5 Things A Debut Author Learned

It’s been eight months since my debut novel released. If you’ve been there, you know what a busy, challenging year that is for authors. If you haven’t– it’s months and months of constant learning, screw-ups, trial-and-error, thrills, and pretty much every emotion available to humans. I learned a few things this past year, and I’m pretty sure this next year I’m going to unlearn them all and re-learn them in better and less newbie ways. However, here are 5 things I learned while writing and releasing my debut novel:


One of the hardest things I’ve been learning as my debut starts to hit shelves is that I can’t really control how well it does. I can’t control reviews, publication timeline, what other fabulous book releases the same week, deadlines, or bestseller lists. I can’t control how much my publishing house invests in my book, whether the concept appeals to readers, or whether YA contemporary is hot right now. Not everyone is going to like a first cousins romance, and a lot of people are going to really not like it. What I can do is write the best book I possibly can—and then to make it even better. “Good enough” is not good enough. If you know you struggle with pacing, don’t let that remain an issue. Tackle it. Resolve it. If you suspect there’s a tension wobble somewhere, dig into the problem. How We Fall had both of these issues, but I didn’t listen to myself and kept plowing on through drafts, revising other things and ignoring those problems because I didn’t know what to do about them. I convinced myself it wasn’t that big a deal, that no book was perfect. Don’t do that. Have the guts to stop, evaluate, and dig into those problems you half-suspect are there. Don’t stop at “good enough.” Go all the way.

My writing, my book, is what I can control. I can become a better writer, I can push myself, and I can write a better book.


The first draft of How We Fall was 60,000 words, and it’s now 89,000. The story was there in the first draft, mostly, but it needed a lot of work. In its final version, the mystery is darker, the romance between the cousins is a little more obsessive, and the pacing is much faster. I had to dig deeper into the legal issues of cousin marriage (it’s legal in about half the states, and only considered incest in a few), as well as the ethical and safety issues, and let those pressure the relationship. Between revisions with critique partners, my agent, and my editor, it went through six major rounds of revisions. Even in final edits, it gained a new first chapter and a new final chapter. Revisions made my ugly first draft almost an entirely new book.

Don’t get discouraged when you’re drafting if you’re not seeing magic happen. That magical touch and those insightful moments you see in great books aren’t magic at all. They’re the result of blood and sweat. First drafts are limp and flat and awkward—that’s normal. The depth and layers come as you revise. And revise. And revise.


Writers get told a lot to follow their intuition. And that’s great advice—as long as you’re training your intuition. Good writers aren’t born knowing how to magically write brilliant books. They learn and learn and learn until it becomes second nature. So read, and read a lot. A book a week—or two. Consume, so you can see what’s been done and what hasn’t, and how it was done, and how you could do it differently or better. Read out of your genre to see what those authors tackle, and how they pull it off. Make your own blend. And as you’re reading so much, and reading new and different things, dissect what you’re reading to see what worked, what didn’t, and why. Teach your gut, and then listen to it when it says something is forced or too thin or just right.


When I was querying, it was sometimes a struggle to not be jealous when someone else signed with an agent. When I was on submission, it was hard to not be jealous when someone else landed a book deal. Even though I was happy for my friends, it often turned into a “does this mean I’m not as good?” self-defeating little sad-party. And now that I have a book out, there are other authors’ awards, bestseller lists, and publicity and buzz I could be upset over.

But no one else’s success diminishes mine. One of the most wonderful things I’ve been realizing as I find critique partners and connect and blog with other authors, particularly in YA, is that we’re much more colleagues than competitors. Readers can pick up my book, and they can pick up someone else’s, too. Another author’s success doesn’t limit or detract from mine. What does limit my success is me looking at someone else’s plate, and wishing I had what they had, and letting my own work suffer.


A lot of people have asked me why I would write about two cousins who fall in love. I mean, weird, right? And as I tried to write a better book, and revise revise revise, and teach my gut, I started to realize what drew me to the concept in the first place: story is conflict. Usually, the deeper the struggle, the more fascinating the story. We’ve seen that with other forbidden love stories– biracial, cross-cultural, and same-gender relationships, relationships crossing political, religious, and status lines, and just about any other boundary we put up between people. When the conflict is an immoveable fact with deep-rooted prejudices and potential to harm people you love, that’s a significant and difficult struggle. What does this do to your family? What if your siblings get bullied because of it? What if the relationship fails and you’re stuck related to an ex-boyfriend? The issues involved in cousin relationships are a huge part of why I wanted to write about it. It would test my characters in ways not much else could.

Story centers around conflict. Without a problem, there’s no story. A page or chapter or book that lacks conflict is lacking story.

