A Day in the Life of a Debut Author: What It’s Really Like

Books Features Publishing
A Day in the Life of a Debut Author: What It’s Really Like

I don’t remember the first time it occurred to me that authors are people. As a kid growing up with shelves lined with Ann M. Martin and Beverly Cleary, the names on the spines felt like extensions of the title. Authors existed only as tiny headshots on the backs of paperback covers. To my mind, they didn’t even have bodies, much less entire lives outside of the books they created. Much like teachers, I felt they must enter the world fully formed, their only purpose to engage with me, personally. What did they do outside of that? Trick question; there was no outside. 

As I got older, and started adding titles by Stephen King and Michael Crichton to my collection, it must have occurred to me at some point that the people responsible for writing the books I read were not, in fact, disembodied headshots, but were actual corporeal people. They lived somewhere, they had families and friends, maybe even ate food and slept in beds. 

But of course, they weren’t regular people. If you would’ve asked Teen Me to picture an author at home, I probably would have imagined a grandiose cabin in the woods, surrounded by massive evergreens and frequented by deer and chipmunks, a roaring fire in a stone-lined fireplace, an old-fashioned typewriter centered on a bespoke wooden desk, a steaming mug positioned beside a worn notebook filled with elegant handwriting. (To be honest, this is still how I picture Stephen King.) 

I carried this romanticized notion of capital-A Authors with me for an embarrassingly long time, well into adulthood. Before I started writing my own books, I fancied myself a book blogger for a little while, and for most of that time, it never crossed my mind that any published author might actually see what I wrote about their work. I’d tag them in reviews and discussions on social media, both positive and negative, not so they would see it, but just to be clear about whose book I was discussing. 

Because to be an Author is to be a Big Deal, right? They don’t do the things that us mortals do. They’re busy going on book tours and Scrooge-McDuck-diving into their silos of gold coins and, of course, composing their next great novel in their woodland sanctuary. They’d never bother with normals like me. 

Then I started writing books. Then I sold a book. And I have been eating crow ever since. You could fill an aviary with their bones. (Metaphorically. I am not some sort of crow-eating monster.) 

In an attempt to save you from following in my cringe-worthy footsteps, let me take you through a day in my actual, human life as a debut author. My book I’ll Stop the World hits shelves on April 1, 2023, as the first debut novel published by Mindy Kaling’s eponymous new imprint, Mindy’s Book Studio. As I write this, I am mere weeks away from being a published, capital-A author. 

And yet somehow, entirely without my consent, I remain frustratingly ordinary. I know; I’m as upset about it as you are.

I’m taking a bit of dramatic liberty here, because the truth is that what your day looks like as an author really depends on what stage of publishing you’re in, and what your personal life looks like. Are you drafting, revising, promoting? Your to-do list can vary based on who your publisher is, what genre you’re writing in, and a million other factors. I’m also fortunate to be able to write full time thanks to a spouse with a reliable income that can support us both, but plenty of other writers have to fit their writing in around full- or part-time jobs. And while my kids are both fairly self-sufficient teenagers, if you have small children or other dependents requiring more dedicated care, that adds another layer of scheduling and energy complexity. 

On the other extreme, there are a lot of writing days when practically nothing happens. You wake up, you work, you eat, you sleep. Maybe there is a shower somewhere in there. But that’s not interesting to write or read about.

All that said, we’re going to imagine a particularly eventful day during a particularly exciting stage of the publishing process for the purposes of not being boring. And obviously, this is going to be from my perspective as a full-time writer with teenagers and a spouse who works from home. Your mileage may will vary. 

6:00: Alarm goes off. I do not get up. Somewhere in the house, a teenager starts getting ready for school.

6:45: Second alarm. I begrudgingly open my eyes. The bigger dog notices I have awakened and promptly vaults onto my chest, demanding that we stay in bed to cuddle, even though she previously had zero interest in cuddling. I take this as a sign that I should stay in bed longer.

7:00: The first teenager yells “I’M LEAVING,” and I take that as my cue to finally drag myself out of bed, much to the dog’s dismay. The smaller dog does not move from his spot at the foot of the bed, but groans as if I’ve just asked him to do my taxes. Which, really, at least one of us should probably do. I wake up the second teenager, who registers a loud but unintelligible complaint at the general concept of “morning.” 

7:05: Coffee. Today’s mug says “I FREAKING LOVE YOU” and is gigantic. I need this energy in my life, and also in my body. I fill it to the brim with caffeinated bean juice, then wander to my desk where I blearily (and stupidly) decide to check if I have any advance book reviews. 

I do! One reviewer loved my book. One of the best they’ve ever read. Five stars! Another thought it was just okay, and complains that the blurb didn’t include something that it actually does include. If they’d known, they wouldn’t have read. Three stars. Oh no, this guy hated it. One star. But wait… he totally misunderstood something! “I wish the author had thought to do X,” he writes about a thing I definitely did think about, and very intentionally decided not to do. 

I text a screenshot to a friend. “Can you believe this guy???”

“Stop reading reviews,” she texts back. 

Sage advice. I think about it while I continue to read reviews.

7:50: Time to take the younger teenager, who is now more or less dressed, to school. I realize as I’m walking out the door that I should probably put on pants. Somehow, I forget this until the very last second every single morning.

8:15: Kids are both at school, time to start my workday! I check in on my local writer friends group Slack–we’re meeting up to work together at 10, but I’ve got some time until then–and see that one friend has already written a whole new chapter this morning, and another has revised two chapters. I respond with fire, confetti, and arm muscle emojis, while thinking about how I have not yet brushed my teeth. 

8:45: Freshly showered, brushed, and medicated (yay for the restoration of (some) executive function!) I return to my desk. There’s an email from my publicist. Someone wants to interview me! Yay! I say yes, because I am a debut author who nobody’s heard of and therefore feel like I need to say yes to everything. Maybe one day I will be a big enough deal to say no, but that day feels a long way off. I immediately add the interview to my “to-do” spreadsheet before I forget about it, approximately three minutes from now. 

9:00: What am I supposed to be doing today? Right, drafting. My debut isn’t even out yet, but creatively, I’m already deep into the next project. Or I guess I should say, projects, plural. Because this is the third thing I’ve worked on since finishing edits on my debut. The first thing, although I adored it, didn’t feel viable from a marketing perspective according to my agent, editor, and everyone else in publishing. At least not for now. Maybe in a few years. 

The second thing is so much fun, but after attempting to write it, I’ve been forced to admit it’s not quite ready for drafting yet. Needs to percolate in the ol’ subconscious a while longer so that it doesn’t come out a convoluted mess. 

Which brings us to the third thing. This is the one, I can feel it. I can see the characters in my head. I have a clear grasp on the plot, the twists, the resolution. I’ve got a solid outline–I never used to outline, but I also used to take actual years to finish a single book, and that’s not the way to build a career in publishing. So I’m trying this newfangled “outlining” thing where I actually think through what I’m going to write before I write it. So far, so good. 

I check my spreadsheet–yes, I have spreadsheets for everything. In an alternate universe, I think I am a data analyst–and refresh my memory on what needs to happen in today’s scene. Then I open a blank scene in Scrivener (my writing software of choice) and begin to write. 

9:30: Well, this is going poorly. I wrote 500 words then promptly deleted 300 of them. And the 200 that remain aren’t too hot either. 

I check the group Slack. My friend who is in edits for her debut has printed out a detailed synopsis, cut it up into individual scenes, color coded them, and taped them all to the wall of her kitchen so she can visualize the entire arc of her book. She’s sent a picture. I respond with a “wow” emoji, because I am legitimately in awe. I stare at my own wall. Should I print something out and color code it? Should I tape things to my wall? 

I poll the group Slack. The consensus is that I should not do this, since I don’t even fully understand what she’s doing with it. “Everyone’s process is different,” my friends remind me. “Do what works for you.”

Right, of course. I know this! I just need to be reminded sometimes. Trust my own process. Sure, I can do that.

