Updated: Oct 11
Earlier this year my debut short story collection, Never Have I Ever, was published. I signed my book deal shortly before the pandemic started, and went through the publication cycle--announcements, finalizing the TOC, seeking out blurbs, copy-editing, and yes, having it go live!--under quite a bit of external stress, which I know other 20/21 debuts can relate to. However, having a book release into the world can be an ordeal even without lockdown! I was lucky to have some familiarity with the process and more experienced friends I could turn to. I wanted to share eight tips that really helped me in these stressful times, in case they might help you too.
1. Know who you’ll turn to for support. Books are rarely made in a vacuum. Although putting down words is mostly a solo activity, by the time a book is nearing publication, you’ve probably already built up a small army of folks who can be your refuge when things are tough. It’s important to have a network--it doesn’t have to be very big!--that can be there for your freakouts and challenges, the disappointments and joys. If possible, have a mix of writers and non-writers. I really appreciate having writer friends to empathize with specific challenges, but it’s also nice to get out of the publishing echo chamber and remember that writing isn’t everything.
2. Understand what’s easy and hard for you.
Leading up to and even after your book launch, you may be asked to do some non-writing activities, mostly centered around promotion: podcasts, articles, interviews, panels, etc. It’s important to start developing a sense of which things are really draining for you, and which things are fun (or at least relatively easy).
You might need to do some trial and error to start, but once you learn these things, stay honest about them! It’s not that you can’t do these activities at all, but knowing which ones take a lot out of you will help you plan better so that you can preserve your energy and not burn out.
3. Learn to say no.
Related to #2--it’s going to feel terrible the first few times you say no, but you really want to avoid spreading yourself too thin.
Be realistic about your time and don’t forget to factor in other responsibilities, like a day job, or writing a new manuscript. Every time you say yes to something that you know you’d rather not do or that will be really hard for you, you’re reducing available time for other responsibilities, or even your own rest and fun.
Think of your future self, and how you’ll feel having to do that task. If it’s already burdensome, remember, you can always say no. People are more understanding than you think, especially given the times!
4. Ask for what you need.
Maybe you don’t want to say no entirely, because you actually really want to do the thing--you’re just going to need more time. Or maybe you have a burning request but are too embarrassed to ask because you might look silly, or greedy. In these situations, remind yourself: it doesn’t hurt to ask. This applies to deadlines, blurb requests, outlet appearances, and other book-related things (ex. title considerations, TOC selection and order.) If you’ve been reasonable and kind throughout the publishing process, people will treat your questions with respect. Also: you’re probably not asking for too much, and the worst they can say is no. Sometimes there’s no wiggle room, but other times it’s not as much of a stretch as you think--so just ask politely, and see what happens!
5. If you can’t avoid reviews entirely, limit when or how you read them. I know the standard advice is to completely avoid Goodreads (or reviews in general), but I find that difficult to follow--there’s a part of me that really does want to know what readers are thinking, even if it means potentially exposing myself to negative feedback. This is a personal choice, and if it was greatly affecting my mental or emotional health I wouldn’t do it! How I manage this is I limit “review reading” to a specific time window: once a week, on Fridays. This satisfies my curiosity but prevents me from obsessing, and it turns a stressful activity into something like a reward. I also know authors who ask their friends or family to check reviews for them, and only share the positive ones.
6. Record all the wins! I take screenshots of kind messages from readers, enthusiastic tweets, Instagram posts, or positive reviews if I come across them. When I get sent pictures of my book (in a bookstore, as selfies, with hands, or even sometimes with pets!), I save them. I bookmark mentions on blogs or review sites (if they’re positive!), and save generous inbound emails. I have a “Nice Book Stuff” folder in my computer where I keep all these things, and I write down any lines or memories I really want to remember in my journal, too. These are wonderful to turn to on difficult days, when I’m doubting myself and my words.
7. Write down what you’re feeling. Publishing a book is a highly emotional process, and writing my feelings throughout helped me cope and better make sense of what was going on. In most cases, instead of feeling “randomly sad” or “randomly anxious,” there was usually something specific causing me to stress.
Understanding the root cause of my emotions helped me assess whether something was within my control or not, and allowed me to let go or act accordingly.
For example: asking my publisher if they could reach out to a certain dream author for a blurb was within my control; having to push back my release date due to snowstorms was not. It’s also useful to look back on these feelings after certain milestones have passed, to recognize that life goes on and things mostly turn out fine.
8. Be kind to yourself. Launching a book is incredibly tiring, even for people who are experienced or more comfortable being in the public eye. And most of us don’t fit that bill, especially when we’re debuting! I tried to keep this in mind, took two days off work, and made sure to have a small celebration (cake and a nice dinner with my family), as I couldn’t do anything more for safety reasons.
We might be so focused on our book’s success that we neglect to be proud of ourselves! Don’t forget: you’ve managed to do a very challenging thing that few people get to. Whatever the outcome, you’ve done a good job, and deserve to enjoy this special moment.
If you have a book coming out soon, congratulations, and I’m wishing you a lovely launch! If you’re still in the drafting/seeking publication stage--I hope you can find joy in these moments too (I’m right there with you myself, at the moment). Wherever you are in the writing journey: hang in there, and don’t forget to have fun!
Isabel Yap writes fiction and poetry, works in the tech industry, and drinks tea. Born and raised in Manila, she has also lived in California and London. She holds a BS in Marketing from Santa Clara University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School. In 2013 she attended the Clarion Writers Workshop. Her work has appeared in venues including Tor.com, Lightspeed, and Year’s Best Weird Fiction. Her debut short story collection, Never Have I Ever, was published in 2021 by Small Beer Press. She is @visyap on Twitter and her website is https://isabelyap.com.
BUY Never Have I Ever: https://isabelyap.com/never-have-i-ever
Never Have I Ever:
“Am I dead?”
Mebuyen sighs. She was hoping the girl would not ask.
Spells and stories, urban legends and immigrant tales: the magic in Isabel Yap’s debut collection jumps right off the page, from the joy in her new novella, 'A Spell for Foolish Hearts' to the terrifying tension of the urban legend 'Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez'.