When a book comes out, there’s a small flurry of attention, if you’re lucky. Reviews, interviews, guest posts on blogs, requests to write short pieces for this slot or that. If you’re really lucky, you’re invited on to radio and TV shows. You slaughter the swarm of butterflies in your gut and accept these invitations, hoping to god you won’t make a complete eejit of yourself and that the single plain shirt you own still fits after a chocolate-upholstered winter – I’ve been advised that plain bright colours look best on TV. I don’t know if that’s still true in our digital age, but I cling to this single crumb of insider knowledge as though the shirt I wear will produce instant intelligence and sparkling repartee in the studio. As though the shirt I wear is ever going to distract from unruly hair and a scarred and radiation-damaged (not to mention ageing) face.
I’m about to emerge from one of those lucky promotion periods. So far, Fallen has had a warm and generous reception. The two weeks since the launch have clarified a few principles for me that might be useful to someone else. I offer them here – not because I managed to use them all but because my awareness of their importance is (in some cases painfully) fresh.
- Before your book comes out, figure out what you want to say about it. And about yourself. Give yourself a pretend interview. Ask the questions you want to be asked – and the ones you don’t. What’s the best way to answer them? I read Lynn Barber’s A Curious Career in the week before my launch. One thing that stuck with me is that if you tell a journalist something is off the record, you can’t rely on them to honour your request: their job is to discover a story, not to hide it
- Stay awake when you’re talking to journalists. Be as clear as you can: what they think they hear might be entirely different to what you meant to say. Brace yourself for this. If it happens, get over it quickly. Try to keep your balance. You won’t like what some people say about your book, you’ll get carried away by the enthusiasm of others – but remember where the real magic happens: quietly and on the page, between reader and book, well away from public view.
- Your own words will come back to you strange, hollow and false in someone else’s sentences. It’s like listening to yourself on an old cassette tape. I don’t sound like that, you think; but everyone else assures you that you do.
- Keep your roots in good nick in case a photographer shows up.
- Some questions will wear you down. Saying what your favourite book was when you were a child can feel like betrayal. All those other books, the ones that kept you company and guided you through the dank and scary thickets of childhood, bristle and sidle away in a huff. They’ll show you their grumpy back, goad you awake in the small hours: Remember ME?
- You might despair of finding new ways to say the same thing, or reach a point where you’ve said something so often you begin to wonder if it’s actually true. I don’t have a solution, I’m only saying.
- The What I Wish I’d Said phenomenon: get used to this. A blog is a handy outlet. If you don’t have one, make a note of the brilliant bon mot that came to you in the shower; you might get a chance to use it in a later interview instead.
- When people ask you to do things, say yes. If you agree to write a piece to a specified word length within a certain time, meet those deadlines. This really matters.
- Drop in to local bookshops and talk to the staff. I’ve been reluctant to do this, not wanting to be pushy, but I’ve started to do it and so far the response has been great.
- Social media (hello!) – twitter, facebook, blogging and so on – choose the ones you actually enjoy. Try to work out a balance between the time you invest and what the returns might be, but don’t think of ‘returns’ exclusively in terms of book sales. The contacts, alliances and support you find online can be invaluable. On the other hand, some social media stuff might leave you feeling slightly grubby. All I can suggest – since I haven’t entirely resolved this issue myself – is: don’t make it all about you.
- And now for something completely different: celebrate! A launch is always a good idea. It’s not a chore, it’s a party. People who’ve put up with your absence and general lack of availability for the last n years – not to mention the people who’ve endured all your moaning and insecurity – deserve a party. So do you. So does your book. Invite everyone.
- I know some people go straight from one novel to the next, but I don’t know how they do it. I’d suggest you think about what you might do next but don’t rush into it. I am so consumed by Fallen at the minute, talking about it etc., that it would be hell to drag myself out of another book to do it, and then go back – it would feel like infidelity. I’d be afraid the new one would throw me out for good and change the locks. In the gap between sending the manuscript away, last autumn, and publication this month, I’ve been teaching and working on short stories, and mulling over possibilities for a new book. Those possibilities are getting restless now. They want out. The whole long-drawn out process, years of staring at a wall and into space, is about to start over…
… because time moves on. New books come out and the whole process begins again, for someone else.