It’s 2019, the Year of My Debut. I don’t mean fancy debutante balls - I’m talking about being a debut author. Instead of gowns and tiaras, think ripped pajamas and glasses of bourbon.
My first book, THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, came out on March 5th, 2019. Naive baby author that I was (and still am), I thought that my book was just going to come out and that would be that. Ha, what a dummy.
If I could go back in time, there are so many things I’d tell myself before my book came out. I’d also buy myself a bigger bottle of ibuprofen and a more comfortable bra. I can’t help Past Me, but I can help you. During the lead up to the launch and for the duration of my book tour (I was fortunate enough that my publisher, Hanover Square Press, decided to send me out), I often wished for a New Author Guidebook. Something like The Handbook for the Recently Deceased, especially since “recently deceased” is exactly how you feel when you’re getting ready to put a book out. So, here are all the bits of wisdom and warning that I wish I had before my book came out.
[Before I begin, a note. One of the reasons there isn’t a one-size-fits-all guidebook for new authors is because the launch of every single book is different. Every book’s path to launch is unique, just like every author’s journey is unique. This is the stuff that would have helped me during my launch or my tour. It may not be helpful to you.]
It is normal to be wildly anxious and convinced that everyone is going to hate your book (and somehow you). That doesn’t mean this is true (it’s not). Every single morning, for about six months before my book came out, I woke up convinced that everyone in the world would hate my book so much that they would come for me in a torch-wielding mob and try to murder me. So far, this has not yet come to pass!
That wild anxiety? It’s going to fuck up your digestive system. An author friend of mine texted me about a month before their book came out to ask, “When does the pooping stop? WHY DOESN’T ANYONE TELL YOU ABOUT THE POOPING?!” That’s right, get ready to have all that stress and anxiety throw a monkey wrench into your insides.
You’re probably going to do a lot of crying. Just roll with it. You’re ripping a piece of your heart out and throwing it to the public. Of course you’re going to get emotional.
Make a press kit as soon as you can. Folks interviewing you are going to get things wrong. It’s bound to happen. Whether it’s how to spell or pronounce your name, or what you do, or where you’re from. Someone is going to find a weird old picture of you to use instead of your author photo. My name was mispronounced during about half my events/interviews. Make things easier on folks and have a press kit easily available on your website with a preferred photo, your pronouns, name pronunciation and a short bio. Make sure your publicist has it, too!
Speaking of, make a website as soon as you can. Even if you can’t afford a Squarespace site, make a free Tumblr page or something. You need some place on the internet to put information about you, your book and how to buy it. (Don’t forgot to put links to all the places you can buy the book!) If you’re going on tour, put all your events on there with dates and cities!
Don’t be afraid to promote yourself on social media. Don’t feel guilty about it. People aren’t paying for your Tweets and Instagram posts. If your followers want access to your cute cat photos, the least they can do is deal with your book promotion posts. Plus, no matter how much you post, there will always be at least one person who complains that they didn’t know about a certain event or release. Ignore them.
Make a spreadsheet. Or a list, or some way to keep track of all the stuff that’s happening. Interviews you’re going to do/have done, outlets you want to reach out to, etc.
Figure out what part of your book you want to read from. I don’t like readings. I’m a nonfiction author, so I have a lecture about the subject of my book that I like to do instead. Plus, I narrated my audiobook, so I feel like I put in my time reading my book out loud. Even still, I found myself doing a reading for one of my tour dates and scrambling to figure out what part I wanted to read.
Book promotion will suck your life up like it’s that cow in TWISTER. For at least a month before your publication date, plan to have book promo become a part time job. I had no idea how much time it was going to take up. On top of the other two jobs I do (filmmaking, podcasting), it made the months before my pub date extremely stressful. Set aside an hour or two a day for interviews, posting on social media, etc.
You don’t have to make every single interview fresh and different. It’s okay to repeat yourself, especially since you’re probably going to get asked the same questions over and over. The audiences will likely be different, so no one will know!
For written interviews, you don’t have to answer all the questions. My book is extremely feminist, so as you can imagine, I got asked some extremely dumb questions from dudes. It took me a long time before I realized that I could delete the questions I didn’t feel like answering! It’s not homework! Choose your own adventure!
You don’t have to do every interview. I was convinced that if I didn’t do every interview and podcast, my book would fail. This is a dirty lie my anxiety brain was trying to sell me on. Conserve yourself. Don’t feel guilty - be mercenary about which interviews/podcasts you do. Your time and bandwidth are both valuable.
Make sure you know how to reach your publisher’s travel agency in an emergency. I wish I had set this up before I started traveling. Often during the tour, I’d arrive at a hotel to find that they had no record of my publisher’s credit card and wanted to use mine. (It was always the hotel’s fault.) I definitely couldn’t afford to put it on my card. Make sure you have the phone number of your publisher’s travel agency on hand so you can call them and get it sorted out.
You can’t thank everyone. The day my book came out, I was frantically trying to thank everyone who tweeted at me and left me Instagram comments and Facebook posts and oh my gosh. You just can’t. I was driving myself bananas. Make a post thanking everyone. You’ll exhaust yourself trying to respond to individuals, especially on pub day/during pub week. It’s okay! People understand!
You don’t have to respond to every piece of fan mail. You can if you want, but you don’t have to! That lovely person got to read your book. Everything else is gravy. You can also delete the hate mail! You don’t have to read it! Fuck those people!
Choose when to stop doing unpaid events. My book tour lasted an unusually long time - almost four months. I am so grateful for this, but there was a while where I felt like I was in the Shirley Jackson sequel, We Have Always Been On The Book Tour. Eventually, I realized that I needed to choose a hard end date when I was out of the Book Release Zone. For all event requests past that date, they needed to pay me a speaker’s fee (along with travel costs). I couldn’t afford to fly myself places and really needed to get back to writing. Plus, I was tired. (If you want to keep doing events and can afford it, you do you!)
Don’t try to be a tourist. It seems like a bummer that you’re traveling and not really seeing the cities. But you’re going to be tired and frazzled. Take a fucking nap. Have friends in a city that you want to see? Have them come to you.
Speaking of, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Get some rest. If you stay up late drinking and partying every night of your tour, pretty soon, you’re going to feel like an old sock full of pebbles. Go to bed early, dummy. Melatonin, CBD, chamomile, reading, meditating - whatever you need to help you get to sleep.
Submit your expenses/receipts as soon/often as you can. That shit adds up fast and it can take a while for a reimbursement check to arrive. If you aren’t sure if your publisher will cover something, just ask!
Take care of yourself. When you’re stressed and busy, a lot of things fall by the wayside. I thought it made sense to stop weightlifting (my usual form of exercise) before/during my book release to save time. But man, I really needed it. Once I started doing it again (even just a few times a week), I felt so much less stressed every day. Do your best to make time for whatever helps YOU feel better, whether that’s yoga or running or meditation or whatever.
Drink water. It’s easy to forget when you’re traveling and you don’t even know what time zone you’re in. Get one of those water drinking apps on your phone if you need it.
This is supposed to be the fun part. I did an event with author Nishta J. Mehra and noticed she had written “THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE FUN PART” in her notebook. (Please buy her latest book, BROWN WHITE BLACK.) My mind was blown. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in stress. It sounds cheesy, but try to remember that being an author is fucking awesome and such a privilege.
Thank you to all the author pals who passed some of this wisdom on to me! If this list was helpful for you and you want to support me, [you can find all the places to buy my book here.]