The Secret Life of a Debut Author

I thought I knew a lot about the publishing process…and then I sold my first book. I’d lived vicariously through my author friends who sold books and debuted before me, watching and learning from their experiences the best I could. But sending your first book baby out into the world is a lot like, well, delivering your first baby. Some things go as expected, and a lot is out of your control, but the more you know the better prepared you are for what comes your way.

TSLoaDA_pic_Emily King

I asked six authors what they wished they’d known when they signed their first book contract. Between their experience and mine, I compiled a must-know list.

  • Learn to be a juggler, an acrobat, a magician, and a miracle worker—all at once! After you sell your first book, you’ll always be doing more than one thing at a time. Drafting one book, revising another, promoting yet another book…and that’s all in one day! Be flexible. You’ll learn real fast how to hop from one job to the next with the click of an email.
  • Dun-dun-duuuun! Deadlines. You won’t have as much time to complete major-level edits as you’re used to, and there WILL be major edits. Your editor will send you an editorial letter that could be anywhere from one page to a dozen pages long. Global edits, one or two rounds of lesser edits, copyedits, proofreads—you will be on deadline for them all. To publish a book on time, there’s a step-by-step process that must be followed. It sounds overwhelming and intense, because it is. But confidence in your ability to meet deadlines will grow when you meet your deadlines. So be on time, okay?
  • One-star reviews don’t always mean they hate you (I mean your book). As soon as your book deal is announced, someone will post your working title on Goodreads. Within an even shorter period of time, someone will rate your book one star based solely on your synopsis (remember, you don’t have a cover yet). Some readers rate books according to how important they are on their to-be-read list. One star means you’re at the bottom of their list, but hey, at least they want to read your book, right? Try to remember that every author receives one-star ratings, and don’t take it to heart.
  • Go ahead and judge a book by its cover. Your editor may ask you what sort of cover you envision for your precious book. You may even send him/her comparison covers of styles and designs you absolutely love. Now take those ideas and pitch them. Covers are all about marketing, and let’s face it, that’s outside most writer’s scope of expertise. Your publisher will pick a cover they feel will best position your book in its market. They may ask your opinion, they may not. Try not to get too upset when your first cover design isn’t what you expect. They will spruce it up. If the final cover still isn’t what you want, you can politely request to have it changed, but ultimately, that decision falls to the marketing department. Try to remember your publisher paid you for your book. You’re an investment that will hopefully pay off. They won’t give you a cover they feel could sink their investment. This advice also applies to book and series titles, release dates, foreign rights (depending on the terms of your contract), and basically everything else that you signed over to your publisher’s control. Again, keep in mind that publishing is a business.
  • World traveler extraordinaire. Conferences and book festivals are fun! And expensive. Travel, food, and time away (remember you’re on deadline!) costs YOU, not your publisher. They may offer to reimburse your expenses, and on the rare occasion they may schedule your travel and foot the bill, but don’t expect it. Even if you tell your publicist you’re attending an event—as a presenter—it’s unlikely your publisher will pay your way. There are exceptions, but if you have your sights set on attending a huge national conference, I suggest you start saving.
  • What the what? You’ll get a crash course in terms and abbreviations. For example, an ARC is an advanced reader’s copy. CEs are copyedits. PR are proofreads. STET means let it stand. Galley is a fancy word for an advanced reader’s copy. Swag is any small item that promotes your book (i.e. bookmarks. By the way, authors usually pay for swag out of their own pocket). Starred reviews are given by trade reviewers to books that are deemed exceptional. Original content is when you’re asked to write an article or Q&A for a media outlet. Media outlets include newspapers, blogs, websites, etc. Bookplates are large Avery stickers with designs that you autograph and mail to fans too far away for you to sign their book. PM is publisher’s marketplace, where most agents record their deals. An advance is an upfront payment on royalties, and is paid to you in percentages, based on the terms of your contract. Royalties are your earnings on sales after the book releases. You pay through your advance before collecting your first royalty check. Selling audio rights goes toward paying off your advance. I could go on and on, but that covers the basics.
  • All by myself. You have a signing event! The bookseller advertised that you’re coming, and you posted the date and time on your social media. You’re all ready to go with your colored Sharpies, bookmarks, and a big smile. But when you arrive, no one is waiting in line. In fact, there is no line. You spend the entire time sitting by yourself and smiling at people as they pass. When your time is up, you autograph a few copies for the store to put on their shelf and go home. Glamourous, right? Don’t forget that bookish people aren’t usually the most outgoing. Getting them to events can be a struggle. Ten people is a fair turnout! Don’t take it personally if you don’t bring in droves of fans. Few authors do.

This must-know list isn’t everything, but it’s a start. You’ll learn a lot as you navigate your debut year. Ask questions. Use your agent as a resource. Interrogate other authors. Everyone’s publishing experience differs, so listen, but try not to compare. No matter what, the result will be the same: You’ll be the proud author of a beautiful book!


Emily R. King is a reader of everything and a writer of fantasy. Born in Canada and raised in the U.S.A., she’s perfected the use of “eh” and “y’all” and uses both interchangeably. Shark advocate, consumer of gummy bears, and islander at heart, Emily’s greatest interests are her four children. She’s a member of SCBWI and an active participant in her local writers’ community. She lives in Northern Utah with her family and their cantankerous cat. You can find Emily at

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