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.
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.
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.
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?