The Debut Experience: MG Authors of the Class of 2K19

For first-time authors, the lead up to publication is a heady cocktail of off-the-charts excitement and horror-movie terror. Here, MG members of the Class of 2K19–Naomi Milliner (SUPER JAKE & THE KING OF CHAOS, May 7); Gail Shepherd (THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS, March 26); J. Kasper Kramer (THE STORY THAT CANNOT BE TOLD, October 8); Jennifer Camiccia (THE MEMORY KEEPER, October 15); and Quinn Sosna-Spear (THE REMARKABLE INVENTIONS OF WALTER MORTINSON, April 2)–share their debut experiences.

MR: As you know, the debut year is a rollercoaster of highs and lows. Thus far, what have been your highest highs? Your lowest lows?

Naomi Milliner, SUPER JAKE & THE KING OF CHAOS (Running Press Kids) It’s been a rollercoaster, all right: by far the wildest ride I’ve ever been on… but one I wouldn’t trade for anything. I think the highest highs are still to come: holding the final copy in my hands; celebrating with family and friends at the book launch; and sharing SUPER JAKE at schools, libraries and bookstores.

Other highs have been working, and sharing my vision, with my wonderful editor Julie Matysik, and the great good fortune of having Liza Fleissig as my agent, mentor, cheerleader and hand-holder throughout the entire process. Last but not least, I am so grateful to be part of the 2019 debut groups. I have met such talented and supportive writers, and made incredible friends. No lows to speak of–yet–except for occasional bouts of severe anxiety and sheer terror.

Gail Shepherd, THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS (Kathy Dawson Books) My highest high was definitely my book launch. The outpouring of love from allies, family, old acquaintances, high school friends, mentors, critique partners, and even complete strangers was unbelievably affirming. I felt “launched” into the stratosphere, with the firepower of all that incredible good will behind me. It was a gift!

The lowest low was, surprisingly, right before the launch. There’s so much buildup to your debut that it’s emotionally draining. I had no good reason to get depressed—everything was going beautifully; Lyndie was getting such a lovely reception in early reviews. But I’d lost my equilibrium. I was tired. I’d taken on a lot of debut-related responsibilities that were hard to manage. Luckily, the low feeling passed (and I gather it’s very common).

J. Kasper Kramer, THE STORY THAT CANNOT BE TOLD (S&S/Atheneum) Getting to hold advanced copies of The Story That Cannot Be Told for the first time was an incredible rush. Seeing the cover, the lovely interior design, my own words on a bound, printed page—utterly thrilling. This dream has been a lifetime in the making, and moments like that make it all feel much more real.

As for a “lowest low,” I think a lot of authors do their best to make only their happiest news public. This isn’t dissimilar to the image most people try to curate for themselves online, but there’s also a certain amount of pressure authors face from the industry to keep up positive hype about their books. The truth is, though, it’s tough out there! Whether you’re struggling with the next book, still stinging from a rejection, or fretting over lists and reviews, there’s always something to stress about.

Quinn Sosna-Spear, THE REMARKABLE INVENTIONS OF WALTER MORTINSON (Simon & Schuster) I think my highest high was being able to give my grandfather a copy of my book. There are many writers in my family who haven’t had a chance to be published, and I think it’s very significant to show that, every once in a while, with a great deal of luck, those decades long, generational dreams can actually manifest. I think my lowest low was realizing that someone very close to me wasn’t going to be able to read my book due to health issues. I was just a few months too late. That was really heartbreaking.

 

Jennifer Camiccia, THE MEMORY KEEPER (Aladdin/S&S) 

So far, seeing my book on Indie bound books, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble for pre-order has been incredibly surreal and amazing. It’s finally sinking in that people are actually ordering my book! As for the lowest of lows? I think it’s fear of people reading my book and hating it.

MR: Can you tell us about your greatest challenge? The biggest surprise?

Naomi Milliner: The greatest challenge was that it took 16 years from first draft to release date; but most of that was my own fault. I have discovered that “writing what you know” is a lot more complicated than one might think – at least, for me. The biggest surprise is how much more work there is AFTER a book is sold!

Gail Shepherd: Challenge: Managing the workload. Trying to go deep into writing my second book while taking on a lot of commitments—to read other debuts, do interviews, keep up with social media, outreach, and marketing. I retired from my day job at the end of January, but I’m working just as hard as before, including putting in significant time on weekends to keep up. Surprise: How many people have told me they connect with Lyndie. The great kindness people have shown me has been astonishing. 

