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!