Notes from My Debut Year

This year has been one hell of a ride. Three weeks from today, CAMBION’S LAW will be available for preorder. Three months after that, it will be out in the world.

I did a little poll on Twitter and it seemed that quite a few people were interested in reading about how my debut year is going. I was a little hesitant at first…nothing has really happened yet! The book isn’t even on sale! But a lot has happened behind the scenes, and internally for me as a writer becoming an “Author.” So I guess I can talk about that, and take some of the mystery out of it. (Is there mystery? Or do I just feel like there was because I came into this experience as a sweet summer child?)

I was not prepared.

An animated gentleman with spectacular curved horns and big bat wings leaps up to hover in front of a huge full moon saying "You are not prepared!" (Illidan of WoW)
This one goes out to my fellow geeks.

Can you actually be prepared, as an aspiring author, for what it feels like to be headed to publication? Honestly, I’m not sure you can. I don’t have kids, but I imagine it’s like having your first baby. You can read What to Expect When You’re Expecting all you want (or in this case, the publishing version, Before and After the Book Deal) but the reality will defy your expectations in its emotional highs and lows.

There’s a reason we call them “book babies” and “book birthdays.” You create this thing, you gestate it, and then suddenly it’s on its way out into the world faster than you could have thought possible. It’s a part of you, and it always will be, but it’s about to have a life of its own and there is nothing you can do about that.

There is one big difference, though: people don’t typically review your new baby on Amazon dot com.

A baby cries in a person's lap with a shirt that says "so sweet like Grandma"
“Cute at first, but the main character cries all the time. Two and a half stars.”

Look, she may have a little squashed tomato face and a sensitive disposition, but she’s MINE, okay?

I guess the upshot of this is that I’m probably still not prepared for what’s coming.

Editing brain is real.

As scary as the prospect of outside judgment may be to a debut author, your inner editor is absolutely your worst critic.

Unlike the naysayer within, my actual editor, Heather McCorkle, was incredibly kind and helpful during content edits. Still, I felt weary of the book by the time we were done. That looming judgment day, I mean, release day, really ramps up the stakes for the internal editor.

I know my inner critic’s harsh standards are just her way of protecting me and my book baby from rejection by whatever means necessary. But the truth is, no edits and no level of craft will ensure that everyone loves the book. At a certain point, I have to let it go.

I was relieved to finish my edits. After working on CAMBION’S LAW on and off for five years, I was ready to let it fly out of the nest. I sent it off to copy edits with my blessing. But just this last week, I put on my playlist for the book so I could answer a prompt about my MC’s theme song, and I found myself remembering the sweet dark angsty heart of it and falling back in love.

Leia Organa says "I love you" and Han Solo says "I know."
Sending your book to copy edits is like Han getting frozen in carbonite, in a way.

Distance makes the heart grow fonder. But the editing process will make it impossible not to focus on the known flaws in your work. It’s important to make it the best it can be, but once it’s done, hopefully that editing brain will quiet down and let you remember and appreciate what it is.

Positive thinking is a survival tactic.

I loved this guest post on Jane Friedman’s blog about combatting negative thoughts and cultivating a healthy mindset. The article does come off a bit prescriptive, and it sparked a lively discussion in my group chat about toxic positivity. But here’s my take: in debut year, getting down on myself and my work is a habit I can’t afford.

Because once you do have a book on its way into the world, you will have to promote it. You will have to promote yourself. To do anything else would be a disservice to your book.

So yes, you will find yourself screaming about your work into the void of social media every day without any guarantee that anyone will care to hear it. You will become your work’s best and most devoted champion. You will celebrate your milestones with hundreds of your closest friends. (YES I KNOW, THE WORST.) And you will have to respond to potential readers’ interest in your debut without saying “eh it’s not that good.”

