The Debut Author Pledge

It’s my debut year.

Deep breaths.

A couple months ago there were several twitter threads from veteran writers and writers finishing their debut year. They gave a lot of advice. They also gave a lot of real talk. Some of it was hard to hear. Some of it was inspiring. All of it, led me to my word for 2018.

Jubilant

I started writing almost six years ago and now I have a book coming out. Even three or four years ago, if you would have told me I’d be here, I would have called you a liar. And so with that thought in mind, I want to go into this very special year for me with the following pledge.

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The Debut Author Pledge

  1. I pledge, above all else, to do what is necessary to stay physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy this year.This means I will:
    • Look up from my phone and connect with nature, people, and myself.
    • Take social media breaks when needed.
    • Keep lots of healthy food on hand.
    • Take plenty of walks.
    • Stay away from sites, threads, and conversation that I know will feed my anxiety.
  1. I pledge to remember what I can and can not control and try not to beat myself up over things that fall into the second category.
  1. I pledge to speak up for myself if I am unhappy, confused, or concerned about anything. But then to be peaceful with whatever happens after I do so. (Remember Pledge #2.)
  1. I pledge not to worry about lists. If I’m on a list, great! If I’m not, oh well. (Again, remember Pledge #2.)
  1. I want to say that I pledge not to read my reviews, but I know that might be a hard one to keep. So instead, I pledge not to let my reviews go to my head. For every bad review I read that hurts, I will read a one-star review for a favorite book to remind myself that this is all subjective. For every good review I read that swells my head, I will read a five star review for a book I hate, to remind myself that this is all subjective.
  1. I pledge to make time for the things that make me happy. Hot cocoa, game night, long walks, snuggles, good books, knitting, swimming, cooking. Whatever it is.
  1. I pledge to celebrate every good milestone along the way. Even the tiniest ones. Because there is so much waiting and rejection in this business. I want to celebrate every bit of goodness.
  1. I pledge to not compare myself, my book, my sales, my publicity, etc. to other authors.
  1. I pledge that whenever I fail at pledge #8, I will remember the moments I thought this book would never see the light of day, and remember how lucky I am.
  1. I pledge to remember who I’m writing for and do my best to connect with them.
  1. I pledge to remember that even if my book only touches on person’s heart, it’s still worth it.
  1. I pledge to take one day at a time and not worry about things in the future that I have no control over today.
  1. I pledge to keep writing and creating.

So how about you? Want to take the pledge? What else would you add?

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Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. Her debut novel, THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC, will be published by Boyds Mills Press September 2018.

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.

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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 emilyrking.com

Thinking in Threes: Triple MG Interview

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Today on the blog, we’re featuring triplet debut authors Jill Diamond, Elly Swartz, and our own Elaine Vickers! These three authors’ books were released just this week, and they each agreed to answer three of our interview questions. Bonus: They also agreed to do a giveaway! Check the end of the post to find out how you could win a critique from all three authors. But first, the interview…

finding-perfectWhere did your initial story idea come from?

Elly Swartz, author of Finding PerfectOne day, I woke-up with Molly in my head, and she wouldn’t leave until I told her story. At the time, I knew a number of adults and kids whom I was very close with who had OCD. I was awed by the disconnect between how they saw themselves and the world saw them. I then spent the next 7 years researching OCD, writing Molly’s story, and working with OCD pediatric specialists to authenticate the manifestation, discovery and treatment of Molly’s symptoms. Between research and the writing, I learned so much from Molly. She has stayed with me long after wrapping up my final draft. Truly, I think a piece of Molly will stay with me always.

Jill Diamond, author of Lou Lou and Pea and the Mural MysteryI actually came up with Lou Lou and Pea’s names before anything else. I adore naming things! After that, I knew I wanted to write a story inspired by the people, traditions, art, and culture that I love about my neighborhood, the Mission District in San Francisco. I also knew I wanted it to be a mystery and a friendship story. It all kind of fell into place from there, and Lou Lou and Pea were born!

Elaine Vickers, author of Like MagicFrom an editor’s tweet to an agent. (Neither of whom I ended up working with! So you’re not wasting your time on Twitter, folks. 🙂 There was an article about an American Girl doll being checked out from the New York Public Library that this agent and editor felt would make a great middle grade novel. I agreed, and I couldn’t get it out of my head, so I wrote the story. The doll was replaced by a hollowed-out book box after several revisions, but that tweet and that article started it all.

lm-coverTo whom is your book dedicated, and why did you choose that particular dedication line?

Elaine: My dedication line reads:

for my mom

and my daughters

who make my life

like magic

Like Magic is a story of connection—between friends, but also between mothers and daughters. My mom has been my greatest support all my life—the kind of mom I hope to be for my own daughters. So it felt just right to dedicate it to them.

Jill: My dedication line reads:

For Nancy Diamond, known to her students as The Best Librarian in the Whole Wide World, known to me as Mom

I dedicated the book to my mom because it could never have existed without her. My mom was an elementary school librarian and a true champion of children’s literature. I began working on the book when I was caring for her during a terminal illness. I thought it was a fitting way to honor her, particularly because my mom greatly influenced my love of both reading and creative writing.


Elly: 
My dedication line says, “To James, Joshua and Gregory. You make my heart smile every day. I love you.” James is my husband of 26 years, and Joshua and Gregory are our sons. I dedicated this book to them as they are truly my whole heart. On this long journey to YES, their belief in me never wavered. They make me proud and so very happy. I am beyond grateful. And lucky.

lou-louWhat is the best reader response you’ve ever had for this book?

Jill: My favorite feedback thus far was from someone who won an ARC of LOU LOU AND PEA in a raffle. She tweeted: “My daughter LOVED Lou Lou & Pea! She gobbled it up in one night, told me it was super funny (her highest praise), and said she wants to learn Spanish. So – THANK YOU!”

Elly: I had the privilege of Skyping with a class whose teacher had an arc of Finding Perfect that she had read aloud to all of her students. When we Skyped, we spoke a lot about Molly and her unattainable definition of perfect. In response, this fourth grader shared his interpretation of what perfect meant to him after reading Molly’s story and participating in our discussion. I was truly moved.

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Elaine: When I read this book to my daughter for the first time, she surprised me with a Lego recreation of a key scene in the book. I think it will be hard for anything to top that, ever.

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And now for the best part…

Click here to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway and win a critique of the first five pages of your MG or YA manuscript by Elaine Vickers, Elly Swartz, and Jill Diamond!

Good luck!


JillDiamond_Headshot.pngJill Diamond has loved children’s literature for as long as she can remember, thanks to her school librarian mother and the long, cold winters in Maine. When she’s not writing, Jill practices law, dreams about her next travels, eats soft serve ice cream, and wears cowboy boots. Jill now lives in San Francisco with her husband and their son. Visit her at www.jilldiamondbooks.com or on Twitter @jillinboots


ellyElly Swartz’s debut novel, Finding Perfect (FSG) is about twelve-year-old Molly, friendships, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. Through the years, Elly’s been a Sesame Place ride operator, messenger, lawyer, legal author, and college essay adviser. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband, two sons and beagle named Lucy. If you want to connect with Elly or learn more about what she’s working on, you can find her at www.ellyswartz.com, on Twitter @ellyswartz or Facebook.


profile-picElaine Vickers is the author of Like Magic (HarperCollins) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

An Author’s Christmas Eve

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Writing and publishing are often compared to a roller coaster, because hey, we’re writers, and sometimes we want to save the really creative metaphors for our work. But writing and publishing could also be compared to a calendar year—some beautiful days, some rotten ones, seasons of bleak gray, seasons of anticipation and waiting and hard work.

If I think of my own writing journey in these terms (and as somebody who celebrates Christmas), I’ve arrived at Christmas Eve. There’s a red-letter day on the calendar that I’ve been counting down toward forever, and suddenly, it’s almost here. My debut novel is about to be released, and I have an actual hardcover copy that I can hold in my hands! In all honesty, I always imagined this part would feel like Christmas Eve, and it does! But there’s a catch.

I imagined this part of the publishing journey would feel like Christmas Eve as a kid. Nothing but parties and treats and gleeful anticipation of the day you’ve been waiting for forever. Knowing that on the other side of sunrise, you’ll get the very thing you’ve been waiting and wishing for, and all your dreams will come true.

Ahh. Christmas Eve.

The reality is that right now feels less like the Christmas Eves of my childhood and a whole lot more like Christmas Eve as an adult. It’s a wonderful time, to be sure, but there is also a crap ton of work to do. Things to assemble and buy and so many people to reach out to. Events to plan. And will any of it live up to the expectations of those you’re trying so hard to please?

In this Christmas Eve scenario, there is only one gift, and it’s both the one you’re giving and the one you’re receiving: your book. Talk about pressure.

By the way, I don’t think this applies only to writers on the eve of traditional publication. I felt this way before I clicked “send” on queries. Each time my agent sent a new batch of submissions. I feel this way a little even when I send something I’ve written to my closest friends and critique partners and even to my parents. The stories we craft are pieces of ourselves, and it’s an incredibly vulnerable thing to give them to readers of any kind.

So what do you do when Christmas Eve arrives, as it inevitably does? You take that gift that you’ve labored over and you try to find the very best ways to package it and present it, with a query letter or jacket copy or the perfect book trailer or postcards for libraries or…you get the idea. Sometimes this works beautifully, but sometimes the gift itself resists that packaging.

