2021 brings with it the start of a new year and, for some, the start of a new career! In this edition of Bookstore’s 5×5, we’re talking to five authors making their publishing debut this coming year. There’s a lot to look forward to, and many new reads to discuss so, without further adieu, let’s dive on into it.
Meet the Authors
Mark Herschberg is the author of The Career Toolkit, Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You. From tracking criminals and terrorists on the dark web to creating marketplaces and new authentication systems, Mark has spent his career launching and developing new ventures at startups and Fortune 500s in academia. He helped to start the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program, dubbed MIT’s “career success accelerator,” where he teaches annually. At MIT, he received a B.S. in physics, a B.S. in electrical engineering & computer science, and an M.Eng. in electrical engineering & computer science, focusing on cryptography. At Harvard Business School, Mark helped create a platform used to teach finance at prominent business schools. He was formerly a top-ranked ballroom dancer, and has worked with many non-profits, including Techie Youth and Plant A Million Corals.
Anya Josephs was raised in North Carolina and now lives and works in New York City, where she is pursuing an MSW in social work. When not working or writing, she can be found seeing a lot of plays, reading doorstopper fantasy novels, or worshipping her cat, Sycorax. Her writing can be found in Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, Mythaxis, Poets Reading the News, The Huffington Post, and many others. Her debut novel, Queen of All, a fantasy for young adults, comes out June 8th from Zenith Press.
Crystal Maldonado is a writer by night and a marketer and social media manager by day. She has been published in Latina magazine, The Hartford Courant, and Dogster, and is the co-founder of the online magazine Positively Smitten. Fat Chance, Charlie Vega is her debut novel, and was bought in a competitive pre-empt as part of a two-book deal. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband, her dog, and her super-duper adorable baby daughter.
Luke Cunningham is an Emmy-nominated writer from Philadelphia and has previously spent three years as a comedy writer for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. He is a father with a strong passion for Renaissance that he developed while earning a history degree from Brown University. His book, LEO, Inventor Extraordinaire, is loosely based on the life of Leonardo Da Vinci and is set for release this spring.
Addison Armstrong graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2020 with degrees in Elementary Education and Language and Literacy Studies. She is currently living in Nashville, TN, working with students and obtaining her Master’s degree in Reading Education. Her debut novel, The Light of Luna Park,is set to release in August 2021 from G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
1. What are you most excited for about your book release?
Mark Herschberg: Most authors talk about the moment they first hold a finished copy in their hand. I got a copy prior to release but didn’t feel excitement. A book is meant to be read; as I wrote this book to help others it won’t feel complete until it’s in the hands of people it can help. That’s the moment I’m most looking forward to.
Anya Josephs: I’m most excited to get the book in the hands of readers! I’ve been working on it for so long that it almost doesn’t feel real. Knowing that people will finally be reading, and hopefully enjoying, this story means so much to me. A strange thing about publishing is that you don’t really have much control over how your book will do in the market. Maybe it’ll be a bestseller (unlikely!), or maybe almost no one will read it. But one thing I know I can look forward to is the right readers finding it. If one kid who needs this story stumbles across a copy in a used book store, it will all be worth it.
Crystal Maldonado: My biggest hope in writing this book has been to have the story find those who need it most, so I’m very excited (and a little nervous!) for those readers to meet Charlie. I’m also very much looking forward to seeing the book in a store. I think I may cry!
Luke Cunningham: I’m so excited that I can finally share this character and this world that has occupied my imagination for so long. It took me eight years to finish Leo: Inventor Extraordinaire. Now I no longer have to tell people, “I’m working on a book.” I can say “I finished a book” and they can hold the story in their hands.
Addison Armstrong: I think what I’m most excited about is that my brain will finally be forced to acknowledge that I am a “real” author. Even with copy edits done and The Light of Luna Park available for preorder, I’ve been dreaming of this for so long that it hardly feels possible. Once I see my book on shelves and in people’s hands—once I hold it in my hands!—I’ll know the whole journey hasn’t been some bizarre dream.
2. What made you want to become an author?
Mark Herschberg: It wasn’t planned. I’ve been teaching these career skills for twenty years at MIT and have helped many people throughout their careers. I was looking to write up some notes for the class to help students remember the content and throw in a few things we don’t get to cover in the class. I figured it would be twenty to thirty pages. When the manuscript passed 100 pages, I realized it was going to be a book.
