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August, briefly

August has been a ridiculously busy but fun month. Basically, my attention has been focused on three things: revision, Rio, and Pitch Wars! I watched as much of the Olympics as possible and was so inspired by the amazing performances by our Canadian athletes. And speaking of inspiration, the talent in Pitch Wars has totally blown me away. I remember how nerve-wracking it was being a mentee the year I entered Firsts (back then, it was called Fast Girl), and now I can confirm with certainty that being a mentor involves just as much anxiety. Choosing a mentee was not an easy task, and I’m honored that so many talented authors submitted their work to me. I wish I could have chosen several mentees! But there could only be one, and the story that captured my heart was Still Breathing by Mary Dunbar. I’m so excited to work with her… you’ll be hearing lots more about Mary and her beautiful manuscript later!

#TripleTriple success!

#TripleTriple success!

This month, I have been:

Working on: August has been a full-on revision month! I finished revisions on two different projects, and now they’re out of my hands. (Although, for a writer, nothing is ever truly finished until you hold that first copy of your book!) I feel very positive about both projects and am proud of what I accomplished. Going into the fall, I’m looking forward to changing gears and drafting again… there is nothing as freeing and rewarding as fast-drafting a project and seeing where it goes, learning about the characters and their motivations as I write. There are two projects I’ve made some initial progress on, so the next step is figuring out which one to focus on first.

Reading: ALL things Pitch Wars! I requested material from several of the authors who submitted to me, and was so impressed by what I read. These books made me laugh, made me tear up, got me angry, made me think, grabbed my attention, and kept me up way past my bedtime. I can’t even begin to describe the extent to which these stories impressed me. I look forward to seeing all of them on bookshelves someday, because I have faith that will happen!

Watching: To say I have been obsessed with the Rio Olympics is a bit of an understatement. If it would have been possible for me to sit on my couch for two straight weeks and do nothing but watch the Olympics, I would have festered there in my pajamas and made a pillow fort. I was jumping up and down when Usain Bolt completed his astonishing triple triple, and seeing Canada’s talent– including Andre De Grasse, Damian Warner, Lanni Marchant, and Penny Oleksiak, among so many others– made me incredibly proud. The Olympics are all about following dreams and pushing limits, and I think it’s impossible to not feel moved by the dedication and passion these athletes demonstrate to their sports. To be honest, now that Rio is over, I don’t know what will fill the void for the next four years! (PS you heard it here… De Grasse for gold in 2020!)

As much as I love summer, I’m looking forward to all things fall… the changing leaves, jeans and ankle boots, crispness in the air, and pumpkin spice everything. There’s an electricity in fall that always energizes me, so I’m excited for whatever September brings!

For all the Pitch Wars hopefuls

On Wednesday night, the Pitch Wars mentee list was unveiled. Excitement ensued for those chosen and there was a fun virtual Twitter dance party as everyone congratulated each other on this huge accomplishment. I remembered being on the other side of things, as a mentee two and a half years ago, madly stalking the hashtag for any and every update. I remembered my heart racing and the doubt coursing through my mind that I wasn’t going to get picked, and I’d have to move on from that. When I did get picked, I stared at the screen in disbelief, thinking there must be some kind of mistake.

Keep taking that leap of faith... you'll only get higher!

Keep taking that leap of faith… you’ll only get higher!

Why the crippling doubt? Because I had entered contests before with other manuscripts. My hopes had been high. They had promptly been crushed. I had to mentally prepare myself for disappointment, gird myself against failure. Somewhere along the line, I stopped being hopeful and started being what I called practical, steeling myself for the sting of rejection.

If I’m being perfectly honest, every time I wasn’t picked for a contest, I went into a mini-spiral of negativity. I convinced myself my writing wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t on the same level as others who had entered, that I’d never find an agent, that I should only write for fun and not put myself through the stress of trying to get published.

Sometimes I took a break. Sometimes I threw myself into a new project. But always, I went back to writing, and always, after the storm cloud had passed, I looked toward the next contest. The next query. The next thing.

What I didn’t realize then is that publishing never stops being about rejection. Even as a published author, I deal with it. And if I had let every “no” derail me, I’d be in the middle of nowhere, with no direction. But I learned to take those “nos” for what they were. Subjective opinions. Sometimes, a “no” is accompanied by great feedback that you can apply and learn from. Sometimes it’s about someone not connecting with your writing or your plot or your characters. And you know what? Every “no” is okay. Because every “no” takes you closer to the “yes” that you will get if you keep writing.

This is my first year as a Pitch Wars mentor. I was totally blown away by the level of talent and the caliber of work in my inbox. I also heard the mentor chatter behind the scenes, and it was unanimous that this year’s quality level was higher than ever. Not getting picked is NOT a no. Not even close. You have a whole community of people behind you, and that’s the beauty of Pitch Wars. Once you submit, you’re in the Pitch Wars family, and we all want you to succeed. We’re here for questions you have, advice you want, virtual hugs you need. We’re here for you.

It’s okay to be disappointed, to process whatever you’re feeling. But just remember that if you’re sending your work out there, if you’re doing your research and learning something about the publishing industry, you’re doing things right. You’re where you need to be. And I have no doubt with that attitude, you’ll get where you want to be.

Be hopeful. Be practical. Be you, because only you can write your stories, and the world wants them!

Spotlight on Sixteens: Girl In Pieces

To say that I had been eagerly anticipating this book would be a grand understatement. I heard it pitched as a modern-day Girl, Interrupted, and that was enough for me to know I had to read it immediately. A fear sometimes exists with books you crave that badly- the fear that they won’t live up to your expectations, but I didn’t even have that feeling with this one. I knew somewhere in my soul that I would connect with it and love it beyond words. And I did.

Girl In Pieces is the story of Charlie, a girl who has lived an incredibly painful life and experienced more sorrow in her seventeen years than most do in a lifetime. She’s haunted by many demons- her father, her best friend, her relationship with her abusive mother, her time spent on the streets. Charlie carries scars both emotional and physical- she’s a cutter, which is her way of dealing with the pain, and her skin bears the marks of her trauma. As she struggles to make a new life, Charlie has to learn to live in her own skin and make peace with herself, even as external influences threaten to bring her back to dark places.

This was a book that sucker-punched me in the first page, that grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let go. Kathleen Glasgow has such a totally original, immersive way with words. This is the kind of writing that feels fully, shockingly inventive. Charlie’s voice is raw and hurt and sad, so sad, but she can also be hopeful and funny and strong and dynamic. I love that she is an artist and uses her drawings to channel her energy, both positive and negative. The emotions she channels into her art are visceral. Every time she pulled out her sketchbook, or got excited about the prospect of creating art, I wanted to cheer for her and hug her and tell her how amazing she is. Because she is amazing. She is learning that she can be loved, despite being told girls like her, girls with scars, are unlovable. And she is learning about a different, very important kind of love- the love she has for herself.

The sentences in this book are haunting, lyrical, sparse, purposeful. While the words aren’t easy to digest, there is so much raw beauty in them, a tenderness pulsing under the surface, a hope brimming through even Charlie’s ugliest thoughts. Charlie is a survivor, and I don’t doubt that her story will change lives. As a reader, I will certainly never forget her.

A heartbreaking, beautiful debut that I will be recommending to everyone. Girl In Pieces is nothing short of a masterpiece. It will be available everywhere August 30!

Add Girl In Pieces to your Goodreads bookshelf.

Preorder your copy!

Check out Kathleen Glasgow’s website.

Spotlight on Sixteens: Unscripted Joss Byrd

Today’s Spotlight on Sixteens is all about Unscripted Joss Byrd, a book I adored that’s written by an author I adore just as much! Lygia Day Peñaflor’s debut is honest and authentic, and it hits shelves August 23rd!

I have a fascination with actors. The roles they play, their processes, their lives on and off screen. So when I first heard about Unscripted Joss Byrd, I was incredibly excited to start reading. A glimpse into the life of a young actress trying to leave her mark on Hollywood? Yes, please.

In Unscripted Joss Byrd, the titular character, Joss, is a twelve-year-old actress who has been praised for her movie roles thus far. But on the set of her most recent movie, The Locals, she struggles with script changes, jealousy, a director who is less than honest, difficult scenes, and her difficult mother. From the outside, Joss has it all. She has a promising career and she’s still cute enough to get “kid” roles. But being in Joss’s head is a different story. She grapples with playing a character based on a real person who doesn’t want her story being told, and feelings of inadequacy– that she’s not smart enough, not pretty enough, not enough. She desperately wants to do the right thing. But is what’s right for her right for everyone else– her mother, her director, her costars?

