Claire King

Author

How Publishing a Novel will Change your Life

Posted on: April 13th, 2014 by Claire - 15 Comments

I read a blog post today by the debut novelist Mary Miller: Publishing a novel isn’t going to change your life 

Mary says: “I don’t mean to say that publishing a novel isn’t awesome. It is. In so many ways. But it disheartens me to see my friends talk as though it will solve all of their problems and alter their lives completely when I know it won’t.”

I absolutely agree with the point that for most authors – and in this I include myself – the publication of a debut novel doesn’t lead to a life of Riley. But most writers I know don’t expect this – we do understand the publishing industry to some extent and we also network with other authors on twitter who often share their experiences both amazing and frustrating. You can hope and dream, but you have to keep your expectations realistic.

I wonder if there is a difference in expectations if you are an MFA undergraduate or graduate and are expecting writing fiction to be your career from day one. That’s a big investment in time and money and so perhaps in that situation you do expect a payback?

Or perhaps it’s that I’m older, and I’ve already learned that getting that job, that promotion, that pay rise, that man, that flat…none of those things actually change your life in any meaningful way.

Wish

I recently wrote about a few things I’ve learned after a year of being published, but having read Mary’s post I wanted tell you about three ways in which publishing a novel has changed my life:

#1. (And most importantly) I have discovered that being a writer is what I really want.

You never really know if what you want is really what you want until you get it. Only then do you see if the reality meets your expectations, and even if it doesn’t, is it a reality you want? For me it is, and this has changed my life because holding on to this opportunity, digging in deeper, raising my game – all these things now are based in a better understanding of where disappointments may lie, and the risks I am taking. I am learning as I go, but at least now I see the path clearly.

#2. (The consequences of #1) I’ve discovered where I have even more to give…and where my limitations are.

Sometimes life throws things at us that adds more to our plates and tests our ability to manage it all, our stamina and our good humour. Sometimes we throw this stuff at ourselves, and I think that’s exactly what you are doing if you are trying to get a novel published these days, be it your debut or the second or the nth. You are setting yourself up for rejection, underachievement and disappointment that you could easily do without. And it doesn’t stop after the first novel is published. Writers are continually wracked by doubt and insecurity. And once you have a book out there the pressure on you increases. You have to deliver on the next book whilst promoting the first one and carrying on with your ‘normal’ life without dropping plates. But we do this because we choose to, because we have hope, we are driving ourselves to do something that is not easy and that smacks of character. If you don’t want to write then don’t. (I’m reminded of this post, from writer Kirsty Logan “Writing is not hard.”)

#3. My daughters think I’m awesome.

Yes OK they are too young to know better, and yes I have always had the magic card of ‘Mummy – the best person in the world’, but this is different. They tell everyone they meet about my book, and how I’m a writer. They’re excited by it and proud of me. They see me working hard and they see the exciting things happen. I feel as though I am role modelling something that will serve them well later in life.

So…

If you’re looking for your first published novel to change your life financially, you probably need to revise your expectations. But don’t think it won’t change your life. One way or another it probably will.

Postscript June 2015: I came across this (beautifully written) article today, on a similar topic. 

15 Responses

  1. Cesca says:

    Great post Claire, particularly number 3 – love that! X x

  2. Marcus Speh says:

    Excellent and to the point. You write: “We’re driving ourselves to do something that is not easy and that smacks of character”. This reminds me something Ludwig Wittgenstein, the favorite philosopher of all people who want to write meaningful prose and poetry, said (my translation): »Some philosophers […] suffer from something one could call “loss of problems”. Then everything seems [to be] so very simple to them and there don’t seem to exist any deep problems anymore, the world becomes wide and flat and loses all its depth; and what they write becomes infinitely shallow and trivial.« — I surely feel the danger of said state; it’s a constant struggle to stay away from the shallows where the “Life of Riley” fantasy floats. Good luck, Claire!

  3. Marina Sofia says:

    So true: getting that job, that promotion, that pay rise, that man, that flat…none of those things actually change your life in any meaningful way.
    But a particular book you read might… or the decision that this is the life you want to pursue, as a writer.
    Lovely, thoughtful post – and enjoy your daughter’s admiration, my sons are already embarassed by me no matter what I do!

    • Claire says:

      Yes! Reading a book can change your life in just the same way, because it’s not what you get that changes your life it’s the experiences you have and how you react to them. I’m sure it’s only a couple of years before the embarrassment kicks in, the older one is already very uncomfortable with me dancing in the kitchen 🙂

  4. Wonderful post, Claire; as someone whose first novel is soon to be published, I can particularly relate to point 2. Since I’ve stopped dancing around the room, reality has kicked in. Yes, I’ve achieved a lifetime ambition, but now, for the first time, there’s pressure on me to write, in addition to a full-time job, without dropping plates! I’ll be potentially exposing myself to one-star reviews, disappointing figures. I’m starting to see the path clearly, but I still want to go down it!

    • Claire says:

      Thank you and congratulations on your impending publication! It’s such an exciting time, I hope you’re lapping it up. Good luck with what happens next, and remember to keep any little disappointments in the context that you’ve achieved something so many aspire to!

  5. Very interesting post. My book is in the very early stages so being a published author is still a distant dream but I like these three points. I haven’t set my sights on fame and fortune anyway!

  6. Annecdotist says:

    Enjoyed this post, Claire. I suppose when we’re fixated on a goal it can be hard to see beyond it, but believing nothing will change is merely the other side of the coin from thinking it’s going to fix everything, and just as unrealistic. Any change brings its own set of joys and difficulties. Good to hear about the positives there have been for you

  7. Claire, I’ve just found your blog, and I really like what you say in this post, and especially the third point My first novel was published a couple of months ago in Australia, and one of the very best delights has been how proud my kids (now adults) have been. Even their friends have written to me to say how excited they are. I had a tricky childhood moving countries and schools, always feeling myself the outsider, wherever I was. The genuine excitement and embrace of family and friends, and now others I haven’t met, has been incredibly healing for me. So, in that way, having a novel has changed my life, but not in the way I expected.
    Thanks for the post!

    • Claire says:

      Dear Robyn, congratulations on the publication of your first novel, and all the ensuing admiration of your family! I’m so pleased to hear that it’s been a redemptive and positive experience with you. If you are considering a second novel, I hope the continuing journey is a great adventure. x

  8. Great to have this issue exposed and I’ve loved the responses that are so different from my own. The support of family is wonderful, but after taking 15 years to write then self-publish a novel that means the world to me, I realise it’s all about the writing. Readers have written great reviews (not in big numbers) but writing has become my sanity and my meditation. Having another book in the series to is my “work”. I don’t know what I was expecting but I just kept writing till the first book was done, then started on the second. Thanks again for the chance to reflect.

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