If the Internet is to be believed, ‘to get published’ is up there with ‘world peace’, ‘an end to starvation’ and ‘a crack at Karen Gillan/Ryan Gosling/both when they’re slightly tipsy and judgment-impaired’ as the thing most people covet most in the world. It is a dream for a lot of people, and a strong one too – involving any combination of peer respect, hordes of fans, a rock-star sex-god partner and millions in the bank.
However, statistically there can only be one Neil Gaiman at a time (if there’s more than one they must do battle, Highlander-style, and I for one would pay GOOD money to see that) and so it stands to reason that there is a difference between the idea of being a Published Author and the reality of same. Incidentally, this gap is one that has frustrated me repeatedly in my adult life.
In writing as in other arts, there are bottlenecks. I’ve been busy avoiding ‘real life’ so I’ve had a stab at a couple of other disciplines – in music, you first have to rehearse. Then you have to get actually half-decent. Then you meet the gatekeepers – my time was B.I. (Before Internet) so we had to deal with Top 40 DJs. I will say little about the experience – let’s just say it was, ehm, informative. You need fuel for writing limp-wristed, tasteless and brain-dead bastards from somewhere. Frustrated by music, I turned my hand to acting and found that the highway to superstardom, hordes of fans and a mansion was less that and more mountain road traversed by donkey. I applied for Drama School, got into LAMDA (past Bottleneck #1) and thought I Had It Made, only to find that a similar percentage who got through the first bottleneck (about 7%) and into drama school actually got jobs going out of drama school. For those playing the home game, that equates to about 11 people working regularly on stage out of 3,000 applicants.
Which brings us to writing.
On the 17th of July 2012 I got an email from my agent asking me to give her a call. The first words she said were: ‘Are you sitting down?’ Fifteen minutes later I remembered to breathe and my brain caught up with the realities of the situation.
I was going to be a published writer! And I had been signed by none other than World Fantasy Legend Jo Fletcher Herself!
I was staying with my family in Iceland at the time, and bless them, they put up with me nattering on about it for four days straight before flying back to London mostly powered by the emissions of my own planet-sized ego. I went to JFB headquarters, signed a contract and strode out to red carpets and flashes of paparazzi bulbs which I found out later were mostly ‘imaginary’.
Because frankly? The world didn’t actually change. I still had a job that I needed to pay attention to, no swimming pool materialised outside a house I certainly didn’t own and not a single national newspaper wrote an article on my massive and unprecedented success.
What I did have was a flat where I could sit and read the contract. Particularly the bit that said ‘Book 2 due by’. Because essentially, what happens when you sign a publishing contract for a series is that someone who knows books goes ‘I like what you’ve done here and spent the last three years polishing and shining. Now do it again, three times faster and much better plzkthxbai.’
Undaunted by ‘reality’, I spent about two weeks going ‘Haharr! I am a published writer! Well, I will be – in a year! I will be taking delivery of an 18’ statue of myself any time now!’ I wondered whether anyone would like the books. I wondered whether I’d ever be on a panel at a convention. I thought I’d be awesome. I thought I couldn’t write for toffee. Then I realised that the only thing I could actually control in this situation was my own output – and so I got to outputting. And here I am, two years and a bit later, nearly a year into being a published writer, a year after my awesome publisher threw a launch party where she gave me mead in a skull goblet, and I find my life still hasn’t changed that much. Work is going well, writing is fun, the book has got mostly favourable reviews, my friends have bought it, grumbled at me about the ending and put the release date for Book 2 into their calendars – and I’m waiting with bated breath for the reviews of book 2 and well into writing book 3 when I can tear myself away from hanging out on Twitter with all the other Published Authors.
I suppose now I’m writing for that next bottleneck – the one I didn’t know about. There is apparently quite a leap from being a Published Author to being a Full Time Author. But while I am not nor ever have been the most athletic of men – with the belief of JFB and the encouragement of Fantasy readers, I feel I’ve got at least decent pace on the run-up.
Keep getting lost in books that make you go ‘. . . cool!’ out loud on public transport,