Transmissions from a debut author #3: Things I have learned so far and more Anxiety self-talk

Writing can be a lonely venture. One that requires you to sit in front of a computer day in and day out, alone with your thoughts. Thoughts that, if you’re like me, aren’t always that kind to you. Thoughts that, if you let them, can quickly spiral. In the past, I’ve talked a little bit about my publishing related anxiety on here, in long form, but what I haven’t really delved into is how I’ve been struggling with both the big A (Anxiety) and the big D (Depression-get your mind out of the gutter) for … basically as long as I can remember. So those thoughts can really uncomfortable and pretty… not great (understatement) if I let them.

Which is why, I suppose, I, like so many other writers, found my way onto places like Twitter, places that can give a sense of “community” even though the community is full of individuals you’ve probably never met in real life or conversed with outside of direct messages. And, Twitter is weird. A few months ago, when I was really active (too active) on it, I used to wake up in the morning and imagine that Twitter was some sort of sentient being that was reaching over into the back of my head and connecting directly into me. It honestly felt different than other social media; even back in the heyday of MySpace, when I used it fairly regularly, that feeling was never there. The feeling was new, and it was sort of scary.

But let me back up. The last month in my life, publishing-wise, has been rough. And it’s made me think a lot about not only writing/publishing at large, but more specifically how being Too Online and entering into strange, internet-only friendships with people who you’ve never interacted with in real life or had a long form conversation with can be incredibly unhealthy if you let it be. They definitely have their place, and sometimes (rarely, I think) can translate to in-real-life that work beautifully, but most of the time they seem to be best handled with a yard stick. It’s hard for me to admit that, because, as I said above, the publishing process can feel really isolating. You write alone, you spend years writing this Thing, and then you finally-at long last-sell it and it’s SO EXCITING. And then comes the post-sale crash. You think, shouldn’t something else be happening right now!? How can I keep this high going!? So you look for other people in similar spots to bond with, to chat with, to share with, but again, you’ve never had actual, in real life conversations with them. There’s no nuance. There’s no body language. There’s no shared histories. There are just words on a page (and in the case of Twitter, a very small amount of words) and a looooot of room for misinterpretation.

And the thing with me, which I think is sort of symptomatic of both anxiety and depression, is that when there’s misinterpretation, not only does it really hit me in the gut, but I also start second guessing myself. Am I a bad person!?!? Should I stop writing? Is my voice worth anything? (I finally came to my senses and decided the answers to those questions are no, no, and yes, respectively.)

So here’s the thing: as an author, you’re going to hear a lot of voices. A lot of opinions, many of which will conflict. One person might disagree with what you’ve written, and the next might find nothing wrong with it. One person might hate your main character, and the next might love them. That’s the anxious part of putting a book into this world, right? Twitter comments, reviews on Goodreads, the ability people have these days to put their opinions into the view of authors. All you can do is follow your gut. And ignore the noise; block Goodreads if you need to; take time away from Twitter when it’s better for your brain.  

Remember that having a book in the world is all well and good, but there are so many other things out there in life that matter, and don’t neglect them. Balance is key.

Liz Lawson

Over 7 years in the music industry, Liz has worked as a music journalist (Paste Magazine, Tiny Mix Tapes), a music publicist (Orange Twin Records, former home of Neutral Milk Hotel), and now a music supervisor. She started her career working for illustrious music sup's Gary Calamar and Alyson Vidoli, assisting on shows like True Blood, Dexter, and House, and moved on to learn as a music coordinator under Carrie Hughes (The Hills), where she worked on several shows under the Viacom blanket (MTV, CMT, VH1). Never one to rest of her laurels, she managed to scored her own show (Black Ink Crew, VH1) several months later, and soon found a home music sup'ing that show and multiple indie films, including "May the Best Man Win" which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in 2014 and was directed and written by Andrew O'Connor of Peep Show fame. She's currently branding her business as Vinyl Rules Music Supervision, and is currently music sup'ing Black Ink Crew and well as two indie films: A Light Beneath Their Feet, starring Taryn Manning (Orange is the New Black) and Madison Davenport, (Noah). Zen Dog, starring Kyle Gallner (the upcoming Clint Eastwood picture American Sniper, Veronica Mars) and Clea DuVall (Girl, Interrupted, Argo).

