Hello Mixed-Up Filers!
Huge treat for you today! Ever wonder what life is like for new authors? No? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. I think it’s interesting to see if the expectations match the realities and how each person handled it. The similarities and differences, and to show how you can never start comparing yourself to others, since everyone is different. And, since Dorian Cirrone warned me that I can’t make this post about me, I’m grateful that I was able to gather a great collection of eight authors who also had their MG debuts in 2017, including a couple of our very own Mixed-Up Files Members, to tell you about their experiences! I asked them each ten questions, and it was interesting to hear the insights of different authors.
With so many wonderful ones to hear from, let’s get right to it!
JR: Please introduce yourselves to everyone, along with the title of your book
Hi, I’m Kristi Wientge and my book is Karma Khullar’s Mustache.
Hi, I’m Heidi Lang, and I’m the co-author of A DASH OF DRAGON. I wrote it with my sister, Kati Bartkowski. I currently live in eastern WA, but when I wrote that book I was working as a dog walker in Santa Cruz, CA.
I’m Kati Bartkowski, and I’m the co-author of A DASH OF DRAGON and A HINT OF HYDRA.
Hi! I’m Natalie Rompella and my middle grade book is Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners.
Hi! I’m Beth McMullen. I write the Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls series. The 3rd in the series, Double Cross, hits shelves August 6, 2019.
Hi! I’m Wendy McLeod MacKnight, author of two middle grade novels: It’s a Mystery, Pig Face!, which debuted in early 2017, and The Frame-Up, which was published in June 2018.
I’m Melissa Roske, author of KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN (Charlesbridge, 2017).
Hi! I’m Patrick Moody, author of THE GRAVEDIGGER’S SON, a paranormal MG fantasy (Sky Pony Press)
JR: What was your debut experience like?
Kristi: Honestly, I really didn’t know what to expect so it was all a pleasant surprise. It definitely helped to have supportive MG authors in our 2017 Debuts FB group.
Heidi: A little surreal. You spend so much time working on a story, and hoping it’ll someday be a book, that when it finally happens it feels almost like a dream. At least for me. And then we were lucky enough to sell book 2 at the same time, so we spent a lot of our debut year working on that book.
Kati: My debut experience was great! I got to meet other fantastic debut authors, and I got to read a lot of their books. Throughout my whole publishing experience, I have found that it’s the friends that I make along the way that have made it the most rewarding.
Natalie: It was a whirlwind! I thought once the book came out, I’d be able to finally relax, but that wasn’t true at all. It was important to be active through blog interviews and advertise my book through social media.
Beth: I’ve published books for adults so I had some idea of what I was getting into but being a ‘debut’ MG author was completely different. I had no community with my adult books but the authors I’ve met in this space have been amazing – talented, smart and so supportive.
Wendy: Honestly? A whirlwind! I didn’t know what I didn’t know, which was sometimes good and sometimes hard! I anticipated more buzz, but the Pig Face ARC was only available a couple of months before the book’s release and so there was little in the way of trade reviews, which often help with buzz with smaller books.
Melissa: Overall, I’d say it was extremely positive. I had the chance to attend several conferences and book festivals, visit classrooms (which is always fun), and meet some amazing people, including fellow authors, teachers, librarians, and bookstore owners/employees. Seeing my book on the shelves was pretty sweet too! The downside was managing my expectations. I knew my book wouldn’t be the next Harry Potter, but the hope is always there—however unrealistic it may be.
Pat: My debut experience was a total rollercoaster of emotions. I don’t think I was really prepared for how long everything would take. About 6 months before publication, I remember not feeling a whole lot, one way or the other. But as that magical date drew near, I was totally impatient. I remember getting my arcs and holding them in my hands for the first time, thinking “this is the moment you’ve been waiting for all your life”. It’s hard to put into words. Once the book was out in stores, I remember feeling a total sense of apprehension, almost fear of “putting myself out there”. That quickly faded. In the end, I was left with a deep sense of gratitude, and drive to continue on. Kind of like, “You’ve done it, kid. Now get going on the next one!”
