• Tracy Slater
  • [Path to Publication] The Silly Little Things I’m Panicking About
[Path to Publication] The Silly Little Things I’m Panicking About
Written by
Tracy Slater
June 2015
Written by
Tracy Slater
June 2015

My memoir will be in stores in less than a month, I’m getting ready to fly home to the US from Japan (where I live) to see loved ones and do a few small publicity events, and the book is even getting some nice pre-release reviews.


You’d think I’d be on cloud nine. And I am, don’t get me wrong. But I seem to have brought a fair number of neuroses to cloud nine with me. I feel like I should be basking in publication-countdown excitement and picking out the outfit I’m going to wear to the book launch party, but instead I’m panicking a bit.


So here, listed in approximate order from least to most concerning, are a few of the things keeping me up at night:


1) What I’m going to wear to that book launch party. I’m hoping to find some kind of fabulous top that I can pair with some cool but comfortable jeans so I’ll be comfortable but still look like the kind of fashionable writer people might want to buy a book from. The fact that I have a 16-month-old and very little childcare (oh, and that my 16-month-old still doesn’t sleep through the night sometimes), and that I might still have a few post-baby pounds to accommodate, has all conspired to make shopping for my outfit a still-unrealized task.

This might seem like a concern that is just too silly to mention, and I agree, it’s not up there with say, the book selling exactly one copy (to my mother, who still thinks the title is The Good Snafu), but there is a credible side to this issue, I’ll argue. A book, especially a memoir, is a very public representation of, in part, who we are and how we function in the world (and of course, most importantly, of how who we are and how we function reflects more global, outward-looking themes). The book-launch outfit seems like a lesser version of the book cover to me: the external representation of our public stories and selves.

2) Signing books at my first bookstore event. I have the worst handwriting ever, and my signature looks like a sixth grader’s scrawl. And I’m worried I’m not going to know what to write in people’s copies.

I’ve started practicing writing my name a little more clearly, though (don’t laugh), and I’m relying on a very cool new website called Bound & Dedicated to give me some ideas of things other authors have written in their inscriptions at signings that have really touched their readers.

3) Doing my first public reading from the book. I’ve read in public before, and as the founder of a literary series, you’d think I’d have this one under my belt. But I’ve never read from a memoir of mine that’s being published, since this is my first book, so I feel like the stakes are higher. Plus, if my handwriting, mentioned above, looks like a sixth grader’s scrawl, my voice sounds like a second grader’s—on helium. I may be 47, but whenever I hear a recording of my voice, I always sound like a little girl.

I know there isn’t much I can do about the timbre of my voice, so I reached out to some of the authors from Four Stories whose readings have always wowed me, and here’s some of the advice they have about making literary readings successful:

  • Practice reading your chosen excerpt out loud: This has two benefits. For one, if there is a time limit at the event where you are reading, you’ll want to respect that, and you can’t time yourself by reading silently because you’ll read at a different pace in your head. And two, you want to ensure that your reading is compelling to listen to, not just to read, so you want to practice your pacing and where to put emphasis, and you want to be familiar enough with your content that you can look up at your audience and read fluidly.
  • Make sure your reading doesn’t go over 15 to 20 minutes (unless the event organizer has asked you to do so). Most audience members will have a tough time sitting for a long time through one reading. Plus, you want to keep them interested enough to buy the book.
  • Choose a passage that will hook the audience into the story without giving too much away. For this reason, the ending isn’t usually the best part to read. And if you choose a section in the middle, prepare any necessary introductions about characters, context, and setting that listeners will need to know in order to understand the section you are reading as a stand-alone piece.
  • Thank the event organizer/s and, if you are reading in a group, the other readers—as well as your audience. A nice time to do this is before you actually begin your reading, in the intro remarks. It sets a nice tone right from the start.
  • Remember to have fun, and to appreciate the fun and the joy in the experience. Your audience isn’t random: it’s a group of people who have chosen to come hear you because they already know a bit about you and like what you write.


4) Being exposed as a fraud, or as untalented. Maybe in part because I know so many well-published writers through Four Stories, or because I’m already known on the local Boston literary scene to some extent from having founded the reading series (i.e., known as a lit-event organizer, not a writer), I’m nervous people are secretly going to think something like “Wow—she should stick to event organizing.” I feel like I’ll never measure up to a lot of the writers I know.

