6 Lessons from my first year as a debut author

What's it like being a debut author?
Posted on April 23, 2024

What’s it really like to be a debut children’s author?

When I think back to my own experience (ten years ago now!) I remember excitement, trepidation, confusion, consternation, celebration and more.

But everyone’s experience is different – or is it?

Over the last year, I’ve had a front row seat for several debuts as members of my Write With Allison Tait group have launched their book babies into the world.

I asked one of those members to encapsulate the experience in a post and she has delivered in spades.

Heidi Walkinshaw writes stories for children, finding the fun and laughter in the everyday.

Her debut picture book Some Fish Have Moustaches (illustrated by Michel Streich) was released in June 2023 through Affirm Press, and she was recently Longlisted in the Just Write for Kids Pitch It competition.

Below, Heidi shares her experiences of being a debut author over the past 12 months – because the debut process begins well before publication day!


6 lessons from my first year as a debut author

By Heidi Walkinshaw

I’ve loved to read for as long as I can remember. I would tag along with my grandmother to our local library, spending hours trawling the shelves and delighting in taking those stories home to get lost in for the two-week loan, the little return-by-date stamped inside the card on the front cover.

At school, I had great teachers who encouraged me to write, and I would fill pages with worlds beyond my own. Life doesn’t always go according to plan, however, and writing was pushed to the side for more “serious” career pursuits, leading me to a world outside the creative field.

It was only years later, a series of life changes and the courage to take a leap of faith that I stepped back into something that had been calling me for so long, and last year my debut picture book Some Fish Have Moustaches was published.

It hasn’t been an easy first year as a debut author. There have been highs and lows, wins and rejections and a lot of lessons along the way. Here are six of the key things I’ve learned.


It’s a game of inches, not miles – take your time and persist

There is an old saying that an overnight success takes a decade. This could apply to any career and certainly rings true when stepping into the world of authorship.

Success seldom happens instantly – as the online world may have you believe – and there are hurdles that you
will need to cross to get your manuscripts to those glorious bookseller shelves.

The path to becoming an author takes time and persistence. Even after you are published and the excitement has settled down, there is more work to be done and no guarantee that you can get your next idea across the line.

Keep going, keep working at it and eventually one will stick.


The roughs are just that – rough

When I look back at my first drafts of Some Fish Have Moustaches, I often wonder what I was thinking at the time.

It was headed in a completely different direction from what was eventually submitted and then published.

First drafts are just that – the first attempt before you iron out all the details.

Whether it’s your manuscript or the illustrations that you first receive, it is imperative to remember that it is the first concept and not the finished product.

On days when I had doubts, I was reminded to go back and look at the first drafts of some of my favourite picture books, like The Gruffalo and gain insight into the journey of some of the most successful creators in our space.


Find other creatives for support

There are wonderful humans out there who will cheer you on, especially on the less-than-creative days and pull you up when the blows knock you down.

And you had better believe there will be a few of those.

A career in the arts is certainly not for the faint-hearted and a group of like-minded creatives will help to motivate you, give you support and a reality check when your ego needs to go back in the pocket.

Joining a writing group was one of the best investments that I made in getting to know other writers and their projects. We get to share what we are working on, our challenges and the wins.

Life as a writer can be a solitary existence and having others to share it with helps build a supportive community.


Ask questions and look fear in the face

For most of my career, I worked in a space where questions were a part of daily life.

I developed a mantra of “No question is a silly question, especially if it is going to help you learn.”

While I’m not always great at reaching out and asking questions – usually out of a ridiculous fear – one thing I am trying for when I’m not sure, is to ask someone who has already taken the road less travelled and learn from their lessons.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and build connections with others, no matter how much networking scares the pants off you. The writing community is incredibly warm and willing to share their experiences.

Just keep in mind that their time is also valuable.


Be prepared to do the legwork

There are so many avenues to publishing now and all have different approaches to getting your book to market.

I was incredibly fortunate to have the support of the team at Affirm Press to launch Some Fish Have Moustaches and as a debut author, they were amazing every step of the way.

While the publisher will handle producing and getting your book onto the shelves, it is also up to you to do the legwork.

Get to know your local booksellers, especially in your immediate community. Booksellers are some of the best people you can meet and are usually very welcoming.

While there is no requirement, a website is essential real estate for others to learn more about you and your book.

There is no shortage of social media sites available for use and whatever you choose – for me it was focusing on Instagram – make sure that it is manageable and gives you a space for engagement with readers and the writing community.


Celebrate on publication day

Publication day is everything and nothing all at once and I had sage advice from a mentor to go out and celebrate.

Battling minimal sleep and a toddler who decided it would be fun to bring home head lice from daycare, going out was the last thing I felt like doing.

But we deloused, organised the troops and headed out as a family.

It was the best advice I could have received and well worth it to celebrate a milestone that had taken many years to achieve.

The author’s life is one that we do for love and if you blend that love with commitment and add a dash of discipline, the wins will come.

Just keep at it and the writing community will be right there to cheer you on.


Some Fish Have MoustachesFind out more about Heidi Walkinshaw on her website, or follow her on Instagram

Discover more information and teacher’s resources for Some Fish Have Moustaches here.




a l tait profileAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait and you can find out more about me here and more about my online writing courses here.

Subscribe to my newsletter for updates, insights and more amazing writing advice.

Or check out So You Want To Be A Writer (the book), where my co-author Valerie Khoo and I have distilled the best tips from hundreds of author and industry expert interviews. Find out more and buy it here.


Pin It on Pinterest