I read back over what I have in Scrivener, and delete another 100 words. 

9:55: Somehow I now have a negative wordcount. What I need is a change of scenery; that will fix my stalled creativity! The coffee shop where we’re meeting is only a mile from my house, so I throw my laptop bag in my car and head over. 

10:00: Everyone is in a different stage of their project. One friend is finishing up the first draft of her new book. Another is in edits. Another is working on an outline for the next book in her series. We commiserate for a bit and order a veritable vat of coffee, then open our laptops and agree to work for thirty solid minutes before we’re allowed to speak again.

10:50: First thirty minutes went great. I actually managed 750 words, and this time I think I’m actually going to keep them. Let’s do another! 

11:20: I finished a scene, and am on to the next! And I’m not the only one who made progress; everyone is in a better place than they started. We marvel at how simply working alongside other people can be such a boost to creativity. “One more?” a friend suggests, “And then tacos?” Tacos are our reward for being productive. Or our consolation prize for not being productive, depending on the day.

I start to enthusiastically agree, but then a text pops up on my phone. It’s our family group chat. One of the teens is having a CRISIS at school. Everyone else focuses on their laptops while I parent via text. Once the teen crisis is diffused, I decide there’s not enough time left in the writing sprint for me to actually do anything, so I check Instagram instead. A Bookstagrammer posted an aesthetically pleasing photo of my book with some flowers! Like! Add to my stories! Reply with, “I hope you enjoy!” and a smiley emoji, to convey the sincerity of my happiness. 

11:50: Join the long line to order tacos. This place is always busy. While we wait, we talk about kids and pets and our latest TV obsessions. One friend mentions a plot problem she may need to talk through over lunch, if that’s okay, and we all immediately agree. We love fixing other people’s problems. Just not our own. 

12:15: We have found a table by the big windows, where the cacophony of the lunchtime crowd is a little less, but the restaurant’s early-2000s playlist surges to fill the aural void with peak Britney Spears and Linkin Park. As everyone’s food arrives–most of us have ordered tacos, a few nachos, and one lone salad–we all observe how good it looks, and ask the recipient if it is indeed good. “So good,” we all confirm. 

Time to brainstorm a friend’s plot. The climax of her story isn’t feeling as strong as she wants it. She outlines what happens, and we start tossing out suggestions. Has she defined her villain clearly enough? Is their motivation well established? Is the hero at enough of a disadvantage? Too much of a disadvantage? Maybe the problem is the setup. Do the main characters drive the action, or do things just happen? Is coincidence playing too much of a factor here? What does her editor think? What does her agent think? 

Then come the ideas. Maybe you should pick up this story thread from earlier. Maybe the villain’s accomplice switches sides. Maybe the villain is actually hiding something. Maybe someone dies. Maybe you could add a subplot in the beginning that pays off here. Maybe the magical McGuffin could come into play? Maybe this side character could return. Maybe so-and-so isn’t really dead.

As typically happens when we brainstorm, the author of the piece in question nods along, politely rejecting most of our ideas, and saying “maybe” to a few, before a lightbulb goes off behind her eyes. “YES,” she says, staring at a solution only she can see. “I mean, not that,” she says, waving a hand to indicate everything we’ve said up until that point. “But that gave me an idea that I think will work. Yes. This will fix it. Thank you guys so much.”

And she means it, even though she rejected all of our ideas, because the point of brainstorming isn’t really to come up with an idea for the author, but to stimulate their imagination so that they come up with a better idea on their own. It’s to open up those doors of possibility in their brain that they wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Sometimes a brainstorming session ends with an author taking someone else’s brilliant idea, but most times, it’s simply about unlocking their own brilliance. 

1:30: The tacos, nachos, and salad are long gone. Several friends have to leave in order to pick up kids from school or make afternoon appointments. I debate staying longer to get more work in, but then remember that I still haven’t finished getting all our tax documentation together for our accountant, because I spent all of last year kicking the can down the road on itemizing my deductions and now have a serious bone to pick with 2022 me.  

