"What was a misstep that you (or your publisher) made with publishing your first book--and how would you do things differently if you could?"
My publishers are lovely people and they’ve never put a foot wrong in their entire lives. Leastwise, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I, meanwhile, have rarely put a foot right, except when that was the direction required for going sprawling in a slightly more spectacular fashion. Nonetheless, the tumbles taken in the course of publishing both my first walking guide and my first novel weren’t particularly impressive by my high standards, and can best be summarized by a single word – complacence.
Strange in a way that someone who struggled so long to find a publisher should then prove largely indifferent to the fate of the books that eventually did get into print, but in both cases, I looked at the book, thought, “Well, that’s very nice,” then promptly forgot all about it. Time for the next one!
The thing is, when you write for dark ages without any discernible success, the writing becomes an end in itself. One is constantly perfecting the storytelling, the structure, the language, the literary flourishes, because you know that the chances are that this is as far as it goes, so it’s best to enjoy the process of creating stuff while it lasts.
You’re not going to be brandishing a book about banging on about what a big time writer you are: “And look at my name there, that’s me, there, the author, the actual author, you understand, the one what wrote the book . . . and this is my picture on the inside cover, I’m smiling, you see, quite fetchingly, don’t you think? Oh, and these are the rather nice words I dolloped about in order to decorate the pages. Now why don’t you try that one there, that’s a particularly well-placed word, don’t you think? You do see, don’t you, the way it snuggles up to the next one and echoes that one up there and sort of sets us up for the assonance between those two down there?”
Without that pleasing prospect ahead of you, you’ve just got to get your kicks where you can, indulging in the not inconsiderable pleasures to be had of writing and telling stories, regardless of whether they’re going to be read by anybody but friends, family, and a handful of despairing editors. Keep at it long enough and the actual appearance of a physical book, though gratifying, becomes almost incidental.
Where’s the misstep? Well, sad to say, with a few charmed exceptions, books don’t sell themselves. Sitting back thinking “Right, done that, do something else now” isn’t good enough. You’ve got to get out there to try and persuade people to buy your book, which is probably why most of the published writers on this site are prepared to provide copy for Red Room, a room that is comfy, welcoming and beautifully appointed, but which does tend to be a bit deficient when it comes to dishing out the stipends.
So, if you’re about to be published for the first time, bear in mind that most of the fun stuff is over. All the creating and making and cobbling and cutting and buffing and polishing and staring open-mouthed at the staggeringly beautiful words you’ve strung together . . . all of that was just so much gestating. Now it’s time to bring up baby and launch the little blighter upon an unsuspecting world – and, as any parent will tell you, that is a long and costly and time-consuming business that will frequently leave you feeling frustrated and inadequate if not a little tearful.
Perhaps I’m being naive in highlighting this particular deficiency. It’s entirely possible that everyone else in the world cottoned onto this long ago, fully aware that the unpromoted self is no self at all, and that diffidence never engendered renown. I always have been a bit slow on the uptake when it comes to stuff like that. But given the singular infallibility of my publishers, my own complacency is the only misstep that comes to mind.
How would I do things differently? Well, I’m playing catch up as hard as I can, because I really don’t see how I’m going to publish anymore novels if somebody doesn’t start buying the things.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get on with the real business of being a writer, cornering a couple of hapless readers up a dark alley somewhere and pointing out the more compelling reasons for purchasing a few of my books.
Chemical Mace (reluctant readers may need to be momentarily subdued)
Complimentary key ring and/or fridge magnet to add to the collection the lucky client keeps at the back of the spare drawer in the old sideboard
Slightly more winning smile
Pen for signed copies *
Wrapping paper (they might want one for their friend, too)
Winning smile of an intensity that suggests someone frighteningly competitive and possibly mildly deranged
Promissory note concerning purchase of next publication
Bags of gratitude
Smile so winning that its demented ambition ought to inspire even the most unwilling reader to reach for their wallet
* Don’t take no for an answer here. If you’re quick off the mark and get somebody’s name on the inside cover before they can demur, they're almost bound to buy the thing.
Causes Charles Davis Supports
Oxfam, Amnesty International, Greenpeace