Lauren Barnholdt (laurenbarnholdt) wrote,
Lauren Barnholdt

What I Know Now...

The other day, while I was out checking out FOUR TRUTHS AND A LIE in bookstores, I started thinking about what it was like when REALITY CHICK first came out, and how much has changed for me since then. I thought about my old self, the mistakes I made, the things I didn't know, how much I'm still learning about this whole crazy business. I thought about what my future self would tell my past self if I could. I thought about all of you who have books coming out soon...And so I came up with this list:

1. FORGET YOUR EXPECTATIONS. Everything is about to change. But not in the way you may think. Being published is amazing, but nothing can really prepare you for it. You might not even believe me as you're reading this, but things are going to get harder. When you're not published, you're going for this seemingly (at times) unattainable goal. But you don't really have anything to lose. Once you're published, that changes. This might not make much sense, but in some ways, I think it's much harder to get rejections AFTER you've been published. Because you know what you're missing out on. It's kind of like if you ask out a guy, and he turns you down. Big deal, right? It might sting for a while, but you find a new guy. But if you've been dating that guy for a year and suddenly he breaks up with you, it's kind of devastating. Being published does not make things easier, it makes things harder. Because of..

2. NEW PROBLEMS. You won't be worried about finding an agent, you'll be worried about sales numbers. And how your book looks in the publisher's catalog. And why Barnes and Noble hasn't ordered any copies. And how all this is going to effect your career. It's hard, because unlike sending out a new batch of queries, you can't control any of this stuff. So you have to learn to let go. Which leads me to number three...

3. ON PROMOTION. All we hear about as writers is "You have to promote!" and "You better get out there and promote!" and "What do you mean you don't have a blog, a podcast, a video series, a joint blog, and a giveaway?" The weird thing is, no one even knows for sure what works.

The book I did the most promotion for (REALITY CHICK), has sold the least amount of copies of all my books. The book I did the LEAST for, (THE SECRET IDENTITY OF DEVON DELANEY), has sold the most. (My theory, and from what I've heard from my publisher, is that college books just aren't really doing well in YA. Kids pick them up, see they're about college kids, and put them down. But like everything else in this business, this is just a guess. It could be three million different things.)

So when it comes to promotion, I say, do what you want. Do you like blogging? Do you want to update your facebook a thousand times a day? I happen to really enjoy bloging, so I do it. It's not a chore for me.
The one thing I think is important is to have some kind of web presence, because kids who read your book will come looking for you on the web, to write to you and to find out what else you've written. This is one of the best parts of being an author -- getting to hear from people who have read your books. And teens and tweens are the best audiences if you want to hear from your audience. They LOVE to write emails. Right now I'm still answering fan emails from two months ago -- and I know this is because I have a website where people can find out how to get to me.

So what do I think is even more important than promotion for good sales, especially in the teen market?

4. WORD OF MOUTH. Teens tell their friends what they like to read, and teens pass around books. I get tons of emails that say, "I read your book and I made all my friends read it, too!" TWO-WAY STREET didn't get a huge amount of orders from bookstores at first, and now it's gone into a seventh printing. I really believe this is due to word of mouth. People read the book, liked it, and told their friends about it. And then those people told more people about it. Which means..

5. IGNORE REVIEWS. If you get a good one, awesome! Definitely celebrate. But I get sad when someone gets a bad review and worries about what their publisher is going to think, or how it's going to effect them. Some of the best selling books (THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, anyone?) have gotten the worst reviews. Your publisher cares about SALES. And besides, when was the last time you heard a teen say, "Oooh, I really have to pick that one up, it got a great review in Kirkus!" Yeah, maybe librarians and certain bookstores read reviews to take into account what to buy, but honestly? If kids are coming into a library requesting a book, that holds more weight. Which means..

6. WRITE, WRITE, WRITE. The most important thing you can do for your career is focus on your writing. Making it better, making it tighter, working to write the very best books you can, so that you can start that all-important word of mouth. And if the time you're spending promoting is taking away from this, I think something's out of whack.

7. ENJOY EVERY SINGLE THING. Celebrate it. Every single little tiny moment. I really think that,for your first book, you should have a party. Not to sell books, but to celebrate with your family and your friends. Have a cake! Enjoy seeing your name on a Borders sign, with all your books on display. It is an amazing, amazing moment to have your first book out, and it should be celebrated in a big way.

The smaller moments should be celebrated, too. Did you get great placement in your publisher's catalog? Did your editor love your revisions? Is your agent excited about your new proposal? Has your book gone into another printing? Did you get a gorgeous new cover? So much of this business can be waiting and disappointment, so when you get these good moments, cherish them.

8. BE SMART. Now, more than ever, you should keep yourself abreast of your career. Make sure you are making smart choices. Ask yourself if you're staying with an agent who's maybe not the best fit for you, just because you're afraid. Make sure you're pushing yourself with your writing, and doing what you can to make sure you're improving. Don't be afraid to ask questions, to inform yourself, so that you can be sure you're making the best choices for yourself and for your career.

8. SAY THANK YOU. Editors and agents are ridiculously overworked. Editors don't really make that much money -- they do this because they love books. Agents sometimes work for years before even seeing a penny of money. Saying thank you to people who are in your corner is extremely important. And a gift never hurts either :) These are the people who helped to make your biggest dream come true, and they should get credit for their work and determination.

10. BE GRATEFUL. It's amazing to have a passion like this. To know what you want to do, to get such joy out of something, to have a goal to work for. Some people go their whole lives and never find the thing they know they were meant to do, to be excited about it. You found it. You have it. So do it. Write. Don't get discouraged by the business side of things. Keep writing, keep learning, keep growing. Treat it like the gift that it is. And never forget how cool it is that you found such a rewarding, frustrating, insane, wonderful, horrible, fabulous, crazy, thing to work toward.

This list is definitely not all inclusive, and I'd love to hear from those of you who have books out on what you wish you knew -- and if anyone has questions, I'd love to hear those, too!

More later,
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