In less than a month’s time my seventh book will be published. Of all the emotions I imagined I might be feeling right now – excitement, pride, anticipation – I hadn’t counted on sheer bollock-naked terror being top of the list. With three weeks until my novel hits the shelves (at least I hope it’ll hit the shelves – of which more on later) I’m fighting the urge to hide under my bed until it’s all over.
You see, this is the first book of mine with my name on the cover. I wrote the others for famous people who needed a hand turning their lives into prose: the writing was mine, the voice and content entirely theirs. And while I worked just as hard on those books as I did on my novel, possibly more so as I was writing on someone else’s behalf, I just didn’t have the same emotional connection with them. You see, being a ghostwriter is rather like being a surrogate mother: after months of love and hard work, you deliver the manuscript/baby to its parents and your job is over. From that moment on, you – the ghostwriter/surrogate – no longer have any say in what happens to it. That’s the deal and I’m fine with it. It’s not my baby, I was just proud to give birth to it.
This is why I’ve never concerned myself too much with book reviews or sales figures: that’s for the real parents to worry about. But this one – this novel – she’s my baby. Giving birth to her was just the beginning: I have fed her and watched her grow. I chose her name/title and her clothes/cover. She is my responsibility, and I care very deeply about what happens to her. Hence I have set up a Google Alert for any online mentions, Amazon rankings hold a new fascination for me and I am taking an obsessive interest in things I never even thought about before, such as which retailers will be stocking it. When my lovely editor told me that one of the major supermarkets had passed on my book, I felt like my child had been turned down for a particularly good school. I wanted to phone them up and shout: “What exactly is wrong with my book? Is it that it’s too funny for you? Are you concerned that the loveliness of the cover may distract shoppers from your other goods? Or do you just have REALLY CRAP TASTE?”*
The other factor at play here is that writing a novel – as opposed to non-fiction – is a surprisingly intimate experience. For months, possibly years, it’s just you and the novel in your own little world. It plays on your mind all day. It whispers to you in the middle of the night while the rest of the world sleeps. It teases, exhausts and exasperates you: the roller-coaster of highs and lows is a bit like falling in love. And nobody else understand, not even those closest to you. They might ask how the writing’s going, but you just smile or shrug and don’t reveal anything and keep the heartache and ecstasy to yourself. (I should say at this point my novel is light-hearted chick-lit, not the searing literary confessional that you might expect from this last paragraph.)
Imagine then the utter terror of showing your novel to anyone, let alone the whole world. It’s like stripping naked and asking passers-by to give you marks out of ten. The thought of being judged scares me rigid.
In my particular case, I guess there’s an element of karma to all this. For years I worked as a professional judger – or a journalist, as they’re more commonly known. During my time on women’s weekly magazines I would spend most of my working day passing judgement on celebrities. I would judge their clothes; their latest film or TV show; their ‘bikini bodies’. It was all constructive judging, of course – just as Judith from Dartford’s will be when she gives me a one star review on Amazon: “Utter rubbish. I’d have given it no stars if I could. I was, however, impressed with the speed of delivery.”
Back when I was on a debut-novel-publishing high, somewhere between delivering the first draft and writing the acknowledgements, I promised everyone a launch party, but now I’m having serious second thoughts. I imagine people standing around, drinking the free Prosecco, while muttering to each other: “Did you see? It was ranked 336,734th on Amazon. Even Dale Winton’s autobiography was higher than that.”
By the way, I do realise that people will be judging my book and not me, but you can bet I’ll be taking it personally.
Be gentle with me Judith.
*Note to Kathryn: Don’t worry, I didn’t actually do this