JR: Is there anything you regret that you didn’t do for your debut or wish you had done differently?
Kristi: I wish I’d promoted myself more. This goes from social media posts to reaching out more to the local librarians and books shops. Every time I’ve approached staff at a bookstore they’ve been kind and generous and I wonder why I was so nervous about introducing myself. At the same time, my debut year happened to be a very important academic year for one of my children so I really had to prioritize where my energy went.
Heidi: Kati and I both made the decision early on that we weren’t going to stress too much about our debut – we planned to have a book launch party and do what we could, but most of our energy would be on writing the best sequel we possibly could. I think taking the pressure off of everything else really helped, and I don’t have any regrets from that year.
Kati: I probably could have done more social media promotion…but honestly, I’m happy keeping that minimal and just focusing on my writing. 🙂
Natalie: Set up book signings in advance! I wanted to wait until it came out to schedule signings in case the book was delayed. However, events are booked way in advance, and I believe I missed out on signings.
Beth: I was all about not having any regrets with the first Mrs. Smith’s book. I said yes to everything! Looking back, I might have been more selective in terms of events and appearances. I felt pretty burned out by the time I hit the big push for the second book this past summer.
Wendy: I wish I had reached out to other fellow debut authors more to help me with the stress of realizing that unless your book is THE anticipated book of the year, there is going to be a lot of disappointment. I asked for a lot more support with my second book and it made all the difference!
Melissa: I would have learned more about book promotion. Although I think I did a decent job publicizing my own book, self-promotion is not part of my skill set—and it’s way outside my comfort zone—so I found it very stressful. I still do, but I’m trying not to freak out about it. (The operative word is trying!)
Pat: I wish I’d done a book launch at my local indie. I remember seeing so many 2017 debut authors at their launches, having a complete blast, and really wanted that for myself. But, while that sounded all well and good, when it comes down to it, I have pretty bad social anxiety, and ultimately decided against an official “launch event”. In retrospect, I should have just sucked it up and done it. It would have been a blast!
JR: What has your first year as a published author been like? Feel any different than before?
Kristi: It’s such a mix of everything! There are moments of pure busyness and deadlines and then there are moments when absolutely nothing is happening on the book front. Then there are those surprise emails letting you know about a great review or, the best, letters from readers. I definitely do not feel any different than before. Your family treats you the same. You still have to cook dinner and clean the house and help your kids with schoolwork. BUT deep inside you definitely feel a sense of accomplishment. Then, it gets buried under the pressure of having to do it all over again!
Heidi: I thought I’d feel differently, but I don’t think much changed in that first year. Still, nothing really compares to the feeling of going into a bookstore and seeing your book on the shelves. That is honestly still a thrill.
Kati: First year as a published author has been wonderful! Now when people ask me what I do, I get to tell them I’m an author. Sure, that’s not my only job, but it’s one that I’m proud to talk about.
Natalie: Although this isn’t my first book ever, it’s been some years since my last books came out. I like being able to tell people I have new books. It can be tough for people to understand the career of being a writer when you have nothing to show for it—regardless of what’s going on behind the scenes with writing.
Beth: I have really enjoyed getting to know kids from all around the country. Meeting students who are so into books, just like I was (and still am) is enormously satisfying. I was doing a big book festival at the beginning of the year with two very well know authors and at every school we visited they were greeted like rock stars – screaming, clapping, jumping up and down, the works. It gave me hope for the world.
Wendy: I love being a published author, but I think I thought more people would care than they did! In the end, I realized that I was the one who needed to care, and now I don’t get caught up in the hype, good or bad, and focus on what I can control, which is the writing!
Melissa: I’d say it’s been a combination of heady joy and abject terror! It’s a joyful experience to see the impact your book has on readers, but it’s a huge responsibility too. I guess that’s what feels different. Before, the only ones who read my book were family and friends. Now, my book is out in the world and up for scrutiny. And that’s scary.
