Now that the whirling debut dust has settled, Caroline Deacon invites Emily Kenny to talk about one thing she's learnt since becoming a published author.

Emily Kenny outside Tales on Moon Lane bookshop

Like many pre-published authors, I used to dream about my debut year. I envisaged bustling launch parties, a busy schedule of signings and – of course – Waterstones tables stacked high with my book.

Bookshop display of The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks

That is not how my debut year went.


The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks was published in May 2022 and at first, my debut year was everything I had dreamed of. Publication day began with a dash around Brighton, hiding copies of my freshly-pressed book baby at the pavilion and along the pier with the Chief Book Fairy. That evening, we hosted a wonderfully relaxed launch party for members of my Twitter debut group, my publishers, and friends and family. In the weeks that followed, I spent my weekends visiting bookshops and children’s book festivals, giddy with excitement. I was doing it. I was an author!

Facebook posting of Emily Kenny hiding a copy of her book at Brighton

Cupcakes with edible book covers ready for the book launch

Snack table at the book launch

Then I hit burnout.


For the uninitiated, autistic burnout is a special kind of neurodivergent hell akin to a kind of anxiety-fuelled depression. It is pervasive, unrelenting exhaustion and reduced tolerance with a side order of loss of function. After a health scare and with a new tiny person to care for, I couldn’t pick myself up the way I usually can and for a while, things got pretty dark. Brain fog descended. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t even think about writing. The words just weren’t there.


Whilst burnout might be unique to neurodivergent folk, discussion with fellow debut authors suggests that my experience of writer’s block is not. Being a debut author is, after all, a tricky business. On the one hand, your wildest dreams have just come true: you’ve beaten the odds, landed a (modest) publishing deal and seen your book finally wing its way into reader’s hands. On the other, there are suddenly countless new demands on your time from social media to school visits and somehow, in the midst of all this, you are expected to write a new book…


Writing book two is a different beast to writing your debut. I wrote my first full novel in lockdown. I had hours every day to ramble through plot and could afford countless re-writes and revisions. Most importantly of all, I was writing for my eyes only. I was writing because it was fun and because I loved the process. It was only towards the end that I began to think about querying and later submission and, at that stage, bagging a book deal was an exciting but distant dream. For book two, I was under contract. There were deadlines to meet, expectations to uphold.


I’ve always been someone who balked at the first sniff of competition and I soon found I had underestimated how much my debut year would feel like one great big popularity contest. I fell into the trap of checking social media too often. Everywhere I looked, fellow writers were powering on with their next book, meeting young readers, winning prizes whereas I just… couldn’t. I felt like an epic failure: the writer who couldn’t write. The fact I was under deadline for a sequel just compounded things. It wasn’t just me I was letting down anymore, it was everyone else too. I’d worked so hard to achieve that all-elusive publishing deal and now, here I was, letting it slip through my fingers. What a fool I was. I was being so unprofessional. How would I ever come back from this? And, of course, the more I worried, the less the words came.


Fortunately, my wonderful agents advocated on my behalf, speaking up when I didn’t have the words. My publishers showed incredible flexibility and kindness, checking in on me from time to time, rewriting schedules and allaying any pressure. There has been a lot of discussion recently of the need for the publishing industry to step up and get it right for disabled, neurodivergent and chronically ill authors and I’m aware I am one of the lucky ones. In my tiny corner of the book world, the response from industry professionals was spot on. Sadly, too many of my fellow authors haven’t been as fortunate.


My debut year will be over soon. With just a couple of months left, I’m back on my feet again, drafting my sequel with a clear-headedness I couldn’t have imagined sixth months ago.


So what have I learnt this year? First and foremost, I’ve learned that being an author isn’t easy. There are times when you can’t dredge the words out of the blackness and everything feels lost. In those moments, steer clear of social media. Remember that people’s tweets and reels are highlights, they don’t show the full picture. Surround yourself with people you can be honest with. Do grounding things and do them often. Be patient. Have hope. Remember there will be other times, better times, when putting words on the page feels like the easiest and most natural thing of all. In those moments, when the words come thick and fast, hold tight to the joy writing gifts you. Stash it away. On the coldest of nights when you need it the most, it is your love of writing that will keep you warm, not your follower counts or Goodreads reviews. Know that you will pick up your pen again. We’re authors because our hearts sing when we write, and in the chaos and noise of your debut year, that is the truth that you cannot afford to forget.

Promotional banner for The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks

*Header image: Shannon Ell
*All other images courtesy of Emily Kenny


Caroline Deacon lives in Edinburgh and is the author of several childcare books. She now writes MG and YA and is agented by Lindsay Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates, Edinburgh. Find her on Twitter and at


Anne Boyere is a member of the Words & Pictures editorial team.

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