Most debut authors like the Notables have spent years just aspiring to get published, and many words of advice have been written on the subject of perseverance. But we talk less about the transition that we go through when our debut book finally goes out into the world. How will our book be received? What can we expect? What might we fear?
Perhaps you've come across a story like this:
Meet John Doe. John Doe graduated from a top art school in the illustration program. He was the winner of a portfolio contest and sold his dummy at auction afterward. His book was published by (insert name of big 5 publishing house.) The publisher gave his book a ton of attention and spent a lot of money marketing it. He got six starred reviews, and he ended up on the bestseller list. They even sent him on a book tour! Everyone loved his book. And-as everyone expected--he won a big prize at the end of the year. All that, and under 30. Amazing!
Or not. Perhaps you fear a scenario like this:
Meet John Doe. John Doe was a totally unknown author. His book was published by (insert name of small, unknown publisher.) He only got a couple trade reviews, and they were disappointing. He had a book launch party, but not even his roommate came. He asked his local bookstore if they would stock his book, and they told him they would "look into it." (It never showed up.) The book was not reprinted, and didn't earn out.
Or maybe you are imagining something in between:
Meet John Doe. His book came out and it was... okay. He received several trade reviews, and they were mostly positive. He got one that was not-so-good. (It wasn't really as bad as he thought, but John was feeling a little bit raw right then.) He had a book launch party, and a lot of his friends turned up to support him. He signed a few books and enjoyed the cupcakes. The book didn't seem to make too much of a splash, but still John Doe was proud of his work and the positive reviews he received. He got a nice note from a teacher talking about how much their class enjoyed reading his book, and he printed it out to hang on his wall.
No matter how your experience turns out, it's helpful to think of your debut book as just one step along your journey. The same perseverance that got you a published book in the first place is the perseverance that will serve you through the rest of your writing or illustrating career. If you're feeling like John Doe in his worst-case scenario, looking at empty chairs at your book launch party, just remember: there's no reason you can't just try, try again. It doesn't mean you aren't cut out to be an author.
I'm a bit of an oddball in this group of debut authors, because I was lucky enough to illustrate several books before my debut as an author. But I can share some perspective that I gained from that experience. I began my publishing journey working with small publishers and without an agent's guidance. With each book I've worked on, I have improved as a storyteller. Each book gets a little more traction and recognition. I had to beg my local bookstore to stock a copy of my first book. Now, eight years later, I can hardly believe that the same bookstore put FISHERMAN AND THE WHALE in their window.
When I look back at my books, I'm glad that I was brave enough to give it a try, come what may--even if my story turned out to be a far cry from Cinderella. And now, as an author/illustrator, I can feel confident that with the right attitude and hard work, the best is yet to come.
Each book is a step on your journey, and your journey is your own. There's no right way to be a debut author!
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!