The Beautiful Daughters, my eighth novel, hits shelves in just a couple of days (4/28).
That’s a bit of a surreal sentence to write. I still can’t believe it. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was five years old, and the understanding that I get to do this thing that makes my soul sing is really rather unfathomable. Yet here I am, on the cusp of another release... And it’s still as fresh and dreamlike as it was when After the Leaves Fall made its debut in 2007.
But that’s not entirely true. It can’t be. I’m no publishing ingenue, even though I may still feel like it sometimes. Over the last eight years I’ve signed books for hundreds of people who waited in long lines just to say hello. And I’ve driven over an hour one way for an event that drew in exactly two people (one of whom was an elderly lady who came for the air-conditioning and fell asleep in her chair). I’ve received a starred, featured review in Publishers’ Weekly, and cried over reader roasts that called me “talentless” and implored people not to waste their money on my “pathetic book.” I’ve written novels that required light editing and others that I had to overhaul. One book I entirely rewrote--not once or even twice, but three times.
It’s been a journey to say the least. One that has been full of surprises (like the phone call I received asking me to write a novel in collaboration with a celebrity), disappointment (I’ve had a book “flop”), and joy (like, every single day I sit down and put pen to paper). I’ve learned a lot along the way, and though I’m hardly an expert, I want to share a few of the things that are rattling around in my head as I prepare to launch The Beautiful Daughters into the wide, wonderful world. I’m not sure what to label these musings. Insights? Advice? Maybe these are just the things I would like to tell my twenty-something debut novelist self as a thirty-something seasoned author.
To every debut author:
- Write what you love. But be smart about it. I’m one of those people who has a hundred stories on reserve. YA, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, chick-lit, thrillers... I hope that I get the chance to write them all, but for now I understand that a sudden jump from upmarket women’s fiction (what I currently write) to, say, YA fantasy (which I have a folder full of notes for) would cause me to confuse, and maybe lose, a lot of readers. I’m not saying I’ll never write that haunting, somewhat dystopian young adult book with a twist of magical realism and an edge of thriller, but I’m biding my time. Trying to build an audience. Connecting with readers who love bookclub fiction and honing my storytelling skills. It’s where I need to be right now. Abandoning the tribe I have (no matter how small) would feel a bit like leaving a party I’m throwing smack in the middle of the evening.
- Don’t be defined by sales (or lack thereof). Of course a NYT runaway bestseller would be about the greatest thing ever (surpassing even having drinks with Nathan Fillion or being chosen as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars). But whether the books sells 1,000 copies or 100,000, don’t lose sight of the fact that you wrote a book. You bled on that page (maybe even literally) and a part of your soul is forever captured in those words. That is a huge accomplishment! Be proud of what you’ve done! Don’t let anything diminish the significance and beauty of your work.
- Along similar lines: don’t read your reviews. Okay, fine, read a few, but have the grace to LET GO. Be resilient and... buoyant. You have to be in this industry. Only the people who have a decent sense of humor and don’t take themselves too seriously will have what it takes to endure the roller coaster ride that is publishing in today’s market. You win some, you lose some. A few will be enthralled by your work, a couple will detest it. The majority will fall somewhere in between (i.e. they won’t give two hoots). All of that’s okay. At the end of the day, it’s you in the mirror that’s staring back.
- Have fun! Embrace the experience. Throw yourself into it arms, and heart, wide open. There will be so many incredible moments, and if you’re too busy worrying about sales and reviews and whether or not you’ll get another contract, they will pass you by. Take pictures. Smile big. Drink wine with friends and throw yourself an epic launch party and sign your books with the flourish of someone who thinks every word you put on the page is brilliant (or, almost). Take selfies with your book baby. At some point, open up that big, beautiful book you wrote and curl up in a chair as if it’s someone else’s. Read it with fresh eyes and marvel at what you’ve done.
- Don’t take it for granted. It is a dream come true. Pinch yourself all you want, but you won’t wake from it. Come what may, this book will forever be yours and no one can take that away from you. And, yet. Yet. Don’t assume you have “arrived.” Don’t wait for readers (and publishers) to flock to you in anticipation of your next book. It is a fiercely competitive market and you will have to work hard if you want to remain a part of it. Be diligent, never stop learning, don’t expect any handouts. Be gracious to other authors and view them as friends, not competition. And never, never be unkind or arrogant in dealing with editors, agents, bloggers, reviewers, or, well, anyone. Mama’s rules
- Rock your bad book self and don’t be afraid to try to sell books. It’s what’ll keep you doing what you love. And if it makes you feel icky (it certainly does me!), remind yourself that not many professionals are forced to hawk their own wares for a paycheck. But this is the life we've chosen, and for better or worse, it's a part of our story.
Happy reading, friends!