Belles of the Ball
Compiled by Jade Craddock
Since 2007, The Debutante Ball has been supporting and promoting first-time authors at the start of their careers. For the past nine years, a group of debut authors have shared their experiences on their road to publication and many have since become household names. Former Debs include Kristina Riggle (2009), Sarah Pekkanen (2010), Sarah Jio (2011), Amy Sue Nathan (2013) and Susan Gloss (2014). And this year’s class which comprises Colleen Oakley, Amy E. Reichert, Karma Brown, Sona Charaipotra and Shelly King look set to join the rostrum of amazing women’s fiction authors. Here, two former Debs, Erica Marks and Dana Bate, as well as two current Debs, Karma Brown and Amy E. Reichert, discuss the impact the Debutante Ball has had on them. ♥
Erica Marks (Class of 2012)
It still shocks me that it has been nearly five years — and almost as many more books — since I was a debuting author on the Debutante Ball.
If memory serves, the very first things I did when I got the news that my first book LITTLE GALE GUMBO had been sold were:
-Call my loved ones.
-Post the news on my blog.
-Apply to be a member of the Debutante Ball’s next class of Debs.
-And, okay, maybe a little bit more screaming.
As an aspiring writer new to social media, I was thrilled to find the Debutante Ball blog when I was starting out. Not only were the authors fabulously fun and insightful, but I especially loved the camaraderie they had with one another. Because the truth is that a literary debut is one hell of a ride — and like any roller coaster, it’s always more fun to scream your way through it with good friends. So when I was picked to be a part of the upcoming year’s Class of Debs, I was over the moon — and the experience was every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped. I bonded with my other Debs as we rode through all the ups and downs, twists and turns, of the publishing process together.
Was each of our experiences different? Absolutely — and that’s what made it all the more comforting and enlightening. Now that I am writing my fifth book for NAL, I look back on that year — and those milestones we all shared — and I am grateful for the support and the community we built. We all know expectation is a beast. I see now how I imagined things happening that launch (Several hundred people at every book signing — who did I think I was? Stephen King?) versus the perspective I have now that even best-selling authors can have small turnouts at their signings (or at least, this is what I tell myself).
I think too about the parts of this process that will likely never change (No matter how thick you think your skin is, bad reviews will always sting) and the parts that do change (getting comfortable introducing yourself at panels and readings, and knowing what “page proofs” are).
I am proud to be a Deb — and prouder still of the continuing friendships I hold dear thanks to the opportunity. It has made this remarkable journey that much richer.
Dana Bate (Class of 2013)
There are two types of writers: those who love critique groups, and those who don’t.
I fall into the latter category. Don’t get me wrong. I have critique partners, and I love them. But they are carefully selected individuals, only one of whom – my sister-in-law Sophie McKenzie – is a novelist.
So when I sold my first book and was on the threshold of joining the rarified league of published authors, I suddenly realized … well, I didn’t really know many. I saw lots of other authors supporting one another on Twitter and Facebook, but I was on the outside looking in. I wanted to join the club, but I didn’t know how.
And then I saw a tweet about applying to The Debutante Ball.
I’d followed the site on Twitter for a few years, hoping that some day I’d follow in the footsteps of the five debut authors and one day be a “debutante” myself. So I took a deep breath, sent off my application, and figured maybe I had a shot.
A month or so later, I got an email: they’d picked me! Even better, they’d picked four other fabulous writers I’d get to know over the course of a year.
There was Kelly, whose emails alone could make me laugh out loud; Kerry, who repeatedly demonstrated thoughtfulness and grace; Susan, who was bursting with energy and always willing to help with any task at hand; and Amy, who was beyond generous with her own platform to help her fellow Debs.
The five of us rode the publication roller coaster together. We were all going through the same thing: the joy, the terror, the anticipation, the anxiety. Launching a debut is stressful, but knowing these writers had my back made me feel less alone.
And we did have each other’s backs. Amy’s parents came to my book signing at Barnes & Noble. Kelly talked to me on the phone for nearly an hour one night when I was going through some publishing turmoil. We sent Kerry a gift basket when she ran into a health issue. Susan used her legal expertise to address contract (and personal) issues.
