Journal of a Debut Year: How to Prep for Your Debut Year NOW

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This week, I’m introducing a new feature to the blog. Every other Monday, I’ll post thoughts and insights on an author’s debut year, as I’m going through mine. It’ll be part advice, part diary, part publishing process retrospective, and I hope authors looking forward to their own debut years will find it of use <3

To kick things off, I want to talk about a few things you can do NOW, no matter what stage of the writing journey you’re on, to make your eventual publication process and debut year go smoothly.

Learn To Work To A Deadline

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Without a doubt the most useful thing I did prior to signing a book contract was train myself to work to a deadline, and learn what sort of deadlines are realistic for me. I did this by setting personal deadlines throughout the novel-writing and querying process. Deadlines for drafts, deadlines for revisions, deadlines to incorporate feedback from critique partners, deadlines to write and rewrite (and rewrite and rewrite) pitches.

Once you sign with agent, you’ll begin working to deadlines. Depending on your agent they may be a little more flexible at first. My agent will generally ask me things like “How long do you think you need for this revision?” Having set myself deadlines consistently during the writing process prior to querying, I have a good sense of how much time I need for set writing tasks, given the constraints of my life.

Deadlines set by editors are a little different. They’re generally less flexible, and in this case, having set deadlines previously means you’ll know what commitments need to be reorganized and how much time you need to dedicate per day/week to meet a firm deadline.

Either way, learning to work to deadlines is an invaluable skill to take into the publishing process, and will hold you in good stead well beyond the confines of your debut year.

Learn To Incorporate Feedback

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Chances are, you won’t get to the publishing contract stage without at least editing to a set of notes from your agent. But learning to incorporate feedback from multiple critique partners is an important skill, and one that will give you an advantage when it comes to working with an editor.

You can find writers willing to critique your work on Twitter, via hashtags such as #amwriting and #CPmatchup. Developing the ability to work with different critique styles, and to sense what feedback is right for your work and what is not, will be of significant help when you end up revising with an editor.

In the best circumstances, the editorial stage of novel-writing is a collaboration between partners who want the best for your book. Learning to be a willing and creative reviser who’s able to rethink their ideas and cooperatively brainstorm solutions will not only help smooth the path as you edit your novel, it will make you a great author to work with.

Start Finding Your Community

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Some people refer to this as “platform building”, but I’ve seen far too many aspiring authors approach developing their community in an impersonal and business-minded way, all to their detriment. The fact is, in this day and age of instant access social media, your future friends, critique partners, supporters, and readers want a personal touch.

“Platform building” is a numbers game. Finding your community is about meeting like-minded individuals you can develop relationships with. Will they sometimes be mutually beneficial relationships? Sure! But they don’t always have to be. Don’t approach community development with the mindset of “what will I get out of this social interaction?” There’s no quicker way to send people running for the hills and turn the entire exercise into a joyless experience for you.

Instead, find the other members of the online reading and writing communities who love the things you love. Be willing to courteously enter conversations about things you’re interested in. You never know who you might meet. Think about what you can give back to the book community, rather than what you can get.

Define Your Brand

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I’ll be honest with you–this is one of those marketing things that gets talked about almost everywhere and which I found completely baffling for years. I’m an author, I don’t have a brand other than myself, right?

Sort of.

Your online presence is a curated form of reality. You pick and choose what to share with other people. Is that dishonest? No. Is it the whole truth about you as an individual? Also no. Your brand exists at the cross-section of what you love, what you’re willing to share, and what your community is interested in.

It may take some time and some trial and error to hit on what your personal brand is, which is why figuring it out prior to your debut year will give you an advantage. It took several years for me to figure out that people love when I share pictures and stories of my house and garden. I live in an area with lots of wildlife, have a forest in my backyard, am putting in some beautiful gardens, and keep chickens. The pastoral, serene nature of this aspect of my life has really resonated with the online community I’m a part of.

I thoroughly enjoy curating the version of “Weymouth Manor” that my community gets to see. It’s peaceful and an escape, not just for the people who follow me on social media, but for myself as well. Online, there’s a version of my home where you rarely see the messy, annoying, unpleasant bits. Though I do try to show them occasionally to stay genuine 😉

Consider what your brand might be. What do you love, that you’re willing to share, and that would be of interest to your community?

To sum up, you can prep for your debut year NOW by…

  1. Learning to work to a deadline
  2. Learning to incorporate feedback
  3. Finding your community
  4. Defining your brand

Hopefully these tips on how to prepare for your debut year (and beyond) well in advance will be helpful to you in your writing journey.

Journal of a Debut Year
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