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T–30 days till book launch: "Why are you busy?"
Six months ago, I knew to leave my calendar open. I just didn't know what for.
Since October, friends and family have been hearing me say how much “book stuff” there is to do. It’s not a complaint—I swear!—but if you have a book coming out, or if you already have a dozen books out and wonder how it went for others, or else you’re just curious, I hope these three slices of my calendar will be helpful.
Efforts like the ones listed here matter because a book’s sales usually taper off after the first couple of months, and first-day sales (being, as they are, “preloaded” with a half-year of preorders) are a book’s best chance to make a best-seller list. All of this matters in a Big Five book deal because the goal is to “earn out” the advance you’ve been paid (i.e., for the book to earn as much as they paid you for it), hopefully persuading the publisher to want your second book too. Maybe it’s not as dire as all that if your publisher believes in the value of your writing and works with superstar authors whose sales prop up the stragglers (hi, capitalism!), but for a myriad of other reasons, I value doing as much as I can for The Skin and Its Girl. A writer only gets one debut. I spent years on this novel. I enjoy doing this work because it’s how I express my excitement. I believe that the story can have a positive effect on the world. Also, women, queer, and BIPOC people live in a culture that expects twice as much in order to be seen as equally deserving, so if anyone wants to see receipts? Well, here.
Below are a few month-long slices of my prepublication activities: six, three, and one month out from launch. I’m proud of how much I’ve learned and done. Depending on your work schedule, your flexibility, and your publisher’s timeline, your mileage may vary.
6 Months from Book Launch
Freelance editorial work: Two weeks of full-time work instead of four, involving client meetings, proposals, editing, and project communication. I was glad to be working only half-time because I needed the spare days to devote to everything below.
Finishing drafts of five short essays and two book recommendation list concepts (“listicles”) for my indie publicist, who would pitch them to magazines for me. The last essay I’d written before these was a 5k-word feature that took me about five months, so this deadline felt ambitious.
Review proofreading queries: A fairly short task at an hour or so, but reviewing any kind of change, query, or minor suggestion always requires thought. (I wish someone had told me that reviewing the first round of copyedits would take weeks!) This finalized the editing stage.
Meet the entire publishing team: Once all the editing was done, I knew nothing about what would happen next. This particular Zoom meeting was only about an hour, but it felt huge. Besides my agent, editor, editorial assistant, and indie publicist, I also met with the in-house publicist, publicity director, both marketing specialists, and the senior VP of publishing. It was where the team shared the whole strategy for telling the world about The Skin and Its Girl.
Mail out welcome soap gifts to Ballantine team: I have a bunch of Nabulsi soap that I made little gift boxes with. I figured I’d be asking a slew of newbie questions, so offering an early goodwill gesture felt right.
Write “bookseller love letter”: Part of the marketing effort is to persuade bookstores to stock the book. Those early orders matter! To make The Skin and Its Girl stand out, the marketing team asked me to write a short, heartfelt letter to booksellers about why I wrote the novel. It’s a story about storytelling, and as someone whose first job was in a library, second job was in a bookstore, and all subsequent jobs were editorial in nature, explaining my love of fiction felt natural. It took a couple of hours, though.
Build an online presence for a November 1 announcement (weeks of intense work):
Website updates: post book-cover-themed graphics shared by publisher, add new author photo, add media page (write short, medium, and long bios), update CV
Organize email contacts by region; archive old contacts
Write a newsletter for editing clients
Design a personal newsletter, i.e., build this Substack from scratch—develop initial content, name it, design a logo, plan content, plan and send interview questions for relevant posts
Draft a book announcement email including Goodreads giveaway links, preorder links, and Substack and website links
Set up a Bookshop affiliate page for recommending books
Update social media profiles with the cover-art banner designed by the publisher
Draft social media posts
Record a five-minute video of me talking about my book for Edelweiss
Attend webinars as needed: “Building a Successful Relationship with Booksellers,” watch 2–3 of Penguin Random House’s author training videos, attend Jewish Voices for Peace all-member meeting about the worsening situation in the West Bank
Do grant applications (days of work): Tin House, Vermont Studio Center, 4–5 professional development grants for AWP travel
Attend monthly crit group x 2: Read and meet with friends about writing—this always feels good.
3 Months from Book Launch
Freelance editorial work: Same as always, but only worked three out of four weeks this month. Devoting the extra time to non-editing work again felt essential.
Write: I wrote pretty much every night to finish the first 55 pages of the new novel because I’d promised to send material to my agent during the first week of February. Writing took a couple of hours a day, usually, and just meant going to bed extra late. But Erin had a broken foot, couldn’t work, and therefore wasn’t getting up before dawn—so the schedule worked well as a temporary measure, and it was nice sleeping in together every day.
