One year on bookshelves

Some things I've learned as a published author

One year on bookshelves
Image: Andrew Liptak 

A year ago today, my book, Cosplay: A History officially released! It was the culmination of several years of work: I think I dated the initial conversations for it in early 2015, and it was quite the process to get from initial idea to the point where you could see it sitting on a shelf.

I'm proud of what the book ended up becoming. It was initially supposed to be a history of the 501st Legion, but as I developed the concept, it became more of a general high-level overview of the cosplay world – and its a better book for that work.

You see a lot of writing out there about how to get published: everything from finding an agent to putting words to paper, but what you don't see a lot of is a retrospective on what happens after. If you're lucky, you're already hard at work on another manuscript, or you're preparing for the next release. Since Cosplay hit stores, I've been keeping a mental list of odd things that I don't think I'd ever realized or talked about with other authors.

(Caveats apply here, because the internet is a place for "well, that's not my experience!")

The lead-up to a book launch is a rush

I really gasped when I opened the first box of books that arrived on my doorstep: it was a cool moment, coming home to find a stack of them (author comp copies) waiting for me.) I hadn't realized just how hefty they'd be, something that still impresses me when I pick up a copy. It's a chunky book.

After all that time and work, the slick packaging and design, and with the countdown on for your release date, you sort of expect all eyes to focus in on you and your book. Release day was excellent: I picked up my editor from the airport, signed some copies at a local Barnes & Noble, went to work, posted about it a bunch, basked in some retweets, had an excellent launch at Phoenix Books with a good friend moderating, and my best friend from high school surprising me by coming in from Arizona. It was a good time.

I was pretty lucky here: I have an excellent publicist and team behind the book, and I'd already had some excellent help from friends talking about it at Star Wars Celebration, and then hosted a big talk at San Diego Comic Con, before heading out to do a smattering of other talks at local cons and libraries around the New England area.

Things slow down a lot after the launch

I had a decently busy schedule after the book's launch: I went to some big cons, went to some small ones, did some library talks, but settled into a pretty low-key schedule for the fall. I wasn't inundated with requests for talks or invites, and most of the marketing effort was designed to hit on the day of sale. Book publicists are busy: they've got other books to promote and once you're off their plate, they begin work on the next book on the schedule.

A lot of what I ended up doing were things that I'd put together on my own, and I found that to be a valuable bit of experience: tracking down convention leads, contacting libraries and bookstores, set up blog/podcast/radio/TV interviews, etc.

You can't predict what coverage you might get

Prior to and after the book release, Saga sent out a bunch of copies to reviewers: we made entire lists of websites and journalists and writers to talk to for this. Journalists are busy people and they're inundated with press releases – most will delete them unopened. It's sending out messages in bottles. I got lucky in a couple of places with some nice articles / interviews / reviews. But there were certainly plenty of places that we got some initial interest for, and never heard back from, or I'd do an interview and then an editor would kill a piece, and that was that.

On the flip side, I did have a couple of random journalists get in touch for quotes about things, because they'd found the book. It's always a delightful surprise, and it's one of those things you can't plan for.

Local TV is great for these types of things  

You know what was pretty successful, PR-wise? Local TV stations. They're constantly looking for local-interest stories, and they usually need content. Find what stations are in your area, look up the reporters, and hit them up via their news@tvstationhere address, and their individual addresses. It makes for a nice bit of publicity.

The person who cares the most about the book is you

This sounds more callous than I mean it to be, but: you're not the center of the universe! People have other priorities and things that they're doing: the people in your life will be happy for you and cheer you on, but they're not sitting around idly thinking about you and your book.

I put a lot of time and effort into Cosplay, and thought a lot about what went into it and the topics that it covers, and I'm the best person to evangelize for it and its contents. Most readers will buy it and put it on the shelf, or flip through it. A smaller segment will read it quickly. Fewer will rate it, and even fewer will review it and go out and tell tons of people about it. I've been lucky: the book didn't sink without a trace, and I've had some folks who've really gone out to bat for the book, telling their friends and followers about it. They're the rare, special exception, and I appreciate them so much.

Readers aren't going to see it exactly as you do

I'd run searches for "Cosplay: A History" on Twitter to see what folks were reacting to the book. I stopped when someone said that I'd advocated or excused blackface. (I did not.)

