You’ve written a book. An agent loved it. Publishers loved it. You got an advance. You can live on it! Your book comes out to rave reviews. You’re interviewed in SFX and Sci-fi Now. You have a blog tour. You tour book shops. You go to conventions. You meet all your heroes. You go to GRRM’s party. You meet people in publishing, and they’re the best people you’ve ever met. You meet authors, and finally you can talk to someone who knows what it’s like.
Oh, and did I mention how dreadful things might just feel?
The battle to get published can be a long one, and hard, and dear aspiring author, the day that you make it you’re going to be on top of the world.
I remember very clearly the phone call with my agent when I learned he wanted to represent me. And I remember clearly when I spoke to my future US editor from Ace on the phone. I remember when shortly after, my agent told me we not only had offers, we had auctions going on both sides of the Atlantic. And all of that was sheer, terrifying jubilation.
When I learned I was going to be published, I’d done it: I’d achieved the one goal that I had in my life. I sat there thinking to myself, you’ve done it. That was your dream. Your one life goal. What now?
Everything goes into highs.
And then there is the silence.
I used to wonder why rock stars all got so fucked up on drugs, but I get it now. Imagine being on that stage, hearing the adulation, people chanting your name. They love your art, and they love you for giving it to them. For the duration of the show, you are a god.
And then the next day, you’re just you again. You have the same problems you always had. You have to go to work, you have to think about budgeting, about why you don’t have enough socks, whether that one-day-past-its-best-beef is edible. But on top of it all, there are all your new fears and doubts, and by the gods, they are huge.
What if I don’t pull it off in the second book?
What if it doesn’t sell?
Am I visible enough on Reddit?
Should I have said that on Facebook?
Will I get a second series?
Does anyone really like this?
And, little by little, those things that should mean the world to you – five star reviews, people sending you messages about how they loved your book, all the things you dreamed of – become ordinary. You don’t think that you could ever get used to them, but the day you get four five-star reviews is just another day.
“You got a killer review from this guy!” my friend said. I shrugged. “Aren’t you happy?” she asked me.
“I got a killer review in magazines, and from competing editors,” I said. “Goodreads doesn’t mean that much.”
Except that it does. It means nothing and everything. You avoid looking at Goodreads because you don’t want to see if you’ve lost any more points. The last time you looked, your book was at 4.2 Hold out, book! you think. But you know that it can only go down, over time.
And soon, nothing feels worth celebrating. Nothing can top that first high. You’re not as big as your favourite authors who are ten or thirty years on from you. You know that you’re just a small fish in a big pond, even if you had the hype and the love and people do genuinely seem to enjoy what you wrote. Some authors don’t seem to feel this. They just wanted a book published, and I’m happy for them that they can feel that way. It must be very satisfying. But for me, the goalposts just reset, and the more that I meet the authors who inspired me and blew my mind when I was younger, the more I just want to be up there with them. I mean, sure, R.A. Salvatore’s first book was published when I was four years old, but there’s a lion inside me roaring to be up there with him.
You force yourself to smile at the little victories.
People want to meet you. You wonder whether people really like you for you, or because you’ve written a book. Is it you they’re seeing, or the idea of you that they got from the book? Some of them are ruthless. Some of them are blind. You know that, objectively, you’re just the same old person that you always were, but people don’t always see you: they see a book, and its creator. I’m not immune to it myself when I meet authors who’ve affected me with their writing.
You meet the most amazing people in publishing. Honestly, I don’t think that I’ve ever met better people in any other industry, and I’ve worked in a lot. And then the insecurity works away at the back of your mind that you know they have to be nice to you. It takes time to get past the fear that your newfound, amazing friends are just people who are required to spend time with you due to contracts. I’m glad to have moved beyond that one, at least.
You meet your heroes. Some of them are amazing and they talk to you like you’re a real person, like they haven’t forgotten what it was like when they first met theirs. Some of them are too much of a Big Fucking Deal to accept your offered handshake. That one was an ‘ouch’ moment.
People want things from you. You’ll turn down requests to blurb books (people will ask for blurbs on books you haven’t read, which you might not enjoy), you’ll have to decline to send people things that they ask for, you’ll be asked to promote other people’s projects. It’s flattering to be asked. It feels so awkward to say no.
People will try to exploit you, and you’ll learn fast that no deal exists until the ink is dry. A photographer did a publicity shoot with me, took the money, then when I needed him to sign an international contract to use one picture, asked for double the money and a repeat fee every time it got used. I scrapped that, and found a great photographer who actually understood how this works, but it was a harsh lesson and a couple hundred quid I had to take on the chin.
There is always a “But…” attached to everything. There is always that fear that what you’ve struggled so hard to achieve will fall away into dust. I’ve sold a series, but can I make a living in the future? I’ve written a book that my readers seem to love, but can I do it again
You become a public persona. What you say and do is newly opened up to criticism and scrutiny in ways that you could never have imagined before. I’ve had someone asking me whether I had secondary identities. You watch your words and you restrict what you say, because your job online, as someone once told me, “is to be witty and charming.” Honesty and vulnerability seem to get side-lined.
But amidst all that internal turmoil, there are ways to hold on.
Strangers appear out of the internet to reach out, people from hundreds of miles away that you’ve never met, and they don’t want anything from you other than to ask how you are and talk about your day. They don’t ask for anything, they don’t have anything to gain. I’ve made incredible friends who give their time tirelessly, thanklessly, for no reason other than because they’re amazing people. Other authors riding the same rollercoaster get in touch and when they do, you realise that it’s not just you: you’re not broken in some way, and that for some of us – not all, but some – this is normal.
And there are still moments that make you know that it’s all worth it. The biggest high still comes, however, from writing or reading back through that one scene and feeling a rush of adrenaline, or an ache in your heart.
So, dear aspiring author, don’t be put off by any of this. Maybe you’ll feel this way, or maybe not.
Just be prepared that selling the book, even publishing that first novel, isn’t the solution to anything in your life. It’s a first step along a mad road that will change your life, that will catapult you into new experiences, new friends and things that you may never have thought that you’d get to feel.