A Debut Year Reflection

Originally published as part of my December 2018 newsletter.

You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone came out on January 2, 2018, the first Tuesday of 2018, which means I'm now officially at the end of debut year. And it's definitely been A Year.

In a lot of ways, I've been very lucky. Readers have found YMMWIG, and it did well enough for my publisher to acquire more books from me. I'm so, so grateful for everything, truly, and so thrilled I get to do this again. I have my dream job, and that's not something I take for granted because I know there are no guarantees. What I've learned, though, is that stress will find you no matter how many great things happen for your book. I've seen authors whose books hit the NYT list talk about struggles with mental health this year, which proves how difficult this is at every stage.

I try to project positivity and honesty on my social media, but here's the truth: the first half of 2018 was really tough. I had low expectations for my book because it was a quiet contemporary...but also because I was trying to preemptively steel myself against the post-pub emotional crash people warned me about.

The things I didn't tweet about:

  • I checked my Goodreads page every day. I sorted my reviews from oldest to newest and read the ones I hadn't read the day before. I looked at how many people had marked the book as "currently reading." I told myself I'd stop once I hit random checkpoints: 100 ratings, 500 ratings, 1,000 ratings.

  • I checked my Amazon ranking. (Did those numbers mean anything to me? Nope.)

  • I checked the Simon & Schuster sales portal. (Again on the numbers: without context, basically meaningless.)

  • I checked the Goodreads pages of books that came out close to mine. I'm really, really not proud of this one. It's so hard, in those early months, to have a sense of how well your book is doing, and I craved solid data that didn't exist yet. So I compared it to other books and drew my own conclusions, which still wasn't actual data and most of the time, made me feel worse. (I've stopped doing this, and I cannot tell you how good it was for my mental health.)

  • I searched Twitter for my title, in quotes, to see what people were saying about it when they didn't tag me. And well, exactly as you might expect, there's usually a reason people don't tag you.

I spent a LOT of time doing all these things. Hours upon hours. Did any of it help me write my next book? No. You know what does help you write the next book?

Writing the next book. I know, I was shocked too.

I think I grew so obsessive because debut groups, while great (I've made some wonderful friends in mine), are a pressure cooker of anxiety. Social media, too—it's a nonstop highlight reel, which often means we don't see any of the difficult stuff people are dealing with. While Good Things will happen for your book, other Good Things—potentially many more—won't. You'll see cover reveals on Entertainment Weekly, starred reviews, blurbs from massive bestsellers, book tours, book subscription boxes, interviews and reviews in national publications, awards nominations, best-of lists. It doesn't mean your book isn't as good as the books that got those things. It doesn't mean you're not as talented a writer. I wish I could answer the "why not me? why not my book?" question for you.

While all those things will happen for some books, the reality is most of them won't happen for many more of us because there's only so much space, and publishers have tons of books per season. You may not know something can even happen until you see it happen for someone else. And then you're jealous about something that, 5 minutes ago, you didn't even know was a thing.

And it's okay to feel jealous—as long as you don't let it ruin your productivity for too long. I'm also not proud of this, and it's a bit scary typing it out, but there were a few times someone else's good news made me feel so down about myself that it kept me from writing for an entire day. And that's 100% my problem, not theirs. That was something I had to figure out how to deal with.

Confide in people you trust, and do so as privately as possible. And I'd recommend doing this without dragging the other person down or making them feel weird about their Good Things. "You're so lucky your publicist got you on NPR" or "I wish I had a sponsored Instagram post like the one your pub posted" or "I'm sure your book earned out, mine never will" can sound bitter. These people are your lifelines, yes, but they're also dealing with their own stuff. Everyone is. But again: just because you've had X amount of good things happen, doesn't mean you don't want the good thing someone else has. Our minds are brilliant, tricky things: we can be jealous and thrilled for someone at the same time.

You know what feels better than jealousy? Shouting about books you love that aren't getting the attention you wish they were. Celebrating the great things happening for others: "I loved your NPR interview" or "that Instagram post is gorgeous." Making real and genuine connections with other authors based on mutual respect and admiration. Asking someone else how they're doing, and listening.

The bottom line for me is this: I can't get those things I see other people getting, those things I'm afraid to admit I want too, unless I write the next book. That is quite literally the ONLY way I can achieve the items on the author bucket list I made a few years ago and saved in a file on my phone. And somehow, it took me six whole months of debut year before this solidly hit me and, more importantly, motivated me to make the best next book I could.

It's hard to do with all the new voices in your head. More than ever before, I needed outlets that weren't writing. And I needed to write something for me, not to change the mind of the person who gave YMMWIG 2 stars. That meant writing something that brought me joy, something that made me smile every time I opened the document.

I'm getting some anxiety-sweats thinking about beaming this newsletter into inboxes, but I'm hopeful that it'll resonate with someone. You wrote and published a freaking BOOK. Yes, you totally did. It has pages, and it has a cover, and someone (multiple someones! who aren't related to you!) bought it. And someone is going to love that book, I promise you. I haven't seen one 2018 book that didn't get love from someone, somewhere. Regardless of what you do or don't have under contract right now, the only thing you can control—if this is what you want to keep doing—is getting more words down. And if you need to take space away from the book community and from social media to do that, that's completely understandable.

I'm in a much better place today than I was earlier this year, and I'm grateful for the friends who let me vent and the readers whose kind words about YMMWIG made my day, week, year. My therapist knows a lot about publishing now. I do still check Goodreads sometimes, but I've stopped reading YMMWIG reviews. If I feel that sour sting of jealousy, it lasts only a few minutes before it motivates me to get back to work.

Whew, this went on longer than I thought it would. If you've made it this far, thank you. Now I am going to eat some cheese and lie down for a bit. And then I'm going to open up that Word document.