Five Things I Wish I Had Known When I Published My First Book

In twenty-eight days, my third novel, SILVER SPARROW will be officially released.  It’s been almost ten years since my debut LEAVING ATLANTA and I have learned a lot since then.  To give you a feeling for how long it has been, I am posting my very first author photo which was shot by a friend’s boyfriend against the backdrop of a bed sheet.  Like that old commercial said, You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby.  But still, there are miles to go. The challenge of launching this novel is how to benefit from my past experience while still learning as I go forward.  Every new book, every new launch has its own personality, its own blessing and challenges.  To start off this new column—which I am filing under “new blessing”—I am going to list five things I know now that I wish I had known when I launched my first book.

  1.  No one article or review will make or break me.  When I published my first book, I got a slam from one of the pre-pubs and I was convinced that this was the end of my writing career.  I literally lost sleep imagining bookstore owners, potential readers, librarians, etc. crossing my name off a list labeled GOOD WRITERS.  About bad reviews or weird articles, my good friend Nichelle Tramble said it best—Let it spoil your breakfast, but don’t let it spoil your supper. In other words, mourn it and then keep moving.
  2. Honor every single reader.  I am embarrassed to admit that as a young writer, I pouted if I showed up at a bookstore event and there were only two or people gathered.  Where were the crowds I had dreamed of?  Now, if I show up somewhere and there are only a couple of people, I treat them as though they were guests in my own home.  They each took time out of their schedule to come to my reading. Whether there are two people in the audience or two hundred—and I have experienced both—I give the best presentation I can.
  3. Pace myself.  I worked myself into the ground for my first two novels. I would accept any invitation and would travel any distance.  The result was serious exhaustion and major damage to my personal life.  This time, I am going to remember that promoting my book is only part of my life.  It’s important to remember this because there is always something else you can do—another blog to comment on, another signing to do at a local book fair.  But my resources are limited.  For SILVER SPARROW, I am going to do my best, but also take care of myself.
  4. This is not my last book.  Just knowing that this is not my last time to try takes a lot of the pressure off and allows me to sort of roll with the punches.  Every magazine that decides not to cover SILVER SPARROW may very well come around for the next book.  I am in this for the long haul.  When I look at how far I have come in the last ten years, I understand what it means to really build a career.  Baby steps are real progress. 
  5. Keep writing.  Publicizing the book is really important, but equally important is to get writing on the next project.  My mentor, Ron Carlson, told me when I was on the road with my first book to print out a few pages of the next project.  He told me to write one word every day.  Of course, I didn’t do it, but I am going to do it this time around.  When I was first given the advice, I didn’t understand it—it was so inconvenient to write from a hotel room, and besides, I was too keyed up.  But now I understand.  He wanted me to remember that I was a writer, not just a salesman.  He wanted me to keep putting words down on paper, so I could remember who I am.

 

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Tags: #fiction, Tayari Jones, beginning writers, publishing

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Comment by Pamela Olson on November 27, 2013 at 8:17am

"He wanted me to remember that I was a writer, not just a salesman.  He wanted me to keep putting words down on paper, so I could remember who I am."

Beautifully, beautifully said. Thanks for this. It's funny -- when I'm trying to sell something by someone else, I feel just fine. When I'm trying to "sell" my own work (even if just to a reviewer or interviewer), I feel queasy and awful after a while. Part of it is probably that I tend to stop writing while I do all this traveling and selling (and endlessly repeating my talks and readings), and pretty soon, yeah, I forget who I am and what it's really about. This is good advice.

Comment by Linda Verji on November 25, 2013 at 9:55am

This was very timely. Powerful advice. Thank you!

Comment by SomerEmpress on November 22, 2013 at 10:56am

Great, timely advice, Ms. Jones. Thank you!

Comment by Gabrielle Mazur on December 9, 2012 at 9:31am

This sage advice is very powerful and timely for me. Thank you very much!

Comment by Claire McAlpine on October 31, 2012 at 8:28am
Great advice, nothing like wisdom and experience, and you may have come a long way but I love that photo!
Comment by Jean Ellen Whatley on September 24, 2012 at 3:17pm

Great advice for a soon to be first-time published author who is feeling overwhelmed by "outreach."  I go to bed thinking about it, wake up every morning thinking about it. I am more compulsive about this than I was making myself power through long nights when I just didn't feel like slugging coffee and working on the next chapter. I particularly like the reminder, this is not the last thing I'm ever going to write." Peace.

Jean Ellen Whatley

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Comment by Peg Herring on August 30, 2012 at 3:49am

All so true! I stopped reading reviews entirely, although if there's a really good one, someone will usually send it to me and say, "It's okay to read this one, Peg."

Comment by MARY LYNN ARCHIBALD on August 17, 2012 at 2:36pm

Ditto. Thanks for reminding me.

Comment by Fajr Muhammad on July 30, 2012 at 8:22pm

Really great advice. Never have written a book I will remember this when hopefully I do. 

Comment by Nissi Mutale on July 11, 2012 at 4:50pm

Such great advice! I love the last point - so true! It is so easy to get caught up in sales and forget to write.

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