1:45: Back home, and the dogs are beside themselves with joy. The little one makes me pick him up and carry him around like a human baby. The big one brings me a squeaky toy, then jumps up in my desk chair, ready to help me work. She has thoughtfully left me a tiny sliver of chair on which to perch. My husband appears, scrounging around the kitchen for a snack in between Zoom meetings for work, and catches me up on the latest news from his fish tank. (This is not some sort of weird metaphor. He has so many fish.) He asks me how writing went today, and I give my usual, “Okay. I have some more I need to do,” because there is always more to do. 

I open my tax deductions spreadsheet and sigh. I do not want to be doing this right now, or ever. 

I pull up my 2023 Debuts Slack to see what I’ve missed today. Someone sold their second book! Someone got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly! Someone has a question on drafting a book proposal. A few debuts are discussing their upcoming book tours: which bookstores are hosting their events, who their conversation partners are, how much (if anything) their publisher is paying for. Others are sharing the “most anticipated” lists that have included their book, or the books of others in the group. Several are asking for social media boosts for announcements, giveaways, blurbs, reviews. 

I respond where I can, and emoji react to the rest, or at least as much as I can mentally absorb before getting overwhelmed. Fire emoji! Confetti emoji! Dancing emoji! Purple heart emoji! (I know all the different colors of hearts are supposed to have different meanings, but other than red meaning romantic love, I don’t remember what any of them are. I hope purple doesn’t mean something weird; I use it because it feels like a good way to communicate, “I get it and I’m here with you.”)

The thing about debut groups is that they’re lovely for commiseration (this group has over 350 members, so there’s always someone that is in a similar stage to you). But there are also always those who seem like they’re getting more, and those who are getting less. It’s easy to get discouraged playing the comparison game. The best strategy I’ve found is to try not to play it at all, and rather try to view it all as a marathon that we’re all finishing together. By the time you’ve made it that far, you just need to celebrate crossing the finish line. Not saying this mindset is easy, of course. Or always possible. But it’s the only one that feels sustainable if I’m not going to shrivel into a calcified husk of jealousy and bitterness, so I keep trying. 

2:30: How did I just lose 45 minutes??? I return to my spreadsheet and begin plugging in numbers. That reminds me that I need to put today’s tacos into this year’s spreadsheet, because it was a working lunch. I pull up the 2023 tax spreadsheet, and in so doing, also spot my “To-Do for ISTW” spreadsheet. I should give that a look, make sure I’m on schedule. 

Oh, this book festival for the fall didn’t have their online application up last I checked, but maybe they do now. I go check. The application is up! Huzzah! I should fill that out now, so that I’m one of the earliest applicants. I don’t know if that increases my chances of acceptance, but it can’t hurt, right? I’ve already been passed over for a few festivals–apparently some events only want the very buzziest new authors, and that is apparently not me–so I will seize any possible advantage I can. This festival is outside what my publisher is considering my launch window, so my publicist won’t pitch it for me; I have to do it myself. Fortunately, they did give me the press materials my publicist was using, so I have those on hand. 

I copy all the pertinent information about me and my book, upload the cover and my headshot and the press pdf, then email my publisher to ask if they can send over a copy of the book for the festival organizers to consider. My publicist emails back right away saying of course! This is the one part of the application process they’re still happy to take care of. That’s good because I only have a finite number of author copies and I’m hoarding them like dragon gold. 

3:05: The school bus arrives and the older teen walks in, bursting with stories about school. I glance at my still-incomplete tax spreadsheet, then turn my attention to my kid, because how many teenagers actually like to talk to their parents? I feel like it’s important to soak it up while I can. Taxes will still be there later. Besides, I’ve got to leave in ten minutes to go pick up the other one. 

3:20: Round trip to pick up the younger teen from school. I listen to my audiobook on the way there; car trips are great for making reading progress. Especially since I now tend to fall asleep the second I crack open a physical book. (My teenage self cannot fathom this being the case, but she was never this tired.) 

