Following the Bird in Flight when it Comes to the Debut Author To-Do List

Like Lindsey (see her excellent post from a couple of weeks ago, Debut Author To-Do List), I’m a list maker. Unlike Lindsey, however, I am rather *cough* obsessive about it. My debut author to-do list is a spreadsheet. Okay, that might not sound so bad, but my spreadsheet has an embarrassing 135 rows, sorted chronologically, spanning from more than a year before the book’s release to more than two years after… and that’s just for one book. Yes, it’s totally ridiculous overkill, to be sure. I knew when I built it that I wasn’t going to be able to even come close to doing everything on the list. I put in every possible thing I could think of, anything I might want to remember to even think about doing when the time came. I knew I was going to have to pick and choose, prioritize, and, yes, let go of some (okay, a whole bunch) of the things on the list.

debut author spreadsheet

I got off to a fairly good start, at least.

On Monday, Megan wrote about “following the bird in flight” when drafting (see her excellent post, Writing in One Layer). I’ve been thinking about similar ideas lately, but more as they apply to the debut experience as a whole. I built that spreadsheet because I thought I’d be able follow the neatly organized chronological to-do list. I thought I’d be in control, evaluating and deciding what was really a to-do and crossing out the rest. Then I would just march down the remaining to-do list and the whole process would roll smoothly and efficiently along. Ha! What I’ve learned is that practically everything about the debut author experience is a surprise. Some of the biggest pieces are outside of my control. Being flexible enough to deal with shifting realities—bouncing back from unforeseen setbacks or pouncing on unexpected opportunities—is key.

Every teardrop is a waterfall

I am not this flexible.

  • What happens when you learn that the curriculum guide you’ve been eagerly anticipating—and promising to teachers—is not only not finished yet, but hasn’t even been started… and isn’t going to be? In my case, you come up with a plan B: figuring out how to add Common Core State Standard assignments to the library event kit that is already in progress.
  • What do you do when you randomly notice that, hey, there’s a Goodreads giveaway of your ARCs, and it’s been running for three days already? In my case, you make some room in a few of your days to get the word out and help promote the giveaway.
  • What do you do when you happen to see that the publisher of your upcoming picture book has put the cover—which you have never seen before—on their website? In my case, you SQUEE for joy, dance around the room for a while, hyperventilate, eat some chocolate, and then quietly sneak the image up on the Emu’s Debuts sidebar and your own webpage and hope someone notices.

Emmanuel's Dream cover

I can’t wait to show you what’s inside!

  • What do you do when a local private school director invites you to coffee to talk about possible collaborations, or a well-known blog invites you to do a guest post, or your publisher invites you to do a live video webinar on your book’s topic, or a thriving local startup invites you to their annual company open house as a featured guest, or a trusted youth organization approaches you about giving changemaker workshops? In my case, you say, “YES!” to all of them and start preparing (even though “live” and “video” are two words that should never be put together, in my opinion!).

None of those things were even on my spreadsheet, and I’m not coming at all close to keeping up with my to-do list. (It’s rather fitting that I missed my Thursday morning deadline for this very post, isn’t it?) I expected to be able to just draft a plan and then carry it out, but instead my debut experience seems to be all about following the bird in flight. And I’m okay with that: it’s taking me to some amazing places.

Off you go

Photo from liquidnight on Flickr.

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19 Comments

Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Helpful or Otherwise, Launch, Promotion, Time Management, Writing and Life

19 responses to “Following the Bird in Flight when it Comes to the Debut Author To-Do List

  1. What cool opportunities! How great that you said yes to everything – that’s both courageous and wise, I think. I’d be glad to help with Common Core stuff if you’d like. Also, reading this post reminded me so much of the demise of my birth plan – I had done so much research and thinking and knew just how I wanted everything… And then nature turned out to be way beyond my control. I’m still a little woozy over here but I think what I’m saying is that your book baby doesn’t care about the birth plan, Laurie! 😀

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    • Ha! Yes, it is exactly like a birth plan. You focus all of your pre-delivery energy on that, and then when things go off track, you throw it all out the window and just hope for a healthy baby. Here’s hoping for a healthy book launch. 😉

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  2. Lindsey Lane

    Oh Laurie, at first I was having list envy and now I know that my lists are plenty for me. I still have a little bit of list envy, though…

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  3. Oh boy. That would be challenging for me. I, too, am not flexible…

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    • A couple of them have really thrown me, Maryanne, to be sure. And letting go of things I had planned to do in order to do the new things that came along unexpectedly is hard. But, at least I know I’m doing everything I can possibly do for this book. Whether they’re the right things or not, I guess we’ll never know.

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  4. Okay, I have a mix of list envy and list fear going on after reading this. You sound so organized! I need to get more organized. And your To Do sheet looks/sounds intimidating, but seeing as you’re preparing for THREE book debuts, I can imagine there is a lot to keep track of there.

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  5. tamaraellissmith

    Yeah, I kinda want a close up of that massive list, you know? I feel woefully head-spinning about all of things that can be done for a debut…not sure how to even make a list, let alone cross items off of it! I love that you have boldly said YES, though, to the unexpected opportunities. I think that belies tremendous wisdom and courage, as Megan said. Awesome.

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    • Tam, it sounds like you have the right attitude: “all of the things that CAN be done for a debut…” Make sure to keep it CAN and not SHOULD or MUST. And, yes, sometimes I put things on the list just so I can cross them off! 😉

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  6. Rebecca Van Slyke

    I’m with Tam wanting to peek at your to-do list. I am also a list-maker, to the point that just now, in setting up my classroom for the coming year I have a whole page listing the things I need to do before the little tigers come through my door on Wednesday. (And I may or may not have listed things I’ve already done, simply for the pleasure of crossing them off.)
    I have not even started my to-do list for the publication date that still sounds so far away. I know, though, that March will be here with surprising speed. Let’s see… I know I have some blank paper around here somewhere to start THAT list…

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  7. I’d expect no less than an amazing and thorough to-do list from you, Laurie! Will you accept bribes for the chance to peek at it? I can’t even imagine… 🙂

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  8. Christine Hayes

    I have moments of panic where I feel like I’ve already missed doing a thousand things I should have done–and that new opportunities will fly past and I won’t even recognize them. Just the fact that you HAVE a spreadsheet is totally impressive. It sounds like you are handling things beautifully. (And you make it look so effortless!) Great post.

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  9. I feel lost about the whole debut to-do list. Like, Chris, I think opportunities will pass me by and I won’t even recognize them…worse, I won’t even know they’ve passed me by! I’m impressed by your organization! Wow! But after reading the advanced reader’s copy of CHANGEMAKER, I’m not surprised!

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  10. Lindsey Lane

    Laurie, reading this post makes me understand how Changemaker came to be. You. It couldn’t have been written by anyone else because you are organized and compassionate and flexible and incredible. It has been a joy to watch this bird take flight.

    And yes, please share your list with me. How could I not want to source your brilliance?

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