I should be working on my second novel, which is due to my editor, in three days.
I should be promoting my first book, which just launched three weeks ago.
I should be doing laundry or cleaning the bathroom.
Is my son due for a Covid test tomorrow? Wait, where are my kids? Did anyone feed the dogs today?
I should not be writing this post right now.
I will look back on January 2021 with a lot of emotions. My debut novel, Waiting for the Night Song was released on Jan 12, marking the achievement of a dream thirteen years in the making. I didn’t have the in-person launch party I had always envisioned, but my virtual launch was incredible. Friends, family, and strangers from around the world tuned in – including my middle school science and English teachers. I had cake, flowers, and an outpouring of love that I will treasure forever. It was perfect.
At least that’s what you saw if you followed my social media posts: love, joy, pride, celebration.
What you didn’t see was that my second novel, The Last Beekeeper, is hanging over my head, so I’m trying to juggle celebrating the first book while madly revising the second book for a deadline I’ve already pushed back twice. For every celebratory post I write, there is a stress bomb hovering over my shoulder.
You might remember a few other things that happened in January 2021. The pandemic reached its most deadly point, domestic terrorists attacked our nation’s capital, we inaugurated a new president under tenuous circumstances, and we initiated a historic second impeachment of a former president – all of which make my book launch feel a bit inconsequential.
Oh, and I have four kids, three of whom have been home doing online school since March. Two of them moved out in mid-January – the same week as my book launch. As my launch day approached, the stress bomb got bigger.
Did I mention my husband had ankle reconstruction surgery in November and hadn’t been able to walk, even with crutches, until a couple of weeks ago?
I really should not be writing this post right now.
As I write this, I’m contemplating whether or not I have time to squeeze in a shower before a book event this evening. (My hair looks fine. No one will notice on Zoom will they?)
Before you all start overnighting me bottles of scotch to calm me down, I need you to understand something important: I’m fine.
I’m great, actually.
As the pandemic worsened and it became obvious that my book launch would take place under tightened lockdown and in the middle of political turmoil, I had an epiphany: This is my moment. This is my debut that I have worked toward for more than a decade.
I can give in to fear, stress, and anger, or I can rise up and claim the joy I’ve worked hard for.
I choose joy, dammit!
As I write this, it is snowing, that quiet, soft New England snow that makes you want to curl up with a book and a cup of tea. I have a fire roaring in my fireplace and, despite the deadline stress and the fact that I cannot curl up and read today, I’ve discovered that I am capable of experiencing real, honest joy, even in the middle of uncertainty and chaos.
I’ve identified several reasons for this joy that will apply to future book launches, even if they don’t occur during, a global pandemic, insurrection, inauguration, impeachment, or family medical drama hell.
Julie’s Playbook for Finding Joy in a Pandemic-era Book Launch
Writer friends are the best!
There were moments during the lead up to my launch that I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the finish line. Every Sunday afternoon, I meet up on Zoom with WU contributors Nancy Johnson and Sarah Penner, who are also debuting in early 2021, for a check-in/support group chat. They have carried me through my roughest patches. They send me kind notes of encouragement. They celebrate loudly with every sliver of good news I share, and I do the same for them. Other WU contributors, including Desmond Hall, Milo Todd, Therese Walsh, Kasey LeBlanc, and Heather Webb, have boosted my news on social media and attended my launch events, Debut author groups on Facebook have been an indispensable source of support, camaraderie, and help.
The lesson here is to build your team long before you have a book deal, before you have an agent, before you finish the book. Most of these writer friendships pre-date my book deal. They stood with me when I was in the trenches. They soften the blows and, most importantly, amplify the joy.
Keep a list and check it twice.
Before my launch, I made a list of book launch goals. Some of them were big, others small. I had sales figures in mind that I wanted to hit. I wanted to make some big Most Anticipated lists. I wanted to see my book reviewed in the Chicago Review of Books. I wanted to be featured in my hometown newspaper, The Boston Globe. Not all of this happened. Hello, Boston Globe waves desperately. I did make it into the Chicago Review of Books and Newsweek. My sales numbers aren’t quite what I dreamed of, but I made FoxTale Book Shoppe’s glorious What’s Selling! weekly tweet, which has long been a goal. I hit a few lists that delighted me – CNN, USA Today, and Parade – but plenty of notable list makers and reviewers passed me over.
The lesson here is that it’s okay to dream big. But not all meaningful goals need to involve Oprah or a NYT book review. I screamed out loud when I made the FoxTale tweet because it mattered personally. Love your small goals as much as your big ones. Write those goals down before your launch so you can go back and cross things off. It feels fantastic to strike a line through a life goal, no matter how small it might seem.
What is the worst thing that could happen?
I play this game with myself a lot. If I’m worried about something, I imagine the absolute worst-case scenario. I think about how I would feel and how I would respond. In most cases, things don’t end up in worst-case-scenario territory, so whatever happens usually seems like a relief compared to my imagined worst-case scenario. If things do go wrong, at least I’ve thought it through and have a plan.
If I’m participating in a virtual event, I imagine: What if my conversation partner doesn’t show up or their tech fails, and I’m left alone on camera? I have a plan: I will read a longer excerpt, I keep a list of ‘commonly asked questions’ at the ready if no one asks questions. If I run out of things to talk about, I always keep a nearby stack of other debut novels to share with the audience. Life happens, tech fails. But I have a plan.
This strategy also applies to my non-writing life. What’s the worst thing that could happen if I don’t do the laundry today or if I forget to run the dishwasher? (remember, my husband is on crutches, so I’m on my own here.) The answer is nothing. Nothing terrible will happen. That laundry can wait.
What is the worst thing that could happen if I don’t wash my hair before a Zoom event? Nothing. No one can tell on Zoom.
The lesson here is not to expect the worst, but to plan for it. It will ease your mind if you know you always have a contingency plan.
Three weeks after my book launch and three days before my next book deadline, I am tired, stressed out, and worried about my new book, the pandemic, and the state of our nation. But I am also pleased with myself and bursting with joy.
I wrote a book that I’m proud of Waiting for the Night Song, a story about friendship, secrets, and betrayal set against the backdrop of a changing climate. My book tackles some difficult topics, including climate change, climate migration, and racism. It won’t be for everyone, and I don’t mind because I NEVER read my reviews. I have never taken a deep dive into my reviews on GoodReads or Amazon, because I worry tough critiques might my steal some of my joy. That joy is precious, and I must defend it.
It took me a long time to figure out that joy and fear can coexist And you know what? Writing this post brought me joy. That other stuff can wait.
How have you been able to honor joy during the pandemic? Do you have any tips or tricks that might inspire others?