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by Helena Ku Rhee, Author

Helena with her muse Sherwin

EDITOR’S NOTE: Helena Ku Rhee grew up in Los Angeles, but has also lived in various parts of the U.S., Asia and Europe. Currently, Helena works at a movie studio by day and as a writer by night and weekends. Her debut picture book, The Turtle Ship (Lee and Low), is available now! Today, she shares seven things she learned after publishing her book and you’re going to want to learn them, too!

I’ve always loved learning about a writer’s journey — especially about the path of a debut author, with his or her very first book out in the world. Now that almost a year has gone by since the release of my debut picture book, I wanted to share seven learnings to help writers who are journeying towards their own exhilarating debut.

  1. Your dream will keep expanding and evolving.

During what I refer to as the “Rejection Years,” I used to think I’d be so happy to get just one book published. But now that I’ve had a taste of the author’s life, I want to keep publishing books for the rest of my life. People often ask a question that makes me smile: “How does it feel to realize a lifelong dream?” Actually, this question makes me want to laugh out loud, HAHAHA! It’s thrilling to be seen as someone who’s achieved her dream. But you know what? I feel like I still have a long way to go. The dream keeps expanding and evolving. That’s what keeps life interesting!

  1. Having a good agent will open doors. Many doors.

I sold my first picture book without an agent. You can read about that on this Kite Tales post. But a few months afterwards, I signed on with my agent and he sold my second and third picture books (the second one sold within a week at auction!). Now that I have experience selling without an agent, and with one, I much prefer the latter. A good agent will open doors. Not only will editors address your manuscript much more quickly, but the starting offer will be MUCH higher because the publisher knows that the agent is well-versed in the marketplace. Also, a good agent will help shape your writing career and steer you in the right direction — for example, if you get multiple offers for your manuscript, your agent will walk through the pros and cons of each offer and each imprint and will help strategize. It’s great to have someone with a lot of wisdom in your court.

  1. Support will come from unexpected places.

Colleen’s cookies for the launch!

When my book was first released, I was overwhelmed by the generous support and enthusiasm from friends, family and lovely strangers. Some of my most dedicated readers are acquaintances I hardly knew and folks I didn’t know at all. It felt like they suddenly appeared in my life like an unexpected gift — they attended my events, wrote generous reviews, bought multiple copies of the book. I am so utterly grateful. (Note to self: be nice to everyone you meet because you just never know who’ll turn out to be an amazing friend and supporter!)

  1. You’ll get hounded for free copies.

Some folks believe authors have limitless copies of their own books. Not true. Authors receive about a dozen or so complimentary copies from the publisher. Those run out very quickly. Afterwards, authors must purchase copies. Yes, authors can get a discount (usually up to 50% off the list price), but I was surprised by the number of donation requests. Organizations I’d never heard of emerged to request free copies. I even received a donation request from a non-profit in Monaco (as in the city-state on the southern tip of France)! I did donate to places I wanted to help (for their fundraisers, silent auctions, etc.), but after a while, you feel like holding up a sign: “Please support the arts and their creators (hint, hint). Thank you very much.”

  1. You’ll get thrown into public speaking situations.

Reading – Books of Wonder NYC

Get mentally prepared because public speaking will be expected of you. You’ll find yourself standing in front of audiences during your launch events, at readings, conferences, library engagements, etc. You put a book out into the world, and people want to hear you talk about it. I try to inject some humor and charisma, even though what I really want to do is to go home and wear sweatpants and eat chocolate. I try to remember that it’s a true honor to stand up and speak about my stories.

  1. Your author website is a valuable tool.

Try to set up a website very soon after (or even before) you get your first publishing deal, because it will be an extremely handy tool. I recently did a school visit, and was stunned when a third grader said, “So, I was looking at your website, and it says you’ve been to the Sahara. Can you tell us about it?” Whoa. The contact information provided on your website will also allow librarians, teachers and parents to reach out to set up visits. The Santa Monica Public Library found me through my website to set up an event. And lovely readers have contacted me through my website to request school visits and/or readings in their cities. Since I have a full-time job, I’ve had to turn down some very cool-sounding opportunities here and there, but I’m very grateful that these wonderful folks have reached out. And just a few hours before I typed this sentence, an audience member from one of my readings reached out via my website to say that she’s going to read my book as the “mystery reader” at her son’s class. So cool!

  1. It’s truly about the journey.

Helena’s favorite spot to write

I have a tendency to look ahead to the next goal, rather than enjoying each step of the journey. I realized the other day that within one week, I had reviewed the copyedits to my next picture book (The Paper Kingdom), corresponded with the editor of my upcoming third picture book (Sora’s Seashells), and started revising my novel-in-progress. This is amazing. This is the author’s life. I have to remember to relish that, instead of constantly looking off to the horizon with thoughts like, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great to do a reading in London or Paris someday?” But honestly…wouldn’t that be great??

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Helena Ku Rhee is at helenakrhee.com, and you can also follow her on Instagram (@HelenaKuRhee) and Twitter (@HelenaRhee). If you subscribe to her website, you’ll receive (infrequent) notification when she shares more tips, learnings, and insider info in the coming months.

Images Provided by Helena Ku Rhee