Lessons From Debut Authors, Part 2: Surprises

Part two of my ‘Lessons from Debut Authors’ series continues this week, with the theme of what was the most surprising about the publication process and the shift from being an aspiring author to becoming a published author.

For me, the most surprising thing was that nothing drastically changed. My daily routine is pretty much the same. I go to my day job, I walk my dog, I write, except now it’s a different project. I have a little less writing time because of marketing. I think I thought I’d get a lot more attention, like people asking about my book or my sales all the time, but no one really cares and I mean that in a good way. On the flip side, I do occasionally and irrationally feel like a fraud, but that’s probably mostly because writing the next book didn’t magically become easier. However, slightly contradictory to my earlier comment that people don’t really ask me about it too much, sometimes when they do, I get weird reactions that I don’t enjoy very much. I’m looking at you various middle-aged men who feel the need to comment on how my book has the word ‘mistress’ in the title. I’ve stopped bothering to point out that it has a different meaning in context.

One of the most surprising things about the publication process was how busy it was. It was a little over a year from the time St. Martin’s picked up my novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, to when it actually hit the shelves, and I thought there would be a lot of quiet time in between those dates. In truth, I was constantly working on things, whether it be confirming things via email with my editor, fact-checking, copyedits, marketing planning (turns out you do a lot of marketing). All fun and exciting, especially getting to see the cover for the first time.

So what other surprises did other debut authors discover? Read on and find out!



I still feel like a fraud almost six months after my book was published. I feel like I’m playing “lets pretend” that I’m an author. It is strange to be on the other side of a book club where they are looking at me like I’m a trained monkey with all the mysterious answers to books in general.

But you know what? Meeting with book clubs and visiting with people after my author events has been the absolutely BEST part of all of this!!!

The downside is that although I knew the marketing/promoting/selling-of-the-soul part after your book is published…I knew that part was a lot of work. However, it came for me at a time where the rest of my life was super-busy too (day job, family things). Do what you can to clean up your life-slate before your book comes out because the marketing (to me, anyway) is exhausting!

Jill Hannah Anderson, author of The To-Hell-And-Back Club

I mean, nothing can prepare you for the thrill of seeing your book on a table at Barnes & Noble!

Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping

Here are my “surprises”….

THE AMOUNT OF MONEY SPENT ON “STUFF”:  When you come down to it, you’re building your brand.  But spread this out over time so you don’t feel like you’re draining your bank account dry.  Money I’ve spent includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • Website
  • Postcards to hand out to friends/family/coworkers once my cover was finalized
  • Save the Date cards to mail out to my Christmas list prior to my launch date
  • Swag items that included:  bookmarks, 2 sets of magnets, custom adult coloring pages, candles, keychains, boxes for the swag items (I made “thank you” boxes for my CP’s, editor, etc.).
  • Business cards
  • Gift cards for various giveaways during launch week and beyond
  • A Kindle Fire for launch week giveaway (that I got on a Black Friday deal—so watch sales for stuff, too!!)
  • PR firm to handle my launch week (which I’ll talk about below)
  • Mailing supplies to mail out prizes from launch week
  • Postage
  • Stickers with my author branding
  • …and probably more that I’m forgetting

HAVING TO DO PROMO—LOTS AND LOTS OF PROMO:  I knew going with a small pub meant having to do a lot of my own promo.  However, it is misleading to think that if you’re published with one of the Big 5 or bigger/on the rise publishers that you won’t have to do promo.  You will.  Most publishers work with book blogger or bookstagramers (book “bloggers” who use Instagram for a visual post).

But if you want your book to get out there, you need to be planning AT LEAST a year in advance.  Get active on social media (but don’t be spammy) and connect with other authors in the same boat as you so you can have strength in numbers.

KD Proctor, author of Meet Me Under The Stars

The publication process is very long and there is so much to do. Especially promotion. LOTS of promotion. And even being published doesn’t stop you from worrying about selling the next book or idea.  You actually have more work to do now.

Kari Lemor, author of Wild Card Undercover

It’s a slow process. For me it’s been about three years from writing the book to seeing it on a bookstore shelf. So the shift is gradual. But you can take advantage of that time to learn everything you need to know about publishing, marketing, social media—and work on your next big ideas for new books.

Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing

What still surprises me is the amount of time it takes to promote my novel! I feel like a full-time PR person rather than a writer! I spent an insane amount of time designing my website, bookmarks, postcards, creating a Facebook author page, and writing articles and interviews. It’s been fun, but I miss the days when I could shut the blinds and immerse myself in my writing. The other surprise is that some people look at you a little bit different after your book comes out. I’ve heard comments like “I’ve never met a real author before” and such. It’s surprising because I don’t see myself any different than before the novel was published.

Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street 

I was not prepared for how much writing to an outline and a deadline would change my method! I’ve always been something of a pantser, and having to write an outline for my editor has actually been quite helpful for me. I find I spend a lot less time floundering around in the middle trying to figure out what happens next! That being said, my method is still evolving. Writing to deadline is also a change—I find myself thinking differently about a book when I know it’s going to my editor. (The way of dealing with that stress, for me, is to write something completely different—it’s SO liberating!) Another adjustment is writing another book in a series when the first one’s already out getting reviews!

Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land

One of the biggest surprises in the transition from aspiring author to published author is the camaraderie with other writers. The road to publication often felt like a solitary path filled with twists and turns. After signing my first book contract, I connected with several other writers, both new and experienced. By the time Second Chance in Laguna launched in March 2017, I had a new network of not just colleagues, but friends. Today, I’d say more than half of my daily interactions are with other authors. This newfound sense of community is a welcome silver lining to a dream come true.

Claire Marti, author of Second Chance in Laguna 

The biggest surprise is that in the end, nothing changes. After the rush and the hoopla, no matter how many forms of validation, big and small, you receive along the way, you still get insecure about your work. And you haven’t solved any puzzles. At least, that’s how it is for me. It’s wasn’t like I figured out a formula for how to write a book, and now, I can do it again. The next book is another, very different challenge, equally grinding. And it’s just as invigorating to feel the words come together, coming to fruition. In the end, it all comes back to writing.

Renee Rutledge, author of The Hour of Daydreams

Experienced any surprises of your own? Been surprised by any of these ones? Share in the comments or on social media!

Stay tuned for part three of this Lessons of Debut Authors Series, focusing on tips for author signings and release day celebrations.


Stay connected:

Leave a Reply