I write this as my second book goes to print. It feels like it should be the tenth, and simultaneously like I woke up just yesterday and decided audaciously that I was going to be an author. The learning curve in publishing may as well be the north face of the Eiger, and still the hardest part is not the practical challenges, but the mental and emotional bedlam of navigating this fickle, exhilarating industry. If I could go back in time and smooth the way for my younger self, these are the things I would want her to know.
It’s not about your debut
It’s about book five, book nine, book twenty. The publishing industry is so enamoured with debut authors, and the stories we hear are all about bursting onto the scene in a flurry of major contracts and movie rights. You don’t need that to have every success in your career. You can build a readership steadily if you focus on the long game. I would tell my younger self that no matter the allure, you don’t really want or need a flashy debut. What you want is a writing career.
You are not an imposter
Or maybe you are. Maybe you’re not as smart as other authors. Maybe you’re writing books ‘wrong’ and just muddling through while your peers all know what they’re doing. But guess what? The outcome is the same. No one’s going to know! And you can’t keep telling yourself that first book was a fluke, a trick you can’t replicate, because you wrote another one, and you did it faster and more confidently.
Practise separating art from business
Writing stories is about art. Selling books is about money. I learned this fast, but with all the hope and desperate want bound up in publishing, it still could have been faster! It’s a complex distinction, because the business of publishing doesn’t exist without art. But when it comes to your own journey, you can protect your sanity, your self-esteem, and your own ability to grow in your craft without interference by drawing a clear line. A compliment about your writing? That’s about the art. Getting an agent? That’s about business; they’re looking for something that will fill a gap in the market, not just something good. Reaching readers to whom your books have real meaning? Art. Getting a six-figure deal and being a lead title? Business. It’s not about becoming immune to disappointment. It’s just how you remind yourself that you made a choice to make money from writing, and no success or failure need ever touch the way you feel about your work.
Write it down
Success is a moving target, especially when you’re caught up in the highs and lows of publishing. You wanted an agent, when you got an agent you wanted a book deal, when you got a book deal you were impatient to see it on shelves and hold the finished thing in your own hands. Amongst these moments were dozens of small but equally real joys; seeing the cover for the first time, getting a five star review, taking a pen to the title page and scrawling your signature on your book. But you were so focused on the next big milestone that it took a real effort to pause and acknowledge things you had daydreamed about endlessly. Now, having realised I let some of them pass me by, I write them down. I journal in detail about all the firsts, and all the daydreams. I want to remember how I thought these little joys would feel when they happened, so that even when I’m chasing the big wins, I can remind myself how important they are.