Just an Author Blog

Reflections on the Journey to Publication and Beyond...

37 Things I Love…#31: Making Videos

My new novel, 37 THINGS I LOVE, is due out from Henry Holt/Macmillan on May 22, 2012. In honor of this exciting development, here is a video of me talking about the book:

I cut this video out of extra footage I recorded for a special project. Even after making that one, I had so much neat material left over, that I made a whole separate reel of excess footage from the interview, including fun outtakes from all my “book drop” attempts. Don’t know what I mean by a “book drop?” Watch and learn….and laugh. I know I did.

Mondays at CHICKS ROCK!

On Mondays I post at CHICKS ROCK!, the blog of The Women’s Mosaic. Check out my posts there, too!
The Women’s Mosaic is a New York City-based non-profit organization that provides education, inspiration, and motivation for women to rise up and rock the world! The Women’s Mosaic unites and empowers women through programs that promote intercultural understanding and personal growth. We are a community of diverse, dynamic women interested in expanding our horizons by creating positive change that can individually and collectively enrich the world.

While I Have You…. (Crafting Your Elevator Pitch)

I once met Toni Morrison in an elevator. This happened during ALA in Washington, DC, in 2010. It was late in the evening. I was exhausted. She was probably exhausted. We were staying in the same hotel, apparently, and we were both on our way back to our rooms. She stepped into the elevator behind me, along with her aides. I turned around and there she was, in all her magnificent glory. And she is a magnificent person to behold. People had told me that she has a presence, but I was unprepared for the intensity of it.

It’s difficult to excuse what happened next. Because I can honestly say I’m good at networking. I’m good at pushing myself to speak up when it feels awkward, and handing out my book cards and business cards and making sure people know who I am. I’d been doing it all day at the conference, and pretty well. As a quiet, sometimes self-conscious person this kind of socializing is difficult, but I challenge myself and I think I perform well overall.

Not in this case. Stepping into my own hotel represented the end of the day, the end of the need to be “on” and networking. I was done. So, to be taken by surprise by one of the great literary figures of modern times, not to mention a beautiful black woman who I admire….well, let’s just say I was taken by surprise.

In the end, all I was able to blurt was “Are you Toni?” She nodded sagely, during which moment I was flooded with shame over having called her by her first name. “Ms. Morrison,” “Dr. Morrison,” even “Toni Morrison” for crying out loud would have been better. (I’m still mortified.) She looked at me expectantly, with tired but generous eyes, her gray locks falling over her shoulder like some sort of epic waterfall. I stared back at her…and utterly stalled.

There are things I always says to new people about my book. I didn’t say them. I had actually (believe it or not) rehearsed conversation points specifically to raise with Toni Morrison if I should run into her at this conference. I lost all track of them. I had postcards galore in my shoulder bag. I fumbled to pull one out. I thrust it at her as the elevator doors opened on her floor. “I’m Kekla Magoon,” I blurted. “I write–it would really mean a lot to me if I could just give you my book card.”

And that was it. She took the card, stepped out of the elevator, and handed it to her aide without really looking at it as she headed down the hall. I’m sure I made no impression at all. If she ever even looked at that card again, I feel lucky.

In the moment, I was crushed. A great opportunity, blown. And all because I stuck my foot in my mouth. Even though it felt like she dismissed me, I didn’t get the sense that she dismisses people automatically. I believe there are things I could have said that would have cut through her tiredness and made her look twice at me as a young author with potential. I can only hope I’ll meet her again someday, because I know I would handle it better.

Every author needs a strong “elevator pitch” when promoting their books. You need to know it cold. Here’s the why and how of it.  

