Dziękuję, Polska ! — & other things I never expected within a year of being published

Hey all! It’s been a while. A little less than nine months ago Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index (aka my first book) came out in the United States, and I must admit my focus has been away from this blog since — but some excitement is happening abroad, and while I stopped by to share it, I thought I would interrupt my hiatus with a quick list of highlights and things I have learned as a debut author so far, starting with said news:

1. Juniper has been nominated for Book of the Year 2017 (young adult) on Lubimyczytać.pl, the Polish equivalent of Goodreads!

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I was so stunned to see this. Even if I don’t win — even if I come in last place — I might never get over seeing my book alongside John Green’s and Nicola Yoon’s! Have a Lubimyczytać.pl account or know someone who does? You can vote on best young adult book of 2017 here!

2. Readers are the best. This may not come as a surprise to anyone, but readers sure keep surprising *me* with their boundless kindness and honors! The above is an extreme example — it was a big deal even to see Juniper translated into Polish, let alone nominated for anything — but really, everything from a shoutout in a Tweet to a quick message, fan mail, or “bookstagram” photo is spectacularly uplifting, and really strikes the heart every time. I’ve made excellent use of that tears-streaming-down-the-face emoji the last few seasons.

3. I’m really glad I joined Instagram. Confession: I did not own a smart phone until last year. But I made an account a little before I got one at the recommendation of another debut author, who had observed how nice it was to be tagged in posts and see some of the love your book was getting without seeking it out. As someone with epic anxiety around reading reviews, that approach really works for me 🙂

4. Postcards = business cards for your books. Book swag can come in handy in any number of situations, but in my opinion, postcards are the absolute best. I always carry some with me on the go, and if the fact that I write books for a living happens to come up in conversation (as it often does), I have a visual + one-line summary and all the book’s details in one neat place — and whoever I’m talking to can take it home with them!

I especially recommend book postcards if, like me, you either loathe being a salesperson, feel flustered to discuss your book on cue, or both.

5. Yes, Book 2 really does suck…but you’ve got people in your corner. If you’re an author or aspiring novelist, you’ve likely heard about the notorious struggles of writing a second traditionally-published novel. Every situation is different, but I can tell you from where I stand: IT’S ALL TRUE. Mainly it’s just that circumstances have changed and there are any number of unique pressures that weren’t there for your first book — but they add up, and whether it’s coming up with an idea everyone likes, meeting parameters, deadlines, or turning in the ugliest first draft of your life, the stress is alive and well.

BUT: the same people who helped you sell, and possibly publish your first book remain your steady champions. As long and harrowing as your path to Book 2 might be, your people want to see you succeed — and in my experience, are excellent about working with you to make it happen.

6. I have a favorite business expense?? I knew online giveaways (***see below!***) were A Thing, but I never expected I’d be so dang happy making semi-regular runs to the post office! Readers really appreciate the chance to win a copy of your book via social media or Rafflecopter, and every winner I’ve interacted with has been so wonderfully gracious and ebullient, I can’t help but grin too when I get to play Bookmail Fairy.

7. Some things don’t change. A few: imposter syndrome. Bottomless TBRs (I am only just now starting to catch up on all the excellent debuts I purchased last year). The desire to to urge people to leave a review*, but want to be more Person than Salesperson and thus only occasionally vague-Tweet about how much authors love and appreciate reviews 🙂

*Reviews help authors. They are appreciated in any capacity — Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, etc. — but especially on Amazon, where I am told that 50 is the magic number to start enjoying the benefits of their algorithms.

Anything to add? Comment below!

And while you’re here…

***CURRENT GIVEAWAYS***

As of this posting, I am hosting TWO ongoing Juniper giveaways: one on Instagram and one on Twitter. Check them out for details! Winners will be drawn February 21, 2018.

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One month of Juniper, or: What’s it like to be a published author?

