‘I lapsed once or twice’
‘Don’t read your reviews’ is famously the advice given to every actor, and maybe every author, too. The temptation to read early reviews in the run-up to my novel’s publication last June was, I confess, very great, particularly when the proof started going out to reviewers.
I lapsed once or twice in my resolve not to look, but when I did was relieved to see four- and five-star reviews, and once I was happy that the novel wasn’t bombing I felt able to stop peeking.
Beaten to the top by Rev Richard Coles
Publication week was more fraught – with newspaper reviews also coming out (also positive, thank goodness) and then the tense wait to see if the novel had made the top ten. It was number eleven and therefore not a ‘Sunday Times best seller’ by one position. Ah well – the perils of being published in the same week as the Rev Richard Coles!
Every novel fights for publicity
Every novel fights for the oxygen of publicity. Well-known names and celebrity authors consume much of what is out there, and a few well-chosen debuts will also get a lot of coverage. But for most of us, the only thing we have control over is the writing. The established publishing houses employ publicists and marketing people who do an amazing job, but they’re incredibly busy, and so the more you can do as an author to promote your own work the better.
We aren’t all naturals at walking boldly into bookshops and offering to sign any copies of our book they have in stock, or pitching to festivals, still less at producing brilliant social media posts. But like most other authors I know, I’ve tried to do at least some of that, and there is an undeniable thrill when a reader comes up to you and tells you how much they loved your book or even tells you something about your book that you didn’t know yourself!
On BBC’s Between the Covers!
My novel featured on BBC2’s Between the Covers last November. The short clip of me talking about the book was filmed at the amazing House of Automata (clockwork automata feature in my novel), which is by a wonderful coincidence in my hometown of Forres in the north of Scotland. This resulted in people telling me how lucky I was to have all those automata at home (if only!). The panel members were very positive about my book, and the programme certainly lifted sales in the run up to Christmas.
Paperbacks, festivals and book two
The paperback comes out in May, and I will be appearing at festivals throughout the year. But (again like most authors) my ‘writing brain’ will be engaged in editing book two, a novel about the astonishing Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, traveller, reformer and largely forgotten literary superstar. It can be hard to temper a natural enthusiasm to talk about the book that is occupying your every waking hour to switch back to a book ‘finished’ two years ago. But books are never truly finished, in the sense that they live again each time they are read.
Best thing is hearing from people
Perhaps the best thing of all about being published is hearing from people you haven’t seen for decades. I’ve had emails and messages from schoolfriends I haven’t been in touch with since we were fourteen years old, and messages from complete strangers who have taken the time to tell me something about the book they really enjoyed.
Make the reader feel moved
I knew when I set out writing the story of Zachary that I wanted to create humane characters who would not only be colourful and entertaining, but who would make the reader feel moved by their respective tragedies and triumphs. It’s easy to forget that early writing ambition during the long process of drafting, editing and then the waiting to see how a book is received. It takes readers to remind you of it.
Sean Lusk was runner up in our 2014 Short Story competition.