The “elevator pitch” concept is based on the exact scenario I just described:

You get into an elevator and press the button for your floor. The elevator doors close. There’s someone else in there already, and when you look closer, you realize it’s–gasp!–a person with great power and influence in your particular industry. In our case, perhaps an agent, editor, reviewer, publisher or fellow author you admire. Knowing this is your big chance to impress the person by talking about your forthcoming novel (or your work in progress) you strike up a conversation. They seem congenial enough, but the floors are ticking by quickly, and soon the doors will open and the person will step away. You have limited time, and you must explain yourself and your project in a brief but compelling manner so they will remember you. You have less than a minute, which means very few sentences uttered. How do you sell them on the concept of your book?

It is so incredibly important to have your elevator pitch close at hand at all times. True, it won’t always be the likes of Toni Morrison whose attention you need to capture. It might just be people at a cocktail party who politely ask what your book is about, but may or may not really care. Your job as a casual self-promoter is to make sure that they care a little bit more after you answer the question than they did when they asked it. And the more you practice this pitch with regular people, the more likely you’ll be to handle the situation correctly when it really matters most, and you’re at your most nervous and awkward.

Elevator Pitch Basics:

  • Who are you?
  • What is your book about? More specifically, what makes it unique in the marketplace?
  • How should someone find out more about it, or contact you?

When your book is high-concept, it’s easier to come up with a striking elevator pitch. The Rock and the River was the first (and at the time only) novel dealing with the Black Panther Party for young readers. My pitch usually went something like: “I’m Kekla Magoon, author of The Rock and the River. My novel is set in 1968 Chicago, about thirteen-year-old Sam, whose father is a civil rights activist. When his older brother joins the Black Panther Party, Sam must decide which path he’s going to follow himself. Here’s my card.”

When the book is about more common subject matter, it is a bit more of a challenge to find phrases to describe the book that are going to make it seem unique. That is why it is so important to spend time thinking about your elevator pitch before you head out into the world to network. My novel Camo Girl is basically about friendship in middle school, and kids having to make diffucult choices. But, hello, that’s what most middle grade novels are about. I know the book is unique, but how is a prospective reader to know that?

I tried to bring a little humor to the pitch: “Camo Girl is about friendship in middle school–in other words, how to choose a lunch table. Ella and her best friend Z are outcasts in sixth grade and they sit alone at lunch every day. Then a new boy in school, Bailey, befriends Ella and gives her the chance to join a more popular crowd, but to do so she’d have to leave Z behind.

I’m still working on the perfect elevator pitch for my upcoming novel, 37 Things I Love. Saying it’s about “friendship in high school” isn’t going to cut it….but what I’ve gone through in coming up with a pitch for that book is enough to fill a follow-up post. Stay tuned.

Always, always, have book cards, business cards, bookmarks or marketing materials with you when you are out. Whether you’re going to a conference or to the grocery store, you just never know who you’re going to run into. Keep a few business cards in your purse or wallet at the very least. Stick a pack of bookmarks in the glove compartment. Whatever you have to do to keep them close, because anytime you deliver your elevator pitch, you MUST give the person the ability to follow up if they are interested. Let’s face it: that was the only salvation of my encounter with Toni Morrison. She heard me say my name, and I placed information about my book in her hand. Sometimes that’s all you can do.

What’s your elevator pitch? Post it in the comments–it never hurts to get a little extra self-promotion in!

Mondays at CHICKS ROCK!

On Mondays I post at CHICKS ROCK!, the blog of The Women’s Mosaic. Check out my posts there, too!
The Women’s Mosaic is a New York City-based non-profit organization that provides education, inspiration, and motivation for women to rise up and rock the world! The Women’s Mosaic unites and empowers women through programs that promote intercultural understanding and personal growth. We are a community of diverse, dynamic women interested in expanding our horizons by creating positive change that can individually and collectively enrich the world.

