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.
Be 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.
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.
With 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! 🙂