I’m about a month out from the publication of my debut novel, Cottonmouths, and let me tell you, it’s been a whirlwind. But my whirlwind is definitely different from other authors’ whirlwinds because as I’ve mentioned before, we’re all special snowflakes — and I don’t mean that in the troll-ish way. (I’m legit angry that “snowflake” has been co-opted because snowflakes are lovely and also a great metaphor for beautiful differences). Even if you have the same publisher, same advance, and same publication date, an author’s entry into the publishing world can be totally different, which creates a lot of anxiety about what to expect when you’re expecting your debut novel to pub.
Last month or so, I wrote a post about the random thoughts of a debut author on the precipice of publication. It felt right to follow up with a post on the random thoughts of a debut author after the publication of a debut novel, with an assist from O-Ren Ishii, a.k.a. Cottonmouth (this is one of my favorite movies and Lucy Liu is A++ in everything everywhere all the time).
Anxiety be thy name
I spent a lot of time pre-launch worrying about everything. Exhibit A and updated list at the end of this post.
I basically went around anticipating and preparing for the worst. This is my life’s work. On the outside, I look sweet and young, and laugh and smile a lot.
But on the inside, I’m a bitter old southern lady with murderous thoughts.
Carrying around all that anxiety and stress was not great for my health. Even though I (begrudgingly) work out every day and (begrudgingly) eat healthy food, I got a major chest cold the days following my launch party.
Okay. The healthy eating part is a lie. In the two month lead-up to my pub day, I had 100 excuses a day for why I needed that glass of Shiraz and that ice cream. My monthlong illness could’ve also been caused by the scorpion bowl I shared with friends at the end of the my launch party. Next time I see a scorpion bowl:
But I definitely could’ve chilled the fuck out and not sweated the small stuff, as the saying goes. But you don’t know what you don’t know. And in the storm of pre-pub anxiety, even small things like stubbing your toe on a stack of author copies at the side of your bed feel like crushing defeats.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda
My ex used to say, “they’re shoulding all over themselves” when folks would carry on about what should’ve happened, what they should’ve done, what’s fair, what’s not. It always made me laugh.
But there I was, one week out from publication, shoulding all over myself. I should’ve: written some personal essays or something, bought swag or something, gotten an outside publicist, reached out to more bookstores, applied to more book festivals, gotten over my hatred of Facebook author pages, etc. etc.
Instead of focusing on what ifs about the past, which I have no control over, I’m trying to focus on what ifs for the future, which I can. Why bother dwelling on the things I didn’t do and instead focus on the things I can? (Why does this remind me of Jesus or Oprah?).
- What if I ran this promotion?
- What if I reached out to this author for this thing?
- What if I sent one free copy to this person instead of this publication? Which one would have more of an impact?
- What if I joined that amazing Boston Author Promo Group and tried something new even though it makes me super anxious?
God grant me the serenity to change the things I can and accept the things I can’t! Or something like that.
People are great
Oh! I did do two smart things (there may have been more, but these are definitely the smartest) before I published my book.
There are certain things in publishing you can’t or won’t or don’t feel comfortable talking about: advances, frustrations, [redacted], [redacted], [redacted]. But if you hold all that inside, you’ll be a disaster to yourself and everyone around you. That’s why it’s so critical to have a writing community.
I’m lucky to live in Boston and am heavily involved in GrubStreet Writing Center. Still, it took me several years before I found my writing tribe, and that was after taking several classes. You want to click with folks and leave class with an amazing writing group, but you don’t always. I didn’t get that until the Novel Incubator.
My Novel Incubator friends have been amazing, especially the ones who paved the path for the rest of us. Big hearty shoutouts to fellow alumni and Dead Darlings contributors Emily Ross and Stephanie Gayle. I have sent them 5000 emails with stupid questions and anxieties. They’ve answered every one. They even helped me figure out what sections to read for my bookstore events. Because they’re the best.
Another thing I did was join a Facebook group of other 2017 debut authors, called 17 Scribes. This is the group I went to when I had all the “is this normal?” feelings. There’s nothing better than sharing your concerns, questions, and frustrations with others who are going through the same thing as you at the same time as you. I’ve gotten to know some terrific people and have read some terrific books thanks to this group.
Also, HUGE shoutout to the reading public. They have been ah-mah-zing. Everyone tells you to gird your loins for this part because reading tastes are subjective and you just never know with people (in general about many things). But the public has been amazing, especially book bloggers. Bless you, you beautiful, dark-book-loving human beings. So I was prepared. But honestly, I was less concerned about the public’s reception than people I know, possibly because I grew up around assholes.
People are strange
People come out of the woodwork, which can be awesome. Other times, baffling. People say odd things to you. Backhanded compliments from some folks had me like:
But… this is part of the writing life once you go from being someone who writes to someone who published a book. In many ways, I think people’s brains bork out while they’re talking with you (OMG I know you, but you’ve done this thing, but I don’t understand, because I know you, but your name is right here on this thing in my hands, does not compute) and they vomit sentences at you that sound like they came from a Russian bot. Thank them. Hug them, bear-hug them. Shake them a little to see if you can power them off/on and restore them to their factory settings.
And for the more egregious offenses (this is why it’s great to have writer friends with whom you can share your stories): Don’t react. Remember to smile. Say thank you. Suppress the murderous old southern woman who wants to take possession of your body and exact revenge. It’ll all be over soon and you can get to that scorpion bowl (plague-like virus be damned!).
Everything is easier after pub day
At least for me. Here are all the things I worried about and their ultimate outcome:
- Will everyone will hate my novel? They did not.
- Will I get any press before pub day? I did not.
- Will I make an ass of myself at readings? Jury’s out.
- Will I get rejected for this thing or that? I got rejected for them all.
- What if I lose my publicist or editor? I’ve heard this happens. They both left the publisher. It’s fine. I am now working with similarly amazing people.
- What if I lose my day job? I did. (I wrote a thesis-length thing about this but deleted it all because it’s complicated. But TL;DR story is: it’s interesting to look for “normal jobs” as a published author.)
- Will the second novel I worked on all year be a fantastic follow-up to my debut? Probably not.
- Will I sweat so bad it’ll look like I’d peed my pants during my reading? I did. And then I proceeded to talk about boob sweat and crotch sweat for the rest of the evening until I’d finally had enough to drink that I forgot about it and started singing karaoke with my friends.
All that anxiety? So unnecessary. But a part of the process. I survived the worst of my pre-pub anxieties. And really, they’re not even survival level. These are minor inconveniences and calamities.
As I mentioned at the top of the post, everyone’s pub journey is different and everyone goes through their own trauma. No matter how much you advise someone, they have to live the experience to truly understand it. That’s certainly the case with publication. But maybe by seeing that another author worries about boob and crotch sweat, you’ll feel a little less alone on this journey.
* Please ignore the fact that they all die at the end.