Dark and Stormy

I guess I’m coming late to the party: I just found out today about the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) blackout. Where have I been, you might ask? I’ve been everywhere I usually go online lately, I just somehow missed it. But now I’m on board.inappropriate content

Well, I’m not turning my blog or website dark, partly because I don’t know how to do it and partly because I think that sort of statement is much stronger coming from powerhouse sites like Google and Wikipedia. Little writers like me, I think, should just keep on writing, because to stop doing what we do in order to make a point runs counter to the battle cry for anti-censorship. For instance, I’m happy that Twitter has kept on tweeting, because, frankly, that’s how I found out about the planned blackout in the first place. I’m not sure shutting down the internet for a day does anyone any good, and while I get that the whole point of the demostration is to prove that fact, I suspect the people who need to learn the lesson aren’t going to learn it in a day.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they can learn the lesson. I’m excited to see how much buzz and action is being generated online around this issue. I’m sure the blackout helps draw attention to these bills, so I’m glad that more and more sites and individuals are jumping on the bandwagon and voicing their perspectives. I hope it succeeds in getting Congress to block the bills! I also hope this kind of massive action can be replicated in the future around other important issues that affect all of us.

If you’re like me and are just learning about this issue and want to know more about SOPA, PIPA and the blackout, watch this video:

http://fightforthefuture.org/pipa/

And/or read these sites:

http://americancensorship.org/

https://www.google.com/landing/takeaction/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sopa

 

Launch Your Book In Style

 

The Rock and the River Book Launch
The Rock and the River launch party, January 2009

I’ve attended a lot of book launch parties in my day. It’s pretty exciting when anyone you know has a new book out, but nothing tops celebrating your own debut. There’s a lot to consider, but if you take a little time to think it through, the party can go really smoothly!

Choose your venue. First, consider what kind of party are you going to have: An adults-only party with cocktails and mingling? A kid-friendly outdoor picnic? A bookstore-based event with a reading? A catered dinner at a local restaurant? Do you want a place that will provide food, or do you want to arrange your own snacks? A lot will depend on how much you want to spend and who you plan to invite, which depends on who you know. If you live in the suburbs and have a bunch of friends with young children, consider a family-friendly option. If you’re thirty and most of your friends are single and like to drink, a bar or restaurant with a private room may be a perfect gathering place. A lot of bars and restaurants allow you to reserve private rooms for free, assuming you’ll order food and drinks while you occupy the space.

Plan your refreshments. No party is complete without a little food and drink. Depending on your venue, this might be easy or difficult. If it’s a bar/restaurant, you’ll need to choose whether you’ll pick up the tab for food and drinks, or if your guests will pay as they go. You might order a few party platters from the kitchen for the group to snack on, but allow people to order and pay for their own drinks. Discuss it with the venue, and price it out. If you’re in a different kind of space, you’ll have to make separate arrangements for the food. You could hire caterers, buy snacks yourself, or ask a few close friends to bring various party trays. Are you going to serve alcohol? Always provide non-alcoholic beverages as an option, too.

Set a time frame. Unless you’re plan a catered dinner ($$$), people will likely drop in when they can, so you want to choose a large enough window that people don’t feel like they have to be there exactly on time, but small enough that you. Two to three hours should do the trick, depending on the venue and the number of people. Setting a closing time is helpful so people don’t think they can just show up hours later, but no worries if it goes over time.

Line up some party assistants. Don’t try to go it alone! Your family and close friends will be excited to help you plan and execute your party. During the event, you want to be floating, chatting, signing books and generally enjoying being the center of attention, not worrying about whether the pretzel bowl is still full. Assign a friend to manage the snacks and keep them replenished. The same friend, or another, can keep an eye on the drinks table, or even serve beverages to people. You might choose an artistic friend or two to be your designated photographers–you’ll want photos after the fact. I had a fairly large party, so I assigned my brother as a greeter to meet people at the door. He pointed out things like the coat closet, the refreshments area, my signing area, and where they could buy books. Rather than being a burden on people, it actually gave them something to do at the party, and made some of my shyer friends feel more comfortable being in a social setting with a lot of people they didn’t know.