Transmissions from a debut author #2: Some Great Advice Re: Debut Anxiety

The other week on Twitter, I asked for advice from seasoned (or at least, more seasoned than me) authors who have experienced the dreaded DEBUT ANXIETY, because I was in the midst of really feeling it.

I got some amazing answers, and want to record them all in one place so I have them to look at whenever it overcomes me next. Also, it might help other debuts who have or are feeling that heart pounding, stomach churning anxious feeling about having their book be in the world.

  1. Pouring yourself into your next book helps

    This was advice given pretty much across the board, and I know it’s not necessarily what some authors (ME) want to hear because writing A Whole New Book is… a lot (but of course needs to happen). It makes sense though — concentrate on writing (which is in your control for the most part)

  2. Finding people who are in the same spot in their journey who you can privately commiserate with helps a lot.

    Join your debut group (if it’s not going to be a source of stress)! Reach out to other authors on Twitter/wherever who are in the same place as you who you can talk to and listen to and support. This has definitely helped me.

  3. Support other others & put positivity back into the book world.

    This is fantastic advice and also helps with #2 - making connections / supporting other authors!

  4. DO NOT LOOK AT GOODREADS. EVER.

  5. Someone will hate your book AND THAT IS OKAY.

  6. Moderate your expectation and RECOGNIZE that so much of publishing (reviews, lists, etc!) is totally out of your control.

    (This is a hard one for anyone who’s like me (i.e. a control freak) so is definitely smart to start working on as soon into your debut journey as possible.)

  7. Focus on what comes NEXT: launch for family and friends, waiting for finished copies, working on book 2.

  8. Know that the anxiety changes as time passes.

    Julie Buxbaum says that for her, it’s become less a naked vulnerability (the 1st day of middle school!) & more like sending a kid off to college & hoping the world takes care of them & also knowing that the world’s reaction will never match what she imagined good or bad

  9. Divide the seemingly endless list of possible promotion tasks and into “must dos,” “would really like to do,” and “could do if the other items are accomplished and the mood strikes” columns

  10. Set activity goals (things you can control) and check them off on a physical list

  11. Read 1-star reviews of books you loved to remind yourself reading is very subjective and very much about the reader’s life experiences.

  12. Adjust your life because you have a new JOB. Cut other responsibilities. Hire a cleaning service. Etc. Think about each day as either a writing day or admin day. No email on writing days!

  13. Embrace the anxiety AND the excitement and vulnerability. It’s all there, it’s all temporary, and it’s all okay. THIS TOO SHALL PASS and then you’ll miss it.

Thank you to Greg Howard, Rachel Lynn Solomon, Lillian Clark, Kathleen Glasgow, Julie Buxbaum, Jen Malone, Jeff Garvin, Kayla Cagan, Jenn Marie Thorne, Melanie Conklin, Dana Mele, and Crystal Smith!!


Liz Lawson

Over 7 years in the music industry, Liz has worked as a music journalist (Paste Magazine, Tiny Mix Tapes), a music publicist (Orange Twin Records, former home of Neutral Milk Hotel), and now a music supervisor. She started her career working for illustrious music sup's Gary Calamar and Alyson Vidoli, assisting on shows like True Blood, Dexter, and House, and moved on to learn as a music coordinator under Carrie Hughes (The Hills), where she worked on several shows under the Viacom blanket (MTV, CMT, VH1). Never one to rest of her laurels, she managed to scored her own show (Black Ink Crew, VH1) several months later, and soon found a home music sup'ing that show and multiple indie films, including "May the Best Man Win" which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in 2014 and was directed and written by Andrew O'Connor of Peep Show fame. She's currently branding her business as Vinyl Rules Music Supervision, and is currently music sup'ing Black Ink Crew and well as two indie films: A Light Beneath Their Feet, starring Taryn Manning (Orange is the New Black) and Madison Davenport, (Noah). Zen Dog, starring Kyle Gallner (the upcoming Clint Eastwood picture American Sniper, Veronica Mars) and Clea DuVall (Girl, Interrupted, Argo).

