Practical tips Writing Life

Reflections on my debut year

3 things I did

1. Celebrate every win and milestone

2022 was my book’s debut year and I was determined to enjoy it! Sometimes, there were big things to cheer about – like being The Bookseller’s One toWatch or The Sunday Times’ Children’s Book of the Week. (I’m well aware how lucky I am that my little book had such a great start, and I’ll be eternally grateful to my publisher for working so hard to get SMALL! in front of the right people.)

But I celebrated the quieter moments just as much. The first bookshop to share pre-order links for SMALL! (Thank you Rocketship Bookshop!). The Instagram message from a mum telling me how much her daughter loved my book. My first school assembly. Running a ‘create a swamp creature’ workshop for three boys who didn’t want to leave. And, very occasionally, readers coming to my workshops on purpose. I’ll be honest, I usually roped in any children who happened to be nearby when I was about to start.

This year has been full of little wins and whether you’re publishing your first book or fifty-seventh, holding on to those moments will make every late night editing push or plot-hole-panic worth it.

Here I am celebrating SMALL! being in the window of Waterstones Salisbury

2. Take joy in other authors acing it

I feel there’s one rule that all authors who want happy lives should follow: don’t compare yourself to other authors. If someone else has more sales, is on more shortlists or takes home more prizes, cheer for them. When a few authors in my debut group were nominated for the Carnegie, I genuinely squealed over my breakfast. One of the biggest joys I’ve had this year is seeing so many brilliant debut children’s authors doing brilliantly. And a win for any one of them feels like a win for all of us, as it shows children, teachers, booksellers and librarians are giving new, non-celebrity books a chance. That’s got to be worth cheering, right?

3. Give and share where you can

Giving your time as an author isn’t entirely selfless. When I write letters to schools, do I hope a few pupils might buy my book? Of course. When I create downloadable games and activities on my website, do I hope they’ll encourage teachers to use SMALL! in the classroom? Yup. And when I run events in bookshops, do I hope a few of the families that come will also buy my book? Absolutely.

As an author, there’s an obvious benefit to giving your time. But those little acts aren’t selling copies for me in the thousands, hundreds or even the tens most of the time. Instead, I hope they’re getting a few children excited about reading, as well as writing their own stories.

Of course, sharing doesn’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) be all about you. The shares that have done best for me this year were my Reading Adventure, shouting about 15 debuts young readers might enjoy. And my book review postcard template – helping readers write reviews like holiday postcards for any books they’ve enjoyed.

3 things I wish I’d done

4. Accept you’ll never have enough time

I had no idea just how much time promoting a book takes. This might vary a bit depending on the kind of marketing budget you have and whether there’s a team making resources for you. But if you’re eager to do things yourself, you could lose days:

  • making a website – if you’re building your own, leave lots of time for it
  • visiting bookshops
  • visiting schools
  • writing letters to schools
  • blogging, tweeting, TikToking etc
  • creating activities to go with your book
  • agonising about any of the things on that list you haven’t done yet.

I’ve loved promoting SMALL! But I’ve also struggled to get the balance between writing and promoting right. The result is that I almost always feel guilty about the things I’m not doing.

That guilt extends to the many fab books I know I’m not reading and shouting about, too. My TBR pile has never been bigger.

Going into 2023, I’ve promised to be kinder to myself and accept I can’t do everything. I’ll also try not to use promoting as an excuse to avoid the harder job of actually writing a new book…

5. Pick a good signing pen

In Goldilocks style, it took me three goes to find mine.

My first pen looked nice but the ink blotted into the pages.

My second pen didn’t blot, but the nib was too thick for my handwriting.

The third pen (a fineline version of pen two) is perfect. Here’s a pic of my Ultra Fine Sharpie in all its glory.

Third time lucky: my favourite Ultra Fine Sharpie

6. Ask for reviews

Amazon reviews – if you get over the magic 50 – help more people find your book. Even though loads of people have said lovely things about SMALL! I’m nowhere near that number.

I’ve posted occasional tweets asking for reviews and reminding everyone that you can buy SMALL! from Waterstones or your local indie and still review it on Amazon. But I’m fairly sure I’m asking in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The problem is that reviewing isn’t on most people’s radars. Before getting a book deal, I don’t think I’d ever left an Amazon review – even for books I LOVED. Looking back, I reckon my best chance to get reviews would have been to ask the parents at my events. It’s something I’ll try and do more of next year.

In the meantine, if you’re looking for a gift for me(!) or another author in your life this festive season, head to Amazon and leave a review. It won’t cost you a penny and it’ll mean the world to them.

Authors, what do you wish you’d known before you published your debut? Share your wisdom for other debuts in the replies.