• Tayari Jones
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Five Things I Wish I Had Known When I Published My First Book
Written by
Tayari Jones
April 2011
Written by
Tayari Jones
April 2011

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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  • Tayari Jones

    Thanks, everyone for these kind comments.  Let me know if there is a subject in particular you would like to address is future columns.  I want this to be helpful!

  • Jaxs

    Its so easy to put pressure on yourself  , which, for me, does not encourage my creative groove . Thanks for the reminder and happy writing !

  • Cyndi McErlane

    Great tips, Tayari!  Thank you.  Good luck with all of your current and future books....God Bless!

  • W. S. Gager

    Great advice. My third book is due out June 30 and I'm going to tape this in front of me to remind me. The emotions of launching a book swing manic to euphoria and never seem to stop in between. Thank you!

    W.S. Gager


  • Nandi Keyi

    Beautiful Tayari, I wish you much success on your new novel. The last two sentences, in particular, have a very specific resonance for me. I look forward to the publication, and most importantly, the publication. I am certain it is as thoughtful as you are. Blessings you are an inspiration.


  • Nicole Weaver

     My second children's trilingual book is due to be published soon; very timely and informative post.  Thanks.

  • Charlana Martin

    Thanks for the wonderful tips Tayari. Good luck with your new novel!

  • Wonderful realizations, Tayari!  Many blessings, many revelations, and many books to come. I love the idea of treating every reader as a valued guest. I did a lot of speaking as the state leader of a ministry. There were many of us who would do the planning and set up. Then the big day arrived and sometimes only a couple of new people would show up. I would get very discouraged and bring this in prayer to God. I was so convicted, "Value, welcome, appreciate, and be with every person there...and don't spend time fretting over those who don't show up!" This was so freeing, and allowed me to be fully present, immersed in the beauty of the moment. Enjoy!!

  • Brenda Moguez

    I think we have to remind ourselves how amazing we are - writing isn't easy. A person has to believe in themselves, want the dream, because living the dream isn’t fun nor is it anything the non-writer really understands. It's damn lonely sitting at a desk (or where ever it is a writer writes), day after day and there isn't a guarantee of anything beyond a writer’s desire to write. Fame and a Hollywood movie, a villa in Barcelona are not a sure thing. I used to have friends. There are less these days because I am not available and when I am, I weigh the options of burning time that I never have enough of. Still, I don’t know what I’d do without it. Thank you for the reminder… regardless of what happens I am still a writer. And congrats to you, for living the dream and inspiring us up and comings. Brenda

  • I'm having a hard time with this now. It feels like there is not enough time in the day and, truth be told, I am missing just writing. And you are correct--I am a writer. Remember who I am. 

    Thanks so much for the valuable reminder.

  • Very good advice. Thank you. I think in this age of e fast publishing, writers don't take enough time to pace themselves.

  • Liz Kitchens

    Such good and inspired advice.  thank you

  • Sarah Pinneo

    What a great post!  I only have one quibble: that author shot, bed sheet or not, is more glamorous than half the author photos out there.  If I could sell a book for every chin-in-hand "thinker" author shot I've seen over the years... I'd be on the NYT list.

    I struggle with the say-yes-to-everything problem too.  In fact, today I blogged about driving 2 hours with 7 pounds of pulled pork to do a bookstore event in a snowstorm.

    I need to adopt your attitude about reviews and coverage.  I'm going to print out this post and tape it to the wall over my desk...

  • Audry Fryer

    Keep writing -- that is such good advice and just when I need to hear it.  A few months back I went out on a limb and self-published.  I've now learned getting sales takes serious hard work and I've let my writing slack off.  Lately, I've been feeling very unfulfilled.  Like the advice you were given, I agree it's important to remember that we are writers first.  Being a salesman doesn't feel quite as rewarding. 

  • Wonderful advice and reminders!  Thank you for the knowledgeable insight.

  • Cariad Martin

    This is great advice, especially about pacing yourself. I would definitely have felt obliged to say yes to everything, without thinking about the consequences for myself.

  • Thank you, Tayari for all the good advice. My first YA novel comes out in September. I already have 2 book signings and I'm nervous, because it is an ebook so I've tried to find ways of signing it!

    I'm hoping it will be getting good reviews, but I have had my share of rejections and I think I'm prepared. After all there are no zombies, vampires, werewolves or dead parents, and no drugs. So I wonder what the reviews will be:)

    Good luck with your new release!

  • Maria Fenton

    Sound advice - thanks! I will definitely take it to heart. ~M

  • Love the mourn and move on advice about reviews. Esteem-saving advice for the poetic types like me (those of us without much hardshell initially). Thanks Tayari.

  • J.C. Davies

    You make great points Tayari. You have hung in there and I think that, int he long run is what it really takes. I wish the very best of everything. JC

  • Myne Whitman

    This is very helpful, my second novel was launched last year, and I hope to write more.

  • Thank you!  One of your points is exactly what I needed to hear this week!


  • Inspiring advice. Thank you for sharing. Keep going!

  • Erin Siegal

    Tayari, thank you! What wonderful, wise words to keep in mind. Best of luck with the new book!!

  • Sonya Huber

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Tayari. I love the focus on the long haul. Those are wise words and I appreciate your generosity.