WANTED: Sophomore author (early career/emerging author, age and gender not important) seeks mentor (age and gender not important) because this can’t be making it, can it?
I’ve been talking with a lot of authors lately. There’s an ongoing discussion about transparency on the internet (it happens every few months, but this one feels different–people are talking openly about fears, concerns, publishers not communicating what (if anything) they are doing, numbers, etc. It started with a newsletter by Susan Dennard, and then a discussion about privilege. And privately, offline, in various spaces and in my text messages, I’ve been talking to other authors, including fellow 2017 debuts, about how unprepared I feel for my sophomore year.
[Note: I have a bit of an advantage: publishing 3 romance books in 2015 doesn’t make me a “true” debut but the feeling around publishing The Girl with the Red Balloon and Second Position is wildly different, and that’s a different post.]
But mostly, I feel wildly unprepared leading up to the release of The Spy with the Red Balloon and what happens next. I know it looks like I have my stuff mostly together, but I feel completely adrift right now.
And I think part of it is that I went into my YA debut year with a lot of information. People are super open with debuts. I knew to manage my expectations (and then manage them further, because unlike many of my close friends and peers, I was published by a smaller independent publishing house–I think my print run was less than some of my friends sold in a week, for instance.) I knew that I would be expected to do a lot of marketing on my own, and that it was up to me to decide how much I was financially capable of putting into my marketing. I knew I’d be setting up my own events. I knew to pick event locations where I had friends and family–at least SOMEONE would show up (note: this will not always work, lol. Sometimes even your family doesn’t show up!). I knew to set up events with other people versus by myself for maximum audience attendance. I knew what earning out meant and selling through and I knew about trade reviews and to avoid Goodreads.
But this year, I feel like someone took away my sail and left me with a broken oar in a leaking ship in the middle of the ocean. It’s like publishing thinks you know everything because you’ve had one traditionally published physical book. Good! There you go! You know what to expect and understand and you’ll never be caught off guard or shocked or upset or disappointed ever again!
That isn’t reality. There’s still so much to learn, but there’s also a lot that’s left me a little shocked, and a little surprised. YA in particular puts such heavy weight on the shininess of debuting that once you are no longer a debut, it feels like you are no longer wanted (at least, if your book didn’t make an enormous splash.) Festivals aren’t that interested in you, even local ones, and unless you’re with a Big 5 or a bigger publisher with a publicist who is all over you, it feels harder to get onto panels/programming that you don’t create yourself–and not all festivals allow you to pitch your own programming. Sometimes you have to get invited. That’s already hard for someone from a smaller publisher, if not impossible, but once you’re not a debut? Once you’re just another fish in the sea? It feels impossible.
I use that word a lot. FEELS.
And I do that for a couple of reasons.
- This is my perception. What I experience may not be true for another author at any house, including at my own house
- It puts the burden of that experience on me. I am not writing this as a call-out to my publisher or any other publisher.
I knew that writing my next book would be hard.
I knew that Book 2 was likely to sell less than Book 1 because of natural attrition.
I did not know how much luster you lose if your book wasn’t a Big Book and you are no longer a debut. In terms of engagement online, fans, pre-orders, etc. I didn’t know how lost I’d feel. How much I didn’t know how to navigate this new world with less information about what I do now. (The answer always seems to be: write the next book. But I feel so lost on that too! What do I *write* now that my series seems to be coming to an end? Will people like it at much as they liked Book 1? If I jump to a new category, am I shooting myself in the foot? Am I stuck here forever? How many questions can I put between parentheses?)
And I have a handful of multi-published friends who have been super helpful and supportive. I don’t want to discredit them or throw them under the bus or suggest that all their gchats and texts and emails and in person discussions haven’t been helpful. I’m supremely grateful for their help.
But I still feel lost.
Or maybe this is just me! Maybe I am the only 2017 YA debut feeling lost this year. Maybe I’m the only one feeling despondent. Maybe this is just me, and depression, and a tough second book sinking in the ocean all by myself. Maybe it’s the loss of the debut group online–though mine was famously a bit of a hot mess–or maybe it’s that I’m not new anymore. Maybe it’s that I’m just another fish in the sea now and the specialness is gone and I liked that. Maybe.
But if I’ve learned anything from this transparency discussion, it’s that someone else usually feels what you’re feeling too.
If that’s you, hi. It’s me, Katherine. I’m feeling this way too.