Pat: I really don’t feel any different, but the way I’ve started dealing with social media has changed quite a bit. This past year has been a long, uphill battle with self promotion, be it Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Sometimes I think I’m being too annoying or repetitive, constantly plugging my own work, or fellow writers’ stuff. In my personal life, the only difference I’ve seen is the increased interest from friends and family about that “next book”. But I’m sure all debut authors get that. Don’t get me wrong. It’s flattering to have people interested in your craft, in your art and “success” (whatever that means).
JR: What have you learned about being an author, that you didn’t know beforehand?
Kristi: I think I make even less money than I did as a stay at home mom! You do a lot of things for free and donate books or services. It’s a tough gig because I think people assume you have boxes of your books just lying around to give away. I’m learning that as an author you’re your own advocate and business manager and goal setter. Things only get done when you sit down and get them done. It’s hard work.
Heidi: I thought writing the book would be the hardest part, but I’ve learned now there are all these other facets. There are school visits and book promotion and public speaking and networking. It can feel a little overwhelming, but at the same time, you meet the nicest people. I love book people – other authors and other readers – so it’s been great having this connection with all of them.
Kati: I learned a lot about the publishing process. I used to think that when you got your book deal, your book would come out shortly after. I didn’t really think about all the steps that happened in between, all the editing and all the waiting, too. I also learned all about the excitement of seeing the cover of your book for the first time.
Natalie: I learned just how many hats you end up wearing as an author: researcher, writer, editor, presenter, teacher, marketer, publicist…
Beth: I’ve started practicing the idea of micro goals. To say ‘I’m going to write a book and sell a million copies’ – well, that’s just intimidating. But to say ‘ok, today I’m going to finish a chapter’, that is doable and not overwhelming. I try and take that approach to book marketing as well. Because so much falls on the author and so much of it feels pointless, it’s good to break it down into bits that you feel you can manage.
Wendy: That it can be a very lonely occupation. Thank heavens for my other author friends! The other thing I learned is how much it means to kids to meet a real live author! It gives them hope and is so exciting for them!
Melissa: As above, I would have schooled myself on the art of self-promotion. I knew I’d have to publicize my own book, but I had no clue how much time it would take. I literally spend hours each week promoting on social media, running contests, sending my book out to reviewers, preparing for author panels and school visits, and so on. It’s a lot, and it often eats into my writing schedule—something I need to work on!
Pat: I’ve learned that being an author, and a Middle Grade author in particular, comes with a certain responsibility. I think its important to realize that that age group is extremely impressionable, and so by extension, the stories you choose to tell had better be the kind that have a positive impact on a young reader’s life. It’s something I never really thought about during the actual writing process, but in the months leading to publication, it struck me that this would be an actual book read by actual readers, and that the story had better be something a kid could read and at least take something positive away from.
JR: What’s the biggest difference that you see in yourself between your first book, and either publishing your second, or working on it?
Kristi: I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a writer. Having said that, book two was a huge struggle for me. I worked for about six months on a book before my agent and I decided to go with another book. That took me another several months of struggling to get a draft to my editor. I think once you have one book out you feel more pressure for the second to top it. There were moments I thought I wouldn’t be able to pull it off a second time. I think it’s partly because people only have one book to judge you by and partly because you’re more aware of what you can do to be better.
Heidi: I hope I’m getting a little better at it! The first book took us almost four years to write and revise, but the second we were able to get done in a year, and the whole process felt smoother. I think both my co-writer and I have a better feel for what’s working and what isn’t. Also now I know it’s possible to do this, and just having that knowledge has made a big difference.
Kati: I feel that both my writing partner and I have become much better writers. Our first book took us a really long time to get right, but our second book seemed so much easier. Granted, we were working on deadline, and it’s funny how that can be a real motivator.
