Surprise!

2013 is drawing to a close, and I’ll always remember it fondly as the year when my first book was published. Twelve months ago, I was a writer; now I am a Published Author. To be honest, I don’t feel all that different. It turns out that Published Authors still have cat allergies, grimy bathtubs, and popcorn kernels that refuse to budge from between their teeth, no matter how much they floss.

I have, however, learned a couple of things about being a Published Author. Some of those things go without saying (it is pretty cool to see your book in a real, honest-to-goodness library or bookstore!), but others turned out to be sort of surprising. My friend Alison Cherry wrote a wonderful essay about the things that have surprised her about publishing, and I thought I’d weigh in with a list of my own, so in no particular order, here are five things that have surprised me about the writing life in 2013:

1) Authors spend a lot of time at the post office.

2013 was the year in which I got intimately acquainted with my friendly neighborhood postal workers. (Okay, not that intimately.) I sent postcards to readers; I sent review copies of my book to friends, contest winners, and my mom; I sent paperwork to my agent and publishers. If I get another publishing contract, I will ask that my advance be paid entirely in bubble mailers.

2) Authors have to keep good financial records.

When you’re an author, you are essentially a freelancer, and you have to jump through all of the exciting financial hoops that come along with the freelancing life. You’ll probably receive your advance in at least two chunks, and you may never be entirely sure when those chunks will show up. You may have to pay quarterly taxes. You’ll have to save your receipts and keep records of tax-deductible business expenses (like the thousands of dollars you spend on bubble mailers). If you are lucky enough to sell your book in a foreign country, you may have to fill out that country’s paperwork in order to get paid. You will almost certainly send mail to the IRS more often than you send mail to your grandmother.

3) Booksellers and librarians are even more amazing than you thought.

If you love books, you already know that booksellers and librarians are wonderful people—but this year, I’ve learned exactly how valuable it can be to have a book professional enjoy your work and recommend it to others. A passionate bookseller or librarian can make a huge difference to your book’s future, and they can put it in the hands of readers who will love it just as much as they do.

4) Authors do a lot of public speaking—and it’s not so bad.

One reason why I enjoy writing books is that when I’m writing, I don’t have to speak to anyone. I can put words together in a nice, sensible order. I can carefully plan and edit my sentences to trick other people into thinking that I am not completely bonkers. When I speak, however, that’s not the case. I was dismayed to realize that when you are an author, you have to talk! In public! To other people! Quite frankly, I would rather jump into an Olympic-pool-sized vat of grape jelly and swim laps. Anyway, I knew that authors have to give occasional talks and presentations, but the surprising thing I learned this year was that these presentations are actually fun. I still get nervous when I have to speak to a crowd, but I haven’t completely embarrassed myself yet, and some of my favorite memories of the year are of the fun, fantastic kids I met at school visits and book signings.

5) There is always work to do, but the work is good.

After you’ve written and revised and polished and published and promoted your first book, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to do it all over again. It won’t be easier. It may very well be harder. But I can’t think of anything I’d rather do in 2014 and beyond. Here’s to a happy holiday season, and to lots of great reading and writing in the new year!