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Monthly Archives: August 2013

5 Things I Learned As A YA Debut

NOT A DROP TO DRINK hasn’t hit the shelves yet, but I’ve already learned so much in 2013. As we continue with our August theme of what we learned as debut authors, I can share what I’ve experienced so far – and maybe you”ll get an update after the Dark Days tour!

1) Writing a book is a lonely endeavor. Publishing it takes a team. From your cover art to the author photo to the QR code that the marketing folks put on your dust jacket, there are more people involved in your book than you can imagine. Some of them you’ll share emails with on an almost daily basis – especially as debut week looms – but there are also some whose names you may never know. It’s a team, a huge team. It’s your face on the jacket, but someone else made sure it was formatted properly.

2) People outside of publishing are going to ask you if your book is done yet. I’ve written a more extensive post on this subject over on the Book Pregnant blog, if you’re interested. You can’t expect people outside of the industry to understand how slowly this colossus moves. “Yes, it’s finished,”  you want to say. “It’s been finished for two years. I forget what happens in it.” Don’t say that. Or rather, just say the first part. Then smile.

3) Everyone else you know has written a book. Or wants to write a book. Or has an idea for a book. And they want to talk to you about it. Again, smiling is your best response. Don’t blow anybody off – remember how you felt when you were just putting pen to paper, and how much guts it probably took for them to even tell you about their book. Point them in the right direction as far as helpful websites and writers forums, but don’t start holding hands and baby-stepping them. It’s not your job.

4) We’re all big dorks here. And that’s the best part about this whole book thing. I’m not even released yet and I’ve already rubbed elbows with some major names – and they were super cool people. Even when you’re face to face with the coolest of the cool, remember that they love books. So you’ve got something in common.

5) Freaking out is for the weak. Yes, I am leaving for a national tour in less than a month. Yes, I just got my edit letter for my 2014 release and it needs to be back to the editor before tour time. Yes, I need to dive into the research for the 2015 release. Yes, I have three interviews that need answering in my inbox. Yes, I need to shoot two vlogs tomorrow. (This is all true, FYI) And what exactly is freaking out going to accomplish? My version of freaking out is to eat a doughnut and complain to my crit partner. That’s empty calories and wasted time. Focus. THEN DO IT.

Hopefully my five points of light will help some others along the debut path!



Three Things I’ve Learned in a Debut Year

1.  Teachers and Librarians are Super Heroes. I’ve heard lots of teachers and librarians say that authors are rock stars. I’m flattered, but truly, I am completely in awe of the teachers and librarians I’ve met this past year. They work tirelessly to inspire children to read, to find the right books for them, provide support in their struggles, and give them the tools to think and solve problems both big and small. They are the unsung super-heroes of our world, and without them I don’t think nearly as many kids would read my book. Bow down and kiss their book-happy feet!

2. You have to market yourself. I resisted this truth for a long time, convinced that a good book sells itself and my time was better spent writing my next book. Besides, I have a pretty big publisher. Couldn’t they handle the major marketing stuff? Yes, a good book does sell itself, and yes, your publisher can do lots of things you can’t do on your own, but here’s the other side of that: A good book that no one knows about won’t sell at all, and there’s only so much your publisher can/will do for you. When you’re a debut author, largely unknown by the world, you have to find ways to tell people about yourself and your book. You have to pound the pavement. This was hard for me because I’m extremely uncomfortable with self-promotion. It makes me squirm, but I’ve learned to get over it (mostly.)

There are a million ways to market yourself. Much of it can be overwhelming/expensive/time-consuming. Choose the marketing and publicity activities that you think will effectively reach your audience and that you will enjoy. For me that was ultimately school visits. I adore connecting with students and their teachers and librarians, and I have found it to be effective in spreading the word and getting my book into the hands of readers.

3. It’s a roller-coaster. Buckle up. Some days I am floating on cloud nine, and then the next day cloud nine rips open and downpours me into a ditch. I’ve learned nothing from this except I don’t expect this to change, so I’ve committed to just enjoy the highs and ride through the lows clinging to the hope for better days, and my gratitude for the opportunity to write at all. It’s a gift, no matter what.