Natalie: I’m more open to realizing my text will change—I become less attached to what I’ve written so I can cut without tears. With this book, I had to cut about twenty pages. I didn’t think that was possible, but I did it.
Beth: I just wrapped up the last book in the Mrs. Smith’s series, number three. Everyone wondered if I would be sad and miss my characters? But I was perfectly happy to let them go and move on to other things. When I first started writing, I worried I would only ever have one good idea. But thankfully, that is not the case. I was ready to move on to new characters after spending three super fun books with Abby and her friends.
Wendy: I realize that I am slowly and surely becoming a better writer! It takes time to master your craft!
Melissa: I’m in the process of working on my second book right now, and it’s actually harder than the first one. I think I feel more pressure to succeed this time around. Before, before I had zero expectations that my book would ever be published. Now, I would be incredibly disappointed if it didn’t find a good home.
Pat: The only real difference, now that I’m working on my second book, is that I’ve grown quite a tough skin. Between acceptance and publication of my first book, there have been a number of manuscripts completed and rejected. I think that’s true for a lot of writers. Between those successes, those published books sitting on the shelves, there’s a graveyard (pardon the word choice) of stories that just didn’t resonate with agents and editors. I know I have a drawer filled with finished novels that will probably never see the light of day, but I enjoyed writing them and each one taught me a new lesson. This business is very subjective, and it really taught me that just because someone doesn’t gravitate towards your particular story, it doesn’t mean you’re not talented, or that your in any way inferior. In short, I guess you could say I’ve stopped being “precious” about my work. If someone doesn’t like it, I don’t take it personally.
JR: Do you commiserate and celebrate with other writers?
Kristi: Yes! The 2017 Debuts have been a great group to help surviving publication. I’m not very active in the group, but whenever I’m wondering about something there is a thread in our chat that has it covered. There have been so many great books from 2017 that have taken off and it’s so exciting to see them have movies, sequels and so much attention. I love walking through the bookstore and knowing so many of the authors that line the shelves.
Heidi: As often as possible. 😉
Kati: Of course! Besides my writing partner, I have discovered that other middle grade authors are pretty awesome people. And I love sharing my publishing experiences with them.
Natalie: Absolutely! I think we all have our war stories. I also love celebrating with writers whose journey I know and have been a part of.
Beth: Yes! It takes a village to keep an author sane! Seriously, I love to see my fellow authors succeed and be recognized and make lists and sell millions. This means the world is paying attention. The world is reading. And that’s the absolute best thing I can hope for.
Wendy: All the time!!! They are sometimes the only thing that keeps me going on a bad day! I try not to bother them too much—they’ve got their own challenges—but even sharing a joke makes my day.
Melissa: Absolutely! If it weren’t for my writer friends (I’m looking at YOU, Jonathan Rosen!), I’d feel adrift. My friends lift me up when I’m feeling down, and encourage me to keep going when I want to pack it in. I try to do the same for my friends when they need support. The kidlit community is the best!
Pat: I do. Being in touch with so many authors, especially my debut group on Facebook, probably helped me maintain my sanity last year. I can’t tell you how many times I fell into a funk about one thing or another, thinking I was the only one who felt a certain way, and then logging on and seeing that I wasn’t alone. Not even by a long shot. That made all the difference in the world.
JR: How is it interacting with fans?
Kristi: Well, fans might be a bit of a stretch, but I absolutely love hearing from students who’ve read my book. School visits are my favorite. Kids have the best ideas and so much energy, but so much heart too.
Heidi: We’re super lucky in that we write for a great age group – 8-12ish, give or take. I love talking to kids at that age because when they’re enthusiastic about something, they are all in. And I get the best questions from them.
Kati: Umm…I’m not the most interactive on social media. But I am always happy talking to someone who has loved my book.
Natalie: It’s fun. I love going to schools where kids know of my book. Sometimes I talk about my book and a child doesn’t get that I actually wrote it until the end of the presentation. Their jaw drops. I love that.