Name your event.In my experience, people are more likely to show up to a “book launch party” than to a “book signing.” if you can come up with a cool sounding name, it’s even better. Perhaps incorporate your book title, if that works, or your own name. “Kekla’s Book Launch Extravangaza.” (I don’t know. Naming parties isn’t my strong suit. I’ll work on it…) Regardless, be excited when you talk about it. The party should match your personality (or your book’s personality) and allow you to shine. Convey the fact that there will be snacks, and people will have fun while celebrating alongside you. Depending on the circles you run in, a lot of your friends may have no idea what to expect from a book party.

Book launch food
An appetizer spread I created myself

Invite everyone. You’ll want to seriously consider how many contacts you have, and think really broadly. Not everyone you invite will come, of course. That’s just life. But you also might be surprised at who does come. Don’t limit your guest list based on who you think will want to attend. Easily fifteen distant acquaintances that I would never have expected to show up for my book launch actually came. Because I invited them haphazardly during a long sweep of my inbox, in a moment of excitement, wanting everyone in the world to know about my book. My best hope was that a few of them would buy it online, and stick it in a closet somewhere. They proved me very wrong–I shouldn’t have underestimated them!

Invite them repeatedly. Send a Save the Date email as soon as you know the date. Send a follow-up invite about six weeks before the event. Send a reminder about a week before. Send. Create a Facebook event. Tweet a countdown. Keep it in people’s minds. It doesn’t have to be the same exact message every time. Perhaps drop little tidbits about the book, or send around any good review quotes that come in. This is how you generate buzz.

Ask for RSVPs. Let people know that it’s important to get an accurate head count so you can order an appropriate amount of books. And food. Don’t press the issue, or give a deadline for RSVP, though. You don’t want people to fear they shouldn’t show up at the last minute.

Inform the local press. I highly recommend this, especially if you live in a small to medium community, or have lived in your community for a long time. It felt silly to me to notify the New York Times of my signing in Manhattan (I didn’t), but I did send press releases to the Journal Gazette and News Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Indiana, when I planned a local event in my hometown. They published the announcement! Friends from high school who I’d forgotten about saw it and came. As did a lot of my parents’ friends, and a few random strangers. A local community paper also printed an interview with me along the theme of “hometown girl, grown up,” which landed me a paid visit to my local library.

Have copies of your books on sale. This is an absolute must. Do not be shy. The people who come out to celebrate your book launch want to support you, and supporting an author means buying their book. People need to understand that. (You’d be surprised how many acquaintances of mine thought I would be giving books away to everyone I knew. Don’t give away free copies.) Most local independent bookstores will order books for you and send a representative to your event to sell them for you. This eliminates a huge headache for you, not to mention a big expense of buying copies to resell. But, if you prefer, you can order the books yourself and assign a friend sell them for you. Not everyone will buy the book on the spot, but a lot of them will. Some might even buy gift copies. You may want to set aside a time for signing, or you can just do

HueMan Bookstore sells at Kekla's book launch
HueMan Bookstore came to my launch party

it on the fly as people ask. (Important note: A bookstore rep will usually be able to take credit card sales. If you sell books yourself, let people know by email in advance if the books will be available for cash only. Most people pay with twenties, so you’ll need plenty of bills to make change. Have receipts available. Some people might ask for one.)

Decide if you will speak. This can feel awkward, especially if it’s your first time in front of a crowd to talk about your book. But I think it’s an important opportunity. Honestly, I didn’t do it at my first party, and I wish I had. When you feel like most people have arrived, you can just take a moment to thank folks for coming, speak a little bit about the book. (5-10 minutes, tops. No grandstanding.) Invite people to buy it if they haven’t already, and remind them you’ll be signing copies. One easy way to get yourself “onstage” is to ask a friend or family member to initiate things by offering a toast to your new book. He can get people’s attention and say something brief but nice about you, then turn the “mike” over to you for your brief remarks. You probably know someone who’d be perfect in this capacity.

