Hard to believe we're nearing the end of an exciting, whirlwind year! There have been many ups--witnessing the birth of our book babies, celebrating with launch parties (or not, for the introverted one among us), and sharing the camaraderie of a debut group--and a few downs--reviewers who don't understand our books, and other things that perhaps didn't turn out as we had hoped.
But, overall, it's been a great ride and we are so happy you have joined us for it. We leave you with some parting words...
(Just So Willow, Sterling)
My main piece of advice for debut authors/illustrators: celebrate! That box of author copies? So cool! The kid who's riveted while you read your story? Amazing! A nice review on Goodreads? Groovy! Don't stress "best of" lists. Don't obsess over sales figures. You published a book! Who does that?! YOU!!
(This Is a Sea Cow, Albert Whitman & Co.)
Don’t stop working on your other manuscripts in favor of “marketing" or "building a platform" or other time-sucking tasks you feel you should be doing. Your first book may get lots of recognition or none at all, but you have no control over that. If you are hard at work on your next book, then it becomes easier to celebrate the happy debut book moments and ignore any not-so-happy ones—which is what we should all be training our brains to do in life! Speaking of next books, keep an out for an announcement about a horse-like sea animal who is less-than-thrilled with a school report being written about him. Wink Wink!
Brooke Boynton-Hughes (Brave Molly, Chronicle)
My advice for debut authors/illustrators is to be patient. While some book creator's careers launch into the stratosphere with their first book, that isn't true for most of us. So, be patient. Celebrate your new book, launch it into the world in the best way that you can (whatever that means for you) and then get back to work writing and drawing and creating something that a child somewhere will want to read over and over again.
(The End of Something Wonderful, Sterling)
There are going to be lows on your path. Up next for me are two books -- a picture book with Little Brown called HELLO, STAR, illustrated by best-selling author/illustrator Vashti Harrison and a middle grade novel with Clarion Books called THE LEAGUE OF PICKY EATERS -- and even with that happening, I still have lows. The best advice I can give here is to look the lows squarely in the face and say, "Okay, this doesn't feel great, but I know it's going to get better." Because it will. Then go out and do the things that bring you joy beyond your writing/illustrating: take a forest bath, string up twinkle lights in your bedroom or living room, reread your favorite books, take yourself to dinner or a movie, indulge in new and beautiful bedding, take a class that develops a different creative skill, and do what Sara advises: celebrate the hell out of all the great things (big and little) that happen along the way. You got this.
Cathy Ballou Mealey
(When a Tree Grows, Sterling)
Cathy recommends Debut Deep Breathing:
To keep your equilibrium throughout the highs and lows of debut year, debut deep breathing offers easy, affordable on-the-go self care.
INHALE - Ah, that new book smell! The sweet, fresh paper fragrance of your very own book can't be beat.
EXHALE - Huff and puff surprising comments, untimely developments or less-than-lovely moments into the ether.
Cathy will continue to practice Debut Deep Breathing until her next picture book, PICKLE PACKERS, releases in 2021 from Kids Can Press, illustrated by the lovely and talented Kelly Collier.
Congrats to all on the honors, lists, new book announcements and accolades! Such a thrill to be part of the talented and accomplished Notable19s!
Shauna LaVoy Reynolds (Poetree, Dial/Penguin)
Hey, future debut authors! Starred reviews, placement on “staff picks” shelves, and positive buzz from teachers and librarians are all fantastic. (Like, *really* fantastic!) But chasing those things can cause you to stray from your work's purpose. Don’t lose sight of your true audience — it’s all about the kids. Kids who might see themselves on the pages, get lost in your story, and feel that spark in their hearts to create something lovely.
Marcie Flinchum Atkins
(Wait, Rest, Pause, Millbrook Press)
My phrase or mantra for 2019 was "Joy in the Process." I taped it to my computer, so I'd see it everyday. It was the perfect phrase for 2019 with books coming out and more books in the process. Things don't always go as planned and some things go better than planned, but if I can keep joy in the process of writing, then that can be the daily reward I reap privately. I love writing. I can't stop even if I try (I've tried), so I'm trying to embrace the process--the excitement of a new idea, the mind-blowing process of research, the uncertainty of a new draft, the messiness of revision, or the nail-biting process of being on submission--all of it.
Teresa Robeson (Queen of Physics, Sterling)
I'm a nerdy homebody-introvert, and here are things I've learned that might be applicable to debut authors with similar temperament:
1) Join a debut group, but don't join too many as it will dilute your time and energy.
2) Celebrate your way: everyone said to have a launch party and I stressed about it for months. I finally decided not to have one and felt so much happier in the end. The corollary to that is: Don't over-commit to events if you don't like to socialize. I've kept mine to just a handful of appearances but I give those my wholehearted attention and enthusiasm.
3) If you write a difficult topic (like, oh, nuclear physics, for example), there will be people who just won't get it, no matter how much you simplify it. So ignore those reviews. In fact, just ignore most reviews, period, for your peace of mind. And peace of mind is so important as you keep working on other projects while awaiting the arrival of your book into the world!
I'm re-reminding myself of all of this as I wait for my next book TWO BICYCLES IN BEIJING (Albert Whitman) to release in April, 2020, while trying to promote the first one and also working on a couple of middle grade and picture book projects.
(Red Rover, Roaring Brook Press)
For new authors who were fortunate enough to celebrate their debuts this year... CONGRATULATIONS, and may this be the first of many. For yet-to-be-published authors... KEEP AT IT, because the dream is within your grasp. Looking forward to lots of wonderful book news from everyone in 2020 and beyond!
My next picture book, THE LOST PACKAGE, is illustrated by fellow Notable 19s alum Jessica Lanan and will hit shelves in Winter 2021!
(The Fisherman and the Whale,
Simon & Schuster)
It has been a delight to celebrate a year of authorial debuts with this lovely group of friends. In the coming year, I plan (hope? resolve?) to spend more time experimenting with new methods and simply enjoying the challenging process of making books. My next books as an illustrator include A KID OF THEIR OWN, by Megan Dowd Lambert coming from Charlesbridge in February and THE LOST PACKAGE by our own Richard Ho, coming from Roaring Brook Press in winter '21. Upcoming books as author/illustrator... well, you will just have to wait and see!
(Trucker and Train, Clarion/HMH)
I never anticipated this to happen in the year of my debut, but I started taking much better care of myself. I lost a bunch of weight through healthier eating and regular SoulCycle classes. I think this has really helped me weather the ups and downs of the children’s book industry. I‘ve been so proud to see TRUCKER AND TRAIN out in the world, but I’ve also been quietly proud that I decided to put self-care first during this year of unknowns.
(The Little Green Girl, Dial/Penguin)
My biggest piece of advice for both debut authors/illustrators and pre-published folks would be to find your people and keep them close. Surround yourself with other creators who you respect and who understand the crazy roller coaster ride of kidlit publishing, and support one another. You will mutually spur one another on and keep each other going, celebrating your successes and buoying one another up during hard moments. This is valuable both before and after the publication of your first book.
Looking ahead, my third illustrated title, THE POLIO PIONEER: DR. JONAS SALK AND THE POLIO VACCINE will publish with Knopf in the fall of 2020, and I'm in process of finishing revisions on my second author-illustrated title with Dial, THE PAPER WOODS, tentatively scheduled for publication Summer 2021.
We hope you gleaned some comfort and wisdom from this post. As you can see, we have lots of projects up our sleeves and coming out, which is why it's not good-bye but au revoir which is "until we meet again." You will definitely be meeting all of us again!
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!