Transmissions from a debut author #1: THE TROLL NAMED ANXIETY

I decided over the weekend to do a series on here (and maybe in a newsletter if I ever start one…) about being a debut author in the hopes that even a tiny bit of it might help authors in the future who also suffer from a lovely little head troll named ANXIETY.

ANXIETY is a bitch. It’s this floating, invisible THING that can land on pretty much anything in your life and make it shit. It LOVES when you have nothing concrete to think about / worry about because then it can pick something really ridiculous (like, say Goodreads TBR shelf numbers) and point to it and say LOOK AT THIS LOOK AT EVERYONE ELSE’S LET’S COMPARE THE TWO WHAT DO YOU THINK I THINK YOU SHOULD PROBABLY BE WORRIEEEEEEEEEEEED and then it starts screaming in your head about how you are lacking. It loves the negative spaces. The empty spaces. It feeeeeeeeds off of them. It gives them life.

But guess what? (And trust me, this is something I know but am still trying to remind myself to practice in daily life.) Those empty spaces are just that — empty. They aren’t actually filled with the Things Other People Have But You Don’t. They aren’t filled with anything until ANXIETY puts a bunch of worry in them and tries to convince you that it’s rational to worry about it. Worry about worrying. Ha.

I talked to my therapist (yes, like any good writer who’s able to afford one, I go to a therapist. I’d like to dedicate my book to her but I think my husband might leave me if I do) about this for a long time the other day. I told her about all these swirling feelings - this free floating anxiety. And you know what she said? She said I needed to take responsibility for it. For myself. For my own mental health. If something (goodreads/twitter/WHATEVER) is causing me stress — I need to step back.

Keep my eyes on my own page.

Looking at these negative spaces is a choice.

And not a mentally healthy one. Not even a little bit.

So even thought I normally scoff at New Years resolutions because I am a contrary bitch who likes to scoff at popular things — here is my resolution:

I will practice gratitude

I will see what I do have

The positive spaces, if you will

It’s the only thing that’s going to get me through this year in one piece.

I’M the only one who can get me through this year in one piece.

Which is annoying (because honestly, I’d love for somebody else do it for me) but true.

Anxiety is a troll.

Liz Lawson

Over 7 years in the music industry, Liz has worked as a music journalist (Paste Magazine, Tiny Mix Tapes), a music publicist (Orange Twin Records, former home of Neutral Milk Hotel), and now a music supervisor. She started her career working for illustrious music sup's Gary Calamar and Alyson Vidoli, assisting on shows like True Blood, Dexter, and House, and moved on to learn as a music coordinator under Carrie Hughes (The Hills), where she worked on several shows under the Viacom blanket (MTV, CMT, VH1). Never one to rest of her laurels, she managed to scored her own show (Black Ink Crew, VH1) several months later, and soon found a home music sup'ing that show and multiple indie films, including "May the Best Man Win" which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in 2014 and was directed and written by Andrew O'Connor of Peep Show fame. She's currently branding her business as Vinyl Rules Music Supervision, and is currently music sup'ing Black Ink Crew and well as two indie films: A Light Beneath Their Feet, starring Taryn Manning (Orange is the New Black) and Madison Davenport, (Noah). Zen Dog, starring Kyle Gallner (the upcoming Clint Eastwood picture American Sniper, Veronica Mars) and Clea DuVall (Girl, Interrupted, Argo).

The Mysterious Process of Going On Submission

As promised, here’s my post about my submission experience! It’s so crazy to me how little there is out there about going on submission. There are about a bajillion posts about how to get an agent / querying / querying stats / etc, but like less than ten about submission. I wonder if it’s because everyone’s experience varies so widely!? Or because (as Susan Dennard talks about in many of her posts) the finances of the thing? Advances, etc? All I know is, it feels a little like everything is shrouded in mystery once you get to this part of the process.

