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Hello, readers! It's Kate here. I'm so happy to be here with Ava with a post for writers on my paperback release blog tour. One year ago, my debut novel was released in hardcover. It’s been hectic, it’s been hard, it’s been wonderful. It’s been more fulfilling than I ever expected. And last week, the paperback released, so I'm here to talk about six things I've learned during my debut release:
- Focus on writing a better book. I can’t control reviews, publication timeline, what other fabulous book releases the same week, deadlines, or bestseller lists. I can’t control how much my publishing house invests in my book, whether the concept appeals to readers, or whether YA contemporary is hot right now. Not everyone is going to like a first cousins romance, and a lot of people are going to really not like it. What I can do is write the best book I possibly can—and then to make it even better. “Good enough” is not good enough. If you know you struggle with pacing, don’t let that remain an issue. Tackle it. Resolve it. If you suspect there’s a tension wobble somewhere, dig into the problem. How We Fall had both of these issues, but I didn’t listen to myself and kept plowing on through drafts, revising other things and ignoring those problems because I didn’t know what to do about them. I convinced myself it wasn’t that big a deal, that no book was perfect. Don’t do that. Have the guts to stop, evaluate, and dig into those problems you half-suspect are there. Don’t stop at “good enough.” Go all the way. My writing, my book, is what I can control. I can become a better writer, I can push myself, and I can write a better book.
- Books are made in revisions. The first draft of How We Fall was 60,000 words, and it’s now 89,000. The story was there in the first draft, mostly, but it needed a lot of work. In its final version, the mystery is darker, the romance between the cousins is a little more obsessive, and the pacing is much faster. Between revisions with critique partners, my agent, and my editor, it went through six major rounds of revisions. Even in final edits, it gained a new first chapter and a new final chapter. Revisions made my ugly first draft almost an entirely new book.
Don’t get discouraged when you’re drafting if you’re not seeing magic happen. That magical touch and those insightful moments you see in great books aren’t magic at all. They’re the result of blood and sweat. First drafts are limp and flat and awkward—that’s normal. The depth and layers come as you revise. And revise. And revise. Revisions are where it becomes a book.
- Teach your gut, then follow it. Writers get told a lot to follow their intuition. And that’s great advice—as long as you’re training your intuition. Good writers aren’t born knowing how to magically write brilliant books. They learn and learn and learn until it becomes second nature. So read, and read a lot. A book a week—or two. Consume, so you can see what’s been done and what hasn’t, and how it was done, and how you could do it differently or better. Read out of your genre to see what those authors tackle, and how they pull it off. Make your own blend. And as you’re reading so much, and reading new and different things, dissect what you’re reading to see what worked, what didn’t, and why. Teach your gut, and then listen to it when it says something is forced or too thin or just right.
- Keep your eyes on your own plate. When I was querying, it was sometimes a struggle to not be jealous when someone else signed with an agent. When I was on submission, it was hard to not be jealous when someone else landed a book deal. Even though I was happy for my friends, it often turned into a “does this mean I’m not as good?” self-defeating little sad-party. And now that I have a book out, there are other authors’ awards, bestseller lists, and publicity and buzz I could be upset over.
But no one else’s success diminishes mine. One of the most wonderful things I’ve been realizing as I find critique partners and connect and blog with other authors, particularly in YA, is that we’re much more colleagues than competitors. Readers can pick up my book, and they can pick up someone else’s, too. Another author’s success doesn’t limit or detract from mine. What does limit my success is me looking at someone else’s plate, and wishing I had what they had, and letting my own work suffer.
- When family and friends say, “I read your book!” don’t say, “what did you think of it?” That almost never turns out well, especially if the people saying it are friends or family. If they loved it, they will most likely tell you without you having to ask, and if they didn’t love it, you probably don’t want it to turn into an awkward moment. Instead, I say, “thank you so much for reading!” and divert the discussion.
Great follow-ups can be asking them if they’ve read anything else lately, mentioning something you’ve read and loved, or talking about the publishing journey instead of the book. Friends and family are often curious about it, and talking about the story you wrote is just one way they might try to connect with you over that topic. If you’re getting the feeling they want to talk not just about books in general but about your writing, turn the discussion toward how exciting it was to get your author copies, or how long it’s been a dream of yours to be published, or any detail like that. And when you can, change the topic. Short and sweet is generally less likely to be awkward.
- Be deliberate when discussing your choices with friends and family. The more common advice is just to not discuss them, but that can also mean you miss out. The best and worst moments involving friends and family dealing with my book were discussing those hot-button topics. For example, since I write YA, the things that people close to me were bringing up were questions and comments like “I didn’t think the swearing was necessary.” “There are some pretty high heat make-out scenes for a teen book. Do you think that’s appropriate?” or “I just can’t see why you would write a romance since it has all that angst.” “So you let them drink under age?”
Every one of those issues are things I’m passionate about, and they’re areas where I want the people close to me to understand what I’m doing and not think less of me for making choices I strongly believe are positive ones. And that makes any discussion of those things risky.
I don’t want to always divert the conversation, because engaging in conversation about why swearing can belong in YA is a great topic and I want to share my beliefs with people who are close to me. If it’s not for you, then by all means avoid it, but if you want to bring your family in a little more, the best way I’ve found to deal with it is to be intentional about picking the place, the time, and the people. The family dinner table with a mixed group is likely not the time. A crowded room where people can mishear and others can jump in without having heard the context is likely not the best place. An event that's special to you, like a signing or launch party, is not the time. And there are some people who are more interested in hearing what you have to say in order to respond, not necessarily in order to understand—and that’s where I usually don’t want to discuss the issue. It won’t be productive. Some of my relatives have different beliefs and no matter what explanation I have, it won’t be a productive conversation there, either. But if you have family and friends who are up for a genuine discussion, I think it can be great to go for it, in small pieces. It also may help to discuss those issues in general, and not as they relate to your particular book. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with some of my relatives came from that, and I’m closer to them and more open with them now because of it.
So set strong boundaries with friends and family, keep in mind that genius writing likely won’t happen in the first few drafts, and train your instinct. Read out of your genre, read a lot, focus on your own successes, and keep writing the best book you can front and center. This career takes blood and sweat and persistence, but to me, every bit is worth it.
About the Book:
Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle's sleepy farming town, she's been flirting way too much--and with her own cousin, Marcus. Her friendship with him has turned into something she can't control, and he's the reason Jackie lost track of her best friend, Ellie, who left for...no one knows where. Now Ellie has been missing for months, and the police, fearing the worst, are searching for her body. Swamped with guilt and the knowledge that acting on her love for Marcus would tear their families apart, Jackie pushes her cousin away. The plan is to fall out of love, and, just as she hoped he would, Marcus falls for the new girl in town. But something isn't right about this stranger, and Jackie's suspicions about the new girl's secrets only drive the wedge deeper between Jackie and Marcus. Then Marcus is forced to pay the price for someone else's lies as the mystery around Ellie's disappearance starts to become horribly clear. Jackie has to face terrible choices. Can she leave her first love behind, and can she go on living with the fact that she failed her best friend?
How We Fall is available through:
Author Bio: Kate Brauning grew up in rural Missouri and fell in love with young adult books in college. She now works in publishing and pursues her lifelong dream of telling stories she'd want to read. This is her first novel. Visit her online at www.katebrauning.com or on Twitter at @KateBrauning.
What lessons did @KateBrauning learn from debuting? Find out in her guest post on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)
HOW WE FALL author, @KateBrauning, shares 6 lessons she learned from debuting. #pubtip (Click to tweet)