I’ve been getting all kinds of antsy lately, worried that I am supposed to be doing something to prepare for my
spring 2015 (now fall 2016) debut. I’ve been plenty busy with other projects. I’ve sold a second book (woohoo!) and revised another for an interested editor (fingers crossed.) And there are the revisions on other projects, etc, etc. But, there’s something special about this debut experience. A first book is like a first child, right?
Some pre-release duties, like website updating, blogs, business cards, brochures, mailing lists, and library contacts, are predictable. Expected. But, how do we debut authors prepare for the unexpected?
I reached out to some pretty awesome EMLA authors and asked them what they wish they’d known as they approached their debut release and what advice they would give to those of us stocking up on anxiety. I hope you will get as much out of their responses as I have.
What about that title? Jeannie Mobley, author of KATERINA’S WISH (McElderry, 2012) pointed out that authors often lose a beloved original title during the pre-release revision process. Your book will be around for a long time, so it’s important to negotiate, with your editor, a title that you will be proud of. Mike Jung, author of GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES (Arthur A. Levine, 2012) expands on the notion, encouraging authors to be prepared “by writing up some alternative versions that you’ll be able to live with.
How about those blog tours? Jeannie Mobley suggests spreading blog interviews out over time, rather than clumping them all into just before and just after the book releases. Especially close to holiday seasons, and award seasons. Janet Fox, author of SIRENS (Speak, 2012) noted the variations in blog styles: “I’ve found the most value for time in doing a creative blog tour. Not just the answer-the-questions kind, but one that maintains a thread or through-line and informs. For my 1920’s historical, I wrote ten posts on different aspects of the 20’s, and got a huge response.”
Natalie Dias Lorenzi, author of FLYING THE DRAGON (Charlesbridge, 2011) says, “If your time is limited, be choosy about which blogs you agree to provide interviews for, and pay close attention to the audiences they reach. For YA writers, blogs that reach book club facilitators, readers and librarians will give you more mileage… For middle grade and picture book authors, reaching readers via blogs is highly unlikely (there are a few, like http://thiskidreviewsbooks.com).
“In my opinion, librarian and teacher blogs are the most worth your time (and I’m not saying this just because I’m both, I promise.) I say this because librarians and teachers are the most likely to get your books into the hands of readers…Think of a blog tour as a chance to make your audience aware of your book. Take a look at who leaves comments on a blog–is it mostly other writers, or do other folks chime in, too?” Psst…Check out the below list of librarian and teacher blogs that Natalie has shared with us! Awesome, right?
School visits rock, but…– Pat Zietlow Miller, author of SOPHIE’S SQUASH (Schwartz & Wade, 2013) says, “School visits are a lot of fun, but they also are a lot of work in terms of preparing them, conducting them and decompressing afterward.” When she was faced with a flood of awkward requests for free school visits, Pat came up with a tactful and professional response similar to this: ‘I love doing school visits! What I charge depends on how long I’m there, how far I have to travel and what type of reading or presentation I do. I’d be happy to talk to someone from the school and see what they have in mind.’
General, but fabulous marketing advice: When it comes to choosing your marketing energies, Cynthia Levinson, author of WE’VE GOT A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH (Peachtree, 2012) encourages authors to go into the process with eyes wide-open: “I wish I’d known how much time it would all take–blogs, presentations, interviews, videos, library and school visits, trailer, website development, teachers’ guide, conference proposals, multiple trips, articles. It was fun but my recommendation is to figure out what you most like to do and focus on those. Feel free to set priorities, and decline the opportunities that cause you stress or distraction. Your book has value and stands on its own. It’s your publisher’s job to publicize the book. Yours is to write the next books. “Most of all, enjoy! You deserve it.”
“I also wish I’d known how many people would ask me, ‘So…where can I get a copy of your book?’ says Pat Miller, “So I made sure to know which bookstores in town carried it.”
“As far as gigs,” says Jeannie Mobley, “try everything the first time around, see what you enjoy and what you don’t and then pare it down to the things you enjoy doing as you continue to promote (or better yet!) promote your second book.”
