Monday, 11 August 2008

Okay, here's a question...

I'm coming up on the anniversary of my debut publication. Tim Stretton just launched his boat upon the waters. Frances Garrood, Aliya Whitely, Brian McGilloway, Michael Stephen Fuchs, and Edward Charles have all sent their seconds out in to the world under the MNW imprint, and the rest of the MNW alumni are all in various other stages of...of, well, whatever stages they find themselves in.

So, I thought I'd toss this question out there, ala Bob Dylan, no matter what your stage of publication: How does it feel?

Pretty much as expected? Pretty much as unexpected? Gratifying? Disappointing? Surprising? Complicated? Better? Worse?

Those of you who aren't Macmillanites (aren't 'Macmillanites' demons out of a Clive Barker novel?) should feel free to chip in, too. What's up with all this publication hoo-rah? How does it rank relative to, say, loss of virginity, matriculation, bailing out of an airplane, or crossing the equator ("cutting the line," for the nautically inclined)?


Michael Stephen Fuchs said...

Well, as you'll recall David, I said rather too much (for anyone's comfort) on the subject in this here screed.

Has my stance changed since then? Yeah, a bit. I've realised that, whatever the inevitable let-downs and anti-climax, it still beats working. So I roused myself to write another one. It's on Will's desk now.

Come see us in London some time.


Aliya Whiteley said...

It's great.

But the more I think about it, the more I realise it's been easy to accept as an unexpected gift, because I don't think publication was actually my goal. My goal is to write a good book, and I don't think I've achieved that yet. So I'm still writing, and am delighted to be published at all.

Faye L. said...

Of course, I'd like to echo the views already expressed in so far as it being a wonderful experience goes. That hardly needs to be said, especially when I just took delivery of five advance copies of the beautiful new PB version of Cover the Mirrors!

However, like Aliya, I think one of the biggest misconceptions held by the unpublished is that you immediately hit your all-time number one target with the publication of your first book, and that after that point you're left wondering what to do next. (Perhaps this accounts for the anti-climax Michael mentions?) I always have another goal in mind, something else to pursue, a new thing to try; and I imagine most if not all of the rest of you do as well. Perhaps it's a trait common to writers (along with other groups of people such as scientists, obviously), or perhaps it's just a human quality. You'll have to forgive me for this strange analogy, but I've been pondering the nature of Faustian pacts lately (purely from an artistic standpoint, y'understand - I'm not about to grab a quill and open a vein), and in Goethe's Faust, the one thing that will cause the eponymous character to immediately drop dead and forfeit his soul to the horny guy (ahem) is reaching a point where he feels completely fulfilled. Not that I'm comparing Macmillan to the devil of course, but myths speak to basic human truths as we all know, and I think it's human nature to mistrust complete fulfilment and always pursue something more. Luckily for us, there are always more characters and stories to help us do exactly that, and thereby narrowly avoid going bonkers.

Then again, Goethe also chose, out of all the dog breeds out there, a poodle - A POODLE! - to be his hellhound, so perhaps he was just smoking something he shouldn't have been.


Matt Curran said...

How does it feel to be published? Mmmmm. It depends which way the wind is blowing really. Like Michael, doing it as a full-time job would certainly beat working, but would I say it really is the holy-grail of creative writing? Honestly? Well, yes, and no.

Yes, being published is fantastic, especially on launch-day, and when you see a copy of your book hogging shelf-space in the local Waterstones - it's an incredible feeling. I've also had the joy of seeing some random member of the public buy my book in a bookshop in London without knowing the author was standing right next to them, and that it is a huge ego-boost. Being a published author is the thing I've aspired to the most since I started writing way back in the 1990's as a teenager. To achieve that in my early thirties is something to be proud of, and I am, earnestly.

But there are downsides to it all, as Michael has already said in his December post. It's hard work. Bloody hard work, as it turns out. And I'm not just talking about the writing either. After writing the book and sending it to the publisher you go through the anguish of will they/won't they which can last a couple of months. And if it is taken, then you'll probably get hit with more work on editing and then proofing the book. Juggling that extra work with writing a new novel and a day job can make you feel a little too stretched. I admit - and I haven't blogged it - there have been times recently, where I've been thinking whether it's worth all the extra hassle and not having a life - but be assured those doubts were only brief moments, because the ecstasy outweighs the agony.

The next two years will be the test though, as I don't think I can honestly juggle the extra work involved with being published with the day-job and family life - something must give. If I begin writing part-time in the next two years then I can juggle the extra work. If not then being published will inevitably be sacrificed. I won't ever stop writing (no way, Jose) but it's that extra mile in the publishing process that right now is making life a little unmanageable.

Doug Worgul said...

It feels like it'll never happen. Even though the release date is set for February 6.


Brian McGilloway said...

Good question David.

To be honest, it's been better than I had epected though, as everyone seems to have found, it's hard work. I'm currently off work for the summer holidays, editing book 3 for next year and writing book 4 for the year after.

But I believe I can say that it has been a life changing process. My wife has been able to take off work for a while to watch our children (and to have a third who is due to make an appearance within the next month.) I have met some lovely people who otherwise I mght not have, both involved with MNW and other authors and people interested in books and writing - Declan Burke at Crime Always Pays, who is massively generous in his support of other writers, Rhian at It's A Crime, Maxine/Petrona and many others. The other authors I've gotten to know have been uniformly encouraging and supportive (though crime wirters in general are a nice bunch anyway despite what they write - or perhaps because of it.)Borderlands comes out in the US next month and has allowed me to likewise meet people I would never otherwise have met - readers and booksellers both in the US and over here who want to like books and who love reading. Reading and writing are both passions and it is great to involved in something that allows you to meet so many people who share that passion.