Joss’s voice is absolutely, stunningly real. She’s young and inexperienced, but also older than her years. She wants a movie career, but is terrified on a daily basis that she’s going to forget her lines. She’s afraid her career will end when she hits puberty. At times, she’s a mess of contradictions. She’s hopeful and confident and scared and insecure. My heart went out to her. I wanted to hug her and tell her everything was going to be okay. But that’s the point– there’s no guarantee everything will be okay, especially in the movie industry, when longevity only befalls the lucky ones. There’s luck and there’s hard work, and Joss is no stranger to either.

Unscripted Joss Byrd is deep. It’s an honest, unflinching look at the underbelly of Hollywood life from the eyes of a girl trying to make what she has last as long as she can, while simultaneously living in fear of what comes next. I love how Lygia Day Penaflor is unafraid of showing the gritty reality under the sparkling surface. This is a book that will make me think twice the next time I open a magazine and see the beautiful celebrities within. Because all that glitters really isn’t gold.

Add Unscripted Joss Byrd to your Goodreads bookshelf.

Preorder a copy!

Visit Lygia Day Peñaflor’s website to learn more about her.

July, briefly

It was pretty cool seeing our books in the window at Brilliant Books!

It feels like just a second ago I was changing my calendar to July and looking at the start of a fresh new month. Is it just me, or was this the fastest July in history? I guess it’s true that time flies when you’re having fun, and July was a whole lot of good times. The highlight of my month was definitely a trip to Traverse City, Michigan, to see my wonderful CP Emily Martin and do some book events. Thanks to many great conversations with Emily, I came home motivated to tackle revisions on one of my YA contemporary projects that has been giving me serious grief. Sometimes all you need as a writer is to talk things out with another writer who understands you and your work. (And when that other writer just so happens to be a great friend who makes killer cocktails… well, even better!)

This month, I have been…

Working on: The revision mentioned above, which has been consuming all of my time. While I intended to fast-draft a different project consecutively, I just couldn’t manage to multitask this month. I tend to be extremely hard on myself when I don’t meet my goals, but I have come to realize that I’m never going to accomplish everything I want and I’m always going to feel like I could have done more. That attitude is something I’ve had my whole life and I’m trying to be kinder to myself, but it’s a constant struggle. I think revision is especially hard for me since it’s difficult to measure progress in tangible ways– sometimes it’s counter-intuitive in that progress can be getting rid of unnecessary words instead of adding new ones. (Let’s just say there has been basically a whole book’s worth of murdered darlings as a casualty of this revision!)

Reading: It has been a slow reading month, but I finished two books I really enjoyed. The first was Signs of You by one of my fellow Sweet Sixteen sisters, Emily France. It has been pitched as a YA Da Vinci Code, and I thoroughly enjoyed all the layers of mystery and intrigue. I definitely ripped through the pages because I needed to know what happened next. I also finished The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle, which has one of the most authentic and fresh voices I’ve read in a long time. I bought the highly anticipated The Girls by Emma Cline at Brilliant Books (seriously amazing bookstore, by the way!) when I was in Traverse City, so I’m looking forward to diving in next month.

Watching: I love anything involving travel, so when my husband suggested a travel documentary show called Departures, I got on board. (See what I did there?) It chronicles the adventures of Canadian travelers Scott and Justin, who take a year off their lives to travel the world. I’m always fascinated by stories of people who can leave things behind to venture into the unknown, and seeing the different destinations they visited definitely ignited some wanderlust within me.

I’m very much looking forward to August… I think it’s going to be another whirlwind month filled with not only my own writing projects, but Pitch Wars fun! I posted my wish list and have been enjoying all the engagement on Twitter with potential mentees. The submission window opens August 3rd, and I cannot wait to see the entries that come in and choose a mentee… although, I have a feeling that will be difficult with all the amazing manuscripts out there.

Wishing everyone a happy and sun-soaked August!

Spotlight on Sixteens: Enter Title Here

I loved this book in a way that I haven’t loved many books, because the truth is, this book isn’t like many other books. Sometimes you hear people describe a great story as “something unlike anything I’ve ever read.” Well, in this case, Enter Title Here really is entirely unlike anything I’ve ever read.

