About a year ago, I wrote this post about my first year as a full-time writer. It felt a bit expos-y (yeah, that’s a word) and, to be honest, I’d much rather talk about bums and willies (pre-order BEING A BOY, yo!). BUT, it was by far and away my post popular blog post of last year and people seemed to appreciate the inside info. Maybe writers are deprived of staffroom gossip or something.
So, on the eve of the release of Cruel Summer, here’s what I’ve learned in my sophomore year as a full-time author.
1. I have the best job ever. I attended a conference last year for young people at which a VERY famous author stood up in front of a crowd of Year 10s and announced that being a writer is really tough because it’s really hard to start a book and there’s no-one to tell you what to do and you have looming deadlines and, and, and…
OH BOO EFFING HOO.
If you’re lucky enough – and with the industry in the way it is we are lucky – to be able to write full-time, get a grip! Being an author is hardly national bloody service – no-one asked us to put pen to paper. Philip Pullman, in a different speech, pointed out that we get to TELL STORIES and GET PAID for doing so. How is that not luxury? My dear friend Will Hill has a saying – ‘never forget to be grateful’. Some days I have to write this on my arm as an aide-memoire, but I am. I really am so, so grateful to be in the position I’m in.
2. Eat garlic to keep cynicism at bay. When I was a rookie I made rookie mistakes, but innocence is nicer than cynicism. You hear a lot of cynicism in publishing.
3. The industry is in a bit of a state. Publishing, somewhat ironically, is a little like The Hunger Games. A load of debuts are thrown into an arena and one *might* do well enough to eat for the rest of their lives. The rest, seemingly, are roadkill. Name a children’s author (not David Walliams) who was a debut smash overnight. Nope. Me either. Rowling, Pullman, Blackman and Wilson were given YEARS to build a following and an audience. The same luxury isn’t afforded to debuts in 2013. It seems that publishers want to see sales figures within the first few weeks of sale. This is why I’m always pleading with people to pre-order and why authors are increasingly offering incentives to do so. Obviously no-one in THE WHOLE OF THE WORLD would normally do so, but publishers and stockists seem keen.
It breaks my tiny homosexual heart to see The Lion and Unicorn in Richmond cease trading. I am angry that Clapham Books has been priced off Clapham High Street to make way for another fucking fried chicken outlet. I do not understand why it’s so tough to get debuts and UK novels into high street books stores – what will they do when everyone has a copy of The Hunger Games?
Kids/YA is in a particular pickle regarding ebooks. It seems likely (as with music) that the future is downloads – although I do think people cherish books more than they ever did CDs, so the printed book will always be with us. Problem is, to have an Amazon account (where most people buy downloads) you need a bank account/debit card etc. Therefore the key YA market doesn’t have access to Amazon unless an adult is buying for them. This is why specialist children’s bookshops like Tales on Moon Lane or The Book Nook, to name but two, are SO important.
4. Word of mouth is key. But also impossible to buy. With YA, at the moment, it’s all about John Green. He’s the hot author to be seen with. He’s fashionable like half a shaved head or backwards caps. However, there is no way that publishers or authors can make fetch happen – it’s organic.
Importantly though, The Fault In Our Stars was Green’s fifth, yes FIFTH novel. His debut was published EIGHT YEARS ago. So I think we can agree WORD OF MOUTH TAKES YEARS TO BUILD. I’m so grateful (god, I’m starting to sound like Leona Lewis) that my publisher is standing by their man while we see if I can build that elusive ‘fandom’ you read about on Tumblr.
A key example is the slow climb that the excellent Code Name Verity took to the NYT Bestseller list.
5. Carve your niche. When I signed my first deal in 2011 with Hollow Pike, the initial idea was to write a series of sixty sequels and spin-offs. Wisely, my publishers were well aware that long-running supernatural series might not be *quite* the freshest fruit at the stall. They steered me towards what I am now – a teen horror writer. I like this because there aren’t really many others so I feel a bit more unique. It’s scary because I don’t know if there’s a market for teen horror, but at least if it all goes tits up I can say I was true to myself. And now we’re in Glee territory.