So revisit your conflict, keep in mind that genius writing likely won’t happen in the first few drafts, and train your instinct. Read out of your genre, read a lot, focus on your own successes, and keep writing the best book you can front and center. This career takes blood and sweat and persistence, so keep at it.

I originally wrote this post for Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds, as part of my blog tour for my book release– I wrote about 30 posts that went up on different sites over November and December, and with all that content out there, I’d like to keep it all in one place, so I’m posting it here for archiving purposes!

A Debut Author’s First Month: How We Fall

One month ago, my debut novel was released. It’s been hectic, it’s been hard, it’s been wonderful. It’s been more fulfilling than I could have ever thought.

I haven’t hit major bestseller lists. I haven’t been named in best of the year lists.

School Library Journal did name How We Fall in their October list of what’s hot in YA. How We Fall has been ranking on Amazon in 1-3 categories since its release. I am thrilled.

I haven’t gotten fancy endorsements from from bestselling authors.

SLJ, Kirkus, Booklist, and Voya all came back with positive, very kind reviews. I can’t believe it.

I’ve been told that I wrote pornographic smut and I should be run out of town.

I’ve been told How We Fall was a fun, charming, and challenging read, and some readers have told me I’m their new favorite author. That is the height of what I hoped for and it makes all the work worthwhile.

I’ve heard that my soul is lost in darkness and I’m damaging the very readers I’m trying to reach, that teens shouldn’t be reading my books.

Readers from all over the US, and even internationally, have sent me photos of my book on shelves, in their homes, on vacation. Every one of them has made my day.

I’ve been thanked for writing intelligent, true-to-life teens. I’ve been told that it’s awesome that I wrote a book and got it published, I’ve had people tell me I should be having kids instead of writing, I’ve had a signing in New York City, and people have asked me why I couldn’t have written a “happier” book, a “cleaner” book, as if the realistic struggles of teens are something dirty.

My book is out in the world now, and people are finding it, and that alone is a huge reward.

Every kind review has meant the world to me, and I’m so incredibly grateful for all the Facebook, Twitter, and blog support How We Fall has gotten. It’s blown me away.

I believe in what I write. I believe I do write happy books–and to me, that means books where people can change, where bad choices aren’t always the end of things, where life is hard and maybe someone will show up to go through it with you. I am intentional with the content of my books, and I don’t just throw in sex and swearing for sales. Those things don’t increase sales, anyway. I include hard things, and difficult topics and actions, because they are important to me and we need to see those things represented and dealt with or not dealt with by characters in stories.

Publishing is always a mixed bag. But one month in, I love my mixed bag, and it’s a huge victory for me. I’m so thrilled with how well my book is doing, and how many of you have written to me to tell me you love it, and how fulfilling it is to know that because of your support, I might get to do this write-a-book thing again.

I am an author. I plan on sticking around. I still have stories to tell and things to say, so I’m going to keep writing. I love my book, and I love you for reading it.

And in case you haven’t thought of it, How We Fall might make a pretty cool Christmas gift. 🙂

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Blog Tour Kickoff for HOW WE FALL

I couldn’t be happier about kicking off my blog tour.  The love you guys are showing for How We Fall makes it all worth it– yes, even the stress dreams and late nights and all these debut-author nerves. Release week is almost here! The launch party is 3 weeks from today, and don’t forget– you’re invited!

But yes! My blog tour started this weekend. Here’s the round-up of How We Fall across the internet:

Review from Samantha Randolph, book blogger at I Heart YA Fiction


a guest post from me on Adventures in YA Publishing, where I talk about how editors and authors see the book, the edit letter, and deadlines: Across the Desk–Thoughts from An Author-Editor


a great review from the American Library Association’s Booklist:

“Jackie’s life is complicated. Her best friend is missing, she lives in a house with too many people and too little space, and she is secretly dating her cousin. Jackie has two tasks. She must break up with her cousin and simultaneously solve the mystery of her missing friend, making this novel an unusual combination of romance and suspense. Brauning is not the first author to delve into this taboo subject matter—most famously, there is Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now (2004). But there is also something universal about Jackie’s struggles with her feelings and her desires, and readers will identify with her emotions, while going along for the plot’s ride. This quest for identity, wrapped up in an intriguing mystery, hooks from the beginning.”

and finally, my publishing house launched a Goodreads giveaway of 25 hardcovers! Want a copy? You can win one!

And of course, my brand-new author website launched recently, too. It’s at www.katebrauning.com, and it has the first chapter of How We Fall, plus website-only extras, and a nice long new author bio that took me forever to write. 🙂 I’d love it if you stopped by the site and said hello!

The last bit of news is that my author hardcovers came! Aren’t they gorgeous? Holding the final copy of my very first book was a crazy moment.

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Tweet: Blog tour kickoff for YA contemporary HOW WE FALL by @KateBrauning