I think I can attribute 80% of all stresses I’ve ever felt in my life to the past year. Does that coincide with signing a four-book deal with Headline? Yes, indeed. Can I also attribute some of my most standout moments in my entire life to the same year? I can. So, I think it balances itself out.
I’ve read articles on the stresses and worries and negatives that accompany a book deal, and I can certainly attest to some of them, even though I’m barely out the starting gate. Tax forms = nightmare. Networking = outside of my comfort zone. Administration work = tiresome. Edits = often gruelling. And yet, I want to highlight some of the positives, too. I have met some of the nicest people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting since taking my first steps into publishing. From literary agents to foreign rights assistants to accountants to other writers and authors, editors, publishing directors and all manner of publishing folk across the board. I’ve had constructive criticism from editors as far afield as New York to friends and colleagues whose desks are eight feet away from mine. Everyone gets on board, everyone wants you to do well, everyone is happy to take a few minutes to chat. In that sense, this business brings with it a wonderful sense of inclusion, because, and I’m being honest here, I was worried about how I was going to fit in. I mean, I’m a working class gal from a small town in the Black Country. I was the first in my family to go to University and even then I didn’t stray far (to the lofty heights of the University of Birmingham’s redbrick campus). I’m a home bird. I didn’t have any connections or ‘Ins’ with anyone in the industry. I set out to write a good story, get an agent, and maybe, just maybe, get myself a nice little book deal so I could one day see myself in print (and secretly place my novel on my own private bookshelf next to the likes of Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, stand back with hands on my hips, and give myself a self-congratulatory pat on the back. And then go eat spaghetti hoops for tea). I never thought about having to go to Sales Conferences in Piccadilly or entering the glam world of publishing with its delicious lunches and glasses of Prosecco and frocks and high-heels. Let me tell you, it’s scary as fuck looking in from the outside. Yet, each time I’ve made the effort to go to a launch or an event or travelled to London to meet my agent or the Headline bunch, everyone has made me feel at home, even when I felt like I was a complete intruder.
I’ve also learned new reams of meaning to the word ‘collaboration’. From going through edits with your agent and her readers, to the editor at your publishing house, then editorial assistants, copy editors, proof readers: all are happy to take a back seat when your book comes out. Your name is on the front cover but so many people have had input by that point. All to enhance your work. And this feedback is given gently. In fact, I’m sure they must run courses somewhere on how to give writers their edit notes. Something called ‘Don’t Scare the Clients 101’ or ‘Be Kind, They’re Fragile Little Birds: A Workshop’. They drip-feed you the rougher comments and camouflage them by praising your wonderful writing abilities in the very next breath. It’s very systematic: praise the scared writer, tell the writer to cut 2000 words, PRAISE PRAISE PRAISE. I’m sure it’s a skill that the best editors don’t even realise they do. But it’s all to save the writer’s feelings and not lead to them having a major meltdown. I imagine it’s the equivalent of trying to handle a new batch of hatchling chicks who are about to be trained to to join the chicken army. It’s very much appreciated by this writer, at least. I first came across it from my agent and remember thinking ‘Gosh, she’s very good at punching me in my writerly face and then stroking my ego like a pro. I quite like it.’.
So, there you go. A nice encouraging story for anyone out there who thinks they’ll never make it and, even if they did, would feel completely out of place. Anyone can do it. I did. And there are plenty of people on the inside who will make the transition easier – dare I say it, even enjoyable. Even for antisocial buggers like me. Just keep doing what you’re doing, and don’t be afraid to start sending your work out. It’ll all be worth it, I promise.