How the horror works with the non-fiction stuff remains to be seen. Scary willies? Horror sex?
I guess the lesson is ‘lead don’t follow’. Do you really want to be ‘the British John Green’ or just ‘you’?
6. It’s addictive. I don’t know if you’re meant to say things like this. It didn’t do Cassandra (from the myth) much good. There is one thing that TERRIFIES writers. More than taxes, more than typos in finished books, more than being overlooked for awards…
You guessed it, it’s GETTING A PROPER JOB. This is why it’s possibly advisable to keep one foot in the real world. Once you’ve been a full-time writer, anything else just isn’t as lovely. We’ve known the glory of no alarm clocks. More than the practical stuff it’s an ego thing too. I worry that if I had to get a proper job people would think I was a FAILURE (literally no-one except me would think this, but we’re our own harshest critics).
This year has been easier (for me at least), in that my job with First Story (look them up) has kept me in the real world AND means I’m still a full-time writer.
7. You go mad. Closely related to the last point. Now that I have more of a routine with First Story I see that last year I spent WAY too much time by myself. At first you’re like THIS IS AMAZING, but quite slowly you realise that things that never bothered you before become really big deals. Waiting for guys to reply to text messages became a Sunset Beach melodrama. I wonder if spending most of your time in your head with fictional people is entirely healthy. Whole days would pass during which I would only think about fake things.
Writing with other members of the YA Massiv and getting out of the flat has been a blessing. Much, much happier and I’d recommend working out and about. Those people with laptops in coffee shops aren’t *just* being posers.
Basically this whole blog post is what happens when you’re procrastinating. I HAVE FOUR DEADLINES, PEOPLE.
8. It’s out of your hands. Adding to last year’s list, these things are out of an author’s control: Where your book is stocked, how much it costs, what the cover looks like, who reviews it, reviews, awards short listings, festival appearances, sales, word of mouth…
The list is endless. All I can do is write another book and hope for the best. You can help your chances by saying yes to every opportunity that comes your way. I hate saying no to stuff because I worry I won’t get asked a second time.
9. Don’t compare yourself to other authors. That way madness lies. Books are a magic, not a science. Being competitive about the things on the ‘out of your control’ list is stupid, but I’ve witnessed (and probably felt at some points) professional jealousy. When I was a primary school teacher, it was really hard to get parents to see that you had to manage 32 kids. I guess it’s the same with books. To the author, THEIR book is the brightest, most gifted in the class. To everyone else, it’s a book.
Any book that is selling well is helping the industry as a whole and getting people into bookshops. Don’t be hatin’!
10. It’s not life or death. But don’t forget what you’re writing for. ‘X got half a million for two novels’, ‘Y sold her movie rights to Disney’. Gossip folks. And I’m totally the gossipiest. As the brief twitter parody account, Self-Important Author taught us, we REALLY shouldn’t take what we do too seriously. What we do, in the grander scheme of things, doesn’t matter. Yes, we get young people into reading, and there are ‘important’ novels but C’MON, we’re not doing the hard work that teachers and learning mentors and social workers are doing on the front line.
And, as has been said many times over, don’t be an author if you wanna be rich. Go work for Credit Suisse.
While writing this very post, I got an email from a Spanish reader thanking me for writing Kitty and Delilah in Hollow Pike because she never read about characters like her and her girlfriend. Firstly can we take a second to appreciate that a book I wrote on my summer holidays in an attic flat in Brighton is now on sale in SPAIN? Secondly, that reader had a good time. We write our books and then people might read them and then enjoy them. Again, that’s enough and we should be grateful – they didn’t have to after all.
THAT’S what it’s about.
11. Writing about writing is a cynical way to boost…. So erm…yeah. Thx bye!