J. Kasper Kramer: I often tell my students that revision is where the real writing happens. I love drafting. And I usually don’t have trouble with that part of the process. Revising, though, can be rough for me. Having to revise on a deadline—and knowing people were counting on me to get it right—that was really hard.

The biggest surprise so far has been having strangers reach out to tell me they’re excited about Story or that they just finished an advanced copy. It’s still completely surreal to think that people are out there reading my words right now!

Jennifer Camiccia: I think, since I’m an introvert, my greatest challenge will be anything that involves putting myself out there in front of people. My biggest surprise is how kind everyone in the book community is. Fellow writers, bloggers, teachers, booksellers, editors and even publishers—they are all there to help us get our book babies out into the world. My interactions, so far, have been filled with wonderful, giving people and it’s made the whole experience such a positive one.

Quinn Sosna-Spear: I think the greatest challenge for me was writing one book while preparing for the release of my debut. It was an incredibly difficult juggling act that I thought I was prepared for, but actually was completely bulldozed by. It has been one of the most impacting professional difficulty I have experienced thus far. And the biggest surprise? I think it was seeing my cover for the first time (illustrated by the phenomenal Gediminas Pranckevicius). I hadn’t really known what to expect, but I definitely never thought it’d end up being a fantasy landscape like the one he produced; the details in it are really amazingly beautiful.

MR: What advice would you give to other kidlit authors facing their debut year? What would you have done differently?

Naomi Milliner: Try not to get so caught up in the ups and downs that you can’t enjoy the ride. Also, join debut groups ASAP and find a close circle of like-minded authors within those groups. Their kinship, empathy and friendship is priceless (shout-out to #JPST!). As for what I would have done differently? Since I’m right in the middle of it all, I will have to get back to you on that!

Gail Shepherd:You’ve got to join a debut group. Seriously. You’ve got to jump in and do what’s required, and your mates in the debut groups will help you in every conceivable way. Any question or confusion I had, there was somebody to help. When I felt down, my debut pals lifted me. When I needed inspiration, somebody would hand me a book, an article, a link. Everything from contracts to marketing to working on your second book to school visits—somebody has the vital info you need. It’s remarkable. My editor and agent alone would neverhave been able to do this much hand holding—and I never would have dared ask them.

J. Kasper KramerThe Story That Cannot Be Told doesn’t hit shelves till October 8, so I’m still about six months out to release. I’m sure, if you ask me in the fall, I’ll have a long list of advice! So far, though, I think the best thing I’ve done is build relationships. If it weren’t for some of my online debut author groups, like Class of 2K19 and Novel Nineteens, I don’t know where I’d go to ask the hard questions. These groups have also paved the road to some seriously incredible friendships with other authors. The support and encouragement we give each other is invaluable. I really don’t know how I’d make it without them!

Jennifer Camiccia: Join a debut group. It’s so helpful to have other writers to commiserate with and learn from. A support system is vital in this industry, especially since writing is so solitary. As for doing anything differently—maybe not comparing myself with other writers? It’s so easy to do, but it negates what I’ve accomplished. Maybe I didn’t have a huge advance or a big splashy campaign behind my book, but I did have my dream come true. Not everyone can say that.

Quinn Sosna-Spear: I would say to just do the best you can without stretching yourself too thin. There are very few things, I think, that a debut author can do alone to really move the needle. Maybe the most successful thing I’ve witnessed is just being consistently present in the community. I think it can be enticing to just spend your time planning a few very big events, but in the long run I think a slow grind actually produces a better outcome.

MR: Marketing a book can be extremely challenging. What has your approach to marketing been thus far? Have any of your decisions been influenced by watching other debut authors launch and market their books?

Naomi Milliner: My basic approach has been equal parts begging and bribing, LOL. I often feel like a juggler, hoping one of many balls will miraculously land where it’s supposed to. I do think social media is a powerful and crucial tool these days, along with a network of friends and fellow writers. We encourage, help, and promote each other. I have absolutely learned a tremendous amount from my fellow debuts, as well as from more established writers who have been extremely kind and generous in advising me. (If the list weren’t so long, I would happily name names here.)

Gail Shepherd: Oh, gosh, yes… the debut authors have been a godsend. But you have to figure out what you have the energy for, and you can’t let marketing interfere with writing. My editor was quite straightforward in telling me that the best thing I could do for my career was to write a second book. I took that to heart. But I still reserve a few hours a day, every day, for marketing-related work. The bulk of that is arranging appearances and outreach to book stores and librarians, plus any commitments I have to the debut groups as a whole (giveaways, interviews, social, etc).