And I loved it.

The main character, Reshma Kapoor, is a lot of things. She’s queen of the study machines at her ultra-competitive Silicon Valley high school, poised to be valedictorian, and has her sights set on Stanford. But it’s not enough to be smart and hardworking. To get in, she needs something big to set her apart. So when a literary agent reads an article Reshma wrote and reaches out to her, Reshma has her “hook”— how many high school seniors have an agent and a soon-to-be book deal? The only problem is, Reshma hasn’t considered writing a novel. Yet.

But really, it’s not a problem at all—not when she tells the agent she’s actually working on a YA novel, and then decides to start writing one based on her life. It can’t be that hard, right? But in an attempt to be a more relatable protagonist, she has to make an effort to do all the things she doesn’t have time for. Making friends, dating boys, going to parties. But every plot has twists, and Reshma’s story-within-a-story is about to get pretty knotted up.

If that concept alone wouldn’t have sold me (which it did), Reshma herself certainly would. It took about three sentences for me to be totally in awe of her. Anyone who can identify herself as an antagonist and be unapologetic about it is a character I’ll go anywhere with. Trust me when I say that Reshma is not a YA narrator you’ve seen before. She’s ruthless, cruel, manipulative, and relentless. She’s brilliant and driven and says what’s on her mind with no filter. She’s a girl who flips stereotypes over and stomps on them until they’re dead, then coolly walks away. She’s a bit Tracy Flick from Election, a bit Regina George from Mean Girls, and a bit of a young Claire Underwood from House of Cards.

Safe to say, I’m a lot obsessed with her.

Writing a novel from the perspective of an antihero is not an easy thing to pull off. Making readers care, page after page, about the often diabolical machinations within an extreme one-track mind is incredibly difficult. I have the utmost respect for any author who attempts to tackle this, much less execute it brilliantly. Rahul Kanakia is that author, and his talent is immeasurable.

Of course, Reshma would try to measure it anyway.

Fresh, bold, smart, and wickedly funny, Enter Title Here is a debut you don’t want to miss starring a narrator you will miss as soon as you turn the last page. It’s available everywhere on August 2!

Add Enter Title Here to Goodreads and preorder a copy.

Visit Rahul Kanakia’s website.

Pitch Wars Mentor Bio!

I’m beyond excited to be a Pitch Wars mentor for the first time this year! My career was greatly impacted during my time as a Pitch Wars mentee, when I was able to work with two amazingly talented mentors (hello, Lori Goldstein and Evelyn Skye!) to strengthen Firsts and get it ready for the agent round. I learned so much and grew a lot as a writer, and I came out of my shell, social media wise (I had previously been a Twitter lurker, but thanks to the welcoming Pitch Wars community, I shed a lot of that shyness). Shortly after the contest, I signed with my amazing agent, Kathleen Rushall, and had a book deal by the end of the year!

(If you’re interested in hearing about my experience as mentee, click here!)

Me! Don't let the smile fool you... I want all the angsty, dark, dramatic stories!

Me! Don’t let the smile fool you… I want all the angsty, dark, dramatic stories!

So, a little bit about me! I’m a proud Canadian girl and I live in London, Ontario with my husband and my beloved senior Chihuahua (aka the star of my Instagram and basically my life). I’m a former model and lifelong fashion addict. I love walking in the woods, thrift store shopping, wearing red lipstick, and indulging in nachos basically any day, any time. I write YA contemporary books. My debut novel, Firsts, came out in January and was recently nominated as a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults pick. It’s the story of a high school senior named Mercedes who has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy is a virgin. I’m also the author of a series of short stories, the Boys Tell All, sharing the perspectives of ten virgin guys from Firsts.

My Critique Style

I focus on both larger issues– plot, theme, characters, voice, and pacing– and smaller details, like sentence structure, misplaced commas, and overused words (my crutch word is “look,” in case you were curious). I’ll let you know the elements I love about your book, but I won’t shy away from letting you know what I think needs improvement. I’ll work extremely hard for you, and I want to collaborate with a mentee who isn’t afraid to dig in and make the big and small revisions needed to make a manuscript stronger. I want to work with someone who will think critically and kill darlings for the overall good of the pages. It’s your story, and I’m here to help you make it the best book it can be. I’m very open to bouncing ideas around and will do everything I can to help. I also want to make this fun for you! I’m pretty laid-back and approachable, and I want you to feel like you can come to me with any questions or concerns, any time.

