Saturday, 6 February 2010

Publication Day - the biggest myth going Karen Ball

There are lots of myths that surround the life of a writer. That we earn lots of money. That we have lived every experience we write about. That ideas are easy or that we are kind and friendly people who pat children on the head and have a stash of chocolate in our pockets to hand out whenever meeting a new fan. All wrong. (Well, in my case at least. I give chocolate to no one.)

There's another myth that does the rounds, but one that is possibly less discussed. Publication day. You know that all important day when your book hits the shelves in a riot of publicity and promotion? Your publisher takes you out for a champagne dinner, fans queue up around the block, your parents weep with pride and the first editions become immediately priceless. That's the way it works, right? Possibly for some people. My publication days have always been quiet. I know several of you enjoy 24 hours that are full of flowers, interviews, attention, joy and activity, but I hazard a guess that even then there is something uniquely isolating about being the only person at the eye of the storm.

So, what is publication day? Usually in the middle of the month, but it could be one of any number between 1 and 31. It doesn't really matter to me, as not much happens. I get up, have some breakfast, get on with the day. If I'm feeling reckless, I'll wander into a bookshop to see if I can spot a copy of my book, but I know that's a dangerous dance with the devil. There might be a card from the publisher. But often, the day continues much as any other. This momentous event that has been creeping up on me for months and months turns out to be ... well, not so very momentous after all.

I have similair issues with the day you find out your book is going to be published. That phone call or email after an acquisitions meeting is possibly one of the moments of purest delight I've ever known. But then what happens? When I took the call saying my first novel was going to be published, I was cycling home. I pulled over, wrestled my mobile to my ear with sweaty palms, tried to sound like a Professional Author rather than harassed cyclist, then when the phone call was over, I... Did a dance? Pulled strangers to me and kissed them? Threw my bike aside and went out for an evening of debauchery? No, I put my feet back on the pedals, cycled the rest of the way home, made a few phone calls and watched Eastenders. This really big moment in my career remained caught up with the mundane details of my workaday life. I am certain I was tucked up in bed by 10.30pm, ready for the next day in the office.

Is this one of a writer's biggest secrets? There's a hole in the middle of the polo. A writer's world exists largely in the mind, and never is that more obvious than when real, concrete things are happening - somewhere else. In a meeting or a warehouse or a bookshop but not in my home and not in front of me. 'What does it feel like to be published?' people ask. I don't know. Publication is what happens somewhere, out there, in the ether. Perhaps it's all a big dupe. Perhaps none of us are really published at all? Perhaps... Oh no, I'm veering into conspiracy theory territory. No one would do that to us, would they? Kid us, I mean?

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James Mayhew said...

So funny, so true...

I kind of like the fact that:

"This really big moment in my career remained caught up with the mundane details of my workaday life. I am certain I was tucked up in bed by 10.30pm, ready for the next day in the office."

(Even if it sounds like an ABBA song).

But then I don't think I'd really enjoy a champagne lifestyle.

Anyway hang in there. After 20 years and 60 books I get the occasional bunch of flowers and last year (gasp) a bottle of whiskey!

catdownunder said...

Can I confess that, when I finally got a tiny, tiny contribution to the writing world accepted the other day - I just felt plain scared! Is that normal?

karen ball said...

Being scared is normal, catdownunder! Will my writing really be good enough? Do I want the world to read my words, after all? Or shall I just climb back under this duvet? But try to enjoy it all - the fear and the pleasure. And most important of all: congratulations!

karen ball said...

Bring on the bottles of whiskey, James! (Although I don't actually drink whiskey...)

Keren David said...

I was just parking at Brent Cross shopping centre when I got The Call. Had the whole conversation leaning over the barrier, sticking my head and phone out of the car park to get better reception.
And afterwards...I went round Waitrose.
Publication day - people went on and on about throwing parties, all of which I ignored. When it came to it I was snowed in with the children anyway. But a lovely book blogger threw an online party for me - the perfect solution. Lots of fuss and many congratulations, no need to get dressed up or leave the house.

Saviour Pirotta said...

I think nowadays you are aware of publication day approaching because second hand copies of your new book, which you haven't even seen yet, start appearing for sale on amazon.

karen ball said...

Yes, Saviour - how does that happen? Are they copies going out of a backdoor of the warehouse or 'falling off a lorry'?

Stroppy Author said...

Half the time my publishers don't even tell me the book has been published - I look on Amazon to find publication dates. But publication is only a significant date if you have hoards of eager fans waiting for your next book. My fiction readers are too young (or illiterate) to use a calendar and my non-fiction readers probably never look at the author name on the book anyway!

Anna Bowles said...

The publishing houses I've worked for generally 'publish' everything either on the first day or the first Monday of each month. But it's so diffuse - that's just the day that the stuff is officially available, it's basically a guideline for when it is supposed to arrive in store.

Some companies hold a little celebratory meeting for the relevant staff every month on "pub day" and have fizzy stuff in plastic cups and a table with the new books on. These events are handy because otherwise you tend to forget what's pubbing this month - it's so long since you edited it!

Brian Keaney said...

My publisher usually sends me a bottle of champagne or a bouquet of flowers on publication day but last time I only got a card. Either it's the credit crunch or my sales are slipping.

Katrina said...

I agree! When my first book was published my sister-in-law phoned to tell me she'd bought a copy before I even knew it was out!

Linda Strachan said...

It can be difficult to keep positive especially when it is your first book and you are so excited that it is finally going to hit the shops but you can't find it on the shelves - it's very depressing and unexpected. As you said Karen myths abound and the harsh reality can be a huge surprise.
You have worked hard for your book and are one of the lucky ones who are actually getting published, so why not celebrate with people you like? You've earned it.

Ever since I had my first trade book published I have always made a point of organising a book launch party whenever I have a new book coming out, either at a bookshop or at a friendly restaurant. I have often managed to get the publishers to make some kind of contribution - as long as I do all the organising - even if it is only sending out invitations or paying for some wine, but not always. Only one ever organised the entire thing (a publisher to be cherished!).

It's a bit like having a baby, you gather your friends around, and enjoy celebrating its arrival. I also try to go out and buy myself some little luxury, a piece of jewellery or item of clothing whenever I get a book contract signed- it is just another celebratory ritual that makes it a special day for me.

karen ball said...

Wonderful advice, Linda. Being pro-active seems to be the best way forwards.

Katherine Roberts said...

Create your own myth! I celebrate publication with a gift to myself of something to remind me of the book... I might find this item on the actual day the book comes out, or a week or two earlier or later (rather like publication day itself in fact.)

Over the years, I've collected...
Mythical music.
Unicorn book ends.
Anubis statue.
Some real sponges.
Model dragons.
Sculpture of Alexander the Great taming his horse Bucephalas.
Spooky black mask.
Plastic sword.
Scarab amulet.
Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.
Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.

These things also make good props for doing talks about my books, although I need to take a bit of care with Anubis. He's so far responsible for (1) breaking my microphone at Edinburgh Book Festival and (2) a thunderbolt that caused a power cut in a school hall.

Had flowers a few times, too... safer maybe, but they don't age so well. I have a feeling Anumbis is going to outlive me.

Jan Markley said...

Good post and so true.

Book Maven said...

My next two publication dates are 1st March and 1st April (!). I have never had more than a card on the day of publication but sometimes there is a launch party.

Usually nothing happens. When the children were young we used to celebrate acceptance day by having iced bun round, inspired by the mother in The Railway Children!

madwippitt said...

Katherine - your list of gifts ... did you really manage to buy Bucephalus? Very envious ...

Katherine Roberts said...

Yes, and a right handful he is too..!