Seven Surprises for Debut Authors

Jul 04, 2018

We make all sorts of assumptions about what it will be like to actually become published authors for the first time. I know that I was in the dark about so much--for example, I had no idea what marketing would entail and I had almost no understanding about realistic sales numbers and what constitutes "success." 

Here are seven surprises some writers shared with me:

1. The work is not nearly done.

The work of getting the book ready for publication is intense and time-consuming: asking for blurbs, going through copy edits, doing page proofs, sending out ARCs, getting on Goodreads, soliciting reviews. "I never fathomed how much mental space it would take up," says K. A. Doore. If you have a full-time job and you're used to writing on your own time, it can be like having yet another part-time job. But that's also kind of comforting. "The work is always there, just as it was before. So much has changed but that one essential thing stays the same," says Kate Day.

Be prepared to keep working hard.

2. It can take so looooong....

Some authors wait two or more years between signing and seeing their books in print, such as author Keena Roberts, and yet others have their pub dates pushed back and back... and back... and back. This has nothing to do with the quality of the book and everything to do with business-related issues authors have zero control over. Many people end up self-publishing because they just can't stand the crazy lead times. 

Be patient or risk losing your marbles.

3. It can feel truly daunting.

It's one thing to dream about publication, but once you know you'll be going public, it can be a scary moment. Sometimes authors jump ahead and start worrying about sales and marketing, others worry about reviews and what their loved ones will think. Many have developed such a go-go, never stop, forge ahead mentality that they can't stop and smell the roses. "I have to purposefully mark my successes somehow so I don't just keep striving without acknowledging my achievements," says Erin Bartels.

Allow yourself to enjoy your successes, no matter how small.

4. It's not necessarily easier the second time around.

There's no particular formula for success, or for nailing the writing process. "The thing that shocked me the most was how hard it's been to write the sequel. All the tricks I'd learned writing the first book didn't apply anymore, and I had to learn new tricks-- but this time, I had to do it under deadline," says Dan Stout. The work never stops being challenging, but maybe that's a good thing. 

Do things that give you energy so you can work on the next book.

5. Support from your editorial team is critical.

Sometimes authors are orphaned when their editors leave for another house. I used to think, big deal, you still have a publishing contract! No. "You need an editor who loves your books and whose energy and excitement for your story will consistently be a driving force for you as a cheerleader behind the scenes," says Melanie Faith Johnson. Often authors are surprised by just how many hoops their manuscript still has to jump through: first, to sell to an editor, then to sell to the whole editorial team, then to sell to a sales and marketing team, then to sell to retail clients and book buyers.

Work hard to maintain a great relationship with your editor.

6. Readers don't care one iota who your publisher is.

Writers can be a tough lot. They care a lot about the mysterious--and highly subjective--hierarchy of book publishing. Book lovers and readers, on the other hand, almost NEVER ask the question "Who's publishing you?" when you share your exciting news. 

Not everyone cares about who publishes your work.

7. You don't automatically feel like you've "arrived."

Roselle Lim says she was surprised "that imposter syndrome doesn't end after the book deal." Some authors feel it even more acutely as they come under the spotlight and the reading world begins to assess them. It truly is magnificent to be published, but it won't necessarily be a panacea.

Publishing doesn't change your DNA.


Check out my brief monthly newsletter for tips on books, movies and art, and insider news on my new book!

* Photo Credit Retronaut