In a lot of life’s uncertain situations, you can ask everyone you know for advice. Wonder if you’d look good with bangs? Your mom, your sister, your BFF, your coworkers, your Uber driver will probably have some kind of thoughts. But when you’re preparing to do something that most of the people in your circle have never done and never plan to do—going on a scientific research expedition to Antarctica, for example, or publishing a first novel—you get into a place where not everyone can give you advice. Not because you’re now too special for them, of course, but because they just don’t have experience with it to draw from. Having friends who are in the same boat as you helps a ton, but even then, you’ll wind up having questions that you can’t even figure out how to ask (or that you don’t know you have). I can’t speak to the Antarctica scenario—if you’re here looking for advice on that, I’m sorry to disappoint—but as for being a debut novelist, here are some things I wish I had known before The Last Place You Look hit bookstores last year.
Clear your schedule
Even if you’re a multi-tasking master (like most writers are), take care of as many non-book-related obligations before your book launch. You need ample time to be excited, to freak out, to shop for new clothes, to stare at the wall in exhilarated frozen panic, etc. This might seem obvious, but I definitely didn’t know it—I was finishing my second book in the lead-up to my debut release, and if I’d known how scattered and unfocused I would feel, I’d have planned my writing schedule differently.
Always have business cards/bookmarks
Another rookie mistake I keep making? Not always having some kind of marketing leave-behind piece that I can whip out whenever discussion of my book comes up. You have no idea when someone will want to talk about it. Even if you think you’re just out running errands, like picking up a manuscript print-out at Kinko’s (ask me how I know). I don’t suggest blanketing your hometown with book-related literature, but be prepared to give out a card or bookmark whenever someone expresses interest.
Don’t stress too much over the food at your launch party
Me, three weeks before my book launch: [googles ‘how many chicken teriyaki skewers does one person normally eat at a book release party?]
Don’t do that! You’ll be so busy during the event that you probably won’t even get to look at the food anyway. Remember that people are coming for you.
Figure out how you shine
This one is for my introvert brethren: writing might be solitary, but once your book is out in the world, you’re going to have to talk to people. Lots of them, probably. It’s scary and can be draining, but the trick is to figure out the types of events where you are the most comfortable. I thought I was the most scared of public speaking, but that’s nothing compared to the level of wanting-to-hide-in-the-restroom I feel at certain types of large, noisy dinners or networking events. I’m pretty comfortable on discussion panels, and I thrive in small group settings, like book clubs. I didn’t know any of that when I first launched my book, but it’s very helpful to know now—especially when it comes to choosing between attending two different events. If you can fake it till you make it, rock on. If you love talking in front of large audiences or one-on-one networking but wilt under the scrutiny in small groups, plan accordingly.
Keep an eye on your bottom line
You don’t have to spend a cent on your book, but in order to reach your audience, you’ll probably want to at some point. Swag, launch events, travel, conference registration fees—it adds up fast, and when you are doing a lot of this on your own dime (as most authors do, unless you’re A Big Deal), no one is going to mind your budget for you. This stuff is not the glamorous authorial life you imagined for yourself, I know. But avoid surprises after the rosy glow of your debut has faded and make sure you have a plan in mind for how much money you want to spend on what.
Remember to enjoy the crazy, crazy ride
Being a writer is forever, but you’re only a debut author once.
Kristen Lepionka is the author of WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE (May 1, 2018; St. Martin’s/Minotaur) and THE LAST PLACE YOU LOOK (June 13, 2017; St. Martin’s/Minotaur). She is the founding editor of Betty Fedora, a feminist crime fiction magazine and lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her partner and two cats. You can visit her at kristenlepionka.com