What I’ve Learned So Far as a Debut Author

My fellow classmates have already said many of the things I wanted to say on this topic. Several have talked about how important it is to reach out to other debut authors, to build a community, and to support each other.

So I thought I’d head off in a different direction. I’ve learned I simply do NOT have time to do it all. It’s hard to keep my children and hubby in clean clothes, put edible food on the table, AND write books and promote them. (Actually it’s always been a challenge for me to produce edible dinners. I’m a terrible cook, and deadlines do NOT improve my culinary skills!)

But I finally found a cheap source of help:  high school and college student labor. I hired my own kids and other high schoolers in the neighborhood to make swag. I paid a college kid who is interested in becoming a publicist a measly $8 an hour to find and compile the email addresses of every elementary and middle school librarian within a two hour drive of my home. Then I found a talented teen artist who will be studying animation in LA in the fall. I paid him $200 create a series of funny undersea illustrations I can use in school presentations and aquarium talks. My artist was thrilled to be able to say he created illustrations for a Disney Hyperion author, and the would-be publicist is going to say she was an author’s assistant on her resume.

My young art student created some hilarious cartoons for my school presentations....

My young art student created some hilarious cartoons for my school presentations…

Similarly, I used a high school volunteer actress to star in THE NEPTUNE PROJECT book trailer, and my own daughter, who is very handy with a video camera, shot most of the footage. I paid them with a round at Starbucks, and if you take the time to watch my trailer, I think you’d agree I got a pretty good deal!

I have to admit that not all of my hires worked out. One young woman whom I didn’t know very well dropped the ball and never completed her project for me. But the rest came through big time — until they had to head back to school.

I can hardly wait for next summer. I’m already compiling a list of tasks I want my volunteer and cheap helpers to tackle so that I can focus on the chores only I can do, such as writing my next book!

Having a Book Baby – What I’ve Learned

InTheAfter - hi-resThe blog theme this month is what we’ve learned during our debut year. IN THE AFTER came out in June, so it’s only a few months in bookstores, but I learned a lot before it even hit shelves!

1)      Social Media is Your Friend – When I first made a facebook fanpage I kind of did it with an eye roll, I mean, who needs another random social media outlet? The same with Twitter. But I’ve grown to embrace the social media aspect of being a writer and wish I’d started sooner. First of all, it gives you more exposure and that’s always a good thing. Secondly, it’s an easy way for people to get in contact with you and ask you questions about your book, or even just give you a shout out. It’s also a great way to keep in contact with other debut authors. If you’re an aspiring writer, get on twitter now. Don’t wait. Follow people at first, then jump into the convo…you’ll soon be addicted!

2)      The Importance of Community – Whether you’re a reader, an aspiring writer, or a debut writer, community is important. I don’t know what I would have done without 2K13, 19 other people who are experiencing the same things I was, all the joys, stresses and wonders of our debut year. Community is important!

3)      It’s Out of Your Hands – I joke about my “book baby” but really, once your book releases it’s out of your hands. People will love it. People will hate it. People will sing its praises, or use it as a doorstop. I try to think of my book as more of a “grown up” now and try not to check up on it every five minutes to make sure it’s doing well. Instead I occasionally hear things about it and I’m okay with that. My editor emails me the trade reviews and I think of it as my book checking in when it comes home to do laundry. I decided early on in the process not to be an overbearing author-parent and it’s working out for me. Believe me, it’s better for my sanity.

So those are just a few things I’ve learned from my debut year so far!


Stuff I’ve learned from a debut year

I loved reading Tara Sullivan’s post earlier this week about the top three things she’s learned in 2K13. Now that my book has been out in the world for a few months, I’ve had some time to reflect on debut authorhood and offer my own list:

I’ve learned to be part of a writing tribe: I’ve said it before on this blog and on my own, and I’ll say it again. Hands down, one of the most important decisions I made shortly after BRIANNA ON THE BRINK sold was to become part of a group of debut authors. For about a year now, the members of The Class of 2K13 have supported each other, shared our experiences and worked with each other to put together an awesome panel at this year’s ALA Convention in Chicago. Even for those of us who love our alone time, writing is a solitary enough pursuit without the added burden of traveling the path of publication alone. Wherever you might find yourself on that path, the encouragement, comradery and information you can gain from other writers who are skipping/trudging/sprinting/plodding along with you is invaluable.