An attractive brunette white woman in a plaid shirt grimaces while saying "Turns out I'm really bad at this"
NO INNER STEVIE NOT LIKE THAT 😬

Obviously, as an author with a traditional but indie publisher, I do more of my own marketing. But even if you end up with a big four imprint, you will almost certainly have to do a fair amount of self-promo. It’s a responsibility increasingly put on authors these days. And if you are filled with shame or ambivalence about what you’ve created, that cognitive dissonance is going to shriek through your soul like nails on a chalkboard.

Positive self-talk is a debut year survival skill. Learn it, love it, live it. Or at least learn to fake it for the days you can’t take it. That’s a skill too!

My 2021 cohort gives me life.

Just the other day, I got a message from my publisher asking for, among other exciting things, an acknowledgment. I’m about to Google “how do I write acknowledgments” because I really want to get this right.

A bearded white man sitting in front of a big sign reading "SGN" says "I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing"
Sometimes I google “how to write a book.” No lie.

But what I do know is that connecting with my fellow debut authors has been a huge bright spot in my year so far. There’s so much talent, brilliance, and kindness in my cohort. And on the days when I am struggling to hype myself, hyping their milestones is a source of joy.

I got connected with my 2021 Adult Debut group on Facebook thanks to my fellow City Owl author Gabrielle Ash, who was a few months ahead of me on the release schedule and incredibly kind in guiding a newbie. (BTW, if you’re into urban fantasy, you should read her book because it is fantastic.) For those whose debut years are coming up, don’t hesitate to build those networks, even if the word “networking” gives you the heebie jeebies like it did me. Author networking is much more fun then boring day job networking because these people actually care about the same stuff you do: books.

Belle slides along a library ladder singing
Every day on the timeline.

I talk on here about the importance of community a lot, especially for me, a confirmed ultra-introvert. But I really can’t say it enough. It is crucial to have that community of people who are Going Through It with you. I have learned so much from the 21ders on the release calendar before me. And there are some things and some feelings about debut year they can understand and relate to in a way that no one else can.

Have I mentioned that impostor syndrome doesn’t magically go away at this point? Well, it only gets louder the closer you get to holding your book in your hands. To combat it, you will need allies who are in this particular trench with you. It doesn’t matter if they are writing your genre or your cup of tea. They get it. Lean into that mutual support and give it when you can, because trust me, your time will come when you will need them to prop you up.

Because debut feels are a thing, a weird half-joyful, half-dreadful, all-frantic thing. And it’s difficult (not to mention a bit gauche) to explain to your writing friends who are laboring in the trenches how living the dream of publishing can feel at times like a nightmare of uncertainty.

Newsletters and mock-ups and ARCS, oh my!

One major thing I didn’t anticipate about debut year is how much time I would spend building out my media platform(s) and creating graphics. I am working on a longer post about this because there is a lot to talk about in that regard, and I’m still learning every day. Doing self-promo can start to feel like a full-time job very quickly. And there are a lot of resources out there and a lot of competing information about where you should or shouldn’t sink your time.

Here are some things I didn’t anticipate wanting or needing to think about this year:

Setting up an author newsletter.

I am not a newsletter expert, as I just sent out my first one this last week! But I can’t adequately express my feelings about the people who signed up for my inaugural edition. YOU ALL ARE THE REAL MVPS. Next month, you’ll be the first to see my shiny new cover for CAMBION’S LAW, along with a sneak peek at the first chapter! (If you want in, subscribe here and earn my eternal gratitude. Also, bonus cat pics.)

A woman smiles, looking overwhelmed and says "Thank you so much!"

Making fancy mock-ups of my book to share on social media.

After seeing some beautiful torn-paper teasers and doing (again) a lot of Googling, I decided to try out Bookbrush, which provides resources to create mock-ups, flat lays, and cover reveals. I wasn’t sure if this site would provide anything Canva can’t already do as far as graphics, but in fact, the ability to input your cover image as a 3D model is worth it. I will probably end up subscribing at least for a few months, even though it is a bit pricey.

On a curtained blue and purple backdrop, an ebook shows a half-torn cover that shows the words "CAMBION'S LAW - CAMBION BOOK 1" and says "Lawyer. Demon. Half-human, half-succubus, wholly dangerous. When justice fails, she must take the law into her own hands - and risk losing herself to the monster within. Preorder available 8/9/2021.
One of my first attempts to create a promo image with BookBrush.

Planning ARC Distribution

I didn’t know this until recently, but my publisher sends off ARCs to trade reviewers prior to copy editors. So someone somewhere might already have a copy of my book! However, we are advised not to provide ARCs to readers for Goodreads and Amazon reviews until closer to release date. For those who are signed up for my newsletter, there will be opportunities available to receive digital ARCs sometime in October. This will probably go through Netgalley and/or Booksprout, assuming I figure out how to use them! If not, then PDFs I guess? Subscribe and find out!

Arguing with the Goodreads librarians about my author profile.

I still don’t have access to my Goodreads author profile, and I am angry about it. I’ve watched at least four other authors get their page a few days after announcing their book deal, and almost three months from release, I still can’t get mine. I’ve applied twice and emailed the Goodreads librarians twice. However, they have refused to do anything for me until I have my books up for preorder. I’m not sure if this is because I entered my book into the site too early and didn’t provide an ISBN, or if larger publishers are able to help their authors get verified early, but it is a pretty frustrating situation. So if you can, I’d suggest not adding your book there before you have buy links or an ISBN, or if possible, letting your publisher deal with it.

I.e. don’t be me. Unfortunately, Goodreads is too important for me to ignore. So I have no choice except to seethe inwardly (well, outwardly now) about this until it gets fixed. Which it won’t. Until next month.

Bruce Banner says "That's my secret, Captain. I'm always angry."
ALWAYS. ANGRY.

I think the lesson here is that there are a lot of things that are not within your control during debut year, and it’s probably best to focus on the things that you can control.

Debut year self-care is not optional.

Debut year is a wild ride, a long climb in which nothing seems to really happen followed by things happening very fast and all at once. Your book is no longer just yours. It belongs to your editor, your publisher, your reviewers, and finally, your readers. In this new landscape, it’s easy to ride the emotional rollercoaster from hope to despair to joy and back again, all day, every day. To take a break from that ride, you will need ALL your coping skills, and probably some new ones, too.

After I wrote the header to this section, I walked away from the keyboard, crawled into bed under my weighted blanket, put on a meditation track, and took a thirty minute nap under a very snuggly cat. The nap was in my to do list and I really wanted to knock it out before it got too late.

I started up a mindfulness practice again recently, not because I felt I should as at times in the past, but because I craved it. I practice yoga almost every morning, because if I don’t, my body hurts. Sometimes my body hurts no matter what I do, but it hurts less if I do yoga. I don’t really drink much, because I don’t have time for hangovers and I can’t write tipsy. I take a lot of walks with my spouse because I need to move after sitting in the same chair all day.

I’m not saying this to boast about my routine. I’m saying this because last year’s self-care aspirations have become this year’s self-care requirements. Because I can control my self-care. I can’t control the market, my future reviews, my sales, or what my family and friends will think of me once they read That Scene in Chapter 30.

Tina of Bob's Burgers says "Too spicy, too spicy!"
WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME, IT’S A SUCCUBUS BOOK

Future debut authors: I recommend the weighted blanket. That’s probably the best advice I can give you.

But for all of that, the rollercoaster of emotions, the uncertainties and fears, I have to admit that under it all (and especially under the weighted blanket) I’m still having a blast. There’s a lot of growth and growing up happening, yes, even though I’m old enough to be done growing up.

Because when all is said and done, I’M GONNA BE PUBLISHED, Y’ALL. That’s a lifetime dream. And that reality is no small thing.*

*This small celebratory moment brought to you by literal years of therapy. Note to self: shout out to my therapist in my acknowledgments.

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