How to get through your book’s publication without becoming a total wreck: Musings from an insomniac author on the eve of her fifth book coming out

Publishing is in many ways like gambling, people seem to be saying more and more. No one can know in advance which books will sell big, and which scarcely at all. There are too many fluctuating factors to predict the outcome of any given book, from the nature of the post-publication zeitgeist to the combination of colours on the cover. Much is beyond the author’s control – especially if, like me, you have a publisher who makes many of the decisions which affect your book.

So how can authors cope with all this uncertainty? More than ever seem to spend their time frantically writing the next book, which they and their publisher hope will become a big bestseller. Admittedly, I’m not one for writing to order, even the idea of deciding to write X number words per day fills me with horror. How would I cope with attempting to fulfill the demands of a contract that stated three books a year (as one publisher told me they expected)? All that strictness would create even more anxiety than I have already!

At the same time, it would be nice to be able to earn a living of sorts from one’s books… Like many authors I suspect, from time to time I’ve thought how strange and fortuitous it would be to write a book that actually brought in a goodly chunk of money – enough to pay the bills and go travelling and do all the important things of life with, at least.

Whenever I hover on the edge of the abyss that is the publication of the next book, some part of my mind considers the possibility of sales that would transform my life and transport me to some sunny island where the crème de la crème of million-copy bestselling authors hang out with film stars, rock legends and so forth, and no one ever asks if I’d mind changing the sheets or putting the washing on.

This scenario quickly fades into stoic acceptance that the time has not yet come for my life to be transformed. The chances of life-transforming sales are virtually zero, my rational mind knows – much like the chances of winning the lottery or a big writing competition, or finding an agent, back in the day when people did that sort of thing.

It’s hard to stop occasional daydreams, though – and just as hard to maintain a zen-like calm on the evening before publication, when all manner of spiteful little worries come out to play. This book won’t amount to anything, you’ll always be a failure, why not try something else less challenging instead? (crochet, reading…)

As I sit in my office writing this, my fifth book has gone up for pre-order and is to be published in less than two weeks. I feel as if I’m preparing to abandon perfectly good dry land for a tiny craft in a roiling sea. While doing my best to channel a state of cautious optimism and excited anticipation, I’m fending off middle-of-the-night bouts of anxiety that everyone is going to hate my book and give it rubbish reviews, and after reading them I’ll be so dispirited I’ll never want to write anything else ever again.

Of course, what is more likely is that the book will have some modest success (sell enough to pay for the year’s paper supplies perhaps – or a research trip to Norway, even better), gather a few excellent reviews, a few awful ones and many in between, and then life will continue much as it did before. Within a few weeks I’ll once more be tapping contentedly at my keyboard, grateful for having survived the storm.

There’s absolutely no point, I know, in fretting about what one can’t control, such as whether some huge wave might capsize one’s little boat. All one can do is learn to be the best sailor you can be. I’ve written the best book I could, it’s been gone over countless times by me and others, I’ve done what I can to get publicity for my book. For a few weeks I’ll be touting my wares on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – maybe even TikTok, you never know. Then it’ll be time to cut the engine, haul up the mainsail and get ready for the voyage ahead.

This means accepting that a multitude of factors control the destiny of virtually every book published – pesky winds that will or won’t blow, waves that may submerge a book’s pages forever, or carry them to far-off shores. It’s not easy to do this, especially for anyone like me who has control freak tendencies. But it’s the only way, isn’t it? Whatever will be will be, I’ve started muttering to myself, along with other watery sayings about riding out the storms and going with the flow.

If your book is also out soon, bon voyage – and the best of luck!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s