Anya Josephs: I’ve always been a writer; ever since I was a kid. I was a hyperlexic child who was more at home with books than with people, and it was natural to me, after reading so many stories, to want to tell stories of my own. Of course, being an author is very different from just being a storyteller—I have wanted to publish since I was quite young, but only started pursuing it seriously a few years ago when I realized how much better representation in fiction is needed. Pursuing publication is a difficult path, fraught with rejection, but I sensed there was a real lack of LGBTQ-inclusive fantasy for young adults, and when I thought about how much it would have meant to me as a young reader to encounter someone like me as the hero of the stories I loved so much, I had to try to get the book out there.
Crystal Maldonado: I found so much joy in writing from a young age that I knew it would always be part of my life in some way. As a kid, I dreamed of someday becoming an author, but as I got older, I wasn’t sure I could make that a career, so I pursued English and journalism in college as a way to keep honing my craft. But writing fiction was something I returned to again and again, especially when I needed an escape. I especially liked writing love stories. So badly, I wanted to see a fat Puerto Rican girl as the main character in a romcom — so, I decided to write it!
Luke Cunningham: I became an author because a book was the best way to share my favorite idea. In 2012, I got hired to write monologue jokes for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Prior to that experience, I was a hard worker but mostly a terrible employee on other TV shows. At Fallon, I was surrounded by talented writers but they also worked relentlessly to get better. I started to take writing more seriously and to approach writing as my career rather than a cool job. I loved this idea about Leonardo Da Vinci’s life and that he did not know his father until he was thirteen. The best way to bring that idea to life was a book rather than writing a pilot for TV. A book would be a better way to introduce kids to Renaissance art and to help them understand how the empirical pursuit of truth led to our most beautiful leaps forward: electricity, democracy, modern medicine, etc. So I ended up an author because it was the best way to share my idea.
Addison Armstrong: This is a tough one simply because I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be an author. It’s been my dream forever, and I was lucky enough to have teachers from kindergarten on who told me it was an achievable one. Some of my earliest memories are of reading: sitting backstage at a first-grade dance recital with Little Women, bonding with a new classmate over Nancy Drew, sitting in bed with my dad as he read aloud The Wizard of Oz and Little House on the Prairie. Every time I clean out my closet at home, I find a new scrap of paper with some ridiculous little story on it, my favorites being a) the story about an eraser named Bob who got married, and b) the story about the ant who uses a magic pie to get revenge on the exterminators who killed his family. As I grew older, my favorite genre to read became historical fiction, and that was naturally what I began to write. So don’t worry, there will be no more talking erases or vindictive insects!
3. What are you most looking forward to going forward?
Mark Herschberg: Teaching this for twenty years, I got to see the light bulbs turn on as people would get the concepts and suddenly realized new opportunities before them. While I might not be there to see it, knowing that people will read the book and get that aha! moment is definitely something that has me excited.
Anya Josephs: I was recently included in a round-up of more than 150 LGBTQ young adult novels being published between January and June of this year. I remember when the total number of LGBTQ YA novels could be counted on one hand, when I was the age my future readers are now. So I’m looking forward to continuing to see representation and inclusion expand, and to seeing what future generations of authors will be able to imagine as a result. It’s still unbelievable to me how much things have changed even in my lifetime, and I have no idea where we’ll go next, but I’m very excited to see what will be possible in the future.
Crystal Maldonado: I’m really eager to connect with readers who like the book. Once it’s safe to do so, I’d love to visit schools and libraries and chat with young people who have read the book. That honestly sounds magical. I’m also looking forward to continuing to write books, especially ones that feature fat girls as the heroine.
Luke Cunningham: We have an eighteen-month-old son. Some day, I will get to read him a book that his father wrote.
Addison Armstrong: I can’t wait to see my book on shelves, of course, but even more than that, I can’t wait to keep writing. I’m submitting my second book to my editor this month and am already working on a possible third book. Each one is its own beautiful (if sometimes frustrating) adventure.
4. What advice do you have for anyone looking to become a published author?
Mark Herschberg: First, know your goal. Is the book to get a story out, help people, promote your brand, help launch a new career, or something else? That will impact how you publish and go to market. Second, approach it like a business. Having a great story or advice is obviously key, but it’s not sufficient. Cover design, distribution, your website, marketing, and other aspects can help you succeed, or limit an otherwise great product. I looked at over 1,000 articles on every aspect of publishing including font selection, paper stock, how to pick an editor, and effective book websites. Successful authors know it’s about more than just the writing.