J. Kasper Kramer: Having a fall release feels a bit (I suspect) like being a younger sibling. I’m getting to watch all my friends do amazing things months before I go through similar trials—and you better believe I’m taking notes. As for marketing, I’ve never really felt comfortable having a big presence online—especially when it comes to self-promotion. I much prefer my computer time to be spent hiding deep in a Word doc. However, I admire the way some of my friends interact with their readers—it looks fun and genuine and often leads to great connections. Because of this, I’ve been working hard to step a bit out of my comfort zone this year. I also love having business cards with my cover to pass out to people I meet. My novel comes up at the most unexpected times—especially when I’m traveling—and I think placing that card in a person’s hand after a meaningful conversation often does translate to real sales.

Jennifer Camiccia: I try to say yes as much as possible, even if it means stepping out of my comfort zone. And this is where joining a debut group is so important. I wouldn’t have known about so many of the different events and possibilities for marketing out there without watching what those who debuted in the months ahead of me did. I learned from them and implemented many of their suggestions.

Quinn Sosna-Spear: My approach to marketing has been simply to do what seems fun. I think, aside from being pleasant and present, I’m not sure how much sway an average author’s personal marketing has on book sales (particularly for middle-grade authors). Maybe I’m undervaluing it, but I feel it does more to improve relationships with readers and other people in the industry. That feeling has definitely been strengthened by watching and speaking to other authors. For that reason my approach has been largely to just do what feels fun to me, as opposed to what I think will “hit,” you know?

MR: What are you working on now?

Naomi Milliner: I recently finished the thousandth draft of a middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old girl named Daisy who is trying to discover what (if anything) makes her stand out among a bouquet of five floral-named sisters. I’m hoping to start a middle-grade prequel to my YA SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS homage.

Gail Shepherd: A middle grade historical adventure, set in the swamps of west Florida in the 1930s.

J. Kasper Kramer: I have two books in the drafting stage. One is YA, set in 1850s Poland, and revolves around a strange young woman whose parents believe is a changeling. When a group of traveling entertainers called the Summerfolk make camp in the nearby forest, strange things begin to happen on the family potato farm—things that seem more fairytale than reality. The other book is MG and set in 1909 on a quarantine island in New York City. It follows an Irish immigrant girl named Essie, who is terrified of everything—especially her brooding new stepfather. Things take a turn for the frightening when she begins to suspect that the island is haunted.

Jennifer Camiccia: I’m working on a young-adult thriller set in Hawaii. I grew up on Kauai and this has been percolating for a while. I actually wrote it as a rom-com at first but I’m rewriting it now as a thriller. I’m having a blast with it!

Quinn Sosna-Spear: I am currently working on my second middle-grade novel, currently titled The Thirteenth Hour, which tells the story of Aaron, a 12-year-old boy who is given a mysterious pocket watch. He finds when he sleeps holding the watch he is transported to one of twelve magical worlds, corresponding with the time he fell asleep. Once he arrives in the ‘clock world,’ he uncovers a terrible mystery that only he can solve. It has been both the most interesting and challenging project I have ever worked on.

MR: And finally, no MUF interview would be complete without a brief mention of food. What is your favorite writing snack? Beverage?

Naomi Milliner: Only a brief mention? And snack singular, not plural? This is the hardest question of all! JI suppose anything chocolate would qualify, and probably a nice, (hopefully) calming cup of tea.

Gail Shepherd: A snack in a beverage: Really strong high-quality espresso with heavy cream and honey.

J. Kasper Kramer: I lived in Japan for several years—the land of awesome snack food—and I have a few favorites that friends still kindly ship over, like corn potage flavored puffs and a spicy peanut rice cracker treat. As for drinks, I love black coffee, tea, and coconut La Croix.

Jennifer Camiccia: When I’m not on a strict schedule—popcorn, apples, and tangerine slices. But when I’m on deadline—anything chocolate. Beverage of choice is always a chai latte.

Quinn Sosna-Spear: My dad wouldn’t be happy with me if he knew how much Coke Zero I drink (both when I write and when I don’t)—but let’s just say that I drink approximately as much Coke Zero as will literally fit inside of my body. I have replaced my blood, bones, organs, and all other useless things with Coke Zero.

Thanks for participating, Class of 2K19 authors! And congratulations!!

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Melissa Roske
Melissa Roske is a writer of contemporary middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, Melissa interviewed real ones, as a journalist in Europe. In London, she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine, where she answered hundreds of letters from readers each week. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest, and got certified as a life coach. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and the occasional dust bunny. Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge, 2017) is her debut novel.
1 Comment
  1. Congrats to all and I can’t wait to read your books!