Thursday, November 12, 2009

On being a debutante again...

It astonishes me that I’ve now been a published author for more than six years. How can time pass so darned fast? I’ve been looking back because this week my first novel, Old School Ties, is being republished (in a new, hopefully improved form).

On September 3 2003 Old School Ties Version 1.0 was launched upon the world to general indifference. Well, maybe not indifference, but I can’t pretend I turned out to be one of the hot new debuts of the year (despite my excitement at being picked for the WH Smith Fresh Talent selection, and my positive review in the Congleton Chronicle). I was anything but indifferent myself, of course, and my friends and family and publishers and agent and work colleagues (and the random strangers I told on the bus) were excited for me.

Like most debutantes, I was hoping to be the belle of the bookshop ball. I dreamed that writing might become a ‘career’ but the signs weren’t tremendously hopeful. I didn’t get a life-changing advance, I didn’t have Richard Curtis chasing me through the streets of Notting Hill to buy the film rights (he wouldn’t have had to chase me very far, I only lived in Shepherd’s Bush), and I had the kind of mortgage that made the idea of giving up the day job laughable. Seeing my name in print was a slightly bittersweet experience – utterly thrilling, but a little disappointing all the same when I didn’t hit the bestseller list. I guess the trouble with all writers is that we have vivid imaginations when it comes to picturing our likely overnight success...

But despite the lack of posters on the Underground, something fundamental changed for me that year. I know it’s the most awful cliché, but becoming an author was a dream come true. And how many dreams come true in a lifetime? I had been published – now I was going to do everything I could to STAY published.

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, in many ways I was lucky not to have had the headline grabbing book deal, because the less a publisher pays for a book, the lower their expectations! When debut authors are paid squillions up-front and then don’t sell many books, their failure is high profile. When a debut author who hasn’t been paid much and has had no celebrity kiss-n-tell tie-in or media profile, goes on to sell respectably, then they stay ‘promising.’

My quest to ‘go pro’ involved plenty of sleepless nights. The deadlines kept me awake, but so did the decisions about which book idea to write next, whether to change publisher, whether I would ever be able to regard writing as more than a fun hobby.

And then, three years ago, I became a full-timer. It’s still a tremendous thrill to me to earn my living this way. Of course, as with any job, there are brilliant days and less brilliant ones – in this recession, it’s nail-biting time whenever a book is published: authors are judged by their last set of sales figures. Finding out that one store hasn’t stocked your latest book can fuel all those writerly insecurities, even if another store has ordered twice as many as last time. Google Alerts seemed like a good idea when I set them up, and yet they have a nasty habit of bringing the most cutting reviews of my latest books to my inbox in the morning (and somehow those are so much harder to forget than the nice comments).

But I feel incredibly lucky, and grateful, to everyone who has taken a chance on my books – people in the publishing world, booksellers and, most important of all, readers.

I’m hoping to be around to celebrate my tenth ‘author birthday’ and my twentieth and thirtieth and the rest...but the truth is, being published is not something any author can take for granted. What I do believe is that anyone who writes, whether it’s that first short story, or the thirtieth bestseller, has to focus on ‘quality control’. That means writing the best book you can, whatever the genre or style, and then editing it until you’re sick of the sight of it. And then editing it several more times.

That's what I've done with Old School Ties - The Director's Cut. I went back to the book and made literally thousands of tiny changes. I'll be posting about that soon - but suffice it to say, it was possibly the toughest writing task I've ever undertaken. I just felt that having learned a bit more about editing and story-telling over the last few years, I owed it to the book, and potential readers, to apply those lessons. It's still the same story, and it's still a light comedy with a dark edge - but I hope it's now a better read.

Being a debutante was fun. But though I look back on my launch party with fond memories, I’m happy to be where I am now – with seven published novels, and another one in progress. In the frenzied world of 3 for 2s and e-book piracy and mid-list meltdown, story-telling still matters and it’s the only thing we writers have real control over. I’m doing nanowrimo (say hello to me, I’m Caffeinefuelledwriter) but, boy, that is just the beginning. Long after November is over, I will be rewriting and slashing and then tweaking and tearing my hair out and tweaking again.

Join me. You have nothing to lose but your adverbs.

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Blogger Misssy M said...

This post has come at a nerve wracking/exciting point for me. Today, I am waiting on the first of two promised offers for my first book (non-fiction) from two interested publishers.

I feel sick. I suppose you never lose that nervy feeling no matter how many books you've got under your belt.

(Also Nano-ing as Misssy M)

10:08 am  
Blogger ChrisH said...

I too am at the nerve wracking/excited point... and that's all I'm saying before Fate cuts me down to size. However, your post was full of wisdomosity for me to remember, thanks and good luck with the Director's Cut!

12:24 pm  
Blogger DOT said...

You are so right to celebrate your success. It is a huge achievement.

As you recognise, there is no ultimate satisfaction in just being published, the same is true of any job one enjoys, the pleasure and pain is in the doing. (OMG sound like my Dad.)


12:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done to you. You've achieved what many only dream about.

10:47 am  
Blogger Fia said...

Old School Ties is the only one of yours I haven't read.
When is the Director's cut version out?

4:55 pm  
Blogger Kate Lord Brown said...

Lovely to hear your story - it is a dream come true (and that's what we're all doing, chasing the dream :) I'll keep my eye out for the director's cut!

6:53 pm  
Blogger Rachel Cotterill said...

I just wanted to say hi - I'm NaNo'ing for the third time this year and have stopped reading in the middle of Brown Owl's Guide To Life to make sure I get to 50k (but will definitely pick it up again in December! I'm a Brownie volunteer myself... hoping our girls never have quite those adventures...)

8:23 pm  
Blogger Kate said...

Congratulations - what a great achievement and good luck with the next four years!

Kate xx

2:43 pm  
Blogger Kate Harrison said...

Belated thank yous for the lovely comments - Misssy M, I hope the offers came...

And ChrisH, I know that yours did. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!

Dot, thing about dads is that they're usually right... Captain Black, hello and thanks for the message. Fia, the book's out now I think.

Kate LB, lovely to see you here and well done on your great performance on the Titchmarsh show, you woz robbed!

Rachel, hope you got to the end of Nano and also Brown Owl! I only got to 22K but it was a good run..

And thanks, Kate, too for popping in.

10:47 am  
Blogger Karen said...

What a wonderful post. I read that novel all those years ago and loved it, but I might just havet o read it again :o)

4:14 pm  

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