After signing with Andrea, I did a very small revision (only took about a week, because of the massive R&R that I’d just completed) and then she recommended we wait to go on submission because it was mid-August, and literally NO ONE is in the office in mid-August (except for me, but that’s another story for another day wah).

So, we decided to hold off going out until after Labor Day, but in the meantime she drew up a list of editors that we were going to send THE LUCKY ONES off to. The list was… daunting… to say the least. All the people on it were, like, high, high up at their respective imprints/houses, and had these lists that were gulp-worthy. I was like, um are you sure Andrea, maybe we should just submit to like one person who works in the basement at Penguin Random House who, like, isn’t actually on payroll and they can buy the book for 1 cent and then throw it in the garbage!??! ‘Cause I have great self-esteem like that. (Insert wild-eye emoticon here.)

(But, IRL, I didnt say that because I’m trying to keep the secret of how exactly cuckoo my brain is from my agent so as not to scare her off - um, hi, Andrea!?)

ANYWAY - after I looked the list over and died multiple times from seeing who was on it, we agreed that it looked great (GULP) and we were ready! She wrote up the query letter (which is really similar to the query letter you send out while looking for an agent, except it’s more editorial because you agent (hopefully) is like “I love this book and so should you!”) and we were off.

AND THEN I STARTED TO PANIC.

Like any good writer does.

… right?!

I checked my email approximately one BILLION times over the next few days. Like, even at midnight (PT) because I was like MAYBE SOME CRAZY EDITOR IS UP RIGHT NOW READING MY BOOK AND HATING IT SO MUCH THAT THEY HAVE TO REJECT ME IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT (again, I’m special).

I’m here to say: no matter how fast or slow submission goes, it is PAINFUL.

It physically hurts your body and your brain. I couldn’t concentrate on anything, which isn’t good because I have a very full-full time job which requires me to actually have the ability to DO STUFF.

I finally forced myself to come to terms with the fact that we wouldn’t hear anything for 2 months or more, so I needed to move on with my thoughts.

But, after only two days, we got our first reply!

A rejection!

It was nice, but it was definitely a rejection. Oddly, it didn’t bother me too much, mostly I think because I was like wait how did we already hear from someone!??!

And, at the same time, we also got a lovely reply from Krista Marino at Delacorte aka one of the top-top-top people on my list of dream people who I thought I would never work with in a million years that said that she was “reading and loving - more soon!”

DEAD.

And then my anxiety level ramped up even more (my lucky husband!) because I was like HOLY SHIT WE MIGHT HEAR FROM SOMEONE AT ANY SECOND I MUST CONSTANTLY REFRESH MY EMAIL AND DIE EVERY TIME THERE IS NOTHING THERE.

It was super fun!

Thankfully, and I realize how lucky I was, only a few days later Krista wrote again…

AND THIS TIME SAID SHE WANTED TO MAKE AN OFFER.

I THINK SHE WAS DRUNK!

I DONT KNOW HOW THAT WAS REAL LIFE.

Anyway - that’s when things got crazy because we had only been out on submission for a week (!?) so we had a lot of other editors with my book still. Andrea handled it like the champ that she is, and things really started speeding up. We got a couple more passes and then another amazing editor who said that she was reading and loving and she’d hurry up… but in the meantime Andrea went back to Krista and got her up to a number that I never expected to hear in relation to my book & the deal was that we would take it off the table if that happened…

so we did!

And my emotional, funny, quirky book sold to Krista Marino the goddess in a PRE-EMEPT after only a week on submission.

It was a crazy fairy tale.

But then came AFTER SUBMISSION … which is, again, not something you hear much about but is REALLY important to talk about in my opinion.

But it’s a story for another post.

