A year ago my life changed. That sounds a bit dramatic, so let me explain: last January, the 9th, to be exact, my debut novel Tree Magic was published by the lovely team at Impress Books.
I instantly became a best-selling author and am now rich, famous and respected, with my work translated into 35 languages.
OK, I may be exaggerating (slightly – you know me). But my life did change in many unexpected ways, most of which were positive, so I thought I’d brighten up this dull January day with a post to remind myself what a wonderful year 2017 was for the writer in me.
I won’t dwell on how it felt to become published: you can read about this in my post here, if you’re interested. Suffice to say I was overjoyed. What I am going to tell you about are all the unexpected spin-offs that came from being a published author.
The scariest part of 2017 was turning from a writing hermit into a public figure. I was invited to speak on the local radio, where I ended up doing 3 shows because the interviewer was interested in short stories as well as in Tree Magic. I was horribly nervous beforehand, but doing it made me realise that I could overcome my fear of not knowing what to say.
OK, I was just as nervous beforehand, but I discovered that once I was standing in front of the audience, everything was fine. People are so friendly and ready to laugh! Each talk I gave was a little different, but the theme – the lessons I learnt along my route to publication – remained the same.
More enjoyable than the talks was the workshop I gave on writing for Young Adults (YA). Despite my threats of nasty punishments, the participants seemed to enjoy it.
In July, I was invited to speak on a panel at the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) at the Olympia in London. With a microphone. This was the most difficult public event for me, the only one I was paid for, and the one at which I learnt the most.
It was at the Olympia that I learnt what a Green Room was. The email from the organisers told me to go to there on arrival, but when I looked around the exhibition floor the Green Room was nowhere to be found. I ended up at the information desk, where the girls explained that it’s a code name for the private room where the authors can relax away from the crushing crowds of fans (not that anyone actually had this particular problem). How silly did I feel?
The highlight from YALC, apart from meeting lots of interesting authors, bloggers, agents and publicists, was helping out at the Waterstones cash desk. I received some strange looks at first, when I had to peer at the unfamiliar British coins people gave me. I was so chuffed when I actually sold my own book to a stranger.
I could say that YALC disillusioned me too. It was here that I realised that getting published was not the height of success. It was simply the opening of a door into the professional side of the book world. Publishing is a business. Like in any business, the focus is on the commercial aspect of the product rather than on the artistic love of playing with words and structure.
Tree Magic received some amazing reviews. It was a real boost to read these and know that someone had ‘got’ your message.
But my favourites were the emails, photos and private messages I received from readers to whom Tree Magic meant something special. I also loved hearing people’s stories about trees when they came to get their books signed. I could write a book from all those anecdotes!
The highlight of my year was an invitation to do a writing residency in the Pyrenees, the place where my current novel is set. I found the perfect balance between writing, researching, blogging about the residency and being introduced to interesting people. I was so sad to leave, and my return to everyday life was difficult.
It was from reading those writing residency posts that an editor from the Writers & Artists Yearbook contacted me and asked me to write a piece for their 35 000 newsletter readers. I was so flattered! You can read my piece here.
Perhaps it was my publisher’s pity at seeing me play with pretend-books that led them to announce soon after the publication of the ebook that they had decided to print a paperback version too. That was a champagne moment.
It led to publicity campaigns, such as Books on the Underground, and invitations for guest blogs. I started to take part in Twitter chat shows, such as the convivial #SundayYA, which is fun and informative. My publicist also told me it made my book eligible for prizes.
Prizes: my naïve eyes were opened here too. Prizes are a marketing tool, and I was shocked to see how much publishers have to pay to take part. I soon learnt that to be eligible for many prizes, you have to live in the UK (and have your book distributed to Waterstones). Which I don’t. It’s a real disadvantage for an author to live outside the UK because you can’t take part in panels and book launches so easily either. I now understand why literary agents have rejected me for this very reason.
The proudest moment of the year had to be the shortlisting of my story Big Bones in the coveted Bath Short Story Award and its inclusion in their anthology. I had great fun at the launch evening, where I discovered the amazing Mr B’s bookshop in Bath. It’s like a dream home, with floor to ceiling bookshelves in every room. Talking of short story publications, my Segora prizewinning short story from 2016, Quark Soup, was also published in the French Literary Review.
I’m sure there were missed opportunities during the year. I met my dream agent, one who loves nature and wildlife, only to hear him tell me that he wished I’d sent him the manuscript for Tree Magic before it was published, as it was exactly the kind of book he liked. I also met the CEO of The Woodland Trust at a book talk, just as I had to leave the event.
Of course there were negative sides to the year, not least of which was that I was exhausted by November. In addition, I struggled with Twitter. No matter how happy you are, when you see other people’s successes you can feel inadequate and even dissatisfied. Success is ethereal, and your life-changing news is forgotten within hours of it being announced. This has been a lesson to me, one I often remind myself about.
People tell you not to give up your day job when you’re an author. I would second this. In fact, I may have to find an extra job to pay for all the travel and accommodation expenses I’ve run up through taking part in events!
My first year as a published author may be over, but the spin-offs are continuing into 2018. For example, a French high school has decided to study Tree Magic, so I will be working with a class of 36 teenagers. I have been invited to judge a short story competition and lead a tree-themed writing workshop in France; and I may be participating at some literary and tree events in the UK this summer.
Most importantly, I am back at my desk, hiding in the safety of my house and writing my next novel. Writing may be less dazzling than publicity, but it’s the part I love, the part that makes me laugh and cry on a daily basis. If 2018 brings nothing but a year of writing, I will still count myself lucky.