What is success?
So, my second book came out a few weeks ago. It was the first Thursday in May, on what I like to think of as the Black Monday of children’s book publication. On May the 5th this year around 22 MG and YA books were blasted into the world to soar, make it as far as next door’s garden, or get stuck on their way out of the cannon, and I got to thinking about how I should judge the success or otherwise of Swan Boy.
In the run up to publication there are obvious things that wouldn’t be good, filed under What Can Go Wrong:
- You hate your cover
- There are typos in your book
- Everyone hates your book
- Everyone hates your cover
- A box of books falls onto and crushes to death a salesperson at Waterstones
- A fire during the process of printing your book leads to the collapse of the entire industry
- A string of one star reviews
- No reviews
- What book?
Working out what success means is more subjective, but I think that it’s a helpful thing for me to do, just so that I notice if and when it happens, and am not busy looking out for falling boxes of books.
I know it’s hard, but I’m trying to remember that when you start out, getting one book on the shelf in a bookshop is a huge success. But that’s before you know about sales figures, rave reviews, prizes, foreign deals, film rights, and advances that make doing the whole thing viable. All that stuff is important, but, crucially, it’s largely out of an author’s control, and not achieving it can lead to such paroxysms of self doubt that a success can start to feel like a failure.
Aside from all the wonderful people I’ve met, I think that my best experience of the last few years was when I met my first publisher. Over a nice Italian meal, we had a conversation in which they talked about the characters in my book as if they were real. They had bought into my idea and and it had affected them. Now, when I go into schools and children talk to me about my books, I get the same feeling, like they’ve somehow been eavesdropping on my dream.
And while the success stuff, prizes and sales etc, is what makes it more likely that you can keep on writing, it's not the aim. Connection is the aim. It would be amazing to make that connection with tens of thousands of people, but if a few hundred, or even just a handful read Swan Boy, that still has to be worth celebrating.