Great Expectations: Ten Things to Expect When You Launch Your Book

Welcome to the new world of this first-time author!

It’s a grand place to be, full of surprises and rare moments. The learning curve has been steep at times, but it’s oh-so-much fun.

Lemuria Books, Jackson, MS
Lemuria Books, Jackson, MS

After months of preparation and anticipation and, finally, these last two weeks of launching Crosscurrents and Other Stories, I want to share some observations about kicking your precious baby, your book, out into the world:

  • Expect to learn about marketing. Unless you publish with a major house, you’ll need to do much of your marketing and promotion on your own. (Yes, even with a terrific small press like mine–I say that word, mine, with great pride, Press 53.) You’ll research bookstores and review possibilities, make those contacts and introduce (sell) yourself and your book, set dates, send promo material, follow up, follow up, follow up. (Did I say follow up?)
  • Expect to get comfortable with self-promotion. If you don’t believe in your book, who else will?
  • Expect to choose what you’ll read at a signing (a real signing; imagine it) ahead of time, but have a backup plan so that, when you size up your audience (and realize the adultery story Just Won’t Do), you’ll have another option. Read your selections aloud and time them. Better to be too short than too long. Read scenes, not an entire chapter. If your book is a short story collection like mine, read scenes from two or three stories and stop each time at a powerful moment; leave your audience hanging so they’ll want more.
  • IMG_3973
    TurnRow Books, Greenwood, MS

    Expect the unexpected: The hem comes out of your pants. Your hair goes limp. Your ex shows up. Your best friend from childhood, whom you haven’t seen in ages, shows up, too. She’s the first person you see when you get out of the car in front of the bookstore and you fold into each others’ arms and hug and cry like the girls you used to be.

  • You’ll see people you haven’t seen in years. Expect not to remember the names of everybody you’ve ever met who might show up at a signing. It’s okay to ask. It’s also okay to say, “Now, you spell that with ie, not y, right?” Much better than getting it wrong. You’ll meet strangers. Treat them like friends.
  • At a moment when you least expect it, expect a lump in your throat when you’re reading, that rare moment when your own words move you and you know–you know–they’re good.
  • Expect the turnout, however small, to be great: these folks are your readers. Make them feel significant. Make their coming out to meet you feel worthwhile.
  • Expect to be disappointed: the turnout isn’t what you expected; the audience (if you’re lucky enough to have one) doesn’t laugh where you thought they would, or they laugh when you think they shouldn’t; you don’t sell many books. But you’re making contacts. You’re creating a network of bookstores, readers, and friends who’ll come back–next time.
  • IMG_3984
    Off Square Books, Oxford, MS

    Expect a remarkable level of generosity and hospitality on the part of independent book stores. They are gracious. book-loving folks; they want you to succeed.

  • Expect to be gracious back. Pass along the wealth of good will. Thank the bookstores for having you. Recommend them to others. Write notes or call or at least email your friends and thank them for coming. Go to other authors’ signings, like their Facebook posts and pages, and generally be a cheerleader for other authors’ voices whenever and wherever you can because now you know what it feels like to be a first-timer, which, I expect, is not so different after all from being a second-timer or a fourth or a  twenty-first. Because we are all after the same thing: we want our words to matter.

Other first-time authors out there: what was your most unexpected moment? Your proudest?

Events

October 27: Crosscurrents and Other Stories launch party at Lemuria Bookstore, Jackson, Mississippi

Signing/Reading: 5:00 PM

October 28: Cotton Row Books, Cleveland, Mississippi

Signing/reading: noon

October 28: TurnRow Book Company, Greenwood, Mississippi

Signing/reading: 5:00 PM

November 4: Square Books, Oxford, Mississippi

Signing/reading: 5:00 PM

November 14: with Turning Pages Books, Natchez, Mississippi, at Merry Market, 11:30-2-00 PM

More to come!

Catching Up—And Some Good News

Work in Progress / Gerry Wilson
Work in Progress / Gerry Wilson

Is it really possible that I haven’t written a blog post since last August?

Shame on me.

But I’ve been busy. Writing other things. And I have some good news to share. My short story collection, Mating and Other Stories (the title will most likely change), will be published by a very good small press out of North Carolina, Press 53, this fall! So yes. That’s huge. Affirming. Thank you, Press 53! (Go and check them out. They publish beautiful, fine books, and I’ll be proud to be counted among their authors.)

And that’s not all.

Last fall, I met an agent at a conference who expressed interest in my novel. I sent her the manuscript, and two months went by without a word. I figured it had landed in her wastebasket, but then I heard from her. She would look at it again if I were willing to do some revisions. Willing? What do you say to that except yes, yes, yes? At first, the task seemed impossible, but deep down, I knew her observations were spot-on. I went to work, tackling one issue at a time. I hardly came up for air, and when I finally did, about three weeks later, I had a stronger book. I sent the revised manuscript back to the agent. I have yet to hear, but even if she ultimately turns it down, I know the book is better for having done the hard work. It’ll be more ready for the next person who asks to see it.

There’s no end to the saga yet.

Believe me, I’ll let you know when or if there is, especially if it’s good news. But I hope this post will encourage those of you who, like me, are “trying” to publish the traditional way. Yes, sometimes writers get lucky. Sometimes it’s about the breaks, about being in the right place at the right time, meeting the right people, having someone recommend you to his or her agent. But it’s always, always about writing the best book you possibly can. Sometimes, it’s about perseverance. It’s about doing the work–whatever it takes–to get better. I’m convinced that with every short story or novel I write, the work gets stronger. Even when a piece “fails,” when I put it aside believing I’ll never pick it up again, I know that I learned something in the process.

Art by Khara House
Art by Khara House

Curious to know what brought me back to the blog?

This post is a loose take on the prompts provided by a fine group of writers at Wordsmith Studio in celebration of the group’s third anniversary. I’ve known many of them since 2012, when a bunch of us enrolled in Robert Lee Brewer’s 30-day Platform Challenge. We  were eager to learn how to put ourselves “out there” as writers. We didn’t realize then that the challenge would lead to a group of writers who are still together, celebrating when things go well, holding each others’ hands when they don’t, sharing knowledge, and often, a little humor to keep us going.

So thank you, Wordsmith Studio friends, for prompting me to come back to the blog to catch you up on what’s happening in my writing life. Thanks for tolerating my long silences and welcoming me back when I drop in now and then.

And thanks to you readers, if you’ve found your way back here after such a long hiatus. I’ll try to do better, but I should tell you that I’ve begun a new novel, and if it takes off and really wants to be written—well, you know where I’ll be!

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