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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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So Proud and Excited – The Release of What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang

Today is a very special day.

On March 21st, 2010, Let The Words Flow received an application from a girl named Kat Zhang. It was pretty clear from the beginning that she was ‘one of us’, and she joined the group not long after.

I first read her novel, at the time titled HYBRID, on April 25th, 2010. As I was reading the very first finished draft, I knew the manuscript was something special. Kat was something special. It was no surprise when Kat received offers from multiple agents, or when she sold her book to HarperCollins.

Now, just two and a half short years later, Kat’s novel WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is debuting into the world :-)

You’ve got to watch her book trailer; it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.

And are you SEEING this book cover? I was in the car with Kat on a roadtrip when she was emailed the first draft of the book cover. After having read multiple versions of her story it was… breathtaking to see her receive such a beautiful and unique cover. It demonstrates her book’s concept perfectly; two girls, two souls, living in one body.

If you haven’t heard, that’s the concept for this fast-paced alternate-universe fantasy. From Goodreads:

Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .

For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet . . . for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.

You guys, like I said above, I’ve read multiple versions of this story. I’m honored that Kat used me as a CP during her editing process, and each time I read the manuscript it gave me goosebumps multiple times throughout. Kat’s writing is minimalist but so powerful. Eva is a prisoner inside her own body. The glory of being able to break from that prison, the horror of having her self stripped away, and the warm chords of friendship throughout this story are masterfully represented.

I’m very lucky that Kat lives only 2 hours away from me during the school year. I’m a total wimp about driving long distances though, so I only go see her a few times a year, but I’ll be in Nashville this Saturday at her first book signing!

If you’re looking for something a little dystopian, a little horror-y, with a lot of tension and a very unique concept, I guarantee you’ll like WHAT’S LEFT OF ME. Especially if you like institution stories! It’s been compared to The Uglies and The Golden Compass, but I’d like to add Girl, Interrupted, and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Next.

Congratulations, Kat! Always knew you could do it <3

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Cover Reveal for Susan Dennard’s Steampunk Zombie Book SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY!!

My good friend Susan Dennard is revealing the GORGEOUS cover for her 2012 debut YA, steampunk, zombie adventure novel called SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY. I won’t steal her thunder, so you’ll have to visit her blog here to see the cover and tell her how awesome it is!

Susan is kind of amazing. Not only was she a Marine Biologist (who lived in Antarctica for a while and used to dissect sharks), but she’s been living in Germany for the past few years with her French/German husband. She wrote SS&D in under a year and sold it in less than a week, in a 3-book, significant deal! The most amazing thing about Susan though, to me, is what a genuinely nice person she is. So nice in fact, that I know this post is going to make her uncomfortable :-)

I’m as uncomfortable raving as she probably is about receiving praise, so we’ll just cut this short (though I could say a lot, I promise you) and say that Susan is hyper-awesome, the SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY series is going to be the next big thing, her cover is super-gorgeous, and you should at the very minimum go visit her site so you can see how beautiful it is.

:-)