Last Thursday My Sister was released as a paperback. It was a great feeling to finally reach this point after such a long wait. The original manuscript was sold to my publisher back in 2015, and since then it’s been a steady process of editing, waiting for artwork, and biding my time until the release date approached. The original release was in the form of an eBook and trade paperback last April. I remember thinking that was the day upon which everything was riding, that a failure for the book to do well at that time meant it was all over for me as a writer. But fast forward twelve months, and I found myself once again feeling as if the latest release day held the key to the future.
The night before the trade paperback release I barely slept, then woke up with the jitters wondering what exactly would happen in the following twenty four hours. In reality I received a couple of bunches of flowers, about 100 twitter messages, and a sales order message from my editor. I couldn’t concentrate to do any writing for most of the day, and everything seemed to pass by in a bit of a blur without anything much really happening. This time around, despite my nerves about how the book would perform, my release day turned out to be a little different.
This time around I knew the score in advance; my editor had notified me about sales orders prior to release. That came as a huge relief because knowing that certain places like Tesco and Waterstones had placed an order, and that My Sister would be positioned in airports and train stations with W.H. Smiths, gave me the certainty that the general public would at least have the opportunity to find the book. Previously the sales channels were dominated by online vendors, and that always makes visibility more difficult, and therefore spontaneous purchases unlikely. Side note; the first person to send me a picture of My Sister on a sun lounger gets an extra special place in my heart.
Another difference this time related to my use of social media, which has been scaled right back since the arrival of my daughter. Yes, I’m still tweeting and I have lists created so that theoretically at least I don’t miss anything important, but the reality is I don’t check my accounts every day. Instantaneous responses are also pretty much a thing of the past, unless you strike the golden hours and tweet me during nap time.
The reality of the matter is that I spent this release day nursing a teething baby and taking her to the hospital for routine checks. I didn’t manage to organise Facebook advertising until the early evening, and I only checked my Amazon rank once. A year ago once an hour would have been the epitome of restraint. I did receive a lovely bunch of flowers from my editor once I arrived home, and only after the florist had already tired to deliver on two separate occasions earlier on in the day. It was only as the evening drew in that it really started to sink in that My Sister had been released for the final time, and that all across the UK it was visible to thousand of shoppers.
What has happened since release has been remarkable, and something new to me as an author. I know my publisher is happy so far, and that is obviously a huge relief. But hearing from people whom I have never met, telling me they loved my book, that they would like it to be one of their book club choices, and sending me pictures of the shelves in their local store has all been really exciting. It’s been great to receive so many messages from people around the world who are enjoying reading it. And in a week that was pretty good for book sales according to data from across the board (total consumer market value in excess of 30 million last week according to The Bookseller) I am just feeling very privileged to have my own little share of a rather large pie.
The stress that I endured the first time around, including the worry that if it didn't go so well I might get dropped by my publisher, while potentially valid, didn't get me anywhere. This time around, not being at my desk and barely even thinking about release day until my daughter was asleep made little difference to the success of the book. Sometimes stress does us a favour, helps get us through a challenge like a looming deadline or a difficult life event. But most of the time stress simply hinders our enjoyment of what might otherwise be a wonderful experience. So when my next book is released for the first time I intend to enjoy it for what it is; an opportunity to succeed, rather than an opportunity to stress over the very potential for failure.
So publication day arrived. I thought about writing a post about how I felt about that, about how excited I was, and how dreams were coming true. But as this isn't a therapy session and you probably don't need me to bare quite so much of my soul, I thought I'd show you instead a little bit about what publication day was actually like. Because I don't know about you, but I have (had, at least) a certain view of what publication day might be like many years ago when I was still searching for an agent. And I'll be honest, it was kind of glitzy, strikingly similar to Carrie's publication day in SATC, and was nothing like what publication day actually turned out like. So here, from beginning to end, is pretty much everything I did minus toilet breaks on the day when My Sister was launched into the world.
00:42 - Realise that it's publication day. Send excited tweet and find awesome pig gif that just about sums up my mood.
07:00 - Alarm goes off and the first thought, obviously, is that the book should be out now. Quickly check Amazon, see that the preorder button has disappeared. See a few new reviews, decide in the interest of having a good day that it's probably best not to read them, you know, just in case.
07:30 - Answer all tweets. Have a quick burst of excitement, cut some shapes David Brent style around the bedroom, generally making a nuisance of myself with my husband who's trying to get ready for work.
07:45 - With breakfast and shower complete I arrive at my desk. Answer some more tweets. Decide to read the Amazon reviews. We're good so far. Finish the blog post that I was supposed to have finished yesterday, realise writing at 11 pm when I'm shattered is a bad idea. Rewrite most of what I wrote the night before. Send it off to my publicist ready for my blog tour next week.
09:15 - Caffeine top-up. Start publication day blog post. Take a couple of phone calls from patients at our clinic.
10:10 - Start working on book three.
10:45 - Flowers arrive! They are from my agents, the people who made all this all possible. Have a little moment of disbelief. Realise that although I started working on book three, I've barely done a thing.
10:55 - Back to working on book three. Interrupt the working when I receive an email from my publisher with a summary of everything that has happened so far, from the first proof copies of the books, to the earliest sales data for trade paperback preorders.
11:35 - More flowers! So pleased to get a second bunch of flowers from my publishers, totally unexpected. Have another moment, take a hayfever tablet, and try and get back on with work.
12:00 - Realise work is a total write off today, so put some music on (Emile Sande) answer more tweets. Get an email from my publicist with information for the blog tour which is starting next Monday. She has attached a banner which is awesome.
12:45 - Settle back down to do some work, and manage to get a whole chapter done. Just as I'm finishing I get an email from my agent with an updated copy of the French cover. Read over the morning's edits, decide the morning wasn't a total write off after all.
14:00 - Break for lunch (fish finger sandwich as I haven't done any shopping in days) and eat that while checking Amazon. Slightly disappointed to see that the books chart position hasn't changed all morning, then realise I'm looking at the paperback numbers. Switch to the Kindle edition and see that the position is 560,000 positions higher than I thought. Happy with that, and two new reviews which have some good things to say. Settle back down to work on book three, but am interrupted a few minutes later.
14:25 - Ikea delivery! Finally bought a sofa for outside, and cannot resist the lure of the boxes. Put on some more music (Creed) and set about making it. Ponder the idea that there is probably a finite amount of Ikea furniture that any one person can build in a lifetime, and that I have undoubtedly surpassed it. Finish just as husband is getting home from work. Very convenient. Find dirty cat footprints on the white cushion five minutes after finishing. Because, of course the cat was always going to sit on it as soon as he'd been in the mud.
17:30 - Head out for a bit of celebratory dinner. Raise our glasses with diet Coke as hubs is oncall. Battery on my phone dