Debut novels are a fantastic way for readers to discover a new author at the very start of their career. Plus, there’s something exciting about knowing that book is the culmination of years of big dreams and hard work. 2020 is packed with incredible debut authors, and here I’ve asked four with upcoming releases to share their publishing journey, the inspiration behind their book, and ways readers can help authors during this time.

Sajni Patel, author of The Trouble with Hating You

Arriving on shelves May 12, The Trouble with Hating You is a romantic comedy following Liya Thakkar, who blows off the man her parents set her up with… only to discover he’s the lawyer hired to save her struggling company.

 

What’s the most helpful writing advice you’ve ever received? And what was the least?

The most helpful writing advice for me is to read, read, read. Read for enjoyment, read for analysis, read for research. Reading helps me to relax, but it also gets my creative flow moving. Reading has become vital in evolving my own writing skills to see how others write, develop characters and plots, and employ different styles of execution. 

The least helpful advice is to write every day. There’s nothing more frustrating than forcing myself to type out a few words when nothing comes out. Or if you just don’t have time to write something every day. The ability to write something every day doesn’t define a writer and no one should feel bad if they can’t write every day. That’s a lot of pressure!

 

What was the inspiration for your novel?

The inspiration for The Trouble with Hating You stemmed from personal experiences—the disconnect from the Indian community, growing up in Texas, how sexual assault is viewed. But in writing Liya, I created the type of woman I wish I could be more like. She’s fierce, opinionated, strong, and full of life. She has that “I don’t have any craps left to give” attitude but at the same time, has a heart as big as Texas! Also, I might’ve based Liya off Priyanka Chopra…

 

What has your publishing journey been like?

My publishing journey has been difficult. There were mountains of rejections and poorly written books. There were lots of editors who felt Indian main characters were niche or unrelatable and couldn’t be marketed well. There were plenty of people who thought a fierce MC was unlikable. The Trouble with Hating You almost never saw the light of day. I like to call it my “accidental sale” because I thought the book was dead and had already tucked it away. I have my amazing agent to thank for realizing this book still had a shot and taking that shot. And I have my amazing editors to thank for swooping this story up and saying they loved it and wanted to show the world!

 

What can readers do to help support debuts in 2020?

Readers can purchase books, especially from indie bookstores, or make library requests. Readers can help spread the word about books they’re excited to read and books they’ve read and loved. Readers can leave positive reviews across platforms. I’ve been receiving a lot of love from readers, and it means so much to me!

 

Do you have any virtual events or activities that readers can attend to support your book’s launch? If readers want to pre-order your book, is there a particular indie bookstore you hope they’ll consider?

Readers can find upcoming events as they’re scheduled on my website: sajnipatel.com. Thus far, I do have a podcast and a virtual panel with date TBD. I hope readers will consider ordering The Trouble with Hating You from indie bookstores to support local businesses. BookPeople in Austin, TX is my local indie bookstore and they’re fantastic! 

 

What 2020 debut novel are you most excited about?

There are so many! I’m very excited about The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow, Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar, The White Coat Diaries by Madi Sinha, The Roommate by Rosie Danan, and Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho!

Raven Leilani, author of Luster

Photo credit: Evan Davis

Luster, on shelves August 4, tells the story of Edie, a 20-something young woman living in New York who enters into a relationship with a man with an open marriage and finds herself drawn into his family.

 

What’s the most helpful writing advice you’ve ever received? And what was the least?

The best advice I received was that there is no experience that is too odd or too private to put on the page. What is true for you, no matter how strange, will be true for someone else. The truth resonates. Write toward what feels specific, secret. 

The least helpful advice I received is that there is no art in repeating yourself, which I don’t think is true. If you do something well, do it over and over again. There’s nothing more exciting than reading someone with an insatiable preoccupation. 

 

What was the inspiration for your novel?

