AWP 2012: Debut Authors Reveal the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Posted on 13 March 2012

In the AWP session “Behind the Book: Debut Authors Discuss the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” debut authors Alexi Zentner, Amina Gautier, Kristen-Paige Madonia, and Alexander Yates discussed their behind-the-scenes publishing experiences.

Here’s a quick rundown of what they had to say: Don’t be afraid to communicate with your publisher; don’t expect your 200 Twitter followers to make a difference in your book sales; you can’t control everything (or much at all, besides the writing); and while navigating the publishing process might be stressful or intimidating, you should reserve your confidence for the times you’re sitting down to write.

Amina Gauter:

  • Learn to speak your press’s language and how they define success.
  • You can only get what you ask for [from your publisher]. You may not get what you ask for, but you definitely won’t get what you don’t ask for.
  • People think if you’re working with a small press, the pressure is off — not true.
  • Figure out what kind of author you are [for your web presence, etc.]. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Alexander Yates:

  • I wanted to be low maintenance — bad move. I equated silence with low maintenance. I’d ask useless, vague questions like “What can I do?” And I got vague, useless responses.
  • I entered every interaction with “I don’t want to bother them.” But asking for specifics is not bothersome.
  • [My approach] was cowardice — I didn’t want my big, fancy press to think I was a pain in the ass.
  • Publishers are not nearly as invested as you are — they have many other things going on.

Kristen-Paige Madonia:

  • There’s an element of trust [in the author-publisher relationship]. Just because you don’t know what your publisher is doing doesn’t mean they’re not doing anything.
  • You do want to be proactive, but you don’t want to be annoying.

Alexi Zentner:

  • The things that sell a ton of books are out of your control.
  • Most of the [social media stuff] doesn’t get as much traction as you think it does. But if you have a book coming out and don’t have a website, you have to think about what century you’re in.
  • Be a good literary citizen. Recommend other authors, etc.
  • Having a book published is an incredible gift. So as an author, I can’t really complain when things don’t go my way.
  • We all send our books out to agents too early. Make it as good as you possibly can.
  • There’s a lot of things you can’t control, but you can outwork and outrisk other writers. At the end of the day, that’s the stuff that really, really matters. The thing people want are books they fall in love with.

And I’ll conclude with Alexi’s comment about confidence and writing: “You should be sitting in front of your computer thinking: I am fucking amazing.”

Photo: sierraromeo


9 responses to AWP 2012: Debut Authors Reveal the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

  • Averil Dean says:

    “We all send our books out to agents too early. Make it as good as you possibly can.”

    My palms are sweaty.

  • Downith says:

    Be a good literary citizen. Yes.

  • Lyra says:

    So much great stuff here. Thank you for writing it all down on the panels I missed.
    Right now this one, “Figure out what kind of writer you are,” grips me. I have no idea how to answer such a simple question. No wonder the editing is so tough…

  • Teri says:

    If you don’t have a website, consider what century you’re in. True — every time I come across a new writer the FIRST thing I do is look for their website. If they don’t have one, I tend to wander off and forget all about them.

    “Debut book” to me means that I want to know as much as I can as I buy their book: I want one-stop-shopping to find links to interviews they’ve done, bio information, etc ….

  • That last line actually scares me.

  • Tricia says:

    Sitting here thinking I am fucking grateful. Thanks for all the great info you’ve shared.

  • Catherine says:

    Great and useful post for me. Sometimes I am too scared to contact my small publisher. They are so loveable and I don’t want to whine. But after the literary love it is really a business relationship requiring clarity and input – communication channels almost always open.

    I find it a relief to read that success is ultimately out of your hands. I am going nuts with social media!

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