Liz Lawson

Over 7 years in the music industry, Liz has worked as a music journalist (Paste Magazine, Tiny Mix Tapes), a music publicist (Orange Twin Records, former home of Neutral Milk Hotel), and now a music supervisor. She started her career working for illustrious music sup's Gary Calamar and Alyson Vidoli, assisting on shows like True Blood, Dexter, and House, and moved on to learn as a music coordinator under Carrie Hughes (The Hills), where she worked on several shows under the Viacom blanket (MTV, CMT, VH1). Never one to rest of her laurels, she managed to scored her own show (Black Ink Crew, VH1) several months later, and soon found a home music sup'ing that show and multiple indie films, including "May the Best Man Win" which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in 2014 and was directed and written by Andrew O'Connor of Peep Show fame. She's currently branding her business as Vinyl Rules Music Supervision, and is currently music sup'ing Black Ink Crew and well as two indie films: A Light Beneath Their Feet, starring Taryn Manning (Orange is the New Black) and Madison Davenport, (Noah). Zen Dog, starring Kyle Gallner (the upcoming Clint Eastwood picture American Sniper, Veronica Mars) and Clea DuVall (Girl, Interrupted, Argo).

Hello! (And the requisite "how I got my agent / book deal" post)

First of all, if you’re visiting my new author website - THANK YOU! It’s beautiful, isn’t it?! (Shout out to the crew at Writers House for making it happen!) My debut contemporary YA, THE LUCKY ONES, is coming out 2020 from Delacorte Press / Random House… which is NUTS!!! I still don’t quite believe that this Word doc that's lived on my computer for the past two+ years will someday be a … real book. That I can, like, hold in my hand (!?!??!!) and that (even more !?!??!) other people WILL READ IT (god willing).

Find it on GOODREADS here!

What a weird thing. Growing up, authors always seemed like these mythical beasts … sort of like musicians. These amazing people who create things that really SPEAK to so many people. I could name so many books that I read as the years passed that changed me, helped me, saved me. And, I hope, my book will do that for people someday soon, too.

When I was querying, I lived and breathed HOW I GOT MY AGENT / BOOK DEAL posts… I read pretty much every one of them that exist on the internet (I like to know things!) and they helped me through it. Thank you to everyone out there who’s written one. Especially those of you who have written on the submission process - which is MUCH harder to find info on!

So, to pay it forward, here’s what my personal experience was. I’ll do it sort of in bullet points so it’s an easier read:

  1. I wrote a book and queried it, somehow with the (very misguided) expectation that I would immediately find an agent and then… stuff. (Back then, I dont think I really knew what happened after you got an agent. I was just like, oh! I’ll get an agent and it’ll all be great! (Haaaaaa.)

  2. After querying… god like 100ish agents (I dont want to look at specific details…too depressing) and getting some (not many) full / partial requests… I got a R&R from an AMAZING agent. It came when I had almost given up on the book… popped into my inbox one night when I was out to dinner with my husband and I was thrilled! A R&R! That means she likes me…she really likes me!

  3. Then I stalled. I got worried I’d do it wrong. I procrastinated harddddd. It took me almost 8 months to finish, and I did. Right before November 8, 2016 (ugh ugh ugh). So, needless to say, it felt extremely inappropriate to send on this new exciting draft to said agent because… I mean, do I have to say it!? The entire country (or at least a large part of it) was in mourning. Sigh.

  4. That said, I sent it a few weeks later, still feeling a bit awkward about it.

  5. And then I waited.

  6. And waited

  7. And waited

  8. And nothing.

  9. Which… was sad. But, then again, I had taken my sweet time with things. Which wasn’t smart on my end.

  10. And then she passed. (Insert crying face.)

  11. Which was sad. BUT I had just had a kid and I had started a new book a few months prior (it’s the best/most annoying advice people give you: while you’re waiting, start something new!) (Great because, it’s SMART… annoying because UGH SOMETHING NEW I DONT WANNA WAH WAH WAH)

  12. SO I moved on. To my new book. Which felt…good.

  13. Really good. I finished it a few months later, had my parents and husband and a couple other people (who are lovely but not, like, professional writers) read it, and then queried (I DO NOT RECOMMEND DOING THIS — DONT BE LIKE ME — DONT BE TOO SCARED TO REACH OUT TO OTHER WRITERS AND FIND CP’S!! THEY ARE IMPORTANT!)