I wanted to write a book that was energetic and full of want. Anything I write, I want to be able to have fun with, and I want readers to be able to have fun with it too. I love prose that is earnest and clear in its intent to communicate, and so I wrote, as bluntly as I could, about the chaos and strangeness of desire. I wrote about art and survival, the way they are intertwined and at odds with each other. I wanted to write about a Black woman’s trial and error. It’s important to me that the Black women in my fiction are allowed leeway to be fallible, and so human. It was exciting to write a Black woman who makes mistakes, who wants to be touched, and who is dogged in the pursuit of her art.

 

What has your publishing journey been like?

It wasn’t a straight line, for sure! There were many detours, some necessary and some totally self-inflicted. I started in poetry. I did slams and open mics and having my work be first oriented around sound is how I fell in love with language. That became so important to me, that on a sentence level the work be alive and exciting. When I needed a little more space, I started writing short stories. I stuck with that for five or so years, kept an excel document of rejections from journals I loved, and very slowly made headway. For the novel, I was just ready to splay. I moved to New York for my MFA, and I was working full-time in publishing, so I’d go to work, then to class, and at night that time was mine. This book, like everything I’ve written, was written during those in-between moments. 

 

What can readers do to help support debuts in 2020?

One way to help would be to support independent bookstores. Booksellers are some of the most engaged, passionate people in the business, and they are integral in connecting people to new books. 

 

Do you have any virtual events or activities that readers can attend to support your book’s launch? If readers want to pre-order your book, is there a particular indie bookstore you hope they’ll consider?

Please keep an ear out in August for virtual events, but in the meantime, I would love if people ordered from some local spots near me like Books Are Magic, Greenlight, or POWERHOUSE. Bookshop.org is also a great option, and as of today they’ve raised one million dollars for local bookstores.

 

What 2020 debut novel are you most excited about?

I’m excited about a few! A Burning by Megha Majumdar, Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar, Being Lolita by Alisson Wood, Lakewood by Megan Giddings, Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang, These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card, and How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang.

Aiden Thomas, author of Cemetery Boys

Photo credit: Elizabeth Stelle

On shelves September 1, this buzzy debut is already on many readers’ TBR lists. Join brujo Yadriel as he attempts to send back the ghost he accidentally summoned in this young adult fantasy. 

 

What’s the most helpful writing advice you’ve ever received? And what was the least?

The most helpful writing advice I’ve received is to find your people! By that, I mean critique partners, beta readers, and even just cheerleaders/champions. You need feedback from people who get what you’re trying to do with your writing and understand your vision to help you make the story better. And having folks to cheer me on and offer encouragement while I’m writing is really the only way I’m able to finish a book! Writing can be so isolating, it’s important to have a support system to help you through it.

The worst advice I’ve ever heard is that you need an MFA in order to get published. While getting an MFA can definitely help folks learn craft and provide accountability to keep them on track, getting an MFA isn’t possible for a lot of writers. Many folks can’t afford or don’t have the time for an MFA, and it can be especially inaccessible for marginalized writers. It perpetuates an elitist narrative of who is or is not “qualified” to be a writer.

 

What was the inspiration for your novel?

Cemetery Boys was inspired by a writing prompt I saw on Tumblr: “What would happen if you summoned a ghost and couldn’t get rid of it?” My main character, Yadriel, came to life first. He’s transgender, Cuban/Mexican, and gay. I really wanted to explore and showcase vibrant Latinx culture, and the love and magic that’s involved with Día de Muertos! It isn’t celebrated the same way in every country, but it has a recognizable core. There are characters from Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, and Colombia, and they all bring parts of their respective cultures to the Día de Muertos celebrations. Having a story about a Latinx boy who can see ghosts aligned perfectly with Día de Muertos and the plot grew from there!

 

What has your publishing journey been like?

It’s been a wild ride! I sold my first book having zero knowledge of how the publishing industry actually works, so my first couple of years in the industry have definitely been a crash course. I’m still constantly asking my agent and editorial team questions about the process and am very lucky that they’re so patient and take the time to help me understand it all. The best part has been interacting and engaging with readers. It’s the best feeling in the world to talk to folks who are excited for Cemetery Boys to come out, or people who have read the ARC and loved it. It’s a dream come true!

 

What can readers do to help support debuts in 2020?