My book that came out a month ago was my first and nearly four years in the making. It didn’t take four years to write Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index, but it did take four years to plan, write, revise, get an agent, revise, find a publisher, revise, complete a slew of publishing firsts, revise, and eventually end up in bookstores. Add on a practice book, the study of the craft, and a commitment to reading, and it’s probably been closer to five years since I decided to pursue writing fiction.

So what’s it like to finally be published?

The answer is…

Pretty much the same?

audrey hepburn quote

There are a few differences:

1. I’ve started carrying around a Sharpie. Not to be pretentious—because in regular life I sometimes encounter friends, acquaintances, etc. who’ve bought the book and would like it signed.

2. I have fans??? Most days I wake up to some kind of social notifications from readers who enjoyed the book. I don’t know if this will be the norm going forward or if it’s just because Juniper is new, but it’s lovely, moving, and really kind of astounding! I mean, I remember what a big deal it was for me the first time an author I admire even liked one of my tweets (B.J. Novak after a reading). To be on the other end of that is nothing short of magical—and has me paradoxically fangirling over my fans.

3. People who go out with me are suddenly eager to tell strangers what I do for a living and that my first book just came out. Friends and family have always been supportive of my writing, but now that there is physical proof of success out in the world, it is easier to talk about and boy, are your cheerleaders excited to share for you. Even I am more likely to admit to being a writer in public (but still don’t go out of my way to tell people).

It’s like when you eat out with a friend on a birthday and your friend (un)casually lets the waiter know what day it is.

WAITER: Oh, it’s your birthday? Happy birthday!

YOU: Hahaha, thanks. Yep, another year older. Whoop whoop.

FRIEND: IT IS HER BIRTHDAY BRING FORTH THE CAKE AND THE GLORY

There have also been many firsts in the last month. Scroll or click through the gallery to see some of my favorites as well as other highlights from the first month of publication.

To those who aren’t published yet but are working towards publication, I say: even if the world does not yet recognize what you are doing, you are Doing it. Write on.

Countdown to Debut – plus, 10 more ARCs of Juniper up for grabs!

How did we get here? In less than two months now, Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index hits bookstores!

I hardly know where to begin, but I think I’ll start with some excitement: Goodreads is giving away 10 advance copies of Juniper! If you’re a Goodreads member, you can enter with the click of a button here (where it says “Enter Giveaway”) through April 27!

Goodreads Giveaway in April

Other pre-release goings on at the moment:

  • Audiobook production is starting! The producer with Listening Library recently reached out to me to let me know the voice actress they had in mind for Juniper. I listened to some samples and I absolutely love her and I cannot WAIT to hear her bring Juniper to life!
  • I have a publicist now. Just assigned from my publisher a couple weeks ago. Figuring out this business a little bit by the seat of my pants, but we already have a local radio interview scheduled??
  • I’m trying out video! A rep at Penguin asked if I’d be willing to film a short video about the book for promo purposes. I have written out a script (it’s meant to be under one minute) and I’m getting excited about actually making it!
  • I’m working on promo efforts independently, too. On the advice of former debuts I am being careful not to spread myself too thin, and am instead concentrating on projects that I find enjoyable and not more time/effort/stress than they’re worth. These include, but are not limited to:
  • Creating a Juniper coloring page/colorable postcard (watch this space!), and
  • Planning a public release celebration to take place, most likely, the weekend after Juniper comes out. Key words so far: scavenger hunt. Raffles (open internationally). ICE CREAM.

Book 2 (unrelated to Juniper) currently hovers somewhere in the background, but I anticipate that may also move to a front burner quickly– and likely in the busy rush of release!

For now, it’s one day, one new step at a time.

The Last Day of November

I haven’t posted all this month, so I thought it time for a check-in.

Writing-wise, I’m excited to be developing a new Agent-approved book idea! I can’t tell you much about it yet (gag rule), but I can say the concept’s a rich playing field for the surreal within the contemporary. Already having fun with that. *cackles*

On other artistic fronts, after years of lusting for a high quality camera, I’ve finally, finally, FINALLY purchased a Nikon DSLR. I have experience shooting both film and digital, but I never imagined what a task it would be figuring out the controls in the vessel that combines them! I’m finally starting to get the hang of it though, and mapping features has been a good chance for me to review my photography basics.

