• Alexandra Sheppard

How to Survive Your Debut Year As a YA Author



My debut year flew by in a flash yet feels like a lifetime ago. It was emotional, transformative and deeply exhausting in ways I’m only just beginning to process now. I went to dozens of events around the UK, signed hundreds of books and talked to thousands of teens. On top of that, I wrote my second novel and took on freelance work to keep the lights on.


It’s no wonder that so many authors end their debut year burned out and stressed. Promoting a book can feel like a whole job in itself, not to mention the emotional fallout that comes with having your book baby out in the world. It’s thrilling and terrifying all at once. It’s impossible to be detached.


Underlining this feverish activity is one thought: What if I don’t get this chance again? What if this all disappears in an instant, like a genie vanishing in a puff of smoke? You must do everything in your power to make sure your book is a success, right?


Reader, that way danger lies.


It’s your publisher’s job to shift books. Your job is to write them.


I listened to the Literaticast podcast recently. Guest Tracy von Straaten, a publicist, said something that left me feeling deflated then relieved: Most of us can’t do more than our publicity department.


So chill. It’s out of your hands.


As authors, it feels like we need to be a social media strategist, marketing expert, event organising extraordinaire and publicity genius. We have a lot on our plates, especially when the vast majority of us aren’t getting billboard ads or choice placement in bookshops. It’s easy to let marketing take us away from the most important thing of all: writing.

If your debut year is coming up then please keep that in mind. I’ve also put together more advice (some of it I actually followed myself!) on how to stay sane during your debut year:


  • Keep track of receipts and expenses as you go, ideally once per month, to make tax returns a little less painful.

  • Keep track of compliments and nice reviews. Perhaps it’s in a Google Doc or on your Notes app. Whenever someone says something nice about your book, put it there. Return to it when times are tough.

  • Learn to say no. If you’re busy, if you’re tired or if you just don’t think an opportunity will be worth your time.

  • Lean on your publisher and agent for support - they will be happy to help.

  • Ask lots of questions. This industry feels illogical and complicated so don’t feel silly if you don’t understand it.

  • Ignore your Amazon ranking. Refreshing the page five times daily is not healthy or useful.

  • Ditto Goodreads reviews. I spent the first half of my debut year checking Goodreads once per day at least, and I can’t think of a single useful thing I gained from it.

  • Comparison is the thief of joy. I could write a whole blog post on the subject of professional jealousy. Suffice to say, it’s something I felt fiercely during my debut year (and still do sometimes). Work hard to tame it. If there’s only one piece of advice you take from me, let it be this.

  • Book fair seasons can be tough, especially when it seems like everyone in the bloody universe has “exciting news” except for you. Log out if you need to.

  • Retweet praise. Life is too short to be humble.

  • Celebrate often. Don’t downplay your achievement. Allow friends and family to feel proud of you.

  • Give back where you can. Become a mentor or encourage other writers who haven’t quite made it yet. Share your knowledge.

  • Start Book Two as early as possible. This may feel more terrifying than writing Book One. This is normal.

  • Do a pre-order campaign if that’s your thing. If it isn’t, don’t stress over ordering stamps and badges and bookmarks. You have writing to do.

  • Ditto social media. If you use Instagram/Twitter/Facebook/TikTok already then fine. Go ahead and plug the hell out of your book. If social media isn’t your bag, that’s fine too. Just Do What You Can.

  • You don’t have to answer the well-meaning people who ask about your book sales. It’s none of their business.

  • Find a hobby that has nothing to do with writing and keeps you away from screens. Get into plants, nurture a sourdough starter or start dance classes.

  • Find other debut writers on Twitter or Facebook. Support each other, ask them questions and be honest about your concerns. Chances are they’re feeling the same way.

  • This is especially true for writers of marginalised identities.

  • Periodically remind yourself that you’re an author. You did it.


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