7.3.2 THE DEBUT YEAR: SIMON JAMES GREEN
You only get one chance to be a debut author, so you’ll want to make the most of your time in the spotlight. The industry is obsessed with debuts – it’s the appeal of the new and exciting – so you’ll want to capitalise on that. But you’ll also need to be careful. This period can be exhausting, both physically and mentally, and learning to manage your workload, as well as your expectations, is crucial.
The lead up to launch day
In the weeks and days prior to publication, it’s a good idea to start teasing the book more on your social channels. Your publisher may well produce graphics (known as assets) that you can use to help with this, but remember you don’t want to endlessly bombard people with what look like adverts. Try to be creative – a video of you unboxing your author copies and your reaction adds a more personal angle, for example. Maybe you can post some pictures on Instagram about your inspiration, or introduce your characters over Twitter. When I launched Noah Can’t Even, I set up a Twitter account for Noah himself, ostensibly run by him, where he would lament the imminent publication of the book and tell everyone not to buy it. Despite what your main character may say, it is a good idea to include pre-order links on your tweets, to make it easy for people to check out the book.
Make sure you’ve made friends with other authors who have debuts out this year, so you can support one another, and share ideas. And be sure to follow and engage with other authors, as most will happily post about your book at some point – especially if it’s an area they’re interested in – I can’t tweet about every book, but if it’s funny, or LGBTQ+, then I’ll always try to.
An excited tweet on the morning of publication, complete with buy links to a number of online retailers, is always good. Pin this to the top of your profile. Make sure you then tweet your congratulations to other authors who also have books out today – they’ll probably do the same for you – and you can make it into one big celebration.
You may want to organise a book launch – it doesn’t have to happen on publication day itself, but it should probably be sometime in publication week. Your publisher may help with this, they may even contribute a bit of money towards it, but don’t bank on it. Either way, it’s good to celebrate with a bit of a party. Some authors hold launches in sections of larger bookshops, others hire bars, and it’s usual to lay on some drinks and a few snacks. You’ll often see branded cupcakes too. You should definitely have your books on sale (so confirm that with the venue, or make arrangements if you’re using a bar), but the other benefit of these events, aside from sales, is that people will hopefully post about it (and your book) on social media. I had giant inflatable bananas at my Noah launch. Everyone loves posing for a photo with a giant banana, and we got loads of great posts out of it.
Your publicist will hopefully have a plan of how the next few weeks will look, and will have discussed with you any blogs, articles, or events they’ve lined up. As well as the activity they’ve arranged, there’s nothing stopping you doing giveaways, posting reviews, pics of the book out in the wild, and so on. A lot of authors feel self conscious about constant ‘self-promotion’ but (a) other people are usually delighted to share and celebrate your success, (unless they’re jealous and bitter, in which case ditch them anyway!) (b) unless you’re one of the very few who gets posters at train stations and the like, you really need to do some promotion, and (c) you totally deserve to shout about all your achievements – so enjoy it!
The rest of the year
There’s a real danger at some point you’ll fall down a wormhole of obsessively checking Amazon Author Central, to see how your book is ranking. It’s a waste of time. But you’ll probably do it anyway. There’s only so much you can do to influence sales though, so ask yourself what you’re really achieving here. Similarly, it’s natural to start comparing yourself to other authors. You might get lots of foreign deals; you might not. You might sell the TV rights; you might not. You might get reviews in the national newspapers; but slots are so limited, they can’t review everything. The fact is there’s a whole load of stuff you really don’t have much (if any) control over. There’s an alchemy at work here: some books hit the market, and the zeitgeist, at just the right moment that everyone seems to be talking about them, and they seem to be everywhere. Other books are much more slow burn, gradually building an audience over the years. We live in a world where everyone wants ‘instant’ so you really need to battle against your fear that if it’s not an immediate hit, your book won’t ever be. Sometimes a prize nomination, unexpected recommendation, or viral hit (e.g. the video of the grandma who read Wonky Donkey to her grandchild) can change things in ways nobody can predict.
Rather than stress about what you can’t control, focus on what you can. Continue to promote on social media, but remember to also promote other people’s books too, as well as produce unrelated content, so your feed stays interesting. Make contact with schools and librarians – see if you can arrange some events and get into schools to do talks or workshops. Talking to your young readers directly is probably the best way to get the word out about your book – and most kids, once they know about your books, and once they’ve ‘met’ you, will want to read it. I’ll be talking more about school visits in my article about writing as a career.
Know your limits. If things start to get too much (too many events, requests to write articles, etc.), then say so. You don’t have to say yes to everything, and this year can be overwhelming – not least because you’ll probably be starting work on your next novel. It will be dream-come-true brilliant, but it can also be stressful, tiring, scary, and sometimes, disappointing.
You’ll most likely receive letters, tweets or messages from readers telling you how much they love your book. And amid everything else that’s gong on, this is the thing you really need to remember: however well other books are doing, whatever heights they’ve achieved, and whatever heights you’ve achieved, what this all boils down to is the connection with your readers. Your book is going to mean the world to someone out there, it’s going to speak to them, they’ll feel seen, it’ll make their life better in some way – and that’s what really matters.
Simon is a Carnegie-nominated, award-winning author and screenwriter. After an eight-book deal with Scholastic, his picture book Llama Glamarama was published in June, with a Young Adult Heartbreak Boys and a Middle Grade Life of Riley: Beginner’s Luck to follow later in the year. His Noah books have also been optioned for television, and he contributed to the PROUD anthology.
Simon is also a Spark Mentor.