Now if only the rain would let off so I could take it out to play more!

Reading: a great many great books. TBR and TBRR (re-read) piles constantly on the rise. Will be posting a Top Reads of 2015 selection soon!

Watching: the second season of The 100 and the third of Parks & Rec. How I ever went this long without the comedic gold of Leslie Knope I’ll never know.

Listening to: Um, kind of falling in love with Panic! At the Disco lately. Since I got a set of Skullcandy, I swear I’ve been listening to Death of a Bachelor on repeat. I haven’t been this excited for an album to drop since AM! Also getting into Melanie Martinez, Halsey, and The Zolas, who I already liked, but keep finding more amazing singles from (Maggie Stiefvater introduces me to some of the best tunes).

Learning: assorted French. Said Nikon/photography. How to bottle the stars.

You?

2014 in Review: Statistics, Fave Books, Lessons Learned

It’s that time of year again! Here’s what my 2014 as a reader/writer looked like:

 

Reading/Writing Stats

# projects worked on: 4

projects abandoned: 1

projects shelved to come back to: 2

projects currently on worktable: 1

 

# books read: 54+

books purchased: 27? (Holy Schmoe.)

given as gifts: 7?

 

# readings attended: 5? (Lauren Oliver, David Sedaris, David Mitchell, BJ Novak, Gretchen Rubin)

 

Favorite Books Read This Year

Accomplishments

  1. I got an agent. — plus all the work that led up to it.
  2. I wrote the entire first draft of a MG project (separate from the YA book I queried and signed with an agent).
  3. I read 54 books, + several beta reads and nonfiction.
  4. I finished the rough draft of an illustrated project – very rough, because writing is my strong suit and art is secondary. I’m not convinced I should count this one because I’ve flagged so much of it for redoing it makes my head spin, and right now that just isn’t a high priority. But I would like to come back to it.

Lessons Learned

  1. It’s okay to abandon/retire a project. It’s important to finish things you start, but it’s also important to recognize when something isn’t working, won’t work, or when you’ve lost enthusiasm and your efforts would be better spent elsewhere.
  2. It’s okay to shelve a project indefinitely. I had a few ideas this year I was super jazzed about, only to start seeing fundamental problems with them in early development (e.g., reminded me too much of another book, or wanted to be a trilogy when what I want to write right now is standalone). So I put those projects, along with all of my notes and planning for them, carefully aside in folders that can be easily filed back to when the time is right.
  3. Beta readers are absolute gold. In theory I knew this already, but in practice I appreciated it even more. Love your readers: They will help you find the weak spots.
  4. Is it good? An obvious question, but when evaluating my own work, I’ve found it to be the ultimate measuring stick. Time may be the best aide for seeing a manuscript objectively, but asking yourself whether passages move/compel you is a close second.
  5. Is it necessary? The other essential question that’s helped me through my many revisions this year. This one is great 1) for reducing your word count and 2) consequently tightening your story, which will result in a swifter, stronger read.

 

How was your 2014 in books? Any pieces I’m missing?

Homemade Calendar – November

nov 2014 calendar

Ok, I admit it: It’s become more about the art than crossing off the days. Which is great for getting in a minimum of one art project a month, but not for observing the date. I think next year I’ll go with a more practical calendar.

December is always a variable time of year– lots going on, people visiting, normal processes interrupted. I can say with certainty there will be reading, revising, guitar, and French for me, though it is difficult to say how much. I also recently bought a deck of tarot cards (I’ve been interested in learning more about them ever since some research I did for a story) and hope to start acquainting myself with reading basics in the coming weeks.

In other news: as of last month I completed one of my biggest goals for the year, which was to read 52 books, or roughly one a week! And there’s still several weeks to go…(Here I come, Landline and Thieves of Manhattan.)

What will your end of year activities look like?

