I’m Twitter-shy by nature with a propensity to overthink and then over edit right up until the point by which I have completely missed the moment and the world will never know the delightful bon mot I so nearly dealt it. But I do use Twitter to see what’s happening in the book world and to feel a bit closer to the minds of some of my author heroes and publishing favourites.
So when a tweet notification pinged me and was immediately followed by a flurry of retweets and twitter static, I found myself all of a flutter. The tweet included a picture of the proof of my soon to be published novel ‘The Museum of Things Left Behind” and its arrival on a doormat had prompted an enthusiastic tweet from a Curtis Brown Book Group member who had just received a copy to read.
The ramifications of a tweet are far reaching and can be life changing (and not always for the best, as Jon Ronson has just proven in his new book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”.) But the joy I experienced as I witnessed the doormat moment being captured by an ‘actual’ reader was like no other moment in my writing journey so far. You see, I’ve posted that tweet before, I’ve been the person with a new book by an unknown author in my hands many, many times – but to be on the receiving end for the very first time made this whole thing real for me, finally.
I’m from the book industry – I’ve been a bookseller since the age of 21, so my experience is probably very different from that, say, of a debut author feeling their way through the publishing process for the very first time. Since early 2014 when I sent my manuscript out, I’ve had moments during which I have demonstrated unreasonable levels of excitement prompted by things that other first time authors might not notice. How many other writers have danced around their kitchen in front of their mortified children singing “I have an ISBN” in an annoying sing song melody for instance? And when the proof of my book turned up in the office, instead of running around stroking the cover, I ran around waving the AI (the advanced information that accompanies a book when it is being sold in to a bookseller) announcing, “I have my own AI!” to my bemused but mainly amused team. Conversely, there have been other parts of the process that have not phased me at all – I was incredibly comfortable going in to meet my publisher for the first time because I knew the building, I knew some of the people, I knew exactly what to expect.
There are of course advantages and disadvantages to knowing your way around the industry. But you shouldn’t think for a moment that knowing the people involved has make my path easier. Far from it. For a start, even though I submitted the novel anonymously, I knew the people who would be reading it and judging it professionally. I don’t think I have ever felt so physically afraid – I felt sick for the entire time it was being read. It wasn’t just that I was going to be accepted or rejected, it was the fact that I would be accepted or rejected by somebody I knew and respected. It was utterly terrifying. Ironically, after an initial flurry of real excitement (acceptance not rejection) the process hiccupped because of my connections within the industry. But then, quite gloriously, the process began in earnest with Fourth Estate who is (surely) the best publisher in the land! (I say that as an author, clearly, not as a bookseller. As a bookseller, the best publisher is the one I happen to be talking to at the time.
I’ve got a long way to go, of course, I’ve written my first novel but my experience of life as a writer is only just beginning. Whilst I’ve always been in awe of the authors I most love, and respectful of the publishers I most admire, I am now entirely in the hands of the readers I don’t know. Getting that early feedback – reviews tentatively posted online, or a tweet just acknowledging the receipt of a review copy, is hugely valuable and affirming. It’s not validation I’m looking for at this point, it’s response. And the way I respond, in turn, is telling me what sort of person I am going to be as an author. How I’m going to react to praise, to criticism, to indifference – all of this is new for me as a human being. I’ve been a spokesperson for a business for a really long time but this is the first time that any of the above (praise, criticism, indifference) has felt so visceral.
I have no idea what questions you’re going to ask me – I can’t even begin to imagine. But, in turn, you can not begin to imagine how much I am looking forward to answering them. At this point in time I have no idea how I am going to react to any of this – I hope to be well behaved, professional, engaged, pragmatic, I hope to reply to Tweets and to not take the tough stuff to heart, I hope I’ll be the author you want me to be… but I can’t guarantee any of that.
The Museum of Things Left Behind will be published on May 21st by 4th Estate. It’s one of our April Books of the Month.