Last week, my first novel was published. I didn't, in all honesty, have any clue what to expect: it's not as though there's a training course called 'How To Be A First-Time Novelist' which lays out what's going to happen. So from the vantage point of a seasoned pro (well, a published author with seven whole days of experience under their belt), I thought I'd share my top ten things every author needs to know before their first time.
1. Publication Day Part 1. This will not, contrary to months of fantasies, involve fanfares or the world stopping to acknowledge your place in the literary canon. A bit like every birthday you've had since you turned eight, you will feel no different on Publication Day than you did before. You will, in all likelihood, spend the day wondering why you don't suddenly feel 'authorish' in the way you'd anticipated.
2. Publication Day Part 2. However, there are many ways in which publication day is like the best birthday ever: people send you flowers and cake, friends and family bombard you with phone calls and messages telling you you're very clever and if you're part of an online book-loving community on Twitter, you will want to scoop up every single blogger who sends you a message or tweets about your book and invite them all to become part of your extended family. The power of book love - like birthday love - is not to be underestimated and it's that which makes P-Day special.
3. The Bookshop Moment. It's the moment you've been dreaming of ever since you tapped out the title on your laptop, isn't it? The first time you see your own book in an actual bookshop. If you can bear to wait, try not to go in search of this particular milestone on Publication Day. My first trip to my local bookshop ended in crushing disappointment when my book was nowhere to be seen. After plucking up the courage to ask one of the shop assistants where it was, he told me it had only just arrived and was yet to be unpacked. He then asked if I'd like to reserve a copy and I had to sheepishly admit - with burning cheeks - that I was actually the author just being a little bit mad. Two days later I finally got that obligatory snap of myself with my book in Waterstones. It was worth the wait.
4. Obsessive Compulsive Rankings Check: Whether or not you've ever been prone to an obsessive personality before, you will discover a new-found ability to refresh the Amazon page for your book with alarming frequency to check your place in the rankings. The fact that you have no idea whatsoever what these rankings actually mean in terms of your books sales is neither here nor there. All you will care about is a) whether you've gone up or down and b) where you are in the chart compared to other books that were published on the same day. This can, quite quickly, take over your life.
5. What Goes Up Must Come Down. When I woke up on Day 2 of Published Authordom, I was cock-a-hoop to discover I was in the Top 250 of the Kindle Chart and Top 100 for Contemporary Fiction. I posted the news on Twitter, emailed everyone I knew and told all my mum-friends at the bub's playgroup that morning. By the time I got home from playgroup a few hours later, I wasn't in the Top 300 or the Top 100 of anything any more. Over the past week I've watched my rankings bounce around the chart like a yo-yo. And although I am (hands up - I admit it) still checking them every hour, I'm no longer telephoning my husband in a fit of despair every time I fall a hundred places.
6. Authors Are Your Friends. It's a myth universally debunked that authors are all deeply rivalrous with one another and spend the time they should be writing books putting pins into the novels of their contemporaries in the hope of casting some sort of voodoo spell on them. In my experience thus far, seasoned authors are generous, kind and supportive (yes, Miranda Dickinson and Amanda Jennings, I'm talking about you!) and provide the kind of unofficial mentoring to newbies on the block that other industries would do well to learn from.
7. Bloggers Are Your Saviour. If authors are your friends, bloggers are the people who save you from the worst excesses of your own angst. Becoming friends with book bloggers online has been singularly the best thing for me about joining the online book community: they're like your mum & your best friend & your kindliest reviewer all rolled into one. And that's a pretty damn good combination.
8. Second Book Syndrome. If you're writing a second book, finish it before your first comes out. I can't stress this strongly enough. The angst, the Amazon checking, the time spent on social media, the blogs and features to write for promotion: book 2 will, in publication month, become an abandoned child, sitting silently on your computer desktop, making you feel constantly guilty for ignoring her. Get her ready and ship her off to your agent or editor before Book 1 takes her first, tentative steps into the big wide world.
9. The Publishing Rollercoaster. Prepare for the most intense emotional rollercoaster you've ever boarded. As another writer said to me, publishing is not for the faint-hearted. In this first week alone, there's been everything from euphoria to despair, and every imaginable emotion in between.
10. Enjoy It. This isn't meant to sound glib. As another wise author pointed out, getting your first book published is just the beginning of what will hopefully be a long and rewarding relationship with readers. And, like any good relationship, you hope you're both in it for the long haul.