Go to other people’s parties. It’s always fun. You’ll look around and see how they organized their party, and you’ll pick up tips for your own. Besides, supporting your fellow writers is a great way to build a following for yourself. Show up for people, and it will mean something to them. They will remember. So, even when it’s cold out and you’d rather stay in your jammies and you don’t even know the person that well anyway, GO. On the way there, reflect on how badly you’ll want them show up for you!

 

I found some posts with more book party-planning tips:

Editorial Ass has a great piece on planning a book launch: http://editorialass.blogspot.com/2010/05/how-to-throw-awesome-book-launch.html

The Writer’s Handbook gives a rundown on WHY to have one: http://writershandbook.wordpress.com/2009/03/19/plan-a-great-book-launch-party/

A Lee and Low author talks about her personal experience planning a book launch for her book: http://blog.leeandlow.com/2009/11/11/how-to-plan-a-successful-book-launch/

New Website!

I just finished a very long process of revising and updating my website. With the help of a fabulous web designer, all my new content is up and ready for viewing! I’m very pleased about how it all turned out.

I’ve moved my blog content from Blogger to my own site, too, so if you’ve been following me on Blogger, I hope you’ll join me here now. I’ll be posting twice a week about my author’s journey.

Check out my new site and let me know how it looks!

Five Levels of Self-Promotion

I love self-promotion. Cheesy though it may be, nothing makes me happier than handing someone a copy of a freshly-minted postcard emblazoned with my book cover. Unfortunately, what should be a sweet moment of pride for me is often discolored by tiny twinges of anxiety, wondering: Is it really appropriate to ramble on about my book and press information into the hands of unsuspecting acquaintances? Is now the time? Is this the place?

Experience has taught me not tCarso be shy about handing people my contact information. I’ve come to realize that people who end up in conversation with me about my writing are genuinely interested in it. The others will blow me off or change the subject without a second’s hesitation.

Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to proceed with caution when self-promoting, because while your ultimate goal never changes (sell, sell, sell!) you do want to adjust your behavior to your surroundings. Just have faith that there is always a way to get your networking done.

 

Five Levels of Self-Promotion*

Level 1: Pedal to the Metal

All out, no holds barred promotion.

You’re at a American Library Association conference, or an industry networking fair, like Book Expo America. People are wearing badges displaying their name and affiliation, walking around the trade show floor and looking at the booths. This event is all about swag. In this environment it is TOTALLY appropriate to walk up to complete strangers and say, “I’m a young adult author; my debut novel comes out next month. Would you like a bookmark?” (People love bookmarks, especially teachers and librarians.) Then just go ahead and hand it to them. They will take it, and they’ll be pleased. EVERY SINGLE person you talk with at a big conference should get a card, or bookmark or some little memorable token with your name, your book title and ideally also your website and/or email. You don’t have to stand at a busy corner and hawk them, but you should always have a few in your hand, so that each encounter can end with you handing someone your card. Don’t feel weird. Do accept any materials given to you in return. It’s part of the conference culture!

 

Level 2: Givin’ it Gas

Targeted approaches. As many as possible.

Every industry event is a little bit about networking, but when it isn’t the central purpose, you’ll want to behave more subtly. If you’re at a panel event, keynote speech, or other organized event, look around the room. See who you might want to talk to afterward. Strike up conversations with people sitting near you. Exchange cards. It is always appropriate to go up to the presenter after the event and introduce yourself. Compliment them on something you genuniely liked about their presentation, or learned from it. Or, ask a follow-up question if you have one. Give them your card. Give cards also to people who may be standing with you during that conversation. If another audience member said something during Q&A that interested you, that is a point of entry. If you see them later, you can say hello, and thank them for sharing their thoughts.

 

Level 3: Yield to Oncoming Traffic

Assertive action, but initiated casually.

