The Class of 2017
Compiled by Jade Craddock
Over the last decade The Debutante Ball has introduced us to some of the best contemporary authors. Now in its eleventh year, we caught up with this year’s recruits and asked them about the biggest challenges facing debut authors right now. We wish them all the best as they start out in their journeys and we look forward to following them each step of the way. ♥
Lynn K. Hall (lynnkhall.com)
Querying agents, going on submission to publishers, and awaiting publication for Caged Eyes is a continuous rollercoaster of good news and not-so-good news. Rejection, then praise, interest from booksellers or media, then radio silence.
If I were to map out my emotional statuses over the past few years, the undulations would resemble a sine curve: peaks of hope then valleys of despair. It’s easy to fall into the trap. Even the most confident among us struggle to cope with blows in stride and to not become too over confident when all goes well.
The healthiest mental place to be is somewhere right in the middle: full of hope for your wonderful project but with a healthy handle on reality. Making the choice to enter the publication world requires you as an author to hold onto two competing beliefs: It is a brutal industry and many well-deserving books don’t make it – either with an agent, to a publishing house, or to the hands of as many readers as it deserves; meanwhile your book is worthy and will find its way in the world.
Tiffany D. Jackson (writeinbk.com)
I’m usually the type of girl who is comfortable in the madness. I’ve worked in television for the past thirteen years, which means I walk confidently through hurricanes daily with zero fear. I expected the career transition to be complicated but sometimes publishing feels like stepping into a black worm hole, where time is an illusion until it’s not. One day, I’m signing a contract for Allegedly, the next day I’m waiting an eternity for my book to be edited, the next my book is about to be release. There are days when I have no clue what I’m supposed to be doing, a complete 180 from my usual norm. The uncertainty is humbling.
It’s a strange crossroads I’ve found myself at. From the top, back down to the bottom, crawling my way back up. Being a debut author is much like starting as an intern. You have to use your fear of the unknown as a driving force to succeed. So I actively strive to learn what I don’t know by working with mentors, reading blog/articles, every book I can get my hands on and working with the Debutantes!
Crystal King (crystalking.com)
Publishing a book (at least traditionally) is a complicated process. For one, it takes forever to go from that first phone call from your agent about the deal, to the final publication — from Thanksgiving weekend 2015 to April 25, 2017 for my novel, Feast of Sorrow. In addition to the multiple edits on the manuscript, there are several possible places where a debut author may run into challenges: changing staff at the publication houses, being assigned a title or given a cover that might not be in line with the author’s way of thinking, or disagreements about edits on the page itself.
Those things aren’t insignificant. However, the biggest challenge facing authors today is a matter of marketing. Many publishers can’t, or won’t, pony up for marketing campaigns for your book. Gone are the days of sending authors around the country on elaborate book tours. Now it’s a matter of helping oneself and figuring out how to augment what the publisher may do for you.
It’s not enough to write a book and send it into the world. You have to be willing to pay or play. Pay for someone to market your book for you, or play the game – build your social channels, join communities of other authors who can help champion your work, talk to everyone you know, write freelance articles that highlight topics related to your genre, etc. It’s not something that everyone feels comfortable about doing, but I truly believe that being active in your own self-promotion can help make your book launch stand above the others.
Amy Poeppel (amypoeppel.com)
Getting acclimated to the strange pace of the publishing timeline has been tough for me. The process is slow, mysterious, and unpredictable. If you start the clock at the moment of hearing the thrilling news of a book deal, it’s a really long time before actual publication.
The pace takes some getting used to, and I don’t like the feeling of being in limbo. The trick – which I’m learning a little late – to handling the challenge of an almost two-year publication process is to use all that time well and keep working. Sounds obvious, I know, but the act of waiting can make you feel stagnant, if you’re not careful. So instead of passively waiting, I’m actively dividing time between editing my new book (and there needs to be a new book), writing shorter pieces related to my first book Small Admissions, working on social media/marketing, and reading in and out of my genre.
Now, as I get nearer my publication date, suddenly the pace is quickening, and I’m finding that I’m running out of time. Early in the process I so often wished we could pick up the pace. Careful what you wish for! – Can we slow down now, please?
Jenni L. Walsh (jennilwalsh.com)
Stage 1: Will this agent like my query/story? Is s/he reading my manuscript right now? Will it be weeks, days, months until I hear from him/her?
Stage II: Will this editor be the one? Will s/he share in my vision? Will my publisher rally behind my book and sell the hell out of it?
Those questions are nothing to laugh about; they are anxiety-ridden and calorie-inducing. But now, man, I’m approaching Stage III unknowns, commencing on May 9, 2017, the publication day of Becoming Bonnie. Will I pay back my advance and see royalties? Will my debut be deemed a success, inciting future books with my publisher?
Will the outcome justify the guilt associated with taking time away from my ~1-year-old and ~3-year-old? Will this novel jumpstart my career so that one day I can focus on being a wife, mother, and author, instead of my daily stay-at-home-mama-while-working-full-time-and-writing-at-night grind? Someone crack open that bottle of wine and take the brownies out of the oven, please.
And trust me, I’m not naive to think Stage III is the culmination; there’ll be unknowns throughout my entire career. And, I’m okay with that. Mainly because I’ll perpetually keep some drinks on ice and the oven warm. So bring on Stage III, and beyond, I’m ready to debut.