I have just had the second book of my second series for children published. It feels like a bit of a milestone.
It's called Dragon Amber, and it's part of a multiple worlds adventure trilogy that started with Deep Amber last March. The cover's lovely, as all of them have been (thanks to David Wyatt), and there's nothing quite like holding the physical copy of your new book in your hands (or even clutching it to yourself as you do a little dance...!!) But it being the second book of the second series made me stop and think. It's my sixth book to be published. While I'm far from being 'established' (whatever that means), it certainly means I'm no longer a total newbie.
This business of feeling as if you're pretending seems to be something quite a few children's authors suffer from. (It may be related to the fact that very few of us are actually making enough money to feel writing is a 'proper' job, but that's another story...)
Anyway, I thought I'd take this opportunity - as someone who can no longer consider herself a novice - to try and sum up what I have learnt over the last three years of being part of the world of children's publishing.
1. First and foremost: other children's authors - whether well known, just published or still hopeful - are almost all lovely, warm, friendly and modest (and there are not many professions you'd be able to say that of.) Getting together with them, at festivals, conferences, retreats or book launches is a wonderfully affirming thing to do - and helps quite a lot with that feeling of being a bit of a fraud (I AM a children's writer - because I am accepted by all those other lovely children's writers!!)
2. I have almost no control over whether my books do well or not - so I should just relax and maybe cross my fingers occasionally! Being open to opportunities like school visit invites or festivals is fun and part of getting to know the publishing business - tweeting and face booking have been similarly good for getting to know other writer friends. And sometimes opportunities have come from that. But none of it has turned my book into a best-seller, and I don't think there's any magic way of doing so!
3. If I don't want to become mad and bitter, I have to try not to compare my book sales/prize nominations and festival invites with others - and must remember NOT to check the Amazon ranking of my books more than once a week! There is a great deal of luck and randomness in this business and then there are the unfathomable whims of publishers, reviewers and the reading public (Fifty Shades of Grey, anyone?). Generally (but not always: see aforementioned Fifty Shades) it's Very Good Books that get attention and prizes - equally there are thousands of Very Good Books that don't, and which category mine end up in (even if they were to be considered Very Good!) is mostly down to serendipity.
Oh - and marketing spend.
Which brings me to no. 4.
4. Publishers put serious time, energy and money behind only a select few of the books they publish. These books are plastered all over websites, magazines, 'hot new trends' lists, twitter, reviews, front window billing at Waterstones and W.H. Smiths.
In the absence of this push, you are lucky if your book ends up in a select few Waterstones branches, or garners an online review from a kind blogger. This is no reflection on the quality of your book - I've met too many other brilliant people with fabulous books who can't get them noticed to think it's entirely a meritocracy. Publishers are scrabbling to find the next Wimpy Kid or Hunger Games, and even they don't know what will trigger that response. Often it's something they have all roundly rejected as too dire to waste ink on (cough, Fifty Shades...) So they put money behind a few, and publish a hundred others in a kind of scattergun approach, in case any of them builds a following by chance. I've learned to treat having a book out as a bit like having bought a lottery ticket - whether it does well or not is as random as whether I win the jackpot or a £10 prize for three numbers.
5. So, finally, after a few years of trying to find the 'magic key' to making a go of this publishing lark, I've learned to just enjoy the moment: to hold my new book in my hands, and do a little jig at having pulled it off one more time. In the book I'm currently reading (The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie) one of the characters is a Northman, hard, battle-scarred, always getting into more impossible fights. At the end of each one, he repeats, as a kind of mantra: 'Still alive, still alive...' I think I feel a bit like that about writing - 'Still there, still there...'
C.J. Busby writes funny fantasy adventures for ages 7 upwards. Her first book, Frogspell, was a Richard and Judy Children's Book Cub choice for 2012. The series is published in Canada by Scholastic and the UK by Templar and has been translated into German and Turkish. Deep Amber, the first of a new trilogy, was published in March 2014. The second instalment, Dragon Amber, came out on 1st September.
"A rift-hopping romp with great charm, wit and pace" Frances Hardinge.
Nominated for the Stockton Book Award 2015.