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Another thing: Even when things seem to be going smoothly, there’s a distinct possibility itching at the back of your mind that perhaps the gift itself is not quite right after all. That in spite of all your efforts and thought and planning and sacrifice, what you have to offer isn’t going to measure up. That even you will be disappointed when Christmas morning arrives and this one imperfect story is all there is. But it’s sure as heck too late to do anything about that, because it’s Christmas Eve and you couldn’t change it if you wanted to, and even if you could, on a fundamental level it is what it is and you would probably only make it worse. So maybe just put another bow on top…

No. See there? The bow was too much, and now you’re questioning all your wrapping choices, and the thing inside the package is still exactly the same as it was before, which is to say that it’s still not perfect.

As soon as this gift leaves our hands and passes to someone else’s, there is the distinct possibility that it won’t quite be what they were looking for. There is a high probability that they will recognize its imperfections.

But here’s the thing: That’s what life is. Imperfect and yet incredible. That’s what your gift is, in its own way. In fact, that’s what so much of what we write yearns to convey.

Here are my characters. Imperfect, yet incredible.

Here is their journey. Imperfect, yet incredible.

Here I am, the deepest parts of my soul visible in slivers of light and shadow and all shades in between through the words I put on this page. Imperfect, yet incredible.

What a gift it would be to recognize the value of our words and the value in ourselves, during all seasons of this journey. For me, on this Christmas Eve, I’ve still got miles to go.


profile-picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, October 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

How to Prep for Being a Debut Author

1. Take one day at a time. 

Give yourself reasonable tasks to do in a day and be satisfied with what you DID accomplish, not what you didn’t. Also, sleep is a must. Don’t stay up until 3:00 a.m. tackling your to-do list. No sleep equals more drama down the road.

2. Your brain may register compliments and criticism the same way. 

“I loved your book!” = “I’ll never write another book as good as this book!” / “I hated your book!” = “What made me think I could ever be a writer!” It’s best to look to yourself for validation and not anyone else.

3. Good stress and bad stress means STRESS for your body. 

My eye twitched for four months after I signed my book deal. I developed heart palpitations. Dairy foods don’t agree with me anymore, and I need an extra layer of deodorant since my armpits have decided to start sweating for the first time in my life. So until you find equilibrium with all the stress, be extra kind to your body and give it healthier foods and more exercise.

4. Every time you post something self-promotional, you’ll feel the raging urge to apologize. 

Don’t. Marketing yourself is part of the business, but try to strike a nice balance by shouting out for other people’s happy news, too.

5. Your family won’t understand, and that’s okay. 

My kids’ responses to my finished book arriving in the mail: (11-year-old) *picks it up for a second* “Huh.” / (7-year-old) “So this isn’t your fake book (my ARC)?” / (sister-in-law) “I thought your book came out months ago.” Families are here to keep us humble.

6. Tears are an almost constant companion. 

You’re feeling all your feels and the rest of the world’s. It’s cool. Just let yourself go with the flow.

7. Goodreads is not your friend right now. 

Do yourself a favor and stay off of it. Now is not the time to be filling your head with what all the critics think of your book. Now is the time to celebrate what you’ve accomplished!

8. Don’t be a prophet. 

You suck at it. “No one will buy my book.” “I’ll never get another book deal.” “I’ll lose my house.” “My family will end up on the streets.” DOOM, DOOM, DOOM. Stop those thoughts in their tracks. Focus on what’s real and happening TODAY.

9. Recognize when you need help and get it. 

You’re an awesome person. It took a lot of strength to come this far. You’ve written a book and are seeing it published! But it’s okay if you can’t handle the new and sudden pressure. It’s like building a block tower. If you stack too many emotions, deadlines, expectations, good buzz, bad buzz on top of each other, pretty soon it’s all going to come crashing down. So don’t be afraid to see a counselor, get a babysitter for the kids, ask friends for help…whatever the case may be. Don’t try to carry all weight yourself.

10. Allow yourself to absorb the happy moments. 

You worked hard for them. Don’t apologize. Receive the gift you’ve worked for and be grateful.

_____________________________

Kathryn Purdie is the author of BURNING GLASS, the first novel in a YA fantasy trilogy releasing March 1, 2016 from Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins. Kathryn’s love of storytelling began as a young girl when her dad told her about Boo Radley while they listened to the film score of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Her own attempts at storytelling usually involved home video productions featuring her younger sister as a nerd or writing plays to perform with the neighborhood kids. In high school and college, she focused on acting, composing sappy poetry, singing folk ballads on her guitar, and completing at least ten pages in her journal every night. When she was in recovery from donating a kidney to her brother, inspiration for her first novel struck. She’s been writing darkly fantastical stories ever since. Kathryn is represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.