Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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June 28, 2023

What I Didn’t Expect After Publishing my Book

By Karen DeBonis

For years, I wondered how it would feel to know my memoir sat on a bookstore shelf or, even better, in a reader’s hands. I could name the expected emotions—excited, proud, content—but being a published author was so foreign to my previous life experiences, I couldn’t envision how those feelings might manifest themselves in my body or what thoughts they might generate.

And I could also picture myself signing copies, engaged in conversation at a book reading, giving a presentation on stage. The enigma was imagining myself going about my everyday activities like eating breakfast, weeding the garden, or watching TV, my published author status of little relevance.

What would it be like to fully inhabit the body of a published author? It’s a question you can’t answer until you can.

Publishing is a Thorny Path

I started writing my memoir in 1999, never having written much of anything before. In January 2020, thinking my manuscript was ready (it wasn’t), I began querying agents. I knew the ghosting and rejections would soon follow. I knew it would be disheartening. So when I received my first rejection email, I printed it on bright coral paper and made an origami rose. As I had hoped, it lessened the sting.

Over the next two years, my rose garden grew so plentiful, I didn’t have a vase large enough to hold them, so I hung the blooms on a chain. Finally, after querying 85 agents, I launched Plan B—submitting to small presses—and signed a contract with Apprentice House Press early in 2022. Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived was released in May 2023.

In all those months and years of the “before times,” there was so much I didn’t understand about the “after times.” Now that I’ve lived in the after times for a whopping 2 months, there are other surprises I didn’t anticipate:

What I didn’t expect when I was expecting my book:

I’m glad it’s over.

Ecstatic even. I’d do cartwheels if I could to celebrate the end of my long journey. The past seven years of writing full-time was less acutely painful than birthing my two sons but nine times longer, so I’d say it was worse. In the final three months leading up to my book launch, I felt like a stack of encyclopedias—the print kind, not Wikipedia—sat on my chest. I even turned to Xanax, which, on a good day, lifted volumes D through Z. Now that the pressure is gone, maybe I can manage a somersault or at least roll around on the floor in glee.

Post-Publishing Depression

The cloud of post-publishing depression, which several of my author friends have experienced, has not yet spit on my parade. In the throes of my encyclopedia-weighted years, I yearned for the mythical days of moping around the house, lying in bed for hours, or joylessly binge-watching Netflix. It sounded so…easy (as long as I could avoid the hopelessness and despair that accompanies true depression). But so far, my state of elation (see “I’m glad it’s over” above)) has kept the blues at bay.

The Possible End of a Writing Career

I suspected I’d be a one-book author, and I’m still leaning in that direction. I doubt many fiction writers quit after one book, regardless of its success or lack thereof, but memoirists—think Tara Westover of Educated fame—are more likely to walk away from their authorial lives.

Why? In my case, I’d never intended to be a writer. Then life happened and I knew the story was meant to be told. I studied my craft and the world of book publishing, put in the time, failed often, and finally landed a book contract. As long as I don’t have another story to tell, I won’t need to write another book. (If you happen to be an agent who likes what I have to say, however, let’s talk.)

My Why has benefits.

From the first day I picked up a pencil and yellow legal pad to scratch out my motherhood survival story, I believed others would learn from my experience. That why hasn’t changed. But I didn’t realize how much I would learn. Seeing my flaws splayed out on paper and screen meant I couldn’t hide any longer. I had to own my Achilles heel—people-pleasing—and learn to overcome it once and for all. I had to grow. And I did.

Marketing is more fun than I’d expected.

Trust me, I’m as surprised as you. In fact, I enjoy it so much, I need bullet points to explain it.

  • The “yeses” of marketing happen more quickly and more often than for writing and submitting, so much so that it’s addictive. Every positive review, modestly viral tweet, or booking on a podcast gives me a hit of adrenaline. Craving more, I work long hours for another hit. But remember—marketing is FUN, so I don’t mind.
  • Having an actual book to my credit, along with the frequent yeses, make me more comfortable pitching—book talks, workshops, companion essays, podcast appearances. I’m more confident I have something to say that people will want to hear.
  • I prefer the creative outlet of marketing to the creative outlet of writing. Writing serves a purpose and I’m proud when I’ve written something that connects with a reader. My finished book is a soul-satisfying accomplishment, and I couldn’t be more proud if I had climbed Everest.

