and ask for help or ask for guidance, because usually people are really great about sharing their experiences and telling you, you know, how to navigate things in a better way.
Jade: Yeah, I think that that’s something that, maybe, because I think that, unfortunately, we are almost out of time — I could talk about all day — I’d like to finish on. Because I think that it is very important that there are resources out there, there are people that will always, you know, come prepared to help you whether it be publishers, agents. And I think that it’s up to the authors to do what they’re comfortable with. So, that’s kind of what I’ve got from, you know, talking to you recently. And I could say, I could, there’s many more questions I suppose we could ask. But, yeah, I do feel that there’s a lot that we can still learn from everybody in the community. But, yeah. Really do you seek out your people and those who are prepared to help you. But again, thank you so much for joining me, Amy.
Amy: You’re welcome.
Jade: And I do you think that, you know, our listeners will probably really enjoy hearing about this even if it’s to daydream about one day where their books are gonna be hitting shelves. Where can our listeners find you online?
Amy: I’m on Instagram. I’m @ATrueBloodWrites. I do have a website. It’s amytruebloodauthor.com. I’m on Twitter @ATrueBlood5. And I also just post directly from my blog and from Instagram on to tumblr, and there I’m ATruebloodWrites as well.
Jade: I think I’ve signed up to your newsletter and your Twitter. So I’ll have to look up everything else.
Amy: Yeah, they kind of all, like, interconnect. You know. That’s the great thing about social media now. You can post one place and it goes, like, twenty other places.
Jade: Yeah, it pops up everywhere. Well, thank you again. Thank you so much for spending time talking to us, and, you know, giving your view of the debut year. And to everybody listening at WriteOnCon, thank you so much for joining us, and if you would like to take part in the discussion, we would love you to do so in the comments below this podcast page. But, enjoy the rest of the conference, happy writing, and thank you again, Amy.
Amy: Thank you for having me!