  14. I was lucky in that I did have a good query letter, and I got a great response. Right away. I knew I had something, then.

  15. But, my #1 top agency, who had read my last book and liked it but didn’t take it on (obviously), read it — FAST — and said… it needs too much work. Would you be willing to do an exclusive R&R with us.

  16. Now, here’s where the internet is useful only to a certain point. I googled the SHIT out of exclusive R&Rs because … I didn’t know what to do! I’d always heard exclusive anything = no good. Also, I’d only been querying a week and I already had a 50% request rate, which was so different than my last book! I knew I had something, but .. maybe it needed more work !? (I know, I know… that’s why people recommend getting CPs… I know, sigh.) Imposter syndrome is a REAL thing.

  17. I finally did what everyone I asked on writing message boards advised AGAINST doing — I let all the agents who had my full know that I had an exclusive R&R offer and would they mind getting back to me in 2 weeks??

  18. Apparently that’s a fairly normal thing to do (whew) because they all were super super kind and said absolutely!

  19. And when I heard from all of them — they all seemed to agree — the book needed work. And they kindly stepped aside so I could pursue the initial R&R offer.

  20. I did not daly on it this time.

  21. I gave myself a time limit. I took three months. I edited the HELL out of my book. I looked at it from top to bottom, tightened things that she hadn’t even mentioned, dug into it deep.

  22. And sent it back.

  23. And waited

  24. AGH

  25. SUMMER BREAK IS RUDE

  26. And then about 5 weeks after I sent it to her, Genevieve from Writers House (Amy Berkower’s assistant and the in house editor there - WHO IS A GENIUS LOVELY ANGEL LADY) wrote back and told me that she thought I had done a great job on it, and if Amy wasn’t interested (because she wasn’t taking much YA at the time), could she show it to other agents there!?

  27. Um, duh

  28. And then four days later (including the weekend) I got an email from Genevieve, which I saw the second I woke up Monday morning, which said “Amy passed BUT I showed it to Andrea Morrison here, and she loves it and could I connect you two”

  29. kjroiehroieyrq38yr83qryhq3krhqlk3r (MIND EXPLODES)

  30. Um, yes

  31. So she did and Andrea and I chatted the next day and she offered rep and .. I could not feel luckier. Andrea is THE BEST (best best best BEST!!) and I’m thrilled to be a part of Writers House.

  32. This is getting really long, so perhaps I will save my “how I got my book deal” for the next post.

  33. If you read this far, you’re amazing.

  34. xo

Liz Lawson

Over 7 years in the music industry, Liz has worked as a music journalist (Paste Magazine, Tiny Mix Tapes), a music publicist (Orange Twin Records, former home of Neutral Milk Hotel), and now a music supervisor. She started her career working for illustrious music sup's Gary Calamar and Alyson Vidoli, assisting on shows like True Blood, Dexter, and House, and moved on to learn as a music coordinator under Carrie Hughes (The Hills), where she worked on several shows under the Viacom blanket (MTV, CMT, VH1). Never one to rest of her laurels, she managed to scored her own show (Black Ink Crew, VH1) several months later, and soon found a home music sup'ing that show and multiple indie films, including "May the Best Man Win" which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in 2014 and was directed and written by Andrew O'Connor of Peep Show fame. She's currently branding her business as Vinyl Rules Music Supervision, and is currently music sup'ing Black Ink Crew and well as two indie films: A Light Beneath Their Feet, starring Taryn Manning (Orange is the New Black) and Madison Davenport, (Noah). Zen Dog, starring Kyle Gallner (the upcoming Clint Eastwood picture American Sniper, Veronica Mars) and Clea DuVall (Girl, Interrupted, Argo).