That's an extreme case, but folks are going to read your book and get a slightly different takeaway than you did; they might agree or disagree with conclusions you came to, they might not like that you covered X, Y, or Z, or think that you talk about Star Wars too much (which, fair.) They're also not necessarily going to know or understand what your approach or purpose for the book is, and likely won't read the various interviews, think pieces, or tweets that you've put out about it.

This is fine: readers are all different! Again, they're not going to care about the topic quite as much as you, or the same way as you.

Don't read reviews

I've stopped reading reviews on Goodreads/Amazon. Don't read 'em. They'll either be good reviews and work to inflate your ego (okay, I guess, in moderation), or they'll be bad and will ruin your day.

I've read a bunch, and stopped when I realized that I'd fixate more on those negative ones, and less on the ones that were genuinely thoughtful and introspective.

Goodreads is the worst

Seriously, the only good feature it has is setting a yearly goal and tracking what you're reading. The rest is a hot garbage fire.

Don't compare your successes with those of other writers

It's so extremely easy to fall into the trap of "this writer/book got this interview, this award nomination, this article, this, this, this, and I didn't."

Cosplay didn't light the genre world on fire. No big, front-page interview in Locus, no award nominations, big think pieces, convention invites, and high-profile stuff like that. I'll admit that there's some small part of me for which that stings: part of me hoped that the book would get a bit more attention in fan circles. There's no rhyme or reason for this: there are other books out there, Cosplay's sort of in a weird space for genre literature, and sometimes, things just blip under the radar. My book is different from everyone else's, and if anything, it's just reinforced that there's more work to be done.

I've found solace in the fact that the book's out there, and there are things that I can to do get it out before other readers. I'll talk about it, write about it here at the newsletter, note when it's on sale, reach out to cons/journalists/etc. to keep interest up. I'm a big believer in success is putting the work in, and being in the right position to take advantage of things when a lucky break comes.

Post-book brain fog

This was the thing that I didn't expect: after the book had rolled out and I set out some plans to continue to do some writing about cosplay stuff (I keep promising to do some "Lost Chapters" of stuff I didn't include in the book), and haven't accomplished much of that. I've had some moments of brain fuzziness when it comes to cosplay. Some of that's probably down to spending a ton of time researching and writing this, some part is probably post-COVID brain fog, and another part is a day job.

It's okay to take a break! There's been times when I've been exhausted over trhe prospect of talking about cosplay and promoting the book, and I've stepped back to read other things, play video games, deal with children / pets / family / chickens / work.

Recharging is important, but it has been frustrating. I've wanted to write about a whole bunch of things related to the book, I've got an outline/proposal for another book that I've been tinkering with, and I feel like I'm a bit behind the ball on getting the process going again.

There are always more things to correct/discover/write

I wrote a nonfiction book with a finite number of pages: there were things that I missed or didn't cover completely. I've got plans to write up some additional chapters for this newsletter, but when I went to Star Wars Celebration, I was amused to have someone tell me that there was a Roman emperor who dressed up as Hercules, and another person who told me about Arthur Conan Doyle dressing up as his own characters: things that I hadn't come across while researching.

There's also random typos and a couple of names that I didn't quite get right, which slipped through the copyediting process. It happens to everyone.

I wrote a frickin' book

Lastly: I wrote a whole book! Throughout all of that, I'm still somewhat dazed that that happened: it's out in stores, it looks fantastic, thanks to the entire team at Saga – I'm only responsible for the words; they did everything else that brought it over the finish line: the entire book wouldn't have been nearly the success it's been without the efforts of Amara, Joe, Lucy, Seth, and a whole bunch of others who've been there every step along the way.

Bookstores don't ask for ID when you ask to sign a book

Every time I've gone in to a bookstore and found a copy, and asked to sign it, they're more than happy to hand you a pen and get a signed sticker, and have never asked me to prove that I'm actually the author. I'm honestly amazed that this hasn't been abused. (Please don't impersonate an author!)

I've found it to be a little awkward, but settled into a "hey, I happened to be in the area, you have a copy of my book, do you mind if I sign it?" approach. It's still a very, very cool thing to get to do.

Thanks as always for reading, and especially for those of you who've stuck through this entire process: the publication process, the random acts of self promotion, and for buying/reading/thinking about it in the last year. It's been a fun, scary, interesting, and stressful process, one that I've learned a lot from, and I'm looking forward to the next adventure at some point in the future.