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Post-Debut: A Reflection on the Nature of Writing After the First Book Comes Out

Recently I got the opportunity to live vicariously through my friend Kat at her first book signing!

I had a teensy part in the development of WHAT’S LEFT OF ME, and my friendship with Kat gave me a front-row view to the publishing and debut process. Watching her go through this journey and being present for a few significant moments in her writing career definitely revealed to me the reality behind book deals and debuts.

You see articles every now and then talking about it, but until I ‘experienced’ it for myself I never believed them: The debut is not life-changing. It is not a permanent fulfillment of your dreams. It is not a miraculous, ecstasy-filled moment where you attain nirvana and then magically graduate into an exclusive club of authors who always feel confident and talented.

The book deal, the debut, the signing… none of it makes your life or writing any easier.

I knew this stuff logically, but feeling and believing it was a different story. I counted down the days to WLOM’s debut (last Tuesday). I made a blog post, I saw the brief explosion of congratulations and announcements. Some pictures started showing up of Kat’s book in stores. But then it was over.

Amazon rankings don’t jump immediately (though they do increase steadily). When you think about it, everyone who was going to pre-order has already pre-ordered. Sales go up, of course, but it might be weeks, months, years before you truly know if your book ‘succeeded’ or not.

Meanwhile, during the countdown to release, I’ve interacted with Kat every day as she works on Book 2, returns to college, and studies. WLOM was going to debut in a week, OHMYGOOOOOOD, but Kat was also deep in the trenches of edits for Book 2.

Life. Went. On.

Deadlines had to be met. Class had to be attended. Groceries had to be bought. The debut didn’t lift one worry from Kat’s mind, or give her even a minute’s extra rest.

As for the signing, we arrived at the Barnes & Noble early. They had a table set up for her in the cafeteria, surrounded by people on their laptops with headphones in.

Kat had a beautiful cake made with a print-out of her book’s cover, but the B&N didn’t have plates for us, so I went to the Rite Aid across the streets and bought some. An Assistant Manager brought over a bag of plastic forks. We tested the pens to make sure they worked. Then we waited.

Biljana ‘Billy’ Likic (member of Pub Crawl who flew down from Canada to be at the signing) and I sat at a table adjacent to Kat’s; the ‘VIP’ table, as we called it, but let’s face it… we were all college-aged kids in jeans and jean-shorts and T-shirts, cutting our own cake and taking our own pictures.

2:00 hit and Kat’s readers started pouring in. Kat was alive with smiles and energy, and she looked so beautiful. For a magical hour and a half she greeted people, some of whom she knew, and some she didn’t. She wrote notes to them, they signed her guest book, then Billy and I ushered them into taking a piece of cake, gradually cutting up Kat’s beautiful cover.

  

At 3:30 the tide had ebbed, so we packed up, washed the frosting from our hands, thanked the Assistant Manager for the forks, and gave her the spare cake to give to the B&N employees in the break room. We went back to Kat’s dorm, exhausted from the event. It was just an hour and a half, but so tense! We were actually watching Kat at her first signing. She was actually making out books to people who were so excited to read what she’d written. My friend had made it.

Then she rested, Billy worked on homework, and I tinkered with the ACORAS revision. And that’s when it hit me.

What all those published writers said was true: The publicity, the events, even the touring when it happens – none of it changes your working life. You still have to sit down at the computer and get out the words.

Driving the 2 hours back this is all I thought of: Writing itself must truly be your passion, because you won’t get your fulfillment from the promotional events. They’re too fleeting. They’re too mired in the normalcy of our own lives. When we were at the signing, we weren’t glamorous or fabulous. We were just ourselves. Nervous no one would come. Thrilled they did. Stomachaches from too much sugar.

The experience has really changed my outlook on my career. Before I’ve wanted to be published so bad it hits me like a physical pain. It’s a combination of envy and desire, a need to prove myself, a need to join everyone who seems to be moving on without me. But once it comes – and it will come – it really won’t change anything, will it?

I will be in this house, in this room, at this desk, with this laptop. I will be scribbling in these same notebooks and dreaming these same dreams at night. All the lines of readers in the world won’t affect the characters in my head and my relationship with them. J. K. Rowling herself has to shut out the adoring fans and get some actual work done.

Writing is solitary work. It’s private. It’s a personal art.