But for me, writing is laborious and rarely pleasurable (the exception being flash pieces). On the other hand, designing my bookmarks, t-shirt, pull-up banner, and bookplates never felt like work. I could wake up early and stay up late doing those projects without regret. Even better—brainstorming creative ideas, like this freebie I’ll hand out at book festivals. It’s been a blast.

I’m a survivor.

I discovered this about myself as a parent through the process of writing my memoir. I learned this about myself as a writer through the process of publishing my book. I thought I was weak. I’ve learned I am strong.

Final Thoughts

I have a saying—“I’m open to the possibility”—and that is what I advise in the writing and book publishing journey. You just never know where this trip will take you, but I guarantee you will grow, and isn’t that what life is about?

What experience do you most anticipate when you first become published? What was the most surprising when you did? Share with our readers your own publishing experiences and suggestions!

About Karen

Karen DeBonis writes about motherhood, people-pleasing, and personal growth, an entangled mix told in her debut memoir Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived, released by Apprentice House Press in May of 2023. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, HuffPost, The Insider, AARP, and numerous literary journals. A happy empty-nester, Karen lives in upstate New York with her husband of forty years. You can see more of her work at www.karendebonis.com.

"Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived" is available where books are sold.

Join my mailing list today at www.karendebonis.com and I'll send you a sneak peek--the first chapter of "Growth!"

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22 comments on “What I Didn’t Expect After Publishing my Book”

  1. I think the biggest thing to hit me was the anticipation of holding an actual, physical book in my hands. It had my heart pumping. The excitement quickly faded as the reality of promoting it sunk in. I'm an introvert, so the thought of getting in front of people to sell the book (and myself as an author) was terrifying. After three books it's getting easier, but still a little unnerving.

    1. I agree about holding the physical book, Eldred. Another novelty for me was typing my name into the Amazon search bar and having my book pop up. I never thought about that, and it was super cool. I'm an introvert, too, but I enjoy public speaking, so book talks, for example, are easy for me. What's fascinating is how comfortable I've become promoting my book and, by extension, myself. Talk about growth. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I'm excited about my upcoming publication. I'm excited to get my book-baby out there, to see it in print, to be able to finally give people the link to purchase it. But I'm also a little bit nervous, because it's all about to get very real, from cover reveal to finally holding the book in my hands. But it's all going to be a great adventure.

    1. It's so many mixed emotions, isn't it, Mlffie? We put our reputations and ego on the line, an anxiety-provoking risk that takes tremendous courage. Kudos to you! I wish you a successful and exciting book launch!

  3. I love that you are enjoying marketing! For me, the whirlwind of publication seemed to just keep going. I can't imagine not writing.

    1. Thanks Lisa. My whirlwind has no end in sight, yet, lol. Right now, it's all marketing, although I have a few more finished companion pieces I'll still try to place. As for writing, I can see it being a hobby more than an occupation or a life purpose. I imagine it might be fun if not fueled by the drive to build a platform or attract an agent. Only time will tell, and I'm open to whatever happens.

      1. Regardless of our goals, I think it is always best to enjoy the journey!!! Sounds like you're doing fantastic.

  4. Hello Karen,

    First of all, thank you for sharing the vulnerable side of writing and publishing not many want to voice or admit. I found it refreshing. A s a father of 13, and five still at home, people rarely understand the challenges associated with trauma and specifically medical issues we may face as parents, and how that affects the lives of our loved ones.

    For me as an author, I have wanted to tell me story, and for my story to be read. I think it was Ronald Dahl that said, “I don’t care if a reader hates one of my stories, just as long as he finishes the book.”

    That's me.

    I've written dozens of books and comic books, and made my living doing so -- yet most people have never heard of me. I thought that would bother me more than it has. The fact that people have enjoyed something I do gives me a deeper joy and motivation to do it again.

    1. Jaime- First, thanks for your comment. How a father of 13 has the time to do that is an enigma. Second, I'm glad what I wrote resonated with you, although I suspect your reference to trauma and medical issues means that you are a member of a parents club not of your choosing. Finally, since you make a living writing, I have a feeling more people have heard of you than you think. It's just that you haven't heard of them. Keep up the good work!

  5. Hi, Karen. You are doing something right - I've actually heard about your book somewhere.

    I write fiction inspired by the ME/CFS that has bedeviled my last 33 years, rather than have taken your non-fiction route. 'Inspired' means one of my main characters, much younger than I am now, has it and deals with the limited life it forces. In the background, as a constant bad friend, and from a place where she prefers the way she's handling her current life over anything more exciting - which she wouldn't have the energy for, anyway.

    When I'm finished with the third volume, the Pride's Children trilogy will be as long as GWTW - and only published in three books because Amazon can't physically produce POD that fat!

    But I always meant to write fiction 'when I retired' (I'm a former plasma physicist), so writing longer fiction than the mysteries I was planning is merely a step up the fiction ladder.

    I love writing. Fiction gives me an outlet I never expected - the techniques and skills of fiction have all developed from the massive amounts I read before, and I find having that background makes me thoroughly invested in 'story.' It has taken a LOT of work, but I don't regret a minute of the twenty-three years I've invested in this ONE story so far.

    The feeling on publishing the first volume - ebook and print - and doing everything myself, including finding reviewers and persuading them to try mainstream literary fiction outside the normal traditional publisher channels - has been exhilarating.

    Completing the second volume last year under a host of physical problems, doing it anyway, however slowly and with help for some of the mechanics, was an incredible feeling: no longer a one-book author, the reviews have been even better than for the first.

    Marketing, however, has not taken off - I have to make it happen. And with such limited energy, it has been a slog. I have my first library author presentation this Sunday, and my first podcast next week on the Voice of Indie, and I'm both elated and apprehensive.

    I don't have any particular high expectations for the RESULTS of these two lovely opportunities, but having them is another milestone - as I accumulate the credentials for 'author.'

    So I'm your opposite - fiction, love writing, not good at marketing - and we're both writers.

    Wishing you the best of luck, and you MIGHT reconsider that one-book option - now that you've done all the hard work of learning.

    1. Alicia, I'll call that a success--that you've heard about my book somewhere. Thanks for passing that on! At one of my first author events--having a table at a library garden day--several people I didn't know said they'd heard about my book "somewhere." I believe one of the goals in book marketing is to get on people's radar. I guess I've succeeded.

      As have you. Your upcoming author presentation and podcast, while you have no particular expectations of results from them, will put you on people's radars. Then someday, a person will say they heard about your books "somewhere." (Good luck with the events, BTW.)

      You've accomplished a great deal in spite of your health challenges. I'm glad writing brings you joy and I hope you can continue for many more years. As for me, I'm open to the possibility of whatever the future holds for me.

    1. Ellen, it seems the answer to your question "Now what do I do?" is "Keep writing." It looks like you have a good thing going, so why not? And yes, marketing and book publishing go hand-in-hand, unless you're Prince William, perhaps. Maybe he had a little help?

  6. The thing that surprised me the most, but shouldn't have, was the reaction from some friends and family. Honestly, if they couldn't be nice, then they should have just been silent instead of rude and full of negativity.

    I no longer share my writing career with those people.

    The best thing was not only an unboxing and feeling the published book(s) at home, but when I saw books on the shelf of a bookstore--and they weren't special ordered for an event.

    1. Denise, I'm so sorry you got that reaction from your friends and family. That could be enough to end a writing career. I'm glad you rose above the criticism. How affirming to see your books on the bookstore shelf. Yay you!

  7. This is interesting to think about. My debut picture book comes out this September. I’m excited about it in theory—but also really nervous that no one will actually like it, especially friends and family who didn’t know I write and therefore have never read anything I’ve written! It also doesn’t quite seem real. So I just don’t know how or what to think about it. That’s where I am.

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