I won’t lie: being a Deb was a lot of responsibility, and now that I’m about to publish my third book, I’m glad I’m not on the hook for a weekly post. But I’m glad I shared my debut with those four women. I may never join a proper critique group, but by being a Deb, I gained a support group, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Karma Brown (Class of 2015)
I quite honestly don’t know where I’d be without my online writing pals. When I started querying my first novel (which is now RIP inside a folder on my laptop…) Twitter was invaluable — from how-to-query, to agent insight, to tips and tricks, to writing contests, I had found a community I didn’t even realize I was missing. It was through one of these contests that I first heard of Susan Gloss. She was the envy of all when she had to withdraw after getting an agent offer… and shortly after that, an exciting book deal. I hadn’t yet heard of The Debutante Ball — a blog featuring five debut authors as they make their way through publication year — but would soon because Susan became a 2014 Deb, and I became a Debutante Ball fan!
While I religiously read the Deb blog posts — gleaning whatever I could from the wisdom they shared during that year — I celebrated my own two-book deal success (my debut COME AWAY WITH ME publishes with Mira Books/Harlequin August 25th!) and became a mentor for PitchWars, which is an awesome online pitch contest that runs once a year. As a writer who received much help and support from my online community, I wanted to give back as much and however I could – I’m a big promoter of writers helping writers. So when I saw Susan tweet about the Deb Ball looking for its 2015 class, I knew I had to apply.
The other Debs I’ve shared this year and experience with – Colleen Oakley, Amy E. Reichert, Sona Charaipotra, and Shelly King – have become friends, advocates, supporters, and kick butt allies, and are always there to talk me off a ledge or throw virtual confetti when exciting things happen. We have bonded over loads of hard work, revision nightmares, new manuscripts, exciting reviews, less than exciting reviews, great press, hard earned sales, and lucky breaks … along with a little of everything else sprinkled in. The Debutante Ball is entirely run by the five of us – from backend work on the site to guest spots to giveaways and content, we do it all, and as such have become a tight little group.
Even though we will no longer be debutantes as of September 2015, I know there are four women out there who will always have my back through the inevitable highs and lows that come with this career. I’m grateful and honoured to have been a part of The Debutante Ball legacy, and can’t wait to see what’s in store for all of us in the future…
Amy E. Reichert (Class of 2015)
My name is Amy E. Reichert and I’m a Deb.
What’s a Deb you ask?
I’m not referring to a young girl making her first appearance in society while wearing a white, fluffy gown. I’m talking about being a Deb on The Debutante Ball – the class of 2015 to be precise.
What’s The Debutante Ball, you ask? (Wow, you ask a lot of questions.)
The Debutante Ball is a group of five debut authors who share their debut year via weekly blog posts. Every year a new group of authors takes over the Deb responsibilities, chosen by the previous class (we’ll be accepting applications this summer). For the entire year, the current class maintains the website, Twitter feed, and Facebook page. We organize weekly guests and regular giveaways. It’s a great way for new authors to find a larger audience by working together.
But the really important part happens behind the scenes.
Off the website, the five of us (Karma Brown, Colleen Oakley, Shelley King, Sona Charaipotra, and me) have our own private group chat. We chat daily on topics ranging from sick children to plot holes to our favorite TV shows (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and ARROW are favorites – okay, ARROW is just me). We “oooo” over cover reveals, “aahhh” over good reviews, and “oh no” over disappointing sales. We share favorite books and websites, discuss writing woes, and gossip about who wasn’t very gracious at a recent book event. It’s a safe place where we can ask questions without judgment about diversity in publishing, sell through numbers, and parenting failures.
Being a debut author is exciting and terrifying and utterly unique, like sliding down a rainbow on a unicorn into a shark-filled pool. And being a Deb is the Kevlar diving suit that will save me and my fluffy unicorn from certain death.
But it isn’t all business — these four other women have become my friends. As of writing this, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting two of them in person and I look forward to meeting the other two soon. Publishing a book takes a tough hide and good friends – and having friends that are experiencing the same thing are more valuable than the above mentioned unicorn.
While my book has a few months to go before its debut, I can already tell that my experience as a Deb has not only expanded my future reader pool, but has reinforced my belief that this publishing thing cannot be done alone. As writers, especially women writers, we need to support each other. We need to cheer on each other’s successes, mourn our losses, and, most importantly, share our words.