Back in June, I was invited to take part in #ukmgchat on Twitter. It was all about debut authors, and I teamed up with Abi Elphinstone (whose debut, The Dreamsnatcher, is BRILLIANT, by the way) to answer questions and try to provide a bit of insight into what it’s like to be a brand new author.
Things got pretty manic. I’ve never seen so many notifications pop up in such a short space of time! Smoke billowed from the tips of my fingers as I frantically tried to keep up. Thankfully, the whole chat was Storified, allowing you to go back through every tweet without missing anything.
One of the best moments, for me, was when Abi gave her top ten tips for new authors. They were sparkling, shining golden nuggets of wisdom, so I’ve put them all together here so you can check them out without doing any digging:
Ever since, I’ve been meaning to write up my own tips for anyone who is about to be published, anyone who has just had their book released, or really anyone who wants to be an author. And I’ve finally got round to putting them together. So without any further rambling, here are my Top 10 Tips for Aspiring and Debut Authors:
1. Never, ever give up
If you want to be an author, if you really and truly dream of being published, then all you have to do is one thing: never give up. You will be rejected. Checking your email every day for word on your submission only to have your heart broken time and time again is hard. But you have to detach yourself from it and promise yourself never to give up. So many authors wouldn’t be published if they stopped at the first, second, or hundredth hurdle. David Almond’s first book was rejected by everyone. If he stopped there, we would never have Skellig. Think about that for a second. A Carnegie-winning author was rejected, just like I was rejected, just like you will be rejected. It doesn’t mean you can’t write. Keep going. Never give up.
2. Pat yourself on the back
When you do get published, take a moment to properly appreciate it. There’s nothing quite like seeing your book for the first time. Picking it up, letting it shimmer in the light, turning the pages, smelling them, feeling the weight of your words in your hands. You are an AUTHOR. There is a bit of you out in the world forevermore. Let that sink in, and appreciate what you’ve done – because from now on time will start vanishing VERY quickly, and it’s easy to forget that you have achieved your dream, and not many people get to say that.
3. Don’t wait for inspiration
It doesn’t stop at one book. Now, you’ve got to write more. And with time disappearing in hulking great chunks, you’ll start wishing for a secret day hidden somewhere in your week where you can just have some time to do stuff. So don’t wait for inspiration to strike – take time away from everything, sit down at your desk, or wherever it is you like to write, and just write. Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if it’s not working. The muse has got to know where to find you.
4. Do as many school visits as possible
I know how scary they can seem. Before I was published, all the aspiring authors I talked to said the same thing. “The only thing I’m worried about is school visits.” I mean, we’re not teachers. We’re not used to standing up in front of so many people. But here’s what you don’t realise, before your first visit. It’s easy. It’s fun. It’s amazing. And there is NOTHING to worry about. You’re not blagging your way through something you don’t care about. You’re talking about you. You’re talking about your book. No one knows it like you do. And what’s more, the kids WANT you to be there. It’s thrilling seeing the audience react to your work, and there’s no better way to sell than by hand. Relax. You’re an author, and you’re getting them out of maths.
5. Use blocking for your events
What’s blocking? It’s the most brilliant idea ever. I learned it from Mo O’Hara, author of My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish, and it’s the biggest takeaway I have from my first year as an author. She does fantastic events, and the way she does them is by creating short segments and “blocking” them together. A one-hour talk sounds terrifying. A ten-minute talk? That’s easier to manage. That’s what blocking is – creating small segments and adding them together to build up your talk. Ten minutes introducing yourself, ten minutes reading, ten minutes doing an activity… and soon your entire talk is taking care of itself. Need to trim it short? Just remove a block. It makes things SO much easier.
6. Reach out to your local independent bookshop
Independent bookshops are excellent. And they probably have experience with events, so if you don’t know where to begin with school visits, they can often help. Send them an email saying who you are, letting them know about your book, and offer to sign copies if they have any in stock. Build up a relationship that can help you both, and you never know where it’ll lead.
7. Embrace Twitter and use forums
Writing is a lonely business. It’s you and a blank screen; you and the ideas in your head. When I write I need to shut myself away from the world, and I’m not the only one. So it’s nice to take breaks every now and then and chat to people (whether it’s about writing or anything in general). Twitter is great for that. You can use hashtags to find likeminded people at various stages of the writing journey – #amwriting, #ukyachat and #ukmgchat are great for this. There are also some great forums out there, where you can get advice on all aspects of the business. Two of my favourites are the Absolute Write forums and the Blue Boards.
8. Run a book giveaway
Publicity can be scary, but it’s easy to run a competition online, and it can lead to an explosion of interest in your book. You can use Goodreads, who select a random winner for you, or set it up yourself on Twitter. The latter is especially fun because you can see exactly how far your tweet has spread, and join in the conversation.
9. Think up ways you can promote your book without promoting your book
What is your story about? Is there a subject tucked away in there that is a big thing in its own right? Is it about football, or family, or animals, or dealing with an illness? There are places out there just for those subjects – magazines, websites, journals. Approach them, and pitch ideas for articles. It’s very likely that you have something to say that will be important to a lot of people.
10. Trust yourself
The most frightening moment in my time as a published author was when I sat down to write book two, and I realised I’d forgotten how to do it. Writing Stonebird was easy. So much of it was based on real life. It basically wrote itself. Then I had to write something else, and everything about it seemed IMPOSSIBLE. And then I learned, through Twitter and those forums and talking to other authors, that everyone feels like that. You will feel as though you have forgotten how to do it. You will worry about being discovered as a fraud. But no one’s going to come chasing you with torches and pitchforks. Because you can do it – you just have to remember, one word at a time.