Once we’re home, the next couple hours are a whirlwind of piano practice, homework, school updates, work updates, playing with dogs, and figuring out who’s making dinner. (The younger teen volunteers; the children have mostly taken over cooking duties for the past year, and it might be one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.) I manage to return to the taxes spreadsheet and plug in a few more numbers. Ugh this is the worst. I would like to file a grievance with 2022 Lauren, my nemesis. 

6:00: Dinner is ready and the kitchen is a disaster. No matter though; that’s for Future Lauren (or my husband; we try to take turns addressing House Chaos) to deal with. My husband heads off to martial arts class. I eat with the kids, then they disperse to their respective corners. Oldest teen is still doing homework. Youngest teen goes to play video games. I knock out a few Spanish lessons in Duolingo (I am not good at Spanish yet, but I’m at least competent at asking if you have a pen), then return to my computer, where I drag myself through some more data entry. I like analyzing and implementing the data; not so much inputting it. 

But then! My brain starts finally waking up, and I’m suddenly itching to write some more. I shove the tax spreadsheet aside and begin madly typing in Scrivener. This is the problem with being a night owl beholden to a public school schedule. Left to my own devices, I would sleep late in the morning and write late at night, but since I am not an island, I need to stick to the same schedule as the rest of my family, which means I keep the opposite schedule of what my brain would prefer. However, I currently have some time until my husband gets home from martial arts and I’m going to use it to its fullest potential! Carpe diem! 

7:45: My husband arrives home, smelling like a gym sock, and I have more than doubled my word count for the day. Why is it so much easier to focus at night than it is during the day? No matter; at least I’m ahead of where I was this morning. 

As my husband showers off the stench of combat, I check my social media. Should I make a TikTok? Another author friend told me I should be regularly posting content in order to maximize engagement, but I’m not sure what I have to add to the noise today. Sometimes I have substantive ideas, but most times it’s just the sound of a conch shell in my brain. I scroll for a bit and find a funny filter. A few minutes later, I have added my own funny filter video to the avalanche of funny filter videos. That’ll do. 

8:15: My husband is out of the shower. I remind my kids to start getting ready for bed. They don’t go to sleep this early, but we banish them to their rooms because if we didn’t, they’d be up until 4am every night and our entire family would have regrets. 

I close the laptop–I did not finish anything, but I did make progress, and that’s the most I can hope for most days–and go join my husband in the living room. We pour sparkling water into wine glasses–my most recently discovered life hack to trick my brain into feeling fancy–and fire up whatever show we’re in the middle of, pausing a couple times to say goodnight to the kids when they wander downstairs after showering. The dogs decide the middle of the show is the perfect time to wrestle on the floor in front of us, complete with LOTS of growling, so we turn on subtitles. 

10:30: The TV is off, the dogs have made their last trips outside, the kids are quiet (if not yet asleep), and our water-wine glasses are empty. We make our way upstairs and collapse into bed. The big dog decides to shoot her shot and see whether this is the night that I finally just let her sleep on my pillow. I admire her moxie, but no. 

Disgruntled, she burrows under the bed, determined to remain there until we pull her out by her feet to prove our love for her. I’m feeling stubborn tonight, so I decide not to concede to her unreasonable demands. She will remain under the bed until 4am, when she will jump onto the bed and flop between us, letting out a fart so loud and potent that it will make us regret all of our life choices that led us to that precise moment. 

We switch off the light and I grab my phone, pulling up Goodreads. “Did you even read the book?” I grumble at my newest one-star review.

“Stop reading reviews,” my husband mutters, his face buried in his pillow. 

Right. I toss my phone onto my nightstand and switch off the light, letting my eyes fall shut. Tomorrow, we do this all again.

Lauren’s debut novel, I’ll Stop the World, hits shelves on April 1, but you can pre-order it right now. 

Lauren Thoman is the author of the novel I’ll Stop the World, and lives outside of Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, two children, and a rotating number of dogs and fish. Her pop culture writing has appeared in numerous online outlets including Parade, Vulture, and Collider. When she’s not writing, she’s probably on the hunt for tacos or coffee, or buried underneath a pile of dogs. 

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin