The End of My Deb Year: Goodbye, Welcome, and Becoming a Sophomore

sophomore debsI distinctly remember coming back to college after my freshman year (freshwoman, really). I still felt fresh. Being new to the school was part of my identity. And yet, I came back from my first summer vacation, I saw this new group of people I didn’t recognize. They were walking around with maps in their hands, looking lost. Seeing those dazed and anxious faces, I realized that I was indeed a sophomore.

It’s the same with being a debut novelist. I’ve been referring to myself as a debut novelist for the past year. It has come to feel like my identity. And yet, as we welcome a brand new class of Debutantes, I am forced to realize that I’ve become a sophomore. My debut novel is out. I’m working on edits for book #2.

It’s that second book that cements my sophomore identity. Everything about the second book feels so much more relaxed. I got a two-book deal, so with the 2nd book, there was no going on submission to editors, no worry if it would sell. I’m now familiar with the rhythm of the production with the publisher, and I’ve built a relationship with my in-house publicist. This is no longer my first rodeo.

And yet, I still have that freshwoman feeling because I haven’t completed the arc of my first book. All the reviews haven’t come out yet. The end of year roundups haven’t been written for me to be elated to be included or crestfallen to be left out. The various awards haven’t all been announced and I haven’t even finished submitting my book (or getting my agent or publicist to submit).

So I guess this is where the metaphor falls apart. When I stepped onto my college campus as a sophomore, the previous year’s grades were final and my GPA had been calculated. Yet as we welcome the new class of Debutantes, none of us are quite finished with our first books. Abby hasn’t even published yet.

Of the 2016 class, I am the only one on a fast-moving commercial publishing clock. I’m the only who walked in with a clear pub date for my 2nd book, and less than a year between debut and follow-up (July 2016 & June 2017). With this in mind, it feels so strange to imagine myself at different book festivals next June with TWO books, when this June, I didn’t even have ONE.

As we welcome Tiffany, Crystal, Amy, Jenni, and Lynn, I can’t help revisiting the almost surreal feeling that accompanied having a book deal. I looked and sounded the same. I had the same job, same friends, same address, same family, but my life had changed. I was on a path to publication. The clock was ticking and it was only a matter of time. To revisit some of my favorite 80s hip hop lyrics, in “Don’t Believe the Hype” Chuck D says: “Again I said I was a time bomb.” I write novels of suspense, and something about having a pub date meant I was living in one. That publication year sent me careening toward the unknown in an emotional state that seemed to toggle back and forth between high anxiety and euphoria. And now, a mere month after my debut, I feel profoundly different. Not because the fate of my book has been established. But because that climactic moment foretold from the beginning of the story has been fulfilled. It happened. I was published. I survived. My book and I are launched into the world. It was more thrilling and disappointing than I could have ever imagined. And now it’s time for new dreams and new books.

Moving forward, you can still find me on Facebook, Twitter and my website/blog.

It doesn’t really feel like goodbye because the Debutante Ball lives on the internet, and so do I. I get to keep my Debs. My class of 2016 Debs are a girl gang for life. I won’t quite be going out and getting an AbbyAyaHeatherJenniferLouise tattoo. But, like body art, they’re part of my skin now, inked into the protective layer that keeps me safe and connected and embraces the world.

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Aya de Leon directs the Poetry for the People program in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley. Her work has appeared in Essence Magazine, xojane, Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Mutha Magazine, Movement Strategy Center, My Brown Baby, KQED Pop, Bitch Magazine, Racialicious, Fusion, and she has been a guest on HuffPostLive. She is the author of the children's picture book PUFFY: PEOPLE WHOSE HAIR DEFIES GRAVITY. Kensington Books will be publishing her debut feminist heist novel, UPTOWN THIEF, in 2016. For more info, go to ayadeleon.wordpress.com.