Lessons From Debut Authors, Part 3: Success

The final part of my ‘Lessons from Debut Authors’ series wraps up with a look at the excitement with celebrating the big day – publication of the first book! For most debut authors, it will be the first time they’ve done a book signing, perhaps even the first time for reading in front of an audience. Plus, publication day is the culmination of years of hard work, and it’s a day to celebrate your success!

I had never signed a book before my launch event, and for some reason I was really stressed about the pen. What if it bled through the page? What if it was scratchy and I had to scribble to get the ink flowing? I lingered for an embarrassing amount of time in the pen aisle of an office supply store, trying to decide which one might be best, before finally making a decision. On the day of my book launch, I forgot to bring the pen at all and ended up borrowing one (which worked perfectly fine!) from the bookstore.

I guess my main tip for book signings is – bring a pen! But don’t worry if you need to borrow one. A pen is a pen. It’s also surprisingly difficult to write something personal in each book, thanking people for supporting you on your big day, while chatting with them. Coming up with a few short, sincere stock phrases is a good idea.

For the reading, I recommend practicing in advance. I was the most nervous in my little introduction, because I’d barely prepared for that part. Once I got into the reading, which I’d done at home several times, I felt fine. (Although thirsty. Stay hydrated!)

Read on to see what other advice and experiences debut authors have from their first book signing and reading…

Is this the right pen?
Photo credit: Eleaf via VisualHunt.com / CC BY


I’m a “talker” so I was fairly sure I’d have no problem at book events, but I also knew standing up in front of a group of people and talking about your book-baby with a microphone to people who may or may not know a thing about you…would be daunting.

I scheduled a small author event before my main one. It helped give me an idea of what to expect. I had about 25 people there and the first thing I learned was you want some HELP when it comes time to sign/sell books if you aren’t having your event at a bookstore. It was crazy, trying to talk to people while signing along with trying to do sales. Thankfully every event I had after that which wasn’t at a bookstore, my husband came with and took care of the book sales.

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

Practice, practice, practice! Figure out what you want to say and practice it enough times so that you don’t need notes and so that it sounds natural. Of course, take your notes up there with you—it’s comforting to know they’re there in case you freak out and go blank—but you’ll feel so much better if you don’t have to rely on them. Oh, and a half glass of wine never hurts anything!

Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping

Keep in mind that I’m with a small publisher, so in MY experience?  I’m not sure book signings are worth it because the cost falls 100% onto my shoulders.  There are benefits of course:  meeting other authors, networking, finding new books yourself.  But the downside is the ROI (return on investment).  You have to ask yourself if that is worth it.  For me?  Eh.  I’m 50-50.  I sold some books.  I met some great people.  But in the end, the time, investment, etc. makes it hard to determine if I’d do it again.

The event I was at was the Twin Cities Book Festival.  A GREAT festival with THOUSANDS of people in attendance.  But those who came through were more interested in free items.

KD Proctor, author of Meet Me Under The Stars

For book signings, have a few phrases you can write as you sign your book. And smile and chat no matter if someone buys your book or not. Readings, choose a passage that’s active or has some dialogue. I’ve been to readings where it’s only introspection and I find that boring.  And practice, practice, practice. With expression!

Kari Lemor, author of Wild Card Undercover

I’m just gearing up for some book launch events. Don’t be shy about offering to help with publicity. As one bookstore manager said to me, “The more outreach, the better.” You can offer to create social media graphics, post flyers and posters, reach out to nearby high schools or colleges, and contact local newspapers or websites.

Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing

For my book launch, I asked a friend to interview me—that way, I didn’t have to be alone at the podium. By the time my audience started asking questions, I was feeling a lot more comfortable and enjoyed the dialogue very much. I think having someone interview me was a good way to transition to speaking in public and having everyone’s attention on me. At my next book signing, I integrated all the questions my friend had asked me to my talk and I also read a few paragraphs from my book. I did a lot better when I wasn’t reading from my notes.

Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street 

I was so nervous before my first book signing, which was at a big comic con in Seattle. It so happened that I had dinner with the wonderful and legendary Terry Brooks the night before (we share an editor), and so I asked him what his tips were for book signings, since he’s been doing them for some 40 years now. He graciously advised that the most important thing is to create a personal connection with readers—ask them a question, even if it’s just how their day is going—and make eye contact. Don’t be one of those authors who doesn’t even look up from the book as they sign it! Readers don’t have to get their books signed; they’re choosing to have this brief interaction with you. A small effort to connect goes a long way!

Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land

And of course, the reading isn’t the only excitement of publication day. It’s also a day when you get to revel in your success, and your family is probably pretty thrilled too! My book came out on a Tuesday, so I took a few days off work so that I could focus on celebrating the day, and also on all the pub week social media. I also found a bottle of champagne that had the same last name as my protagonist, so that seemed like the perfect way to wind down after my book reading.

Aubry, just like my character, Giselle Aubry!

I asked other debut authors how they celebrated the release day for their first books, and what made it extra special. I love how the responses are all so unique for each book.

I took the day off of my “day job” because I knew there was no way I could concentrate, plus I knew I’d be on social media a lot. That night was a banquet for the editor of a magazine I write for. She was retiring, and it was fun celebrating her big day and mine with many other area writers.

I had planned on a massage, but you know how that goes. Maybe for book #2!!!

One of the things that was stressed to me ahead of time but is something I struggle to remember, is that we need to celebrate our huge accomplishment on completing a book and getting it published!!!

It is so easy to compare our journey to other authors, and so easy to forget how many never make it to this point. I have had so many highs and lows with my book over the past six months and I have to remind myself to celebrate my hard work, knowing I’ve done the best I can do.

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

Release day was amazing. My husband and I went up to NYC (where we used to live) and my mom flew in to meet us there, and I had my launch party at a bookstore in Brooklyn that I’ve always admired. A bunch of old friends and former work colleagues came out to support me, as well as my agent and publicist. We ended the night drinking prosecco and eating bruschetta at a little wine bar with some close friends.

Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping

On launch day in July, my husband was recuperating from major surgery!  But fear not, I still celebrated.  While my husband was resting and was fine to be alone for a bit, a friend came by and took me out for a dessert celebration!  I also had lots of texts, social media messages and a group of friends sent me flowers, too.  All in all it was a low key day—just how I like it.

KD Proctor, author of Meet Me Under The Stars

I celebrated my first book release by taking the day off work and having a huge Face Book party.  Because of my day job, I’m still kind of in the closet about my writing so doing more than that wasn’t possible.

Kari Lemor, author of Wild Card Undercover

I’ll be having a launch party at a local independent bookstore and inviting friends. (It will be several weeks after the actual release day, which I’ll probably spend at my computer posting a few things about the book on social media.) Because the party will be in December, I’m hoping it will have a holiday feel and everyone will be in a festive mood!

Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing

My book launch was so much fun! First of all, I invited EVERYBODY I knew and it was very exciting to see that so many people came and bought my book. We sold out! After the talk and book signing, I invited my close friends and family members to a Greek restaurant near the bookstore to celebrate. The highlights of the evening were the cake, which was designed like a book with my cover on top, and a couple of Argentinean tango dancers who gave an amazing performance to celebrate the theme of my novel.

Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street 

I had a big party at a local nature center, and a bunch of friends pitched in to help me throw it. It was super fun, and very successful, with well over a hundred attendees and almost as many books sold! (And I live in a rural area, so if people tell you nothing happens in the woods, that’s a pack of lies.) If you want to throw a launch party, here are my suggestions: first, make sure you can sell books! (You don’t necessarily have to have a bookstore do it. I used a relative’s established business to order books (so they counted as a sale!), and then friends volunteered to sell them.) Then see who’s willing to help you out—you might be surprised, but your friends actually do want to help you celebrate your big day! See how much they’re willing to do, make a plan and create a budget. This can be as simple or as elaborate as you and/or your friend group are up for. Then just tell everyone you know. Let friends and relatives shamelessly inform strangers that they should attend your party. Create a Facebook event. Talk it up! If you can include it as part of advertising in the local newspaper or promote it alongside local literary events, like a book festival or through a library, that’ll help too. If you’re like me, you’ll want to pick out something cute to wear! And then…enjoy it!! This is your big, amazing, wonderful, terrifying moment of stepping into the spotlight. (But if you really hate the spotlight, you can also hide behind the giant stack of books you’re selling. Just so you know. Though people will probably want to see your face, ‘cause they’re there to support you!)

Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land

Just for release day, I splurged on a new dress that matched my book cover’s purple and blue. I also awarded prizes related to themes of the novel, including custom-made bookmarks with the image of a feather on them. My hometown release included a lot of family and childhood friends. When you’ve got your Filipino aunts, uncles, and cousins coming through, food is a must. I’m happy my local bookstore allowed giant trays of lumpia, empanadas, sushi casserole, and sweet breads on the premises. After the reading, a smaller group, including my publisher, who’d flown in from Portland, moved the celebration to a local brewery, and my baker friend, who happened to be featured on the Food Networks’ Bakers vs. Fakers that same week, brought a cake version of my book cover. My friends also surprised me with a giant, framed print of the book cover. It was a beautiful night!

Renee Rutledge, author of The Hour of Daydreams

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