Beth: So much more fun interacting with kids than with adults! But maybe I shouldn’t say that out loud?? Kid fans are hilarious. I love their stream of consciousness emails, where they tell you what they ate for breakfast and then ask a really profound question about the universe. Adults are much more serious when it comes to fan mail.
Wendy: Humbling. I recently found out that a little girl is going out on Halloween as one of the characters in The Frame-Up and I was so thrilled and filled with wonder!
Melissa: That’s the best part of being an author, actually. I LOVE meeting kids at book signings and in the classroom. They have so much to say, and aren’t afraid to say it. And they give the best hugs. J
Pat: It’s the greatest part of being a writer. Honestly, nothing brings me more joy than meeting readers online or at bookstores, talking about not just my book, but about writing and storytelling in general. Just seeing that my book is actually being read is a surreal feeling. And knowing that its having some sort of impact is greatly rewarding. With a book like THE GRAVEDIGGERS SON, which has a very spooky tone, its wonderful to connect with young readers who gravitate towards that kind of thing. I’ve found that people who love horror, kids and adults both, are some of the kindest, introspective, and sensitive people. Sometimes I can tell that a young reader has anxiety, or that certain air of not feeling totally comfortable in their own skin (who does? But some of us show it more than others). Those are the readers I try to reach out to the most. Because that’s me, really, and personally, those are the kids I really enjoy connecting with, because in a certain sense I think having that connection between the author and the book is more important to them. If they can see that I’ve done it, then surely they can, too.
JR: What advice can you give future debut authors?
Kristi: Make friends with at least 2 other debut authors. I’m not good at posting on FB private groups because it’s overwhelming to keep up with and usually by the time I want to comment at least five other people have already said what I would say, but force yourself to post. Also, be supportive and promote your fellow authors.
Heidi: Not to stress too much about your debut year. This book will most likely be the first of many, so if you concentrate on the writing itself, on getting that next book done, instead of all the things that are out of your control, you’ll probably be a lot happier. The rest of publishing can be a fickle beast, but the writing will always be there.
Kati: The first year, you will see so many authors doing a lot of promotion, and you might feel inadequate. Do what you feel comfortable with, but remember your job is to write amazing stories, not to stress out too much over social media.
Natalie: Always have postcards or bookmarks with your book information handy. You never know who you will run into. Also, be flexible: with the book’s timeline, pub date, last minute edits…anything unexpected can happen!
Beth: Set realistic goals. Be honest about what sort of marketing and PR you enjoy and what you don’t. Make sure the business of writing doesn’t get in the way of your actual writing. I think your goal should be more books on the shelves with your name on the spine.
Wendy: You’ll never get as much publicity as you want or need, so you’re going to have to get over yourself and be your book’s best cheerleader.
Don’t get too caught up in reviews, regardless of whether they are good or bad. Do the best work you can and keep writing!
Melissa: DON’T STRESS OUT! I know, easy for me to say… but I mean it. The debut year has more ups and downs than a roller coaster, but it’s important to sit back and enjoy the ride. I wish I’d followed my own advice.
Pat: Be patient. Publishing takes a LONG, LONG TIME. Toughen up. Don’t take things too personally. This business is 90% subjective. Save all your rejection letters. Frame the acceptance ones. Cherish the small moments. Remind yourself every day that you are a PUBLISHED AUTHOR, and have gratitude. Support other debut authors. This part is huge. We can’t all be self centered, especially as artists. It’s important to build a supportive community. Don’t be afraid of self-promotion. Impostor syndrome is real. We all have it, and I don’t think any of us really get over it.
JR: How can fans find you?
Kati: I’m on twitter from time to time @ktbartkowski
Pat: I’m easy to find! On twitter I’m @Patmoody2, my FB page is Patrick Moody, Author, Instagram @patmoodywrites or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Always thrilled to hear from readers and writers!
JR: I thank all of the authors who joined us at Mixed-Up Files for this, and wish continued success!
Please check out all of their books!
Until next time!