Things I Didn’t Know About Publishing a First Book Until I Published My First Book  

Samantha Garner’s debut novel The Quiet is Loud has been shortlisted for the 8th Annual Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for Literary Fiction! To celebrate, we asked Sam to look back on her first year of publication. Here, she shares that journey, a lifelong dream that “actually happened“.

It’s been a year since my debut novel The Quiet is Loud was published. It still seems like it was two months ago. Whether it’s the pandemic, age, or the fact that a lifelong dream actually happened, the past year has taken on a compressed form. I often have to unfurl it and marvel at how much things have changed.

Here are some things I didn’t know about publishing a first book…until I published my first book.

The editorial process gets deep

Working with my editor Bryan Ibeas was a transformative experience. After our first phone conversation about this book, I couldn’t imagine working with anyone else. Not only did we get along as individuals, he fully understood everything I was trying to do with this novel. We worked in an ever-shifting Google Doc, and there was something about that living document that imparted its own fruitful energy. I have pages of ideas that we brainstormed together, tangents about things like the Watchmen miniseries and Filipino superstitions, somehow connecting elements back to the work. Bryan understood the novel’s characters, themes, and inner workings so well that I trusted him completely. Sometimes we would be so attuned to the work that we’d notice a connection or transition that seemed magical, perfect. “Did we talk about this or did it just happen naturally?” I think we’re in agreement that sometimes those magical things did just happen naturally. (Read Bryan’s post about editing The Quiet is Loud.)

The entire team gets involved

I’ve been an Invisible fangirl for years, and I saw how every person was committed to producing something wonderful. When it was my turn, I discovered how true that was. After months of working with Bryan, there was copyediting and proofreading, ensuring that the story was strong and alive. I had more input into my cover design than I’d anticipated, and I received publicity guidance and support that made me feel way (way) more confident than I am about most things.

It’s not hard to overstate how the entire Invisible team rallied around me. Being a writer is such a solitary endeavour. You get used to being the only advocate of your work. I’m still in awe at how much the Invisible team supported me, respecting my own creative vision and never steering me wrong with their advice.

Post-publication takes on a life of its own

I’ve been pursuing a writing career since I was 18, and the guiding thought all those years was getting to publication. I rarely thought about my life after that milestone. I had vague notions of readings and signings, but my socially-anxious brain turned it all to static for me.

Many writers who were also first published during the COVID-19 pandemic felt a sense of loss and unfairness about it. And while I’m never going to find a bright side to the pandemic, I have to admit that promoting my first book during that time was a unique opportunity. I got to practice doing readings at virtual events, in the comfort of my own home, without worrying about travel and microphone feedback and wearing shoes.

Social media became a key component of my post-publication life as well. I’ve been using Instagram for years and writing in blogs since they were called “online journals,” so I was lucky enough to be pre-comfortable with online communication. It was invaluable for the success of my book. Some early reviews and interviews came from online writer friends Katie Li, Maria Bolaños, and rob mclennan. I contributed blog posts as Open Book’s Writer in Residence, which was so much fun. I even took to my closet “recording studio” to record an interview for the Quarantine Review podcast.

It was also a great venue for unique events and giveaways. My book launch was a lovely Instagram Live discussion with my friend Teri Vlassopoulos, in partnership with The Book Wardrobe. I did virtual readings with Real Vancouver Writers’ Series and Ephemera Reading Series, and was part of discussions hosted by Shelf Life Books, Glass Bookshop, and Bakka Phoenix Books. I recorded videos for Canadian Independent Bookstore Day 2021 and a fantastic giveaway held by Books and Company in Prince George. 

And festivals! My first ever festival appearance – a panel discussion at the FOLD – happened to fall on my book’s publication date, and a few months later I was a panelist and signed books at the Word on the Street. Being an invited author at events I used to attend as an audience member is one of the most pleasantly surreal experiences I’ve ever had.

The audiences I’ve found continually surprise me

I spent pre-publication time connecting with people who like the kind of things I write, and I thought I had a good idea who my book would resonate with. Still, there were some surprises along the way, libraries in the US, a long-time client who enthusiastically read it with her book club, and literary magazines and blogs, to name a few. I’ve even seen my book on recommendations lists and now shortlisted for the 8th Annual Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize.

Whether it was early pre-publication support and excitement or people who still message me now to say they’ve discovered my book, knowing that The Quiet is Loud has reached so many readers is humbling. I remember writing the first draft, stopping to wonder if I should include this element or to elaborate on that, telling myself that what I was saying would matter only to me. I’ve been proven wrong so many times by readers who tell me how much they connect with my book – and it’s a feeling I never want to stop experiencing.   

I’m slowly but surely working on my next book, and already feel how much stronger it is simply from the experience of publishing my first one. It really was the best debut novel experience, and a year later it is still highly surreal, highly rewarding.

Interwoven with themes of Filipino Canadian and mixed-race identity, fantastical elements from Norse and Filipino mythology, and tarot card symbolism, The Quiet Is Loud is an intergenerational tale about the consequences of secrets and what happens when we refuse to let others tell our stories for us. Curious to know more? Get your copy here!

Samantha Garner‘s short fiction and poetry have appeared in Broken Pencil, Sundog Lit, Kiss Machine, The Fiddlehead, Storychord, WhiskeyPaper, and The Quarantine Review. She lives and writes in Mississauga.

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