All right, y’all asked for it. Let’s talk about what launching a debut novel is like, in a pandemic no less. Or at least, what it was like for me (your mileage and existential dread may vary).
My feelings developed in stages, starting with my old friend…
Stage 1: Existential Dread
The dread really started to set in about a month before CAMBION’S LAW was due out. I’m prone to anxiety, and the unknowns of this stage became a fertile soil for all my worst fears.
Would anyone buy the book, much less read it? Did I even want them to? What was I thinking, putting my heart in these pages and then putting them out in public? Putting them on sale to the public? What if the book fails? What if it…perish the thought…succeeds? Will people think less of me for writing a sexy book? Will people think it isn’t sexy enough? Did I get the law right? Shouldn’t I have written it that way instead? Yep, all the greatest hits of writing doubts turned up to eleven.
The problem with this period, between turning in your copy edits and getting your first reviews, is that nothing is happening. You have turned in your copy edits. You have turned the book over to production. There is nothing more to be done except wait. Wait and self-promo, even though your doubts may be the loudest yet right when you need to market yourself the hardest.
The weighted blanket got a lot of service hours in during these few weeks.
Stage 2: Excited Flailing
My therapist says (cue groans) that excitement and anxiety are essentially the exact same response in the body, and that it’s the context or interpretation that makes the difference. I’m still not convinced, but the excitement that everyone expected me to feel about my debut did hit eventually. It only really set in the week before my book was due out.
What changed? Well, ARCs became available and a few people reached out to me or left reviews to let me know how much they enjoyed reading it. As a result, some of my fears were allayed, and their positive response helped me move out of anxiety into genuine happiness. At least for some, the book was hitting the notes I hoped it would hit. Readers were falling for Sebastian and identifying with Lily and most of all, appreciating the deeper goals and themes that I was stretching for.
Get yourself a hype team, authors, and start it early. I’ve said this before and I will say it again: having a writing community makes all the difference. A major change for me between querying this book with my publisher and actually seeing it in print was that I found my community in the meantime. The early drafts of CAMBION’S LAW were shaped by feedback from a popular critique site, which was an incredibly helpful learning crucible, but not the same thing as a supportive beta/CP relationship and certainly not the same kind of confidence boost.
Stage 3: Too Busy for Feelings, Please Come Back Tomorrow
What does release day feel like? I couldn’t tell you. There were so many things to do, so many people to thank, and so many things to think about that I hit the ground at 5 am running (metaphorically) and didn’t really get a chance to stop and think about the experience as a whole until evening. And by then I was too exhausted to do much but have a drink and zone out on the couch.
Looking back, it was exciting, but also overwhelming. The day was so full and frenzied, it seemed both short and never-ending. A very kind person finally DM’d me to remind me that I didn’t have to thank everyone all at once.
“But I really am grateful for them!” I said, and went right on thanking people left and right, but it was nice to have the reminder that I wasn’t obligated to do so.
Gratitude. That’s the feeling I’ll assign to this stage, the Day Of, the Book Birthday. Gratitude and overwhelm. I’m not sure either of those is technically an emotion but we’re going to go with it.
Stage 4: I Did It! (Did I Do Enough?)
I think the peak of my release week excitement was when I checked my sales rank early the next morning and found out that yes, people had bought the book in higher numbers than expected. My editor sent me a congratulatory note and that felt like a pretty awesome high point too.
She also told me not to worry when my sales inevitably dropped, and that this is normal.
I am trying to take her very excellent advice and not pay too much attention to those rankings. In the week after the book came out, I did find myself wondering if I had done enough, or the right things, to get the book out there under readers’ eyes. My relatively small social media presence can only go so far. I did put a small amount of my own money into advertising via book bloggers and a little bit of Facebook promotion, along with some giveaways, but I’m still uncertain how much that actually moves the needle.
Stage 5: Now What?! and Post-Debut Drop
If you’re me, and I usually am, you live project to project and don’t really know what to do with the concept of “done.” Done what? Celebrate how? Rest who?
There is a strange sense of loss that sets in after the rush of debut week is over. It’s like the empty feeling you get after a great vacation or an awesome convention. Release day is a lot of love and attention and excitement, but life goes on. The following Tuesday, there are new books that people are excited to buy. The world moves forward. Your book is out there. That’s it. It’s one in millions. It’s done! You can’t edit it now or change it or get it back. You let it go.
You write a new book.
With my first book birthday behind me, here’s some dos and don’ts for future me or authors with debuts coming up.
- Do get eyes on your work early and often, whether that’s beta readers, CPs, advanced readers, etcetera. Save up those kind words in a document somewhere and take them out whenever you need a pick-me-up in Stage 1.
- Don’t plan to get anything else done on launch day. You are going to be in no shape to deal with real life or your day job. Trust me on this and take a personal day. Call in sick. Alert your spouse, partner, children, and non-writing friends that you will not be emotionally available that day. Hopefully getting a sweet message in your acknowledgments will make up for this.
- Do everything you can to set up things before launch day. If you can, schedule your social media posts, create your promo graphics, and have your links ready to go live before day of. (I’m terrible at this because I like to respond to things in real time but managing three platforms in one day is a doozy.)
- Don’t feel obligated to thank everyone in real time, even though you will want to.
- Do pin your promo posts to the top of your socials WITH a link. I had my link in replies to my pinned post for the first week and I think that wasn’t ideal. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to find your book and buy it with as few clicks as possible.
- Don’t plan any appearances or events if they aren’t going to make you happy or help you feel celebratory. While these types of events may sell a few copies of your book, focus on what you want for the day, not what people expect of you.
- Do review your ARC for typos and copy-edit errors or, best case, have a trusted reader on hand to help you catch any issues. Having fresh eyes helps. You will be sick of looking at it no matter how much you love your book baby.
- Don’t stress if your sales rankings seem low at first. Sometimes it takes awhile for the algorithm to catch up.
- Do put yourself out there and take this opportunity to connect with your audience! People are going to want to share your celebration, and release day generates a lot of engagement. Figure out a way to invite them in to the big day that works for you without draining the life from you (said the introvert).
Thanks for reading! I hope these were the feels you were looking for, gentle readers, and as always I welcome your comments and questions.
Links and Appearances
I talked about CAMBION’S LAW and dual identities in a blog interview with Christina Consolino, 2021 debut author of Rewrite the Stars.
Also, if you want to watch some very smart ladies discuss my book, check out this video review/discussion from the badass bitches of Bookcult–I make an appearance for Q&A at the end!
CAMBION’S LAW is available for $0.99 on the Kindle store.