Just helping to spread the word about books coming out you’re excited for makes a huge difference! Without events, conventions, or even book store displays, it’s really difficult to market debut books. Even small things like talking about them on Twitter gets our books out in front of more people and that goes a long way.

Pre-orders from indie bookstores and submitting library requests are also incredibly important! Not only are you supporting the author, but you’re also supporting indie bookstores and libraries in the process which is crucial right now.

 

Do you have any virtual events or activities that readers can attend to support your book’s launch? If readers want to pre-order your book, is there a particular indie bookstore you hope they’ll consider?

I’m running a pre-order campaign for Cemetery Boys where all entrants (including international ones!) receive a signed bookplate and 5 character cards designed by Mars Lauderbaugh, and 50 U.S. entrants will win a Cemetery Boys enamel pin! 

My local indie bookstore is Powell’s, so pre-orders through them would be especially incredible and appreciated!

 

What 2020 debut novel are you most excited about?

There are so many debut novels coming out in 2020 that I’m excited for! Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender is definitely on the top of my list, closely followed by All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, and The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar.

Halley Sutton, author of The Lady Upstairs

Photo credit: Faizah Rajput

Get your noir fix on November 17. Jo makes her living blackmailing terrible men, but everything she’s worked for is put at risk when one of her targets is murdered. 

 

What’s the most helpful writing advice you’ve ever received? And what was the least?

Some of the most helpful writing advice I’ve ever received is to not worry too much about first drafts—you can fix anything except the blank page. (That one’s harder to remember, but it’s good advice!) I was also advised by Layne Fargo (author of Temper) to read Save the Cat!: Writes a Novel and that changed my writing practice.

The least helpful writing advice I’ve ever received: Alcohol will make you more creative. Not sustainably so, friends.

 

What was the inspiration for your novel?

My novel was inspired by my love of noir—films, books. I wanted to shift the spotlight from more traditionally male roles to get inside the femme fatale—and decided to make my main character a literal femme fatale. It was also inspired by my move to Los Angeles in 2015. It was another way to feel closer to this new home of mine, via the strong noir tradition of the city.

 

What has your publishing journey been like?

I signed with my agent (Sharon Pelletier) after doing some heavy revision via Pitch Wars. After I signed with Sharon, we did yet more revising on the novel before putting it out on submission. When I sold it to Putnam, my editor (Danielle Dieterich) and I did three more rounds of revision. So lots of revision!

But also, each step of the publishing journey has been magical, truly—sometimes different than how you expect, but magical. Seeing the cover for the first time? Magic. The designed pages? MAGIC! It’s amazing to see this thing you created out of thin air as a real object in the world. 

 

What can readers do to help support debuts in 2020?

Block out ways to pay attention to debut books. That might mean buying debut novels, if you can, or requesting them from the library, or attending virtual events. It’s hard to take a chance on a new book, particularly now, but if you can swing it, it would mean the world to all of us debut authors. 

 

Do you have any virtual events or activities that readers can attend to support your book’s launch? If readers want to pre-order your book, is there a particular indie bookstore you hope they’ll consider?

I’ll be reading from The Lady Upstairs at a Noir at the Bar virtual event on May 15. Be on the lookout for more events! I’d love it if readers who wanted to pre-order The Lady Upstairs would choose to pre-order from their local indie bookstore—support local businesses when possible, and always good for a debut author’s name to be mentioned to local bookstores!

 

What 2020 debut novel are you most excited about?

There’s so many!! I got to read Rosie Danan’s The Roommate early—it’s a scorching romance novel with a fantastic premise. I can’t wait to read everything she does next. Sara Sligar’s Take Me Apart is a literary thriller that’s as chewy and thoughtful as it is fast-paced. And I could not get enough of Rachel Harrison’s The Return, which is a meditation on female friendship, fiendishly funny, and a riveting horror-thriller.

Kelly Gallucci

Kelly Gallucci is the Executive Editor of We Are Bookish, where she oversees the editorial content, offers book recommendations, and interviews authors and NetGalley members. When she's not working, Kelly can be found color coordinating her bookshelves, eating Chipotle, and watching way too many baking shows.

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