Dear Debut Author,
First off, congratulations! You have sold your first book! Your dream is coming true! Ahead of you is an absolutely thrilling, roller coaster of a year (or two), filled to the brim with new experiences and new people. You will do all the things that only writers daydream about—you will get your author photo taken and it will feel glamorous. You will receive blurbs from writers you admire, and the simple fact that these writers read your book will be impossible to comprehend. You will write your acknowledgments page and it will bring you to tears when you realize how many people have helped you along the way. You will work closely with your editor and you will make a book you are proud of. And best of all, people will read your novel, and one day you will read a tweet that a stranger wrote about how much she loves one of your characters, and it will make your heart swell.
But in between the many highs of your debut year, there will most likely be some lows along the way. So here is some advice from someone who is a little further down the path.
Keep calm. When you sell your book to a publishing house, for the first time in your books life you will lose some control. If you are a control freak like myself, this can be a bit challenging! You may be asked to change your title, or your pub date may get pushed back, or you may not love the first cover design that you see. If you are at all like me, these moments can stir up some anxiety. Just remember that everyone on your team—your agent, editor, the designers, the publicity and marketing team, all the sales people—are On Your Team. They all want your book to succeed. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion—and don’t be afraid to ask to be involved! When I felt like my original jacket copy was missing something, I tweaked the copy myself and sent my version along with a request to have some elements added. After a couple of rounds of edits, together my editor and I created a description that we were both very happy with.
Don’t get in the habit of checking up on your book. This is probably my most important advice. Once your book is up on Amazon, and then on Goodreads, there will be a temptation to peek in on your book to see the sales rank, or to see if anyone added it to their to-be-read shelf. Then in January the Most-Anticipated-Books-Of-The-Year lists will start to come out. This is when you will start to Google yourself and your book title. Look, you are a human being, so I am not going to advise you to never do this, but I will tell you from experience that this can quickly become a habit, and then an addiction, and will lead only to anxiety and suffering. And honestly, this only gets worse—to-be-read-shelf checking changes when Goodreads reviews start coming in, and Googling takes on a whole new life when professional reviews start appearing. I don’t even want to think about when the book is for sale and I can start checking Bookscan. It’s addicting, people. So my advice is this: put this off for as long as you can. Try and let go of everything that is out of your hands. If anything important happens, someone will tell you about it. There will be plenty of time to obsess later. I promise.
Start your next project. Okay, THIS is the most important advice I can give you. It’s the advice everyone gives, it’s the advice I ignored, and it’s the advice I most regret not following. Here is the thing: the closer you get to your debut pub day, the harder it is to start writing something new. This is for several reasons. You will be busy doing marketing things and answering interview questions and writing guest blog posts and trying to find a fiddle player for your launch party. You will be distracted and excited. But also, for perhaps the first time in your writing life, people—strangers, some with influence and power—will have opinions about what you write and how you write it. It can be hard to get into that vulnerable, creative space that you need to be in to write when you have other peoples voices in your head—even when what they say is positive. It will be MUCH easier to work on book two if you are knee-deep into it before your debut goes on sale. Trust me. Get to work.
Enjoy the down time. There is a lot of down time in between moments of frantic activity during your debut year. Enjoy the down time! Live your life! Waiting, checking email, and Googling are not actually doing things. Let go of the book when you can, trusting that it is in good hands, and that you will be asked when you are needed.
Stay engaged with your whole life. Being a debut author is incredibly exciting, and for some it can be…lets just call it consuming (not obsessing, which some of your friends and family may call it.) Don’t let your debut year eat up your whole life. Stay engaged with your friend’s lives. Volunteer. Enjoy your day job. Listen closely to your spouse. Put limits on when you check your email. Talk about ANYTHING ELSE. And when someone asks about your novel, smile, give it two sentences and change the topic. Your debut novel may feel like everything, but it isn’t. Make sure you are giving everything and everyone in your life the attention it/they deserve.
Remember to enjoy it. And lastly, have fun! When little things come up that feel like problems (like when your pub date is the same day as Franzen or King or Weiner) don’t forget they are just part of the process of your debut novel being published. What a problem to have! What a gift!
Lastly, again–congratulations! I can’t wait to read your book!
P.S. Don’t forget to pay it forward. Be on the lookout for other debut authors. Share their books online, invite them to be on panels, say yes to writing blurbs. The best part of being a debut author is meeting other debut authors. And we are all in this cuckoo world together!