My WisH List 

I’m mentoring YA, and I want ALLLLL the contemporary! Give me your flawed girls and boys, your messy relationships, your morally questionable decisions, your heartache and big mistakes. I love a good antihero– a protagonist who isn’t traditionally likeable, but someone you can still make me feel for. I love to see diversity in any form. Give me your dark, your edgy, your gritty, your raw emotions, your drama– maybe I’m a masochist, but feel free to break my heart! I’m not afraid of controversy and I’m definitely your girl for pushing boundaries.

I’m very invested in what feels real, and I don’t need a happy ending to be satisfied with a story. I’m fascinated by stories with an element of mystery and intrigue, where multiple layers exist and unraveling is required (complicated and twisty = me reading past my bedtime). I’m a huge fan of unreliable narrators and their secrets and lies.

I also enjoy creativity and inventiveness with storytelling– alternating timelines, unique perspectives (ie. second person, a la We Are The Goldens by Donna Reinhardt), and stories told in different and unconventional ways (letters, diary entries, lists, etc). I also like to laugh… I think a book that evokes the greatest amount of feels contains both humor and heartache.

I adore character-driven boy POV stories that feel incredibly authentic (think Carrie Mesrobian’s Sex & Violence or Perfectly Good White Boy).

Above all, the most important thing is voice. I swoon for voice. Voice will keep me reading, even if the plot needs a lot of work. Voice is what sets your story apart.

To get a sense of the kind of work I gravitate toward, here are some of my favorite YA books:

Anything and everything by Courtney Summers and Amy Reed

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Tease by Amanda Maciel

Fault Line by Christa Desir

Uses For Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke

I’m not the best mentor for… 

Fantasy, magical realism, sci-fi, and horror. I don’t read widely enough in these genres to be an effective mentor, nor have I ever written in them (unless you count my cringe-worthy high school attempt at high fantasy)!

Abby thinks you're awesome. And so do I!

Abby thinks you’re awesome. So do I!

I’m so very excited to get to know you all. If you’re on the fence about hitting “send,” know that I was in your position too, and I can honestly say my career wouldn’t be where it is today if I hadn’t taken the chance. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

I’m very active on Twitter, so if you have any questions or just want to chat, please follow me @laurellizabeth!

 

 

 

 

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Spotlight on Sixteens: Gemini

I was gripped the instant I heard the premise for this book. As someone with a sister, I know how difficult it is to put words to the special bond siblings share when they’re incredibly close. I’m talking emotional closeness, mental closeness, the kind where you can practically read each other’s minds and show up to an event dressed the same by accident. But in Gemini, Sonya Mukherjee tackles all of this and so much more. Because the main characters in her book, Hailey and Clara, aren’t just sisters—they’re twins, and they’re conjoined at the base of their spinal columns.

Hailey and Clara are in their senior year of high school in tiny Bear Pass, where they don’t have to endure too many stares because everyone knows them. Their parents expect them to attend Sutter College nearby, the same school at which both parents teach, for more reasons than free tuition. The adjustment from high school to college will be hard enough for the girls to handle—the idea of going elsewhere is out of the question.

Or so everybody thinks. Even Hailey and Clara think this, at the beginning of the story. They have managed to live without much scrutiny or ridicule, and they have friends who care about them. But is that really the definition of living, or are they closing doors on opportunities because people think they can’t thrive outside of their small town?

Despite the fact that they’re conjoined, Hailey and Clara are wildly different. Hailey is an artist who dreams of learning at a real art school and traveling the world, savoring new experiences. Clara’s dreams are, in a way, even bigger—an astronomy buff, she knows just about everything about the stars and planets and doesn’t as much want to travel everywhere as travel somewhere the most distant and unattainable of all—outer space, where she could see what Earth looks like.

