Lisa Braxton, author of the novel The Talking Drum and longtime Grubbie, writes about her experience promoting her novel through the Debutante Ball, a group blog for authors making their debut in the literary world, and how publishing a novel is like a debutante ball itself.
It might be considered a breach of etiquette, but I’ve been a debutante twice. During my senior year of high school, I was among a group of young ladies presented to society during a formal ball sponsored by a local charitable organization in my hometown. I was resplendent in a formal white gown, satin elbow gloves, a strand of pearls with matching earrings, and whitepumps with sensible heels. In a grand ballroom, I waltzed with my dad and then performed a modern dance with my escort. Over the years I’ve blown the dust off of my cotillion photo album to proudly show my friends the details of my debutante season.
That’s why when the opportunity came along decades later to become a debutante again, I knew I had to take another spin around the ballroom. I applied for and was accepted into The Debutante Ball, a group blog established in 2007 for authors celebrating their debut in the literary world. Each season, five “Debs” are chosen to chronicle their “big dance” toward publication. As a member of the 2020 class I would share with the public my journey to see The Talking Drum, my debut novel, published.
I became part of a club of women that included bestsellers of fiction, mysteries, young adult fiction, literary fiction, and nonfiction. As my debutante season got underway, I realized the parallels between my first time as a Deb and most recent one.
Think of social media promotion like “waltzing” with your audience
As a teenager I’d seen waltzes on television and figured they were simple to perform.
However, at my first rehearsal in preparation for the ball, I felt overwhelmed when our choreographer tossed out terms like, box step, underarm turns, and crossover step. I was relieved that he had us execute them slowly and repeatedly, week after week, until they became easier. As a literary debutante, my “waltz” requirements included pinning, tagging, embedding, screen grabbing, and creating hashtags, tasks I had not performed before. My social media duties helped me to gradually become comfortable with the different platforms and adept at looking for strategies to maximize exposure for all of us “Debs.”
In time, what took me several hours to complete each week was done in less than half an hour. My efforts payed off in ways I hadn’t imagined. Throughout my debutante season the number of followers to my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts grew dramatically.
Spending the time to understand and become engaged on social media can help you grow your audience and potentially build a customer base for your book.
Wearing the pearls generates attention
While a teenage Deb, my photo and write-up were featured in the local newspaper. People I didn’t even know congratulated my parents and me on my entrance into society. Fast forward to my season as a literary Deb, when I was contacted by an editor at Writer’s Digest magazine. She’d been following my posts on the blog and wanted to feature me in the “Breaking In” column. I was ecstatic at this publicity windfall. The April 2020 issue of the magazine included an image of the cover of The Talking Drum and Q&A format interview with me.
Self-promotion doesn’t guarantee publicity, but you’re guaranteed to get no publicity if you don’t make the effort.
Being a debutante (and debut author) is all about sisterhood
Weeks into rehearsal for my first appearance as a debutante, we 18-year-olds were told to think about who among us we wanted to choose as “Miss Deb,” the debutante who epitomized the poise and grace of a debutante. I put my ego aside and rallied around one particular Deb, as did my peers, a moment that has informed my decision making since. Throughout my literary debutante season, I cheered my fellow Debs through emails and social media posts. They have reciprocated. Because of a referral from a fellow Deb, I joined a national women’s writer’s association, which featured me in an interview on its podcast. That opportunity led to guest blogs and posts, YouTube interviews, Twitter chats, and guest webinars hosted by book influencers and fellow writers, bringing attention to my novel longer than I had expected.
Becoming part of a writing community is not only rewarding because of the satisfaction of both giving and receiving support, but knowing that you’ve formed bonds that can endure as your writing endeavors continue.
Thank goodness during my second season as a debutante I didn’t have to wear a ballgown and heels, attempt a curtsy or another waltz. But I did dance my way across the publishing finish line, gracefully waving my debut novel in the air as my fellow Debs cheered me on.
An Emmy nominated former television news journalist, Lisa Braxton is the recipient of a 2020 Outstanding Literary Award from the National Association of Black Journalists for her debut novel, The Talking Drum, published in May 2020 by Inanna Publications.
Lisa’s stories and essays have appeared in The Boston Globe, WBUR’s Cognoscenti, Vermont Literary Review, Black Lives Have Always Mattered, Chicken Soup for the Soul and The Book of Hope.