Three Things I’m Glad I Did Before My Debut Sold

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Image credit: Porter Rockwell

If you decide to go with traditional publishing, there’s very little you can control once you hit Submit on your query. You’ll feel jittery. Hooray. That’s normal. You’ll feel self-absorbed and needy and desperate. Super. Also normal. But I’m here to tell you, there is SO much you can control while you’re hanging out in the Beetlejuice waiting room hoping your number will get called by the gatekeepers.

Back in May, I had the pleasure of doing something writers dream of doing: announcing my book deal! WUT? Yeah, I’m a little shocked, too. I’ve written about revision a lot. I guess all that effort panned out. Here are some things I’m glad I did before my debut sold.

I got over the dread of social media

One of the first things you need to do after announcing your book deal is start generating buzz and building a readership. Oh, my people. It is so, so much easier to do this when you already have your social media house in order. A few months ago, I mentioned that you don’t have to be awesome at social media. But it sure helps to be okay at it.

I also started blogging regularly. It’s a revision pit every month, so I’m not gonna lie and say I love it (this post goes live in 5 minutes and I’m still revising). Even though I’ve been blogging for the past 3 or 4 years, I still groan when my posts are due. I still wait until the last minute to write them. But I know that it’s an important part of the process if I want to give my book a fighting chance against the glut of books available to readers (we can’t all be Elena Ferrante).

Along with writing monthly posts (for the most part, I give myself permission to flake out on occasion), I pull together the Dead Darlings weekly compendium of literary links on Fridays. Like a lot of things, this can be a time suck. But the more I do it, the easier it gets. There are three main benefits to writing these every week:

  1. It keeps me writing. Even a simple intro and summarizing other links keeps my fingers and mind limber.
  2. It keeps me aware of what’s going on in the industry and with my fellow authors.
  3. I learned how to bang out words on a tight deadline. I give myself 30 minutes to complete it.

Mostly, it feels good to share the work of other bloggers and authors. Literary Hub, Book Riot, and other literary sites are awesome for content. But I find the most joy in sharing the posts of folks who are like us over at Dead Darlings, struggling through the process and hoping for some good luck. I find most of these links from following lovely authors and publishing industry folks on Twitter. I regularly check our site stats, and I get excited when I see Dead Darlings links on another site. And we’ve seen authors get excited about their blog posts appearing on our site. This is such a great way to build your writing community. You don’t even have to leave the couch.

I also got my website up and running. That’s one less thing to worry about. It’s a place where I can cross-post my Dead Darlings blog posts and write about random subjects, like how much I hated The Walking Dead season 5.

I got over the fear of public speaking

During my first semester of college, I signed up for Public Speaking. I don’t know why. It had to have been a pre-requisite for the first of four majors I toyed with my freshman year. I had also started drinking; I might have been drunk when I made my class selections. I agonized about the first speech due for class — not so much the speech itself, but speaking in front of strangers. I remember my dad telling me that if I hated the idea so much, don’t do it. (I’ve carried this wisdom with me ever since.)

Sometimes, quitting is the smart option. I wasn’t ready to face my fears. And I wouldn’t be ready until years later.

I was lucky that I was selected as a Teaching Scholar at GrubStreet’s Muse and the Marketplace writers’ conference for my presentation, “How to Finish: Project Management Techniques for Writers.”

It’s one thing to submit to a conference, it’s another to realize, “Oh shit, I have to talk. In front of people. And they’re all staring at me.” Not only did I have performance anxiety, I was afflicted by Imposter Syndrome. Surrounded by literary luminaries with big agents and big deals and way better style sense than me, I couldn’t help but wonder what wisdom I could possibly provide. I considered bailing at the last minute, much like my Public Speaking class. But I’d made a commitment and the stakes were higher: people I knew and respected planned to come to my session.

My session was on the last day of the conference. At random points during the weekend, I got flashes of anxiety. I had a fine sheen of sweat covering me. I couldn’t sleep. My guts felt like they would implode. My friend Jennie told me not to practice on the day of my session because if I screwed up, it would rattle me for the big event. So the morning of my session, I put on some country music. I ironed my shirt. I enjoyed my coffee and my social media. When the presentation came around, everything went fine. I didn’t vomit on the podium, and people came up to me afterwards to thank me. The worst that happened is that I got stumped when someone asked me a question that involved simple math (at a writing conference, I know, but this was my fault for adding simple math calculations to my presentation). But other attendees graciously piped up and helped me. When it was over, I felt relief but also pride after having conquered my terror.

When the book is finally out there in the world, I’ll have to read in front of an audience, even if that audience consists of five friends. It will still be scary, but taking the plunge and facing the fear won’t feel so hard when it happens. And the Imposter Syndrome? I’m sure it will still be there. But I can recall my session and know that I’ll recover.

I wrote other things

You knew this would be on the list, right?

One of the primary things you hear from other writers on submission (be it with queries or with editors) is that the wait is excruciating. That’s true. So true. I’m not going to tell you to step away from your inbox. I couldn’t do it. But I encourage you to spend less time hanging around your inbox.

I’m accustomed to waiting because I’ve worked as a software project manager for years. A watched developer does not make the code get written any faster. I end up irritating myself more than anyone. It’s an unproductive and inefficient use of time to both watch the pot and complain to your friends about it.

Write something else. Seriously. I spent a good chunk of time waiting for my query to garner me an agent. It was a start and stop procedure. I’d send out a few query letters, make adjustments, send out more, make adjustments, etc. When the query was out there, waiting for a bite, I wrote. I wrote two (shitty) first drafts of novels, a first draft of a graphic novel with Jennie, numerous blog posts, and six essay drafts during a 6 Weeks, 6 Essays class.

There will be points during the query process where you’ll want to quit. There will be points during the submission process where you will doubt that you will ever get published. You hang on a tightwire of hope and hard feelings. I reset my expectations regularly: Hope for the best, plan for the worst. If anything good happened, I’d be thrilled. Having a full draft of another novel, even a shitty one, helped loosen some of that codependency on the first draft. I no longer believed that it’d be terrible and embarrassing if the first book didn’t sell. I have an amazing agent who believes in me and my work! I had other books! I looked at the first draft like the lover I used to hang so many of my hopes on, but I had gained enough perspective to know that my writing life didn’t end there.

In the end, my number got called. When that incredible editor came calling, I fell in love with my first novel all over again. If she hadn’t called? I would’ve been okay because I had a beautiful new book in front of me, the possibilities endless.

 

Feel free to follow along in future posts as I outline the journey to publication. My edits are due on September 15, so expect next month’s post to be “Edits and the Fear of Fucking Up.”

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