I’ve learned to set the words free: Letting go of a book you’ve worked on for a significant chunk of time can be tough. What if nobody likes it? What if the world discovers you were a hack all along? I recently spoke on a panel in Las Vegas, where I likened the publication of a book to the birth of a baby. At some point, you realize not everyone is going to think your darling is as adorably perfect as you do. Whether it’s a draft you need to send to your beta readers or a debut novel on release day, a great way to salvage your sanity is to detach from the work as much as possible. After all, the whole point of being a published writer is to have other people read your work. It’s a great feeling when they do, but accepting the fact that different readers are going to have different opinions is part of the package.

I’ve learned to explore space: I recently signed the lease on a downtown office, and it was one of the best things I’ve done for my writing so far this year. BRIANNA ON THE BRINK and my newest manuscript were both written from my rural home, but having a dedicated space where I can write without domestic distractions (kids, animals, floors in need of scrubbing, refrigerator contents in need of being stared at, etc.) is a boon to my creativity and productivity. If money is an issue (and, really, when is it not?), get creative. Maybe you can go in on a space with another writer or artist. I found some great potential situations on Craigslist, through word of mouth and just by wandering around downtown and checking out “for lease” signs in various windows.

So, that’s my list now that 2K13 is more than half over. What are some of the things you’ve learned as a writer (published or not yet) this year?

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The Top Three Things I’ve Learned in 2k13

Now that we’re a little more than half way through they year, we’re having a retrospective theme in August, looking back on 2013 so far and sharing some of the things we’ve learned. I, for one, have certainly learned a lot, and here are my top 3:

1. The Golden Rule. 
2K13 logo FINALBe nice to other people, especially other debut authors. Join a 2k-class or its funny-named equivalent (Friday the Thirteeners, The Lucky Thirteens, One-Four Kid Lit, etc) and be as active as you can. Volunteer to help with something, because it gives you a good reason to email people you’ve never met; attend conferences together; share ARCs; tweet each other up. You generally get as much as you give and this is no zero-sum game we’re playing. Readers read more than one book. So help promote the others coming out with yours.


My bookmark!

2. Think Critically About SWAG and Your Time. 
These two things can be limitless sinks… OF COURSE you want stickers with your cover on them… and water bottles… and bookmarks… and maybe those rubber-band-bracelet thingies… but swag costs time to make and money to produce, and not all of it will help you get the word out about your book. Also, just because a certain type of swag is a great idea for someone else’s book (It totally makes sense for Mindy to have water bottles, for example), you really need to think about what makes sense for your book and your readership. For example, GOLDEN BOY is middle grade, and most of my middle-grade-author-peers were getting excited making bracelet things and book-related fun stuff, stickers, etc. But my book is about a human rights issue, and so fun stuff just wouldn’t do. SWAG for me? Bookmarks from non-profit organizations working in the field, framed pictures from when I went on Safari on my research trip to Tanzania, and, for a lucky few, wood carvings. I used postcards to get the word out, especially for signing times at conferences and my release party, and I now give out bookmarks to everyone who shows any interest in my book. The basics, you need (bookmarks & a website); the rest is optional.

Related to you-only-have-so-much-money-for-SWAG principle is the you-only-have-so-much-time principle! Yes, you should have a Facebook page, a fan page, a Twitter account, and a blog… and you should probably be a member of a few group blogs or sites too. Yes, you should post deep, fun, and original content frequently and interact with your target audience and its gatekeepers, both online and in person whenever possible. You should do events. You should have a launch party. You should think about school visits. You should still cook meals, clean your house, do laundry, speak to your spouse, play with your kids, walk your dog, and do your day job. You also need to stay sane… which means you CAN’T do all the things you “should.”