You’re at someone else’s book launch or reading event. You are not the focus of the night. You are there to celebrate your friend’s success. But the audience is full of potential readers of your book. Yes, it is okay to capitalize on that. No, it is not okay to try to steal your colleague’s thunder. These things are not mutually exclusive. When you are chatting with people in social settings, it is very common for folks to ask, “What do you do?” Even if you claim a different day job as your primary occupation, be sure that you also mention that you’re an author in the same breath. People who’ve come to a book event will be interested in hearing about your writing, so feel free to tell them about it. Give them your card. The same holds true for any social event. It’s not heavy networking, but there’s nothing wrong with slipping your card to people you’ve spoken to at a cocktail gathering, or in a mosh pit, or on church bowling night. (I don’t know how you roll.)

 

Level 4: Engines Idling

Meet, greet, retreat.

You’re at your friend’s wedding. Rumor has it there’s a big time book reviewer in the house. Friend of a cousin or something, and oh, how you would love a review from her. There is absolutely nothing wrong with finding out who she is and introducing yourself. However, you must remember: she is not a book reviewer tonight, she’s a happy doting cousin who may well be slightly tipsy. She doesn’t want to talk about work. It is not the time to ask for a review, nor to regale her with stories of your madcap authorial adventures. Your goal is simply to make the connection, and ideally to walk away with her contact information. Basically, you’re aiming for a sufficiently memorable encounter (not the champagne-spilling kind of memorable) to refer to when you send your follow-up email the next week.

 

Level 5: Filling Station

Information gathering only.

I’m not certain I’ve ever used this level, but it’s there. I work really hard to put myself out there, even when it’s a little uncomfortable. But the next best thing to giving someone information about your book is gathering information about them. In fact, you always want to get other people’s cards if you can, because you’ll use them to begin filling your personal database of contacts. When in doubt, gather intelligence. Sometimes situations come up when you just don’t feel comfortable presenting yourself, but that doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause. Write down notes about who you met, when and where. Make note, too, of mutual friends or acquaintances who might put you in touch with the person later. Even in a networking setting, you might get a vibe off someone that says they’re not in the mood to deal with you. Fine. Make note, and you’ll catch them next time.

That’s it!

Statistics would no doubt prove that most people you give your card to will never follow up, and the card will end up in the trash somewhere, but that’s beside the point. You never know which random contact will be the one to actually Google you later or send you a follow-up note. It’s rarely who you expect.

 

*I have no idea why I chose car metaphors for this exercise. I do like to drive, though.

That Eeemy-Squeamy Feeling

If you’ve been around literary networking events at all, you’ve probably met those authors who feel it is their mission in life to get everyone to buy their book. Personally. Right here. Why wait? They have copies for sale. They can sign one for you. Personalize it. Give you a plastic bag, and a bookmark, and sign you up on their mailing list, for which you’ll receive an additional bag and bookmark once you’ve recommended their book to someone else or written a compelling blog post extolling its virtues. You know you want one. Come on. Please?

Arrrgh. The only thing worse than having to dodge a persistent self-promoter is dealing with the fear that you, too, come across as an aggressive, egotistical maniac whose book can’t possibly be any good if she’s having to push it so hard.

So, where is the line between assertiveness and aggression when it comes to promoting your own work? It’s so easy to see when other people cross it—why is it so difficult to see this line in relation to yourself?

The bad news is, you can never really see it. The line moves, depending on so many factors—the setting, what your intentions are, the mood of your conversation partner, their perception of you. (Notice—the list includes things that are wholly out of your control.) But do not lose faith, because here’s the good news: if you feel slightly embarrassed by self-promotion, you definitely have the self-regulatory instincts that keep you from coming across as a crazy. Whew.

Because we fear being perceived badly, most writers actually fall into the category of not being assertive enough when it comes to self-promotion. I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought to myself, “I really want to tell Person X about my book. Is that going to seem weird? Is it too forward of me?” Never mind how much we love our work, we don’t feel socially permitted to say so. (More on this later.) Thus, the anxiety of worrying about how we’ll come across collides with the anxiety of desperately wanting to talk about our work, which drives us toward a deeper existential anxiety, and the vicious cycle continues.