I don't really have a solution for this one, but in my best moments, I think it’s okay that I may never measure up to some other writers. I tell myself that I did the very best I could do on this book, and that’s all I can ask of myself. And if readers find rough patches to criticize, I need to remember to be grateful I even have readers—and to try to figure out which criticism is useful so I can apply it to my next book.

5) What I’m going to wear to the book launch party. Seriously people. I need help here.


So tell me: What are you panicking about, either for an upcoming debut or with your writing in general? What’s the best (or worst) thing you’ve ever seen written in a book inscription? The best tips you’ve ever gotten about reading in public? How do you deal with your own fears about not measuring up? And finally, if you see any amazing tops for sale online that scream “I’m a great writer and you won’t ever regret buying my book!” send me the link!




Tracy Slater is an American writer based in Japan. Her memoir The Good Shufu has been named a Summer 2015 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection and is forthcoming from Penguin Random House’s Putnam imprint in June. Her website is www.tracyslater.com, and she also blogs at http://thegoodshufu.wordpress.com.





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  • Michelle Cox

    Great post, Tracy!  Thanks for the tips everyone!

  • Tracy Slater

    Hi everyone. Thank you *so* much for all the wonderful comments! We are flying out from Tokyo to the US in two days and I still haven't packed for myself or my daughter, so I'll just add a quick comment for now. Most of all, I really appreciate everyone's support and input.

    Leza, Atumun: writing my name in Japanese is such a great idea. I don't think I can get a translation of Tracy that will work, but I love Karen's twist on your advice, to write thank you in Japanese, so I may borrow (steal?) this idea!

    And Rita, your point about whether men ever feel like frauds is a really interesting one and gives me motivation not to give into the worry about being one myself or not measuring up. And Kelly, I like your take on it!

    Julie, you are so right that I need to focus most on the book! (Although I did just get an awesome Japanese gel mani-pedi with...wait for it.. sequins involved! So I guess I'm not totally focusing just on the book...).

    And thanks to everyone for your understanding, commiseration and support! I'll be doing one more post in the beginning of July, right after the book launches, so I'll let you all know how it goes. And Leza, can't wait either for our joint Tokyo book-launch party in Sept!

  • Oh, and I never wear anything that feels constricting around my waist and stomach, since breathing is one of the most impt things in public speaking.  You probably don't have time, but a good tip to improve a speaker's voice is to take singing lessons -- even if you're like me and can't start "Happy Birthday" on key!

  • Yep.  Kinda my list, too....I LOVE Leza's idea of signing your name in Japanese!  In the anthologies where my work appears, I just sign my first name.  Faster, neater...feels more "friendly."  Hope it's not "unprofessional."

    RE:  Clothing advice from the clothing-impaired...  When I do a presentation, reading etc, I look at my clothes as my "uniform," which somehow emotionally deescalates the importance of my wardrobe.  My "uniform" changes based on the venue, weather, how long I'll be walking/standing, formality of event, etc, but is usually a nice pair of slacks or long skirt (to cover knocking knees -- seriously!) and a monotone top with sleeves, which creates a long sleek look from head to toe and a good "headshot" for close-up photos.  Sometimes I wear a Middle Eastern-style necklace, but no dangly earrings that distract when I move my head and nothing on my wrists to jangle and distract.

    The fraud thing I feel every single time I stand up to read (and it's now been 100s)..."Well, so what if I'm a fraud?" I try to convince myself.  "Then I'm going to be a damned good one!"  When I get dressed and put on my make-up, I think about getting "in character," and that helps with my self-doubting jitters.

    You'll be great!  Good luck, have fun and bask in this well-deserved, well-earned spotlight!

    Kelly Hayes-Raitt

    Mosey on over to my web site and sign in for your free gift -- an mp3 of me reading my book's first chapter about a beggar in Iraq! ...And a pre-publication discount!

  • Julie W Weston

    Tracy, I worried about all the same things with my first book tour.  Then I was given some advice by a well-toured writer:  Focus on the book!  You are the expert on your book and the reading/presentation is all about the book!  That helped me so much.  I lost most of my self-consciousness and fear.  Nervousness remained.  Mine was a memoir too.  I am going soon on a book tour for my first novel and keep telling myself the same thing:  This is about the book!  My writing is as bad as my dad's, who was a doctor.  If I couldn't think of anything to write, I just wrote Best Wishes.  That seemed to work.  Good luck!

