What I Learned From Debuting

Photo credit: Chiara Cremaschi on Flickr
This time last year, I was full of excitement and some trepidation. My debut date, March 1st, was less than three months away, ARCs were out in the world, reviews were coming in, and the knowledge that in just a handful of months I'd be able to live my dream—walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on the shelf—buzzed endlessly in the back of my mind.

December 2015 was an exciting and scary time for sure, and now, with my debut year coming to a close and a class of new, talented authors getting ready to take up the debut year mantle, I thought I'd share some lessons I learned this year.

  1. If you haven't already, memorize your elevator pitch. The first question people always ask when they hear your book is going to be published is "What is your book about?" When you're on any kind of panel or go to any kind of author event, the question you will answer most is "What is your book about?" And if you are anything like me, not having an answer ready for that question will make you freeze up and freak out.

    Practice your elevator pitch until you can say it in your sleep. Say it aloud in front of your computer, in front of the mirror, as you're walking to your car, as you're waiting on line. Say it until you don't have to think about it anymore, because that question—"What is your book about?"—will show up in the most unexpected places, and trust me, you'll be glad you had a quick answer ready.

  2. Everyone handles debuting differently—and that's okay. I love hearing when people are reading my book—it gives me a little thrill and a smile—but I have some author friends who really would just rather not know, and that's okay. Milestones that feel exciting for you may feel terrifying to someone else—and vice versa, and what you find amazing or terrifying says nothing about you except that it's how your brain processes things. Everyone handles debuting differently—all that's important is that you prioritize taking care of yourself along the way and do what works best for you.

  3. The wait feels like forever; but it's over really quickly. When you agree to the offer, your publication date is probably two years away. Two years feels like forever, then a year later one year feels like forever, then six months later six months feels like forever, and well...you get it.

    But once things start happening, they start happening really quickly. Your cover, your cover reveal, your edits, more edits, ARCs, trade reviews, Edelweiss & Netgalley release, blogger reviews, guest posts and interviews, debut day preparation, author copies, giveaways, then, at last: publication day.

    Things get really quiet after publication day.

    The nature of publishing is cyclical. It's this enormous build up until Your Day, then a week later it's someone else's day. Then it's been a month since Your Day, then six months, so on and so forth. Eventually, Being Published and everything that it means becomes your new normal. Eventually, you answer questions like "Yes, I'm a published author and you can get my book [here]" as second nature. Eventually, that you were published will start to feel like No Big Deal—don't let it. Savor those amazing moments along the way—every single one of them—and remember you've done something so many others have only dreamt about. And that's pretty darn amazing.

  4. Celebrate in the way you want to. About a year before my debut, I imagined having an awesome launch party. It felt like a rite of passage, a thing that I had to—and had to want to—do, and I took for granted that I'd want to do it. About four months before debut, I realized reality was a different story for me: not only did I not really know more than a handful of people I could potentially invite, but the stress of putting it together and preparing for The Day was starting to really weigh on me. I was getting nervous, and dreading everything involved, and thinking about how happy I'd be when it was finally over—

    Until I realized I didn't have to do a launch party at all. Until I realized doing one wouldn't be a celebration for me as much as it'd be what I felt was an obligation.

    Celebrate the way you want to. I ended up doing an online launch party thanks to the amazing Heidi Heilig who volunteered to help me put it together so I could celebrate with friends online. It went really well—I answered questions, made some cupcakes, chatted with friends, did a few giveaways, all from the comfort of my pajamas and a hot cup of tea. It was exactly the way I needed to celebrate and I'm so grateful to Heidi for reaching out to me and offering to help.

    If I lived somewhere closer to my bookish friends—like New York or something—I may have chosen to do a physical launch party anyway, because the trade off would've been worth it. But since I don't, and since I was already stressed enough with everything going on, celebrating online was definitely the right decision for me. So make sure you celebrate the way you want to—because ultimately, the celebration is for you.

  5. When you can, keep working on your next book. Remember what I said about everyone handling debuting differently? I handled it by distracting myself with other projects—something that worked really well for me. Some of my author friends, however, couldn't juggle debuting with writing other books, which is totally understandable and okay. Eventually, however, you'll need to get back on the horse and start working on your next book. Careers are very rarely made on a single book—for most of us, our careers will be built on long backlists—and that means putting in the work to get your next book going whenever you can.

  6. Don't read your reviews...or do. Here's another "everyone handles debuting differently" thing—I have author friends who don't read any reviews, author friends who only read positive reviews, and author friends who love reading all of their reviews. Whatever you decide, what's important is that you don't let it become an obsessive thing to check. I personally like perusing through my four star and up reviews, and when I have the headspace for it I'll sometimes look at three-star reviews. I have to be careful though, because reading negative reviews is an insta-anxiety trigger for me, so it's just not healthy for me to look at negative reviews. By looking at three-star and up reviews, however, I have been able to glean some trends that I found helpful to keep in mind while working on Into the Black, so my selective glancing at reviews (which I do much less of now than I did initially) did prove helpful.

But once again, what matters here is you. Whether you look at reviews or not, just make sure that the choice you make is healthiest for you and don't worry about what everyone else does.

Twitter-sized bite:

With 2016 drawing to a close, @Ava_Jae shares six lessons she learned from debuting. #pubtip (Click to tweet)

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