Obviously, being published is not the be all and end all. Would I still write even if not published? Of course. But I hope that having gone through the process of publication, I am getting better and that each book will improve on the previous. Like Faye and Aliya, my goal is to write the best book of which I am capable. In each instance to date I believe that I have done so - if any of them fall short of someone else's standards, so be it - but I'm proud of each one. Being published, for me, has given me confidence to strive harder and stretch myself further with each book. The ego boost of seeing a book with your name on it is nice, I accept, though it is only one of something like 125,000 to be produced this year in the UK. I suppose things need to be kept in perspective.

Finally, I don't think writing beats working - I think writing is working. At the minute I simply see myself as having two jobs - both of which I love and which allow me to provide for my family. In that, I consider myself a lucky man.

Frances said...

Having just 'launched' book no.2, I feel it's all been a bit of a rollercoaster. The ups (eg some nice foreign rights) and the downs (now all the partying's over, and book no. 3 is a bit stuck, and August is a horrible month...). Sometimes I would like not to want to write at all - life would be so much easier - but it's an addiction, and as I think many of us feel, something we have to do, published or not. After all, no-one's forcing us to do it, are they? On an up note, today I had to fill in a form, and for the first time, under 'occupation' I actually wrote 'novelist'. It felt wonderful!

Tim Stretton said...

I've enjoyed the "business" side of publication more than I expected--the launch, interviews, seeing articles in print but all of those satisfactions are peripheral. What really counts, as Brian said, is feeling you've written the best book you're capable of. That feeling is independent of the validation of publication by Macmillan--the two books I'd previously self-published provided just as much emotional satisfaction.

Of course, I'm looking forward to the part where I actually get my hands on some cash...

Faye L. said...

Frances, I'm glad someone else dislikes August! People tend to look at me like I've sprouted an extra head when I say that.


Alis said...

I think being published has changed the way other people see what I do rather more than the way I see it. I've always taken my writing very seriously but other people would look at my days spent writing while I worked part time at the money-generating job and think 'Isn't this a bit sad? Doesn't she realise that publication is monumentally unlikely?' Now they just ask, meekly, where they can get a copy of my book and when the next one's coming out.
Prior to MNW saying they'd like to publish Testament, I always said I wouldn't stop trying to be published until I stopped developing as a writer. That hasn't changed either!

Len Tyler said...

Yes, an excellent question.

I’ve done most of the things that David lists (apart from bailing out of an aeroplane), though writing is the only one where I’ve subsequently had my performance rated on Amazon.

The burst of adrenaline delivered by being published is massive but short-lived. That is not to say that it is not a very positive experience, but (like having a university degree or being not-a-virgin) it just becomes the normal state of affairs. It would be interesting to quiz some of the athletes who are currently winning Olympic medals in six months time about how it feels in retrospect.

I think the continuing buzz comes not from publication but from the writing itself – finding ingenious ways to push the plot forward, passages that somehow just fall into place, finishing another draft. When the writing ceases to be enjoyable is the point at which it will all become a chore and just another job.

David Isaak said...

Wow, what a marvelous array of responses!

I guess the consensus is that being published is an improvement on not being published. And there sems to be a general feeling that, once publication has happened, the real issue is what you're working on next.

I'm a hope-for-the-best, expect-the-worst kind of guy, so I didn't expect a massive improvement in my life from being published. But all in all it's been a good experience:

1) I expected that holding a copy of one's book would be a real charge, and it was. But the excitment of seeing proofs, and the joy of working with an editor were unexpected benefits.

2) I have to agree with Brian that an unexpected benefit has been meeting--though often only in cyberspace--so many great people, at MNW and elsewhere in the publishing world.

3) Along with Alis, I have to say that when someone finds out you write, and the inevitable question arises--"Oh? Have you ever had anything published?"--that it's nice to be able to answer, "Yes." (Though in my case, I then usually have to explain that although I'm published, I'm not published in the US. This often turns into a rather long discussion.)

4) And, of course, I have to agree with Aliya and Faye that it's the work at hand that really matters. It's rather odd, really: the publication process is really happening in your rear-view mirror, but most of your attention is focused (or ought to be focused) on the road ahead. Getting published is an oddly retrospective act, isn't it?

Frances said...

Postscript to all this: I was talking to a readers' group last week, and one member said, apropos nothing at all, 'I think writing a book is like having sex. Once you've started, you can't stop'.
Just thought I'd tell you. I'm not asking for comments (though of course they'd be most welcome...)

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating range of responses, not least because, as David points out, they've all got a lot in common. Perhaps it's particularly interesting because the specific MNW system means that your experiences have been, I guess, relatively comparable.

And I must say that I rather envy you MNW lot for being able to have these in-common conversations, presumably privately as well as bloggily. Something I hadn't realised till I was contracted and then published is that lesson number one in both the agents' and the editors' training manual seems to be never to mention their other authors to you. Which is no doubt sensible (She's getting more publicity? He's getting more money, or editorial time, or general Love? Grrrrrrrr and then sulk and then paranoid insecurity! Or, I'm getting more of all those things? Embarrassment, silence, and then paranoid insecurity).

But sometimes it leaves one rather lonely, at sea in an ocean of professional confusion, with no way of measuring what's normal, what you should fight for, and what you should be deeply grateful for...