I’ve been agonising about my career choice; mother versus writer. There are aspects to the two that clash (like all of them, mwah ha ha hargh). But the fact is, it’s not just finding the time to write that poses a problem. Being an Author is like any other job. There are bits you’re good at and bits you’re not so good at; aspects you love and aspects you dislike. But as an author I stake my professional integrity on the stuff I put out and getting the bits I’m not so good at wrong could be seriously risky.
Clearly the happiest author is going to be the one who writes full time but unless you’re Sir Terence, with the might of Transworld behind you, that’s not realistically possible. Actually even Sir Terry has to do other stuff.
However, happiness really is a state of mind. And more to the point, none of the other scary stuff; the marketing, for example, and the grammar – or the grim business of reasearching and approaching the various gatekeepers who are going to throw your manuscript in the bin and tell you to piss off. None of that is going to go away.
So, I’ve been a bit blue lately. My perfectly acceptable (two years ago) punctuation is now unacceptable and because I’m a self published author it’s no good arguing – as both my editors do – that it’s consistent. Sure if you’ve a contract with Orion or somebody, the indie bashers will merely ‘disagree’ with your approach but if you’re M T McGuire, self-published nobody, they will consider it ‘wrong’ and review accordingly. So my book’s going in for a third edit.
That’s why I haven’t written anything on here. Because, I was beginning to wonder if I should try to continue being an author, or at least publishing my efforts. Yes, yes, I admit it, an artistic hissy fit, but it all felt very real to me – like I’d really lost my mojo – and what can you say about feeling like that? Nothing interesting or constructive that’s for sure.
Then I realised that anyone, in any job, is going to feel a bit pants about what they do from time to time. The trick is to ditch the negative aspect that’s bugging you for a day or two – even if you have a deadline – and concentrate on an aspect of your work that you’re good at.
So, in my case, that would be the actual nitty-gritty of writing the story. Except that it’s the end of term, there’s lots on and I’ve been rather strapped for time to write. So my usual negativity cancellation technique has been an epic fail.
While I was wondering what else I could do to get the feel good factor back, the answer cropped up totally unexpectedly; at toddler group. There I was, with McMini, and I ran into a fan. Someone who I didn’t know – one of the dads – who had read my books. And he sidled up to me, shyly, nervously even, took a deep breath and told me he’d loved my books and couldn’t wait until the third one came out. And he used things like my name and the word ‘talented’ in the same sentence. And I thanked him – from approximately 40,000 feet up because I was flying. And suddenly even though I was looking down the barrel of the summer holidays – which, while a delight in most ways, does present a daunting eight week moratorium on all writing – McWorld was McRight again.
It’s things like that which make all the scary I-could-get-this-so-wrong-and-destroy-my-reputation-for-ever side of publishing your own work worth it. And then I read this post and it got me thinking.
My cyber buddie Mr Will Macmillan Jones. It’s in his honour that I’ve used a jazz lyric for a post title… that and the fact it made me laugh. Mr Macmillan Jones is a fellow humorous fantasy author; Mancunian, exciled to Wales and driver of a slightly more plutochratic but similarly stupid car as myself, he does a lot of book signings. Now, OK he’s a proper author because he has a real live publisher, not one actually, two – I swear he’s made some kind of pact with the devil – but I digress.
Anyway, he does a lot of book signings. As I understand it, he rings a branch of Waterstones, introduces himself and blags them into letting him spend an afternoon in their shop, with a big pile of books, flogging them to unwary customers. I think it scared him quite badly at first but it’s abundantly clear that he’s become rapidly addicted. Like delivering a good stand up set, it clearly gives him a buzz.
Now, on the one hand, the idea of doing signings fills me with toe curling, buttock clenching fear – and I don’t have time to do more than about five a year anyway. On the other, I’m an ex stand up comedienne so I really should be able to handle it and anyway, it’s not so bad, is it? After all, I only have time to do about five a year.
Furthermore, I’ve sold 200 copies of Few Are Chosen over the past year simply by having a copy in my handbag so that if people ask me what I do I can say, ‘This.’ And show it to them.
In other words, though the prospect of doing signings scares me, the chances are I might enjoy it. I might even do it reasonably well – or, certainly, be better at it than I am at selling e-books. I may not have sold as many via the handbag as I have via the web but my handbag hit rate is a lot higher, I can tell you.
Signings also get you into the real world. OK, don’t tell anyone this but believe it or not, out there in the normal, non-scary world beyond Amazon, people still quite like authors.
There is one small problem. I’ve only written two books. It’s not enough, but come next year, when I’ll have written three… and it’ll be a trilogy… THAT’S when it might be smart to look at signings. In earnest.
Right, so, if any of you are still awake, the conclusions I’ve come to for happy authordom are as follows.
1. Write as many books as you can, GOOD BOOKS mind you, as fast as is humanely possible without letting your quality standards drop.
2. Do the Lightning Source thing and get them into the wholesalers or get a publisher so it’s really easy for both independents and chains to order them.
3. Do signings.
4. Publicise them. Do press releases and send them round to local newspapers where you’re going to appear – pimms media guide or similar in your local library will have a list with contacts. Or ask the manager of the shop you’re going to for any press contacts they have. Many will be happy to help – they’re as keen as you are to sell lots of books, after all.
5. Do schools events – I’m not sure how, as yet, but I’m sure it’s worth it.
6. Get in touch with your local literary/library officers if you can.
7. Make post cards and other promotional items and leave them wherever you go – here are some examples.
8. Take a copy of your book with you, wherever you go and if people ask you what you do, don’t be shy, whip it out and show them (phnark).
I’m not saying I’ve applied my plan – apart from the postcards and the taking my books about – but when book three is in the bag, I will have to seriously get my finger out. There’s no chance of intensive signings, not on Saturdays but I think I should be able to swing some. So I think I’ve found… well… if not my mojo then a plan and now that I have a plan, even if I have to wait 18 months or so – hnur hnur hnur hnurrrgh – I’m gonna try it out on you.