Anya Josephs: First, focus on writing. You have to be a writer first before you can be a published author—often, a long time beforehand. If you aren’t already someone who writes often and seriously, put aside the goal of publication for a while and focus on the stories you want to tell and how you want to tell them. If you’re already a writer, my advice is to take yourself seriously, believe that your writing deserves to be out there, and focus on developing a new set of skills: the skills of a professional author. The things it takes to be successful in publishing are very different than the things it takes to be a good writer. Great writers are generally creative, sensitive, and work in isolation. Publishing requires one to be persistent, play by the rules, be extremely patient, and play well with others. Figuring out a way to transition between the two modes is critical. Finally, build a community of fellow writers. The support of my fellow debuts (shout out to the #21ders!) has been invaluable, as has that of my writing friends. You’ll encounter many struggles on the road to publishing success, and you’ll need a team in your corner.
Crystal Maldonado: Write! It seems like such obvious advice, but you can get so caught up in the “what ifs?” of becoming a published author that it can distract you from the thing you love. I would say focus on writing your book and completing that — then take a breather and get working on that next thing. All we can control are the stories we create, so having multiple ideas and projects in your back pocket can help keep everything in perspective. Also: keep going! Rejections are totally normal, so take care of yourself, persevere, and know that you will eventually find the right home for your story.
Luke Cunningham: Make a plan to do the work. Stick to the plan and do the work. I’m paraphrasing the great Anthony Bourdain: “I understand there’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed all day. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid, and outwit, that guy.” I wrote this book in a series of Pomodoro Sessions. Meaning I would set a timer for twenty-five minutes, then physically throw my phone across the room. I’d force myself to overcome the inertia of Twitter and video games and write for twenty-five minutes without distraction. That first twenty-five minutes would lead to a second, and a third, and after days of forcing myself to do Pomodoro Sessions, I was stacking pages of a book. This book is a product of discipline, but I needed the discipline to outwit the lazy version of myself. If you want to write a book, make a plan that you can stick to then execute the plan. Even if your plan is, “I will write two sentences today.” You are doing it, you are moving forward.
Addison Armstrong: You’ll hear this all the time, but just keep writing. I actually submitted my first manuscript to nearly a hundred agents and got rejected from every single one. But in between rejections, I started on what would become The Light of Luna Park. I kept writing. And that’s what got me here.
5. What’s your favorite part about your book that you’re looking forward to people reading?
Mark Herschberg: I really like the introduction because it lays out a new way to approach the career skills discussed in the book. More than any one specific suggestion I give, I know that changing the mindset underpins how to approach these skills and I start the book by helping people make that shift.
Anya Josephs: My absolute favorite scene in Queen of All is one that I didn’t add until the very final draft. (My publisher was kind enough to let me include it, even though we were technically supposed to have moved on to copy-edits). It’s a scene between my main character and her aunt, who is something of a maternal figure to her, just before the book’s climax where we find out they have something very important in common. I don’t want to spoil the scene, but it’s one I’m really looking forward to hearing readers’ thoughts on. Writing adult characters in YA is so tricky, because the young people need and deserve to be at the center of the story, but I wanted to create complex adult characters too. I’m really happy with how this turned out.
Crystal Maldonado: As someone who loves a good romance, I’m excited for others to follow along with Charlie and Brian as they fall in love. I love their friendship that slowly blossoms into something more, and all of the big and small moments between them. To me, there are few things better than those first relationship butterflies!
Luke Cunningham: My book is set in the near future, but I’m excited for people to find the connections between the characters in Leo: Inventor Extraordinaire and their real life counterparts from the Renaissance. E.g., In the book, Leo builds a 500-pound robot lion named Gemini. In reality, Da Vinci made a working robot lion 500 years ago for the King of France. Or Leo’s teacher is Rocky, who used to be his father’s teacher. In reality, after young Leonardo Da Vinci moved to Florence with his father, Piero, he was apprenticed to Verrocchio, the finest art teacher in the city.
Addison Armstrong: I’m looking forward to seeing the debates about whether the characters in the book make the right choices, one in particular. The main character in the 1926 timeline is a nurse-in-training named Althea Anderson, and she has to make several unorthodox decisions regarding a baby’s welfare. Most of my reviews so far have been from people who agree with Althea’s decisions, and a few have been from people who disagree but “understand.” Then there’s my fiancé, who goes off on a (good-natured) rant about why Althea did the wrong thing every time my book comes up! I can’t wait to see what others think and what lively book club discussions come out of the divide.
I also really hope that people take something from Stella’s storyline. She is a special education teacher in the 1950s, which was a thankless job at the time. I hope that my depictions of her students help readers see them not as diagnoses but as people.