I’m so grateful Kat’s graciousness allowed me to experience and understand this before it was my turn. I hope it gives me the zen to navigate my publishing journey while keeping my sanity and composure. I’ll try to keep in mind that The Big Day is just another day. A day with cake in it, to be sure, but still just another day that you have to get the words down.

Because that’s all there really is.

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Proud and Excited!

My friend Jess Corra just announced the deal for her amazingly powerful YA book called AFTER YOU!

I’m so honored (and overjoyed!) that she used a fan trailer I made for the book as the way to announce the deal!

AFTER YOU is an amazing story based off an awesome premise I used to think about a lot as a kid: what if you had the ability to rewind time?

Here’s the whole premise from Jess’s website:

Eighteen-year-old Camilla Jay has the power of second chances. She can rewind to any day and relive it, and she remembers everything. A tragedy like the death of her twin sister Madelyn shouldn’t be possible. Camilla rewinds to the same day over and over, but Madelyn dies each time – by her own hand. Madelyn doesn’t want saving.

Madelyn’s death allows Cam to finally connect with her long-time crush Wall. As they grow closer, Camilla uncovers a series of writings Madelyn did about her own ability to forward in time. Madelyn believed killing herself was the only way to save Camilla from a horrible fate. Cam’s not convinced.

Cam tries to find a way to save Madelyn without bringing about the things her sister saw. Madelyn didn’t think it was possible, and that by trying to save her, Camilla will destroy herself. Camilla doesn’t know what to believe, but one thing becomes clear: if she saves Madelyn, she’ll lose Wall. Is she willing to gamble everything?

I was lucky enough that Jess let me read her story several times as it went through editing changes, and each time I was awed at her storytelling skills. AFTER YOU has that sparse style I absolutely adore (and am incapable of). Her writing is in present tense and is one of those stories that can totally pull it off. I don’t usually go for contemporary but Jess’s characters are supremely vivid, and I relished even when her characters described ‘mundane’ tasks, like making dinner for Thanksgiving.

I’m relatively new to having friends in publishing, so days like this are still so incredibly special (though I also can’t wait for the day when it’s totally normal).

Jess is a great girl who’s gone through some rough times and totally deserves the happiness and success that comes from this deal! I can’t wait to see AFTER YOU published!

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Congratulations to Kat Zhang for selling her first book HYBRID!!

Kat Zhang is one of my good friends, frequent CP, and a contributor with me at Let The Words Flow. I met her online last year and have hung out with her in-person several times. I’ve read her book multiple times in various versions, and am SO excited/thrilled/proud/pleased that she can finally announce that all her hard work has paid off! Here’s what went live in Publisher’s Marketplace this morning:

20-year-old pre-med student Kat Zhang’s HYBRID trilogy, about a 15-year-old girl who must hide the existence of her second soul or face imprisonment by the government, pitched as The Golden Compass meets Girl, Interrupted, to Kari Sutherland at Harper Children’s, in a pre-empt, in a major deal, by Emmanuelle Morgen at Judith Ehrlich Literary Management (NA).

However, this announcement is slightly untrue. Kat’s not 20 yet! She’s still 19! She actually accomplished the dream of securing a deal while still a teenager!

Kat is seriously sooo deserving of this. She’s in school as a pre-med student, she studies her butt off, and for the past 6 months she’s stayed up late, sometimes barely sleeping, in order to complete edits on her book so she could go out on subs. After a whirlwind flurry of interest from publishers (which I knew was going to happen, duh!), we were all thrilled (though not completely surprised) that HarperCollins came through with such a wonderful deal and snapped her up. They’re not going to regret it!

Here’s a summary of Hybrid:

HYBRID tells the story of a 15-year-old girl fighting for her right to survive in a world where two souls are born to each body and one is doomed to disappear

It’s seriously so good. The last time I read it, even after reading previous versions 4 times, the most recent version STILL gave me goosebumps, FOUR TIMES!

Just so you guys know, Kat has been my primary CP during these recent Nameless edits. And -personal news- since I got back my notes from my agent and have been working on changing the voice of the Poetess to make her feel more YA, Kat has been an absolute genius in pin-pointing the phrasing that needs to change, and how to do it so that I can find the young-person voice inside the Poetess.

She’s definitely one to watch out for in the future, and I am just so freaking PROUD of her!!!! Congratulations Kat!!!!