I dreamt of being a published writer for many years – you can read the whole epic saga here – but 2012 was the year it finally happened. Books in shops! Public appearances! Stomach-gnawing anxiety! It all happened. To be honest, these days, with self-publishing a respectable alternative to what is now called traditional publishing, I felt like a writer anyway, especially after all the highs of 2011. But this was the year when I could actually go up to complete strangers in bookshops and implore them to buy my paperback, dodging a few restraining orders along the way… So how was it? On the eve of the digital publication of All Fall Down (only 99p, bargain fans), here are the highlights of an eventful twelve months.
You can’t cuddle an ebook
OK, maybe you can hug a Kindle, but the feeling of actually holding your own book in your hands is just below holding your newborn baby in the scary thrills stakes. And it’s happened three times this year (the books, not the babies, although I have another one of those on the way too).
When Catch Your Death was published in January, I immediately went out hunting for it. My local bookshop looked at me with pity when I asked if they had it in stock (‘My name? It’s J.R. Hartley – I mean, Mark Edwards’) and Waterstones didn’t have it either. I eventually tracked it down to a vast supermarket in Croydon. In my dreams, my first experience of seeing my book in a shop didn’t happen in a supermarket, with my kids moaning that they were bored. (Actually, this became a recurring event as I developed a compulsion to go into every bookshop I passed to see, in my daughter’s words, “if they have daddy’s boring book”.) But it was still a highly exciting moment. And yes, I bought a copy.
It was even more exciting a week after publication when WHSmith travel made Catch Your Death their read of the week, and displayed it prominently in stations and airports across the land. This was more like it! We also had a fantastic launch party to which over 100 people came, and I made a drunken speech – and Louise made a well-rehearsed, coherent speech – while everybody congratulated us on our choice of venue, mostly because of the naughty nurses (well, we needed a medical theme). The event was amazing. A friend who I hadn’t seen since uni came over from Belfast to attend. Everybody was lovely. This was what it felt like being a published author! (In contrast, the launch for Killing Cupid, in the summer, was me and Louise eating pizza with our editor; still, it was a very nice pizza.)
We soon discovered that most books have a very short shelf life. They land in the shops. They sit there, quietly, like mutts at Battersea Dogs Home, looking at passers-by with pleading eyes. Then a few weeks later they get sent to the glue factory… I mean, back to the warehouse. During our week in the spotlight in WHSmith, I experienced the thrill of seeing someone pick up our book. And then the crushing disappointment of watching her put it back again. I wanted to conduct some on-the-spot market research – ‘What’s wrong with it?’ – but chickened out. I mean, who wants to be accosted by a deranged author at 8.30 in the morning?
It’s time to meet your public
In August, a number of people were accosted by not one but two deranged authors in the Kingston branch of Waterstones as Louise and I did our first public signing. You know when you walk into a bookshop and see an author standing behind a table which is laden with books, a grin on their face and a slightly terrified look in their eye? Well, that was us. As shoppers avoided our table, we were forced to approach likely-looking suspects in the crime and thriller aisles. ‘Would you like to come and talk to us about our book?’ Miraculously, this worked. It was just like being on The Apprentice. Although I think Louise’s team won and I was fired.
Having spent many years thinking public speaking was even more scary than that clown from It, I developed a taste for it in 2012. First up, Louise and I were invited to talk at the Harrogate Crime Festival, alongside Mari Hannah and our editors, on the Success Stories panel. It was very exciting being able to tell our story to lots of aspiring writers and the whole Harrogate Festival was brilliant. We met loads of other lovely crime writers – if I start listing them I will miss someone out and fret about it for days – but one highlight was standing with Stav Sherez, Mark Billingham and Peter James, and Peter said ‘Mark’s a very good writer.” He was talking about me (or was it Mark Billingham? Suddenly I’m having doubts) and it was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. Better than when a crime fiction fan came up to me at the festival, squinted at my name badge and said, ‘Should I have heard of you?’
The Harrogate talk was the first of several – we also did a ‘lunch and learn’ in a restaurant in Teddington, an event at Waterstones in Wolverhampton and spoke at a self-publishing conference. On top of that, I spoke at a terrifyingly busy event about digital publishing, during which I was hugely distracted by the Twitter feed running up the screen to my right on which I could see my name and couldn’t speak for a few minutes; I recorded a podcast with the Sue Cook off of Crimewatch; I did a photoshoot for my local paper and saw my airbrushed face (sans wrinkles) plastered across a whole page. It was all good.
One of the biggest highlights of 2012 was meeting so many cool, kind and all-round-lovely people, most of these relationships starting on Twitter but also spilling over into real life – other authors, bloggers, readers, publishing types… Again, I don’t want to start listing names but we owe a great debt to a number of awesome supportive people and if you’re thinking ‘I wonder if that’s me?’ then it probably is.
And the important stuff…
While the business of books gives me stomach ulcers and a constant tinnitus-like hum of paranoia in my head, the writing itself is still great fun and when I am writing, everything else disappears. It’s the only time that I don’t worry about anything – just what’s on the page.
We finished All Fall Down, which we had started late summer 2011, in the spring and sent it off to our editor with crossed fingers. This was my first experience of being edited and, despite the initial pain of seeing a long list of hugely complex plot points that need changing, I loved it. Most writers really complain about editing but there is something very exciting about feeling part of a team working on making a book as good as it can be. We had a little hiccup when my eye exploded (well, I had a detached retina) but I managed to work on the last chapters with one eye shut. It was hardly the Diving Bell and the Butterfly (which the paralysed author dictated by blinking) but thanks to the mind-bending eye-pressure drugs I was on it all worked out brilliantly.
Louise and I have spent the last five months working on our new one, Forward Slash. Getting going with this novel was almost as painful as eye surgery (actually, nothing could be as painful as that) but we are almost there with it and very excited about getting it finished and into the hands of readers.
So 2012 was fun. OK, we didn’t sell as many books as EL James. We still feel that we are at the very beginning of our career as writers, but between seeing our books in shops, meeting tons of lovely people and being able to spend a lot of our time making up stories that at least a few people will want to read, it’s been – as Frank Sinatra once sang – a very good year.