  • Autumn Ashbough

    Can you sign your name in kanji? (Is there a Japanese symbol for "Tracy?") Or do you have a stamp? Given the nature of your international memoir, that might be a unique touch that other writers couldn't match.

    Good luck and I look forward to reading all about your launch!  I wish it were in LA!

  • Rebecca Heflin

    Great post, Tracy! I've done four book signings and I still struggle with what to wear. I want to look professional, but approachable. Then there's the photos -- local magzines have shown up for photos, and I don't want something busy that looks bad in photos, nor something that washes me out. It's not a stupid concern. I write under a pen name, so before my first book signing I practiced how to sign my pen name. Will I put a loop there? Or should I make the letters clean? To this day, I'm so afraid I'm going to sign my legal name. ☺ 

  • Great post, Tracy.  I think you'll be okay.  Being a fairly new mother without a full night's sleep yet can be a big contributing factor to making you prone to worrying.

    Yes, a simple "Thank You" with your name in both English and Japanese may be a great touch...and quick.  For my own gardening book, I usually write a type of "blessing" to my readers that I have created...about growing an abundant harvest of sweet fruit to eat.  I can relate to the handwriting issue.  Mine seems to have not graduated past about 3rd grade.  Maybe practicing a little will help your hand remember the movements of how you want to write when you are signing books....if you have a few moments to spare while you are preparing.

    Good luck!

  • Jeanne Estridge

    Thank you for posting this! Although I'm still a sale away from being published, I worry about these kinds of things, too. Good to know i"m not alone.

  • Leza Lowitz

    Great piece! You always look stunning, Tracy. You could wear a brown paper bag and make it rock. I think writing your name in Japanese would be cool to finish with a flourish. Good luck with your launch. I am sure your voice is going to be exquisite, too. Can we talk about shoes? See you at the Tokyo launch!

  • Karoline Barrett

    Good luck!  I use Sharpies to sign my name - they work really well! When I do book signings, I wear something I know looks good (but not TOO good, so the attention is on the book!) and I just sign my name. You will be fine.

  • Laura McNeill

    Wear something dark that doesn't wrinkle :)  

    Best of luck!!!!

  • Tracy Slater

    Rita, Lene, thanks so much for your comments! Lene, would love to have you there too! And I totally relate about the struggle between focusing on the book that's done but not out, and trying to start the new one. I have a folder on my desktop that says "Next Book." And guess what's in it? Nothing but 2 measly lines of notes...

    And Rita, thanks so much for the input re: clothing! And the accessories reminder is a great one. I hadn't even thought of that issue as it related to book signing. As for heels, though, they are kind of out for me too. Being 47 with a toddler is wonderful in many ways, but my knees are shot, so I haven't worn heels since I got pregnant at 45!

    All my best to both of you on your launches, too!

  • Thank you Tracy!! This is what I need to read, I have already started down that list for my book coming in September.  The panick has been a much bigger theme of publishing than I had thought! Once the book was edited and ready I had hoped I could relax and focus on the next novel, but here I am stuck with so much going on every day!

    I would have loved to be on one of your readings and I would cheer you on, tell you that you have the perfect outfit and your excerpt was spot on :)

  • Rita Gabis

    Great piece!  My memoir comes out in September and I just did two major pre-pub events….clothing!  First of all, comfort!  Not those old torn flannel pjs you love kind of comfort--but heels--if you wear them that actually don't make you feel like you're going to fall down and an outfit(s) that you feel most beautiful and most yourself in.  Try on several things.  Pull in a friend to help.  Choose what feels like you…empowered, the writer you are!  Go light on the accessories.  (Bangles etc get in the way of signing books.) Not to sound redundant…but again, shoes.  I love heels but my feet don't.  I splurged on two pairs out of my price range but worth it because a: they are so well made they will last and b:I can walk in them, stand in them for a whole day/night!!  

       You helped me so much with the wisdom you  gathered in your blog post…I know I'll reread it when it's time for my book launch.  A writer friend gave me a package of thank you notes and your reminder to say thank you reminded me I still have many to send out.  Good luck!  Do men feel like frauds the way women do???  Set your own bar.  You're as good as your best self/writer and that is ENOUGH!!! Many thanks, Rita