By Marcie Flinchum Atkins
I almost made it through 2019. With my busiest schedule to date, I had a fabulous debut year and learned so much. Some of the things I learned, I wished I’d known before entering into my debut year.
I still have much to learn, but I hope that at least one of these practical tips will help you along your writing journey.
1. Find writer buddies. This needs to happen LONG before you debut. You need to be building your network of writing friends years in advance of publication. My writing friends helped me find a debut group. They helped me when I had anxieties about this year, and they helped me when I needed contact information for bookstores. I was so grateful for my network that I’ve built over the years. I will be relying on them for years to come.
2. Connect with gatekeepers (booksellers, librarians, teachers, parents). After teaching for 22 years in multiple school systems, I knew a lot of people in the library and teaching world. But I love meeting new people. It always gives me a thrill when people share with me that they used my book as a read aloud. Getting your work into schools and libraries is a huge thing, so connect with the gatekeepers.
3. Love your local indie bookseller. When I moved to the suburbs of DC a few years ago, I knew no one at the indie bookstores. But as a school librarian, I hosted authors that came for school visits through the indies. I also attended author bookstore events. At the time, I had no book contracts--not even the prospect of one. Over time, getting to know my local indie booksellers has been so helpful. When I’ve asked to do events, they have quickly said YES! Buy books from them! Attend events at their store.
4. Set up a pre-order page with your local indie. If you live close enough to a local indie bookstore, ask them to set up a pre-order page for your book. You can sign the books and they will ship them all over the country. I know some people have had huge success with doing a lot of pre-orders. I didn’t have very large numbers at all, but I did ask my local indie, One More Page, to leave the page up. If people want a signed, personalized copy, I direct them to that page, and I can run over and sign the books at the store.
5. Give yourself gold stars. I have been keeping a “Gold Star List” for each month in my bullet journal. I’ve been doing this for years. Don’t just write down the big stuff. Write down the small victories. Some actual things from my “Gold Star List” from 2019:
6. Be a good news gatherer. I actually made an electronic file that says “Dormancy Good News.” In it, I have screenshots of encouraging tweets, PDFs of blog posts where people shared about my book (I use the Chrome extension Print-Friendly to do this), and copies of reviews. When Kirkus named WAIT, REST, PAUSE as one of their top picture books for 2019, you bet I screenshotted that and put it in my electronic folder.
7. Organize! I love to be organized, but since I did more speaking this year and events that I’ve never done before, I had to make sure I had a system for organizing everything. I read the classic GETTING THINGS DONE by David Allen and the 12 WEEK YEAR by Brian P. Moran which helped me figure out a system that worked for me. I use several key things: a bullet journal, a filing system, and electronic documents. Figure out a system that works for your brain and use it.
8. Make a marketing list. I read a lot of blog posts on marketing, wrote down tips from friends, and I made my own marketing wish list. I attached contact information or website information for each thing, then I gave myself deadlines for each one. Everyone’s list will look different. Each month, I went in and looked at the things I wanted to do that would help market my book. At the end of this year, I plan to do a year-in-review. I will evaluate what worked and what didn’t, which leads me to…
9. Start a “Standard Operating Procedures” list. I want to easily refer back to what worked for this book. I realize every book will be different, but I want the names and contact information of people at the ready. So I started a list that I will refer to (and add to) for the next book.
10. Collect other people’s swag. As I go to conferences and workshops, I’ve collected lots of different bookmarks, business cards, brochures, and postcards. When I particularly love something that an author did, I save it for inspiration for a future swag item for myself. At NCTE, one of my favorite swag items was bookmarks and postcards that poets handed out with a poem on it.
11. Stash a sharpie in your bag. I have been signing my books on the beautiful blue end papers with a silver metallic Sharpie. I bought several and put one in my various bags that I use. However, I also put one in my purse--the one I take with me daily. It has come in handy a bunch of times. I’ve signed people’s books that they’ve brought to me outside of my events. I’ve also been able to dash over to my local indie to sign books because I had the special Sharpie in my purse.
12. Buy bookplates. I searched a lot for bookplates, getting recommendations from various friends, but wasn’t able to secure any bookplates. I stumbled across Ninth Moon, and they made beautiful bookplates for me. I highly recommend them. I have mailed signed bookplates to a number of people who live far away.
13. Create a Canva account. It’s free (you don’t need the paid version). You can make all kinds of flyers, social media announcements, and more on this “graphic design for dummies” site.
14. Throw a party. I know parties aren’t everyone’s thing. Parties aren’t really my thing either, but I wanted to celebrate my book launch officially. I’ve been to small book parties at people’s houses and events in bookstores. I’ve known people to rent out a room at a local venue. Do what makes sense for your book, but find a way to celebrate--even if it’s just with family.
15. Invite people personally. I recently had an out-of-town book event at Book No Further in Roanoke, VA (where I used to live). I sent out postcard invitations and sent them via USPS. It was my most well-attended event. Why did I do that? Not everyone that I wanted to invite was on social media, and a personal invitation is more personal. This worked!
16. Say thank you. Formally. Yes, you should thank people verbally, but if it at all possible, send thank you notes to booksellers or friends who came to support you. Snail mail is lovely to receive.
17. Keep books in your car. This is the ONE thing no one ever told me. There are times when books don’t get shipped on time. There are times when you run out of books at a signing. If you have books on hand, the readers will be happy. When I started talking to other more experienced authors, they have confirmed that many of them do this too!
18. Celebrate! I have a hard time trying to relax and enjoy what I’ve accomplished. I’m already knee-deep into many other projects. But I had five books (not including the educational readers that I did) come out this year! There needs to be some end-of-the-year celebrations!
19. Write new stuff. The debut year is a busy one, and I have more things planned for next year. However, I guard my writing time. WAIT, REST, PAUSE is one of many, many books I’ve written and one of many more to come (I hope). Don’t abandon your writing for marketing. Will you have to do less at times? Yes, but keep writing!
What are your favorite tips for a debut year? I'm looking to learn more tricks and tips from writers who have lived through the debut year and beyond.
We are a group of writers and illustrators who have debut books (actual debuts , debuts as author-illustrators, or debuts with medium/large publishers) forthcoming in 2019. Thank you for joining us on our exciting journey!