Dear Debut Authors,
Your debut is almost here, and you’re no doubt freaking out. Will you make foreign sales? Audiobook sales? Will you sell at all? Why isn’t your cover up on Indiebound? Why is the wrong cover up on Amazon? What if nobody wants to interview/guest blog/blog tour you? Why did that person on Goodreads just give you two stars for a book that’s not even off your hard drive yet?! What if none of the other authors like you? What if the booksellers hate you? How do you do a launch party!? Do you need a launch party!?
What if you don’t have anything and that author there has EVERYTHING? Will your book be in the catalog? The catalog for Bologna? What are they saying at Bologna? London? Frankfurt? Why haven’t you sold another book yet? What if this first book in your series tanks, oh god, you have two more books to come after it! What if Kirkus hates it? What if Kirkus ignores it? What do the B&N rankings mean? What about the Amazon rankings? OH MY GOD WHAT DOES THIS BOOKSCAN MEAN!?
I’m here to tell you a thing I wouldn’t have believed in October 2008, right before my debut novel came out. And that thing is: I know you’re going nuts right now but eventually, you’ll care less. I know it seems impossible when there’s so much to learn and so much at stake.
But one day, you’ll care less. You’ll forget a foreign rights festival was coming up. You’ll willingly ban yourself from Goodreads. You’ll stop charting every single lead title in your year by B&N ranking and Amazon ranking in an attempt to figure out how many books you have to sell to get to 42 on one and 523 on the other.
And this is a good thing. Right now, you’re at the place where you have to do all the things, and learn all the things, and freak out about all the things so you can eventually relax and just write your books.
The marketing push your house gives you is going to be the biggest push available; the things you can do for yourself aren’t nearly so encompassing as it may seem at this moment. And the thing that matters, that truly, truly matters, is writing a great book.
But, maybe it will help you better enjoy your debut– your one and only debut– to have some answers. So…
Will you make foreign sales? Maybe. The less regional your book is, the more likely it is to sell elsewhere.
Audiobook sales? Maybe. I’ve never gotten one***; they seem to go for lead titles and perennial favorites rather than midlist debuts.
Will you sell at all? Yes, you will. There has never been a book in the history of books that sold ZERO copies.
Why isn’t your cover up on Indiebound? Sometimes they don’t get sent through. You can ask Indiebound to add it. Just create an account there, then go here to add your cover. (That second link won’t work until you have an account!)
Why is the wrong cover up on Amazon? Amazon has spiders that crawl the Internet and pull information automatically. Your book cover is one of those things. If your publisher has an alternate cover on their webspace or FTP site, Amazon will pull it and post it. Feel free to mention it to your agent or editor, but don’t worry. As soon as the correct cover goes live online, Amazon will replace it.
What if nobody wants to interview/guest blog/blog tour you? Somebody will, I promise. Bloggers are incredibly nice; they don’t bite. I swear.
Why did that person on Goodreads just give you two stars for a book that’s not even off your hard drive yet?!Sometimes, people accidentally add stars when they mean to just add you to a TBR list. Sometimes people want to vote down books they think are competition for their favorites. Sometimes, people just suck. This is one of those things that is literally out of your control. Accept the struggle and stop struggling against it!
What if none of the other authors like you? We will. Writing YA & MG is like joining a big club. We already like you; we’re thrilled that you sold your book. We can’t wait to meet you.
What if the booksellers hate you? Without you, no books. I promise, at least some booksellers will like you. (As long as you’re not a jerk!)
How do you do a launch party!? Contact your local Indie bookseller and ask if they will host you. What do you need? Well, it’s a party! Bookmarks, maybe some door prizes, balloons, and refreshments of some sort. Cupcakes are super popular– get the frosting in the same colors as your book’s cover! Announce it online, send a notice to your local paper, and make sure all your friends and family know!
Do you need a launch party!? No, but if you like parties, they can be fun. Even if you don’t like parties, they can be fun.
What if you don’t have anything and that author there has EVERYTHING? Then that’s the way it is. If it makes you feel better, the people with everything are often pretty sheepish about it, and also kind of lonely because people keep their distance. Don’t keep your distance. They’re scared, too!
Will your book be in the catalog? Yes.
The catalog for Bologna? Si!
What are they saying at Bologna? Stuff in Italian. Foreign sales happen all year long, so don’t get wound up over one book fair. Especially since most deals don’t even close at the fairs.
London? Frankfurt? See above, only replace Italian with English and German.
Why haven’t you sold another book yet? I’m not going to lie. Sometimes it takes a long time. Sometimes it takes a medium amount of time. As long as you remember that you’re not getting your NEXT deal, you’re getting A deal, that will help keep it in perspective. Every new book is a new experience. And if it takes a while, that’s okay.
What if this first book in your series tanks, oh god, you have two more books to come after it! Sometimes a series gets cancelled, it’s true. But you don’t get thrown out on your butt and told never to darken publishing’s door again. Sometimes the publisher will buy out your contract. Sometimes you and your editor will come up with a different book to fulfill your contract. Either way, there will be some disappointment and some opportunities, and quit worrying about the first book tanking anyway. It’s not even out yet!
What if Kirkus hates it? Chances are, they will. Consider it a badge of honor. Or make a video about it.
What if Kirkus ignores it? They may. But somebody else will pick it up. You’ll get trade reviews, eventually.
What do the B&N rankings mean? How well your book is selling both in the physical B&N stores and B&N online (compared to other books selling at B&N.) Less than 5000 is good. Less than 75,000 is not bad. But it’s still a relative number.*
What about the Amazon rankings? How well your book is selling compared to other books selling at the exact same time on Amazon’s website. This is ALSO a relative number; it doesn’t tell you much either.*
OH MY GOD WHAT DOES THIS BOOKSCAN MEAN!? Nothing. It only counts sales from reporting stores. It doesn’t capture sales from many Internet booksellers, from Wal-Mart, from libraries or schools. My bookscan number has always been 25% of my total actual sales. So even though Amazon lets you look at it, don’t worry about it too much. The sales numbers from your house, that you get on your royalty statements, are the ones that really matter.
I hope this helps. And if you’re ever freaking out, and just need somebody to talk you off a ledge? Drop me a line. Or ask on Twitter. Other authors are standing by to help you through this stressful time. No matter how completely insane it gets (worst the month before and the three months after your debut,) I promise you, it doesn’t last forever.
And better still– eventually you’ll care less. You’ll get back to doing what’s amazing and magical and wonderful about this job– writing your books. It really is a good thing.
* Tell me one secret about the rankings so they matter! On the Sunday after your debut, if you debuted on Tuesday– if your book is in double digits on B&N and in triple digits on Amazon, then you may have sold enough books to hit the NYT Bestseller list.
** Tell me more about the NYT list! No. Let Jackson Pearce tell you instead.
*** I wrote this post in 2015; pleased to say that I have made a whole two audiobook sales (out of the 20 books I’ve sold!)