I used to be a good girl, a little too good actually. In school I never talked to ‘my neighbors.’ It took years for me to work up the courage to tear that little label off my mattress.
But deep in the darkest reaches of my soul I’ve always craved a little badness. Still, I never thought my debut novel, Half in Love with Death, would drag me into the wages of sin. Here in no particular order are the seven deadly sins of debuts.
Your book finally sells. You shout it out on social media with multiple exclamation points and emojis. But then another writer friend’s book goes to auction on the first round, gets a much better deal, and you are downing multiple margaritas to erase your feelings of utter failure. You are over the moon because you got a glowing review from Mary Beth’s Books & Mac and Cheese Blog. You share it with even more exclamation points and emojis. But then another writer friend posts their stellar Times review on FB with tasteful muted enthusiasm. More jealousy. More feelings of utter failure. Another margarita. Or maybe you switch to bourbon because you can only down so much tequila without hallucinating. Writer envy is a black hole. Don’t go there. It will ruin your fun.
Most writers don’t make enough money to be greedy about it but there are other forms of writer greed. My personal weakness is attention. Before I became a debut author I did not Google myself daily craving new mentions. I did not obsessively check Goodreads wishing for more adds, ratings, and reviews. I did not watch my Amazon ranking as anxiously as a crazed stock trader. It’s easy for a debut author to become a slave to wanting more and more attention. But the thing with greed is that you will never feel like you have enough of whatever it is you want, and it distracts you from the things that really matter like life and writing.
When my book launched I expected reviews, praise, and sales to just come to me. But if you want something to happen, sometimes you need to do it yourself. After listening anxiously to the sounds of silence I decided to swallow my pride and do a little polite begging. I asked everyone I knew (including my dentist) to read my book. I begged folks who had read my book to consider reviewing it on Goodreads and Amazon. I asked friends who had media contacts for help. I emailed news outlets for coverage. And I reached out to bookstores to set up events, sometimes multiple times. Not everything I tried worked. Most of my emails to media were ignored. Not sure adding a mention of my book on Murderpedia increased my readers. But I did succeed in setting up lots of events, made new writer friends, got some unexpected media coverage, and my Amazon reviews are nearing the magic number of 50. I also gained something less tangible but more important—confidence. Don’t let pride get in the way of your success.
During the crazy weeks leading up to my release I was so busy I would probably have slapped anyone who accused me of being ‘slothful.’ But when it came to things that were out of my comfort zone like emailing pitches for events or reviews (see pride above) I tended to put them off, or leave them half done. But having a dozen emails in your draft folder isn’t a marketing plan. You need to click send. So if, like me, you are guilty of being slothful about things you don’t want to do, consider setting time aside every day or week to do the things you hate. You will feel so much better afterwards.
I cannot tell a lie. I lusted after publication, stellar reviews, media attention, movie rights, bestsellerdom, and more. The sky was the limit for my dazed debut dreams. When a dream dissolved I wept as hard as I did when my high school crush liked Susan Something-or-other better than me. It got so bad that when I uncharacteristically neglected my bacon at brunch, my family staged an intervention to guide me back to happiness. Not sure I’m there yet, but I have learned that any desire that blinds you to everything else isn’t going to end well, even if you get what you wish for.
I’m not sure why gluttony is a sin. In my opinion, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating every last mini-book-cupcake that the awesome indie bookstore made just for you. But if you eat all the cupcakes when someone else wants one, maybe that is a sin. Most authors are very considerate but occasionally due to the stress of self-promotion they may take up a little too much space on social media, or too much time at an event with other authors. Author gluttony can cause some psychic indigestion. Sharing the limelight with others is a great remedy.
It is definitely best to ignore bad reviews but we’re all sinners and sometimes we get angry. On the morning of my launch, friends were showering me with happy book birthday wishes when one of my worst reviews showed up like a dark little gift from Maleficent. The reviewer didn’t just hate my book; she mocked it. Once I stopped weeping I got angry and started a short story about a deranged writer who stalks her reviewer and stabs her while shouting I give you one star. Not a very productive use of my time. Even worse, it distracted me from the wonderful people who were there for me on my launch day, and from all the good reviews by bloggers and readers who do this on their own time out of their love for books. Don’t let anger over reviews make you miss out on what really matters. That way lies madness, or a very bad short story.
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