Story ideas: Don’t scrabble for them. Dig.

It’s been a weird month, creatively speaking.

At the end of September, I was in serious doubt about the new book I was outlining. I had planned so much, could see certain scenes so clearly, and was so devilishly excited by them– but I had concerns, too. Big ones. Not only questions of POV and first or third person, but ones like: “Does this too closely resemble X?” and “Does too much of this ride on a hackneyed trope?” Instincts mean a lot in the arts, and these questions were enough to give me pause.

So I decided to let the story go. Or at least put it away for a while.

I went into October, then, with no project in progress– nothing I was actively working on, either writing or putting my head to. It was the first time I’ve experienced that since I started pursuing a career as an author.

It felt like this:

via Emily McDowell. And minus the “genius” part.

It was awful.

I racked my brain. I turned to old documents and file folders for interesting nuggets. I freewrote, made mind maps, compiled lists in search of a spark. I studied concepts, picked up books like Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway, tried to jumpstart my subconscious.  I preoccupied myself, got out and away from the pressure; I deconstructed books hoping to learn something. But I had nothing.

I began to feel bleak, frustrated. Maybe even panicked.

Then, one day near the middle of the month, I had a REALLY COOL IDEA. Boom. Out of nowhere. I spent the morning and afternoon daydreaming about it, letting it run wild, taking notes. It had merit. I had something, and it felt good.

But by the end of the day, I recognized a familiar problem: though the premise was fresh (as far as I knew, anyway), the setup reminded me too much of other books.

I sighed and I put it away.

As a writer, you’re told everything’s been done before. Still, you burn to be original– or at the very least, not derivative (or anything that feels derivative, even if it isn’t). So I kept going.

Another week of creative purgatory– then, without warning, I found myself latched to an old idea I’d scribbled down months, maybe a year ago, but written off as bland, underdeveloped. But this time was different. This time it fused with another idea, and click– there was the spark.

I worked at it; began seeing scenes; connected more dots; loved it; came up against challenges; dealt with them. I WAS MOVING AGAIN. There was one point when I hit a wall (a big picture, scaffolding wall), but I couldn’t let the story go this time. Not this one, which I couldn’t stop thinking about and didn’t remind me of anything else. I told myself there was a solution; I just had to find it.

And after a few more days, I did.

There are two points to this post. First, sparks are unpredictable, but ideas are always work. You never know when you’ll get that flash of something bigger– but when you do, it is merely a matter of digging the story out. And digging can be done. Like solutions, stories are there; they have only to be found.

Second, however hopeless or creatively empty or absolutely, irrevocably certain you feel that you will never have another idea again, there are always ideas to be had. In less than a month I have seriously entertained plans for three entirely different novels (even if I ended up dismissing two). That’s a lot for someone feeling creatively frustrated.

Stories are all around us. Our job, when we catch a wink of one, is to write it down– and then come back with a pickaxe.

 

Chapter Awesome: IN WHICH JULIE GETS AN AGENT

Guys, it’s happened.

I have dreamt of being an author since grade school. For the last two and a half years I have worked at that dream aggressively, every day writing or reading or researching (or all of the above) in efforts to tell a good story, improve my craft, and start a career.

Today I am thrilled to announce that that dream just became part reality: I signed a contract.

I am now officially an agented author, represented by none other than the incredible Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency!

There is still much to be done before I can hold a printed book in my hands—revisions, submissions to publishers, and, if I’m lucky, even more revisions—but that’s okay. Today I am grateful and happy and proud just to have reached this crest in the journey. It may be a long way to the top of the mountain, but the view from here is pretty sweet.

P1060496-3

 

Homemade Calendar – September

calendar - september 2014-2

Here’s September! Man, I wish my scanner could do all those pinks justice.

Focuses for this month will include manuscript revisions, planning for a November #writetip project, and a new approach I’m excited to try towards brainstorming story ideas. I’m also going to try to get into the habit of freewriting daily, even if it’s only for 10 minutes, just to get the creative juices flowing.