What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Parade

Image: a marching band in colorful costumes walks down an urban street, with blue and white bunting strung above.
Photo by Beth Macdonald on Unsplash

Today’s post is by author Joni B. Cole, author of Party Like It’s 2044: Finding the Funny in Life and Death.

All hail the newly published author. Or not.

A few weeks ago my new book came out, a collection of literary humor essays. You would think given this is my seventh book (from six different publishers), I would be well prepared for this momentous occasion. And in some ways I was.

In the month or two before my book’s release I bought new eyeglasses that make me look more writerly. I also gave the Whole 30 diet a try and, yes, I modified it to the Whole 5 because I cannot not enjoy a glass or two of wine on weekends, but the point remained the same. I wanted to be well prepared for my upcoming author events and I knew from past experience that presenting is a lot more enjoyable if I can not only wear my favorite nice jeans, but also manage to zip them.

I also did a few other things, like update my author website, refine my talking points for book-group discussions, contact regional bookstores and libraries that might want to host a reading or talk, and query writing conferences about teaching workshops on the craft of essays. Last, but hardly least, I sacrificed hours of binge-watching all the TV shows I had missed while writing this new book so that I could research niche publicity opportunities (blogs, podcasts, Facebook writing groups, etc.). My understanding was that I would need to pitch these places myself, knowing that my publicist at the publishing house was already overworked and sick of me.

All this to say, as my pub date neared, I felt ready for the launch of my book. I felt confident. I felt, dare I say, full of myself, and rightly so! The pre-publication buzz (at least in my small circles) had energized me. The head of marketing at my press had actually used the word “commercial” to describe the book. (A first among my various titles.) And the back cover of the book glowed with positive blurbs from highly respected authors, some of whom I didn’t even know, and who didn’t owe me any favors.

What could possibly go wrong? I just hoped when the accolades poured in and the sales figures soared, all this success wouldn’t go to my head.

Then the book’s pub date arrived and… No marching bands. No floats. Some nice bunches of balloons.

For context, I should share that I am not what you would call a “big-name” author, though I am a seasoned author who has been described as a “writer’s writer.” On a related note, while I love my current publishing house for its commitment to quality and diversity, it’s not one of the Big Five, not like, say, Penguin Random House where the lovely (truly) publicist Bianca regularly emails me the nicest queries to see if I would like to interview any of her authors on my podcast—“Sending you big hopes and wishes that you will consider [insert big-name author] as a guest on your show. And just let me know if you’d like a finished hardcover copy!” (Yes, Bianca! I would love a hardcover copy!)

All this to say, if I am being honest about the whole parade thing for my own new release, I knew I’d probably set my expectations way too high, though a midlist author can dream. But what did take me by surprise were several other things that happened (or didn’t happen) in the weeks following the book’s release.

Below are seven lessons I have learned (or relearned in some cases) about what to really expect when a new book is published.

1. Expect to be vigilant. My gosh, the number of little screw-ups I kept encountering in the first weeks after my pub date. In the editorial reviews on my book’s Amazon page, for example, the name of one of my reviewers was misspelled (though it was correct on the book cover). Amazon also failed to include a link to the Kindle edition, an oversight which was finally corrected a month and four days after the book’s release.

Other snafus? Reviewers who had agreed to do write-ups about the book are still waiting for their “advance” copies. Closer to home, one of the bookstores where I have an upcoming event ordered my book two weeks after the pub date, which (briefly) made me rethink my call for buyers to “shop local.” (After checking in with two different sales clerks, I got a nice note from the owner explaining the oversight—“For some reason, the order was coded as backorder cancel, and since it was not yet released it did indeed cancel.”) Whatever the hell that means.

These snags and others—none of them big deals, but still—reinforced that it was up to me to pay attention and be proactive in helping to address any problems.

2. Expect crickets. A bazillion new books come out every day, and the day after that, and after that, all of them clamoring for their own parade. So when I didn’t receive congratulatory notes about my new book from some of my closest friends, or those writing students whom I have taught and nurtured, sometimes for years, well, of course I understood. People are busy with their own lives, their own writing projects. You can’t just stop everything to, say, dash off an email, no matter how much it would mean to that friend or teacher. That’s why I’d like to tell all those people in my life who have yet to acknowledge my new book the same thing my mother often said to me, which always had the desired effect: “I’m not mad…just disappointed.”

3. Expect to fall back in infatuation. By the time I’d finessed every sentence of my manuscript, then reviewed the copyeditor’s notes, then proofed the page proofs, then made a few more tweaks (a no-no after page proofs but you can’t just unsee a word you don’t like), then re-proofed the page proofs (a necessity, thanks to all my last-minute changes), there was one thing I knew for sure. I was sick to death of my book! But then it went to print and a couple months passed and the actual book arrived in stores. Tentatively, I opened a copy to a random essay and started reading. Who wrote this? I thought. My gosh, I like this writer!

4. Expect to find a typo. Miraculously, I have not found a typo in my new book…yet. (Refer back to my comment about proofing and reproofing.) But of course just putting this brag in writing means that now the cosmos is going to plant a typo somewhere in the collection, and one thing I know I can expect is that I will hear about it from some punctilious, well-meaning reader.

5. Expect unexpected reader responses. Like this response from a lovely woman who wrote to tell me she LOVES my book. “Why?” she clarified in her email, “Because I can read it out of order just like I read the Bible!” In addition, despite my misguided belief that this was a book primarily for women, several men have surprised me with thoughtful appreciations. And then there was this response from a formidable academic who told me over breakfast, “I got your book. I wouldn’t have chosen that color for the cover.” And…I thought, expecting a bit more of a reaction. But that was all she had to say, which was unexpected but perhaps for the best, given how this woman terrifies me.

6. Expect to find your happy place in one of the least expected places. I’ve delighted in the arrival of every email from someone who applauds my book. I’ve basked in the glow of a good Amazon ranking, however fleeting. And how fun it has been to blab about me, myself, and I during book events, and on a variety of podcasts and author interviews. But those temporary highs can’t compete with my real happy place, which—surprise, surprise—is still at my desk, working on my next collection of essays, while my cat rests her head on the edge of my keyboard.

7. Expect to let go of any expectations. As a bit of a control freak, at least when it comes to my work, I have reluctantly accepted this lesson. But even I can understand that if you rid yourself of expectations, then you don’t have to feel disappointed or hurt when they aren’t met. On the other hand, well, you just never know, which is why I’m still holding out for a parade. So cue the marching bands, fire up the floats, and start blowing up lots more balloons!


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