What about those reviews? They all agree that it’s a good idea to stay busy and distracted while waiting for reviews to trickle in. Rather than fretting, always be working on another book. Mike Jung reflects on the review process in a humorous way: “Reviews can be a mutant porcupine demon of anxiety. But do not forget how awesome it is that your book is published and how awesome you are for having written it!”
Stress? What stress? “Stock up on chocolate,” says Janet Fox. “Hug your dog. The launch day will come and go and you’ll think, ‘what, no fireworks???’ That’s okay. Your baby is out in the world and you made it happen.”
For the finale to this What to Expect post, Jennifer Nielsen, author of THE SHADOW THRONE trilogy (Scholastic Press, 2012), brilliantly sums up the debut experience with a healthy mix of optimism and realism.
Keep your expectations in scale. Some debut books are breakout hits (Divergent, for example), but most aren’t. For most debut books, the Amazon rank won’t skyrocket upon release, or if it does, it’ll slowly fall to a more average number. Most don’t hit the bestseller lists or take home the big awards. Most debut books won’t garner requests to speak at conferences, or even at schools outside of your home area (if that). And I sometimes think we believe that if our debut doesn’t do all of that, that it’s a sign we’ll forever be mid list, or that we’ll never be “big.”
It’s just not true. Don’t let yourself become discouraged. These things only mean that it’s your debut book and it takes a long time for word to get out about an author, even if the publisher is doing mad publicity for you, and even if all the reviews are glowing. The fact that you are finally a published author is HUGE and amazing and wonderful, but don’t be distressed if the world continues revolving as usual on your release day. You might find your book on an end cap at B&N, or not. Don’t worry if half your family doesn’t get around to reading it for a while, or if your kids’ school doesn’t ask to host your launch party for the whole school to attend.
The #1 best thing you can do for your first book is to write and sell your second. Every book raises your profile, which is particularly important with young readers because once they find a book they love, they go on a search to see what else that author has written. Do everything you can to get the word out pre-release, but put your best attention on your next project.
Everyone has to start somewhere. Publishing is like climbing a mountain. There’s no single trail to the summit, and always a higher summit waiting once you reach the one you were aiming for. The only thing that matters is you keep climbing, and with each book, you will. Let go of any worries about where you are on the mountain – because we’re all just climbing too – and just enjoy the climb, as every author should.
*Roben LaFevers and Mary Hershey have a dynamite blog, http://shrinkingvioletpromotions.blogspot.com/ that’s chock-full of promotional advice for authors.
*And, as promised, below is a list of Natalie Dias Lorenzi’s favorite teacher and librarian blogs. Thank you, Natalie!
K-5 Librarian: http://mrschureads.blogspot.com
3rd Grade Teacher: http://sharpread.wordpress.com/author/colbysharp/
Elementary School Librarian: http://100scopenotes.com
Public Librarian (who is now a stay-at-home mom as of a few months ago): http://sharingsoda.blogspot.com/p/what-i-read.html
Children’s school librarian: http://www.jennysbookreview.com
Mother/Daughter Book Club: http://motherdaughterbookclub.com
Public Librarians for YA: http://www.stackedbooks.org
Youth services librarian: http://masalareader.wordpress.com
Two teachers: http://readingyear.blogspot.it
* Former teacher, current coordinator of instructional technology: http://www.teachmentortexts.com
* Two teachers of reading (high school): http://www.unleashingreaders.com/?page_id=15
* These last two blogs co-host a meme called “It’s Monday–what are you reading?” that draws in lots of librarians and teachers, so check out their links each Monday and read the comments.
Donna Bowman Bratton is the author of the upcoming nonfiction picture books, STEP RIGHT UP! THE STORY OF BEAUTIFULLY JIM KEY (Lee and Low Books, spring 2015) and EN GARDE! ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S DUELING WORDS (Peachtree, spring 2016.) She lives and writes in Central Texas.