There’s no perfect formula. You have to feel it out. But I do have some thoughts on different levels of self-promotion, and where each might be appropriate. For example, you can be much more forward with an industry professional in a networking setting (like at a conference) than you can if you meet at a mutual friend’s wedding. Here is my short list of promotions styles, and how to use them.

The bottom line is this: in order to be an effective self-promoter, you have to get comfortable with confronting the eeemy-squeamy feeling of Am I making this too much about me?

And then you’ve gotta just go out and do it.

Brilliant Advice, Untaken

I have to admit that one of my struggles as a new author was parsing the various and abundant recommendations, comments, suggestions and plans that other authors shared with me. Suggestions came from people within the industry (agents, editors) too, and of course from well-meaning family and friends who really had no idea what a publishing career entails. Plus, prior to getting my contract, I’d already spent a lot of time attending conferences, listening and absorbing information, so I already had my own thoughts and assumptions to contend with.

But when it came time to actually DO something with my own debut book, I was really at a loss. Should I blog? Should I pepper the universe with postcards and swag? Should I go door to door to bookstores? Should I trust completely in the publicist I was assigned by the house? Should I hire a publicist of my own? Does the Goodyear blimp offer timeshares?

The sheer volume of possibilities made me want to tear my hair out. But at least I resisted the urge to curl into the fetal position, call my mom and whine. (Oh, who am I kidding? I have her on speed dial for a reason.)

My mom is a maternal health nurse and parenting expert, and one of the first pieces of advice she gives new parents is: “Regardless of the conventional wisdom, in the end you have to do what’s best for you, your baby, and your family.” (Thanks, Mom.) I offer the same advice to brand new authors: You have to do what’s best for you and your book. Every published author has a wealth of joyful stories, tales of epic struggle, and brilliant theories of success based on what worked for them.

Newsflash: What worked for them may not work for you. In context here, that may sound really obvious, but when you’re out in the world and all the advice is flying at you and people you desperately admire start saying things like “Here’s what you should do…” and “If I were you, I would…” and “The year before I won my Newbery Honor, I…”…it becomes harder to remember that the ubiquitous THEY are not YOU.

The point I’m trying to make is, I’m blogging not because I have all the answers, but because I have struggled through all the questions. Some of my most meaningful experiences as a debut author involved meeting other debut authors, huddling in a corner together and quietly crying to one another about our stresses and our fears. Not literally crying (usually) but simply saying our worries out loud and knowing we weren’t alone: “Is anyone going to like my book?” “I think my editor secretly hates me.” “I’m afraid I’ll bomb my first school visit and get fruit snacks hurled at me by disgruntled seventh graders.”

Nothing compares to the anxiety of waiting for your first book to come out. Except, perhaps, the subsequent anxiety of knowing it’s out there and people are reading it and inevitably judging you. Now that I have a few books under my belt, I take this anxiety in stride. I no longer feel like a debut novelist, but I can’t ever forget how it felt at the time. The constant flux of emotions, from glittering excitement to soul-shaking terror. The semi-permanent nausea. The feeling of always holding your breath. Waiting. Waiting… There’s so much waiting, across a thousand tiny steps, and it feels like you’ll never get there. You will.

It does get better. Really. When I was new to authorhood, I would have loved it if someone had taken my hand and lovingly told me that. I’m not sure I would have believed, but I think it might have allowed me to breathe.

There’s no perfect way to be an author. There’s no formula you have to follow. You can just be yourself. All the advice in the world is not going to make you better—unless you figure out how to extract what you need and let the rest fall aside. It takes time. Listen closely to all the people who tell you what to do. Try what sounds good to you. Let go of what doesn’t.

As for me, to the best of my ability I plan to be one of those advice-givers. I will answer your questions. I will tell you everything I can about what I have been through, including what I’d do differently, what I’d do more of, and what I am proud of having done well. Do with my words what you will.