It’s one whole year since The Night Rainbow was first published. The UK hardback and ebook were released on February 14th 2013 and the paperback six months later. So to celebrate my ‘Year on the Shelf’ (it’s Valentine’s Day, see what I did there?), here are five things I’ve learned over the course of the last twelve months:
(1) You don’t publish and tell
There are quite a few things that will surprise a new author as they take this journey for the first time, and you won’t have seen them blogged about or discussed on twitter. I’m not going to talk about them either. Why? It’s the same reason why people who are already parents don’t sit their pregnant friends down and say, “Right, well let us tell you what’s about to happen to you.” Sometimes it’s better to let people wait and see.
However, what you will need are some people who have been through it before to be there for you once you are finally living that dream. So, when it’s your turn, make sure you find author friends and mentors who will give you the lowdown if you ask.
(2) Authors are great
Other authors are generally lovely and generous and want you to succeed. Many will encourage and support you, even if they have never heard of you before. It’s a lovely group to be part of. Pass it on.
(3) You will be busier than ever
Remember how you managed to squeeze writing a novel – an actual novel! – into your already full life? Well now that novel now needs taking to parties, to readings and events. And people will ask you to write about your book, and write about writing your book. For your own sanity, remember you don’t have to do everything. Decide, along with your publisher, what you want to commit to and learn to say no to the rest.
Also people will immediately start asking you when the next book is due out. It isn’t going to write itself, you know.
(4) We are not the same
Chances are that you will have highs and you will have lows, but your experience will be different from mine. It will depend on your agent, your publisher, your book, timings, the market, luck and so many other variables that there is no way to know how things will pan out for you. All you can do is get an idea of if you are falling somewhere within the spectrum of ‘normal’ – see (1) – and hope for the best.
Will your book win prizes? Get reviewed in the New York Times? Sell foreign rights? Will Oprah pick it? Will it even get into bookshops so people can buy it? Getting into retail is harder than you think. Once your book is out there in the world, frankly it’s anybody’s guess how it will fare no matter how hard people are championing it on your behalf.
It might be that your book doesn’t get as much recognition as those you have decided to benchmark it against. On the other hand it may do better than other books that you have read and think deserve to win every prize going. You need to stop comparing. Remember you’re at the start of a long road and you need to conserve your energy.
As for sales – everything you have heard is true. Right now the prognosis is pretty shocking. But your publishers have faith, or they wouldn’t have taken your book. If you go off with a bang at launch, brilliant, congratulations! But if sales in the launch period are ‘quieter’ than you’d hoped, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your book is going to die a lonely death. If readers like it, they will spread the word, slowly but surely. Sometimes you need a bit of critical mass and that can take time for a new author. Think about how long it takes you between hearing about a book and actually buying it, and then actually reading it. For me it’s months.
(5) Readers above all else
It is so wonderfully rewarding when people you’ve never met take the time to look you up and write to you, just to tell you that they loved your book. That you have given them something special, a story they won’t forget. That, for me, is what writing is all about.
Of course sometimes readers don’t write to you personally, but instead take the time to write a review (thank you, reviewers!). Reviews do matter, but try not to get obsessed by them as they are completely out of your control and will not always make you happy.
Sometimes they will say things like this:
***** “Officially my Book of 2013. Wow… Read it!”
***** “This book resonated with me. I will carry Pea with me for a very long time.”
but sometimes they will say this:
** “Ideal for nature lovers seeking a blow-by-blow description of the French countryside without the distraction of a plot line.”
And that’s all OK. Remember that all sorts of people are now reading your book (HURRAY!) and they can’t all be expected to like it.
Also, there will be reviewers who write spoilers, sometimes in the very first line of their write up. Even in national newspapers. But hey, girl, your book got reviewed in a national newspaper.
If you’re about to head out on the same journey, good luck to you! And for those of you who have played a part in this marvellous, exciting year of mine, a huge thank you from me.
Bonus Tip: Social Media
Nothing has changed. Even now you are published, Social Media is not the boss of you.