Do residency applications: Applied to MacDowell and Hedgebrook. Why not? I’ve been warned that Post-Book-Launch Blues is a thing, so I want to put some landmarks on the far horizon to look forward to. Maybe it’s a residency, a deadline for the new novel, or just paddle boarding with Erin and our dog this summer—I don’t want to crash too hard.
Pitch a book review: In line with the essay effort, but with slightly more confidence, I picked out some upcoming novels and pitched a review to the Washington Post. I’d written a review for their books section once before, and I was delighted when the editor rejected my suggestion and offered another one that was an even better fit.
Start the book lists: Electric Literature accepted both of my book list proposals—“Eight Books That Use Direct Address Narration” and “Seven Arab and Arab Diasporic Novels about Storytellers” (or whatever the titles will actually be when they’re published). That meant (re)reading fifteen novels by mid-March and writing fifteen little summaries of 200–300 words each. I love a challenge, even if it takes 3–4 hours a day for several weeks.
Use social media again: I am…not good…at the breezy Extremely Online thing, unless it involves pet pictures. But as early press comes in, posting it is part of the job. It just takes a lot more of my time than it should, and anything I add to social media, I also add to my website.
Answer emails: This is ordinary, but it’s worth noting. While publishing a book means you get to inhabit an extended period of time when every week brings many interesting and exciting messages, and they are also very branchy. Deceptively simple ones turn out to need other correspondence and tasks as a prerequisite to responding. It’s like when you try to pull up a blackberry cane and find it attached to the mother of all root systems. If I still owe you a message, or I haven’t been in touch in a while, I’m sorry.
1 Month from Book Launch
Work: Same, except half-time. My bank account isn’t the happiest it’s ever been, but I decided at the outset that my mental and emotional well-being had to take precedence—which means saving time every day for exercise, walking the dog, basic chores, and dinner with Erin when she’s home. Most people can’t work two full-time jobs and feel well, so something has to give.
Essay revision: Some of the essays I wrote in October are still bouncing around, looking for homes, so I’ve done a few revisions along the way, offered other pitch ideas, and generally made myself available to troubleshoot them as needed.
Blurb a book: So much of my time is focused on my own book, but I don’t actually want to spend all of it that way. I’ll share more about this marvelous novel after it has preorder links!
Write the book review for WaPo: Once the book recommendation lists were done, I could give Isabella Hammad’s Enter Ghost my full attention. I’d read her previous novel a month before, but this one took about a week and a half—reading it, organizing thoughts and notes, and writing the copy.
Since most of my book events will be “in-conversation” events with other authors, I’m (re)reading their books. I have no idea if this is strictly necessary, but those authors are reading mine, so it’s fair to be conversant? I don’t have one of those brains that preserves specific details well; after a few weeks, the memory of a novel is more like a cake in the rain. Lots of colors and smears, a general feeling, that’s it. This is true even for books I love from the marrow of my bones and have read more than once (alas). It’s why I take lots of notes and also prefer e-books, since you can highlight, save, and do searches.
Media training: My editor and publicists have been extremely generous with their time in helping me find a balance in how I talk about the book, talk about the ongoing terrible year in the West Bank, and talk about the writing life.
Interview preparation: These are all new skills for me. I need to practice, and I hope it takes less time as the whole thing feels less strange. I’m looking forward to podcast and Zoom interviews with Queer Everything, Mizna, and Shondaland, with more to come.
Record Epigraph appearance: This is an asynchronous literary festival happening at the end of April and I needed to talk about my book for ten minutes. That’s harder than it sounds, and the temptation to re-record for perfection was extreme. Again, good practice for interviews.
Interview for the Trevor Project: I had already answered written interview questions for Littsburgh a few weeks before, but this one hit me harder than expected, and I wanted to write everything from scratch and give it my whole heart. “Queer teens in need of hope” is never not going to take priority, and I spent a day and a half answering these questions, in between having giant feelings.
AWP conference and follow-up: Props if you went to all four days of this, didn’t feel exhausted, and didn’t get COVID. I think I’m clear on the latter, but after three days among 19k-ish writers, I was very happy to be home. But I met my editor, Chelcee Johns, in person for the first time and we drank pomegranate margaritas in honor of my novel’s Rummani family (pomegranate in Arabic). Besides prep for our panel, I met a lot of people I admire and connected with the amazing folks at Mizna and RAWI (Radius of Arab American Writers). Conferences always mean a lot of follow-up and catch-up afterward, and I was happy to reconnect with folks in my communities.
Plan social media posts for the book and for Arab American Heritage Month: That’s on this week’s agenda, and I assume it will take me much longer than it should.
Plan online course proposals: My hope is that The Skin and Its Girl is a career pivot. I’ve been a freelance editor 100 percent of the time for 20 years. I want to edit, write, and teach in equal portions. Through connections I made at AWP, I’ve been invited to submit class ideas for a literary center I really admire. More on that when it’s final.