Instead of panicking and having an identity crisis (neither of which is fun or powerfully productive, trust me), you should make some concrete decisions about what you can do easily and what you just won’t engage in. I, for example, created a FB page which I never intend to use, and have it automatically update with content from my website. I think Twitter might go there too. I Tweet occasionally. I plan to do relatively few bookstore events (as a debut author, unless you have enough friends to pack the place–like at your launch party– then I think these are hard to pull off since you have no name recognition), but hope to get involved in schools. However, with schools, I’m more likely to do a Skype author visit than a real one, because I’m still teaching. When edits are due, we eat out a whole lot more than I’d like. Stuff like that. You don’t have enough time to do it all. So, instead of giving up on everything, or feeling miserable about yourself as you do everything poorly, pick a few things to focus on and just let go of the rest.


P1090991With all that other stuff to do, it can be really hard to focus on the most important thing to prioritize of all: you need to keep writing! For all that your publisher wants you to do your own marketing and outreach, they hired you on as an author, not a marketer. And at some point, when you’re not ready yet to be asked, they’re going to want to see your next book! It will be a happy moment, but when you get the email from your agent you really don’t want to have to type the last 100 pages in 11 days… trust me! 🙂




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The Next J.K. Rowling

When I first started writing seriously, one comment I got repeatedly was, “So, are you going to be the next J.K. Rowling?” Uh, no. First of all, I don’t want to be the next anybody. I want to be me. Second of all, J.K. Rowling’s success isn’t the only model of success. Just like not all doctors become Dr. Oz and not all people who work with computers become Steve Jobs, not all writers will be household names. But that does not diminish the success. Just getting a book published is worth celebrating.

In recent news, it seems that even J.K. Rowling isn’t the next J.K. Rowling. Ms. Rowling published a new novel under a male pseudonym. There’s a lot of speculation as to why, but I suspect that famous authors have some of the same insecurities that newbie authors do: Am I good enough? Do I have what it takes? Ms. Rowling may have wondered if she’s riding on Harry Potter’s super-magical trench coattails or if her writing can stand on its own merit.

The thing is, while the latest Rowling novel wasn’t a runaway smash like Harry Potter, it was doing quite well for a debut novel. The reviews were good. The sales were respectable. It’s a book worth checking out.

And so are a lot of actual debut books. Just to get published in this ultra-competitive market, a book has to have merit. Not only does one person—the acquiring editor—need to like it, but the whole publishing team at the house need to be on board. They all need to think it’s worth putting their logo on the cover. They all need to think it stands a chance of snagging readers’ attention, even without a superstar author name to carry it.

There was another article about how some editor turned down Rowling’s The Cuckoo’s Calling and how embarrassing that was. I don’t believe it’s embarrassing at all. There really is different criteria for well-known authors. Readers are already familiar with their work. They already trust them. A famous name is guaranteed to sell.

All the more reason that a novel by a debut author has to stand out. The premise has to hook readers. The prose (or poetry) has to sing or ring true or both. The story must be strong enough to carry the reader all the through. The story needs to resonate and entertain. It needs to make readers laugh or cry or think. The story needs to be strong enough to stick with them and make them talk about it later.  After all, if the by-line isn’t selling the book, the story has to.

While I haven’t read every one of the Class of 2k13 books yet, I have read quite a few. And, honestly, I’ve been impressed. Even those that are outside of the genre I usually read have drawn me in and held my attention. They are worthy stories. I invite you to check them out, to give them a chance.

You never know, you might discover the next mega-famous author. Not the next J.K. Rowling though. She’s already famous. The next big name might be Alex Lidell, Liz Fichera, Caela Carter, Debra Driza, Tamera Wissinger, Nicole McInnes, Liesl Shurtliff, Justina Ireland, Polly Holyoke, Jennifer McGowan, Stephanie Kuehn, Kate Karyus Quinn, Tara Sullivan, Demitria Lunetta, K.A. Barson, Corey Ann Haydu, Geoffrey Girard, Mindy McGinnis, Cristin Terrill, or Lydia Kang.

Better yet, you might just find yourself immersed in your next favorite book.


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