I found the dichotomy between the sisters to be so powerful, and the exploration of limitations here—both physical and emotional—is brilliant and insightful. Hailey and Clara have to figure out how much of what they’re not doing is because they can’t, and how much is because they haven’t yet found a way to make it happen. Are they limiting each other, or can they find a way to work together and forge a new path? At times, Hailey and Clara think of dreams as a dangerous thing, because they’ll only lead to inevitable disappointment. But dreams are also what ignites a whole realm of excitement and possibility within each girl. Dreams give strength, which comes in different sizes. Strength to ask a boy to the dance. Strength to consider other schools and other life experiences. Dancing. Kissing. Living in dorm rooms.

Clara wants to know what Earth looks like from another planet. She wants a new perspective. In this book, told in alternating POVs, we get two unique perspectives, and two new voices in Young Adult literature that are bound to imprint on readers.

Sonya Mukherjee’s writing is insanely beautiful and profound. She raises so many questions in such a sensitive, nuanced way. This is, unquestionably, a story that the world needs, and I’m so happy that it will be in the world as of July 26!

Add Gemini to Goodreads and preorder a copy!

Find out more about Sonya Mukherjee at her website.

Spotlight on Sixteens: How to Hang a Witch

Today’s spotlight is on a book getting a lot of buzz in the YA world. How to Hang a Witch will be on shelves everywhere July 26– perfect timing for a book you can spend a hot summer day with!

I was lucky enough to get a copy of this book at ALA Midwinter. I’d heard amazing things about it, and as a huge fan of all stories involving witches or witchcraft, it was definitely a debut that piqued my curiosity. Not only that, but Adriana Mather is a descendant of Cotton Mather of Salem witch trial infamy!

I was invested in Sam, the main character, from page one– she’s exactly my type of heroine. She’s snarky and smart and guarded, and her emotions feel very realistic as she grapples with being uprooted from New York to Salem, moving into a new home (that may or may not be haunted), starting at a new school (that may or may not be pretty much run by the descendants of the Salem witch trial witches), her relationship with her stepmother, and her father being in a coma. Oh, and let’s not forget meeting two new boys– both very cute, one alive, one not so much. And a curse hundreds of years old that just might be coming back with a vengeance.

Are you intrigued yet? Yup, I thought so. This book is the perfect fusion of so many elements. Mystery and romance and humor and snark and a pinch of supernatural. That’s not an easy balance to pull off, but Adriana Mather does it masterfully. I was furiously turning pages, waiting to find out every secret. Mather’s handle on suspense is brilliant. She manages to keep you guessing, trickling out little bits of information in ways that feel genuine and authentic. Her attention to detail is incredible.

A twisty, smart, funny debut that’s all about how history can repeat itself– and what needs to be done to break the cycle.

Add How to Hang a Witch to your Goodreads bookshelf and preorder it here.

Follow the multi-talented Adriana Mather on Twitter (she’s a gifted actress, too)!

Six months later

Today is July 5. Which means Firsts has officially been out in the world for six months. I can’t even begin to thank everyone who has bought the book, requested it at their local library, wrote a review, or reached out to me to let me know what the story meant to them. My experience as a debut author has been beyond anything I could have hoped for, and I’m extremely grateful.

English and Spanish editions meet!

I recently started thinking about where I was two, three, four years ago. Two years ago, Firsts was on submission, and I was probably checking my email for the two hundredth time of the day, hoping for good news but steeling myself for bad. Three years ago, Firsts didn’t yet exist, and I thought maybe I sucked at this whole writing thing. Four years ago, I was finishing my first “real” book, a New Adult contemporary. I was too afraid to tell anyone outside of my boyfriend (now husband) and immediate family members that I was even writing a book. I knew there was a very good chance I’d never have a book published and I didn’t want people thinking I was a failure.

So, for two-three-four years ago me, the one who had no idea what to expect, and for anyone else in the same boat, I thought I’d write about some of the things I’ve learned in my first six months as a published author.

You still have worries and insecurities. They’re just different ones now. Before getting published, all I wanted was to get an agent. Then, all I wanted was a book deal. Now that I’m a published author, I want to keep building on that dream and putting books out in the world. There’s always something else you’re striving for, something bigger and brighter, even when your dream comes true. Try not to obsess about whatever that something else may be, and enjoy the stage you’re at.

You still check your email a lot. At least, I do. I remember thinking that if I ever got an agent and got out of the query trenches, I wouldn’t be such an email addict. Then submission happened. Then a book deal happened. I consistently check my email, respond to emails, and send new ones– in fact, far more so than ever before. But the familiar ding of a new email coming in hasn’t become any less exciting!

Social media is important, but it’s not everything. I stressed out about social media– was I active enough? Was I tweeting about the right things? Was having a blog worth my time? Should I get Tumblr? And honestly, the answers are different for each writer. My thought is, be active on social media when you can and when it feels authentic for you, and use it to engage with readers, librarians, bloggers, authors, and other people in the bookish community. If you hate the idea of one particular platform, don’t make yourself be on it, because you’ll just resent the time spent there. If you don’t want to blog, don’t force yourself to think up post ideas. I love being on Twitter and Instagram, and I really enjoy blogging, so I focus on those areas. I’m finally in a place where I feel comfortable with social media– where it’s fun again instead of being stressful, and where I can not check my feeds for a few days and be okay with it. Know that if you’re absent from the social media world for days, weeks, even months– people will understand. Hell, they might not even notice, because they’re stressed out about the same things.

Promotion doesn’t have to break the bank. Promotion is another thing that varies wildly from author to author. Some writers go on book tours and seem to be in a different city every other day. Some do lots of school visits. Some have snazzy book trailers. Some send bookmarks and postcards to libraries. Some have really cool swag. Some do amazing giveaways. Some do all of the above, and others do none. Do what you can to promote your book, but don’t make yourself miserable over it. For Firsts, some of the most fun I had was writing a series of short stories from the perspectives of the guys Mercedes hooks up with. (You can read the series here!) I shared the stories on Wattpad, where they have now surpassed 190,000 views. I also did giveaways– some of which were successful, others not so much. Get creative: if you want to try something outside the box, go for it!

Read your reviews at your own risk. I quickly learned that Goodreads wasn’t going to be a good place for me to hang out. I love going on there to review books, but I only had to read a couple of negative reviews for Firsts to feel pretty discouraged. That’s different for everyone– some authors love to read all their reviews. After all, we do have to have a thick skin in this industry. But we’re also sensitive and full of neuroses– that’s how we create something out of nothing. I respect all reviews and certainly understand that not everyone will like my writing. At the same time, I don’t need to actively seek out something that might make me feel a little bit less like writing that day.

You can’t control anything but your own words. And once you accept that, it’s a huge relief. There are so many aspects of this business that are beyond our scope of control, but if you focus on your words, your head (and heart) will always be in the right place.

Comparison really is the thief of joy. Being a debut author is an incredibly exciting time, but it’s full of ebbs and flows. One week, you might get lots of great news, then face down a few interminable weeks of radio silence. My advice is to not live in a perpetual state of expectation, and don’t compare yourself to someone else’s news. You’re not competing with your fellow authors. There’s room on the shelf for everyone, so go shout all the happy news and spread the love!

Fellow debut authors are the best people ever. I’m so incredibly grateful to have gotten to know so many other debut authors– online, in person, and in some lucky cases, both. It’s such a positive, encouraging support network of people who understand exactly what you’re going through.Getting to read their debuts has inspired me endlessly, and I look forward to remaining friends and cheering for each other as our careers go forward.

Seeing your book on a shelf is the coolest thing ever. It really is, and it never gets old.

Hearing that your family/friends/coworkers/strangers have read it is surreal/awesome/terrifying. But mostly just awesome.

Hearing from readers who loved your book will mean the world. Seriously, there’s no feeling like this. When a reader reaches out to me and lets me know Firsts made an impact, my day is made. This is why I write what I write.

Writing doesn’t get any easier. If there’s a magic formula for writing a book, I sure haven’t stumbled upon it. If anything, the writing got tougher after my book deal, perhaps because I felt a sense of expectation that wasn’t there before. Worries like, is this right for my brand? Will my agent like it? Will my readers like it? chiseled themselves into my brain and stuck there like banners. Everything I have written since Firsts has challenged me in new ways… and made me question whether or not I have any clue what I’m doing. (My critique partner can attest to this… I’m pretty sure I’ve sent her some panicky emails along the lines of, “I forget how to write a book!”)

Writing the next thing trumps all. This is what it all comes back to. That’s how you grow, and learn from mistakes, and keep getting better as an artist.

So, those are some of the things I’ve learned over the past six months as a published author. Looking forward to the next six months, and the six months after that, because I really am living my dream, and I know how lucky I am to be able to say that!

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