How to Launch a Debut Novel in the US from Abroad

Oh don’t I *wish* I was the author of this post and writing from experience? Someday!

As it were, you’re about to read the outstanding advice from Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, author of Thirsty and an American who has been living in Shanghai, China since April 2006. This post is part of the WOW Blog Tour, but, to be clear, I’ve received nothing in exchange for giving Kristin some time here. I just like to show new authors who happen to be from Pennsylvania and live abroad (ahem) some extra love sometimes.

More on Kristin:

Kristin Bair O'KeeffeAside from being a debut author, Kristin is also a voracious reader, a happy mom, an engaging teacher who believes in “telling the best story you can…believing in your writing…and working your arse off,” a fierce advocate for the end of domestic violence, and a writer who spends as much time as possible in writerhead.

To find out more, visit or Kristin’s blog at


How to Launch a Debut Novel in the U.S. from Abroad

When I signed a publishing contract with Swallow Press in 2008, I (like most first-time authors) was over-the-top excited. I yelped…did a jig…and wore a sh*t-eatin’ grin for weeks. At some point (between jigs) I realized, “Holy schmoly! My debut novel is going to be published in the United States while I am living in China.”

This sobered me up real quick (temporarily, at least). Anyone who has published a novel knows how hard it is to get their book into readers’ hands if they are actually living IN the United States and are able to communicate easily with bookstores, publicists, editors, and most importantly, potential readers. How the heck was I going to do it from the other side of the world?

Good question.

First, let’s look at my challenges:

GEOGRAPHY: Now, pull out that globe you used in high school geography class. That’s me in Shanghai, over there on the east coast of China. I’m waving! “Hello! Ni hao! Ni hao!”

And over there…yep, spin that globe…all the way on the other side of the world in the United States…that’s where my debut novel Thirsty was published on October 1, 2009.

ThirstyTRAVEL: To get from Shanghai to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (where Thirsty takes place), I have to take a 13.5-hour flight from Shanghai to Newark. Then a 3.5-hour flight from Newark to Pittsburgh. That’s 17 hours in the air, PLUS an endless number of hours spent taxi-ing on runways and eating awful food in various airports. That doesn’t even count the time spent getting to and from airports. Total travel time? With no glitches, at least 24 hours. (Tired yet?)

CHILDREN: I have a 21-month-old daughter who goes everywhere with me. She is energetic, chatty, stubborn, hilarious, prone to kicking the seat in front of her on an airplane, and at the age when all she wants to is RUN. Enough said.

TIME ZONES: Right now (as I write) it is 6:35 a.m. on Friday, November 13 in Shanghai. At this same moment, it is 7:35 p.m. on Thursday, November 12 in New York City. (Yes, it’s the day before. Weird, huh?) We are 13 hours ahead of the east coast.

INTERNET ACCESS: Because I live in a country that does not allow free access to the Internet, I am blocked from all the sites I need in order to interact with potential readers, including Facebook, Twitter, my own blog, YouTube, and many other writer-related sites. (Gggrrr…grumble.)

Hhhmmm. That’s a pretty comprehensive list of the challenges I faced. Here’s how I managed them:

STAY AWAKE! In the months leading up to the launch of Thirsty, I had to set up readings and book signings in the United States. To do this, I had to talk to events coordinators and bookstore managers from Shanghai on U.S. time. That means I was calling them at oh, say, 11:00 AM their time, which was (while Daylight Savings Time was still in place) 11:00 PM my time. Inevitably three out of four would say, “Oh, I’m interested, but can you call me at 2:00?” Yes, that meant 2:00 a.m. my time. (And I did. How did I stay alert? By hopping up and down and chomping into a lemon slice just before making each call.)

CLOSE THE GAP: Early on I decided that the only way to properly launch my debut novel was to be in the United States at the time of publication. So despite the cost, the debilitating jetlag, and the time spent, I (along with my husband and daughter) flew to the U.S. in late September.* My daughter and I stayed for about six weeks; my husband flew back to China after two weeks.

SAY YES! While in the U.S., I did as many events as possible. I attended a convention of independent booksellers. I did readings, book signings, and radio interviews. I even spent two days at my high school alma mater (shout out to Bethel Park High School!) chatting with the creative writing students about writing, publishing, life in China, and other cool stuff. My motto? If someone offers an opportunity, say yes.

HELP? If you can, hire a publicist. I did, and it gave me a voice in the U.S. I wouldn’t have had otherwise. This can be expensive, but it’s worth it.

SHARE THE CULTURE: When I hosted an online giveaway of cool bookmarkers created by a Shanghai artist, I got loads of visitors to my blog and to the Thirsty website. It was a great way to share Thirsty and a bit of China.

“HI! I’M WWW._________” Have you heard? These days an author needs a strong Internet presence no matter where she lives, but because I live so far from my target readership, it’s even more important for me. By using a VPN (Virtual Private Network), I’m able to access almost all sites from which I am blocked in China. (Of course not all VPNs work here…I’ve been through a number of them.) Check it out:

BLOG At “My Beautiful, Far-Flung Life,” I write about Thirsty, writing, my path to publishing, motherhood, wacky things in China, cool things in China, and more.

THIRSTY WEBSITE: I found a terrific website designer in the U.S. and together we designed a pretty cool site. (TIP: Writing copy—good copy—for a website takes time. On each page, you are telling a story—about you, your book, etc. Give yourself loads of time to write before launching the site.)

TWEET, TWEET: Via Twitter @kbairokeeffe I’ve connected with lots of readers and writers. I’ve made friends, hosted giveaways of Thirsty, and built up a fun community.

VIDEOS: Guess what? People love to watch stuff. Luckily I love to create stuff. Thus far I’ve done a video interview, created a book trailer, and said yes when the books editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette asked to do a webcast interview with me.

BEST FRIENDS FOREVER: Yep, I’m on Facebook, too. (Are you catching on to the theme here? Connect, connect, connect.)

Whew. I’ll stop there. Yes, there are lots more ways to get your novel noticed (Good Reads, Jacketflap, blog tours, etc.), but you get the picture. My final bit of advice to writers launching books from overseas? Do the celebratory jig, get ready for a hell of lot of wonderful work, and keep the lemons close.

Now…off to recover from jetlag.

*I’d like to offer a formal apology to the man who sat in front of my daughter on the flight from Shanghai to Newark on September 26. I realize that she kicked the back of your seat at least 2,858,367 times over the course of the 13.5-hour flight. Good karma coming to you for only scowling, not yelling or throwing your shoes at us.


Thanks Kristin, and best of luck!

If you have any questions or comments for Kristin, please leave them here!

10 Beans of Wisdom to “How to Launch a Debut Novel in the US from Abroad”
  1. Gil

    Is there a book being launched from Calabria in the near future????


  2. As a writer living aboard dealing with a nine hour time difference (Rome/Los Angeles) this post was very, very inspiring to me.

    Thanks for the great interview Michelle and Kristin.

    Good luck Kristin with Thirsty. I will definitely check out your blog.
    .-= nyc/caribbean ragazza´s last blog ..Flashback Friday – Destiny’s Child – "Say My Name" =-.

  3. Jennifer Chapman

    I, too, live and work in Shanghai. I wish the writer the best of luck promoting her book given the Great Firewall that is blocking her communication with readers in the US. I hope she can be a featured writer at the Literary Festival this spring here in Shanghai.

  4. 11.20.2009

    What a funny and inspiring read! Kudos to her for all the hard work and doing everything with a toddler in tow. My kids are also champion seat kickers. I have a long list of passengers I have to apologize to!

  5. ally bean

    Apropos of the seat kicking: my hubby “solved” that problem by taking out his cellphone/camera and using the camera part — which quacks loudly– to distract the little girl behind him. Her mother explained to her that every time she kicked the seat a duck got hurt– didn’t she hear the quack? And the kicking stopped! 🙂

    And thanks to Kristin for sharing her process of connecting. I’m fascinated by what actual authors have to say. I gained much from reading this.

  6. 11.20.2009

    Yes, it’s tough enough being on this side of the planet, far away from your main audience / customers. It’s even harder being behind the Great Wall, trying to communicate out. Thanks for sharing!
    .-= Nate´s last blog ..Honey-Glazed Yams =-.

  7. Hi All!

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post at “Bleeding Espresso.” I’m honored that Michelle asked me to visit.

    It’s terrific to know there are so many parents out there with “seatkickers” in tow. (There should be a special flight for us.)

    And yes, Jennifer in Shanghai, I’ll be doing an event (or two) at the Shanghai Lit Festival in March. Hope to see you there!


    .-= Kristin Bair O’Keeffe´s last blog ..Catching Up… =-.

  8. 11.21.2009

    What a wonderful, inspiring interview!

    Wishing Kristin all the best of luck with her novel!

  9. Thanks, Nova! Great to hear.
    .-= Kristin Bair O’Keeffe´s last blog ..Catching Up… =-.

  10. Wunschdenker

    I think you recommended I check this article out….and now I understand why! Perhaps I can “look Kristin up” – meet her for a cup of cha in Taikang Lu……after our pottery class tomorrow afternoon, say? 😉 Seriously, if there’s a way of connecting us….maybe you could point me in that direction….

    I’ve sent you an email 🙂

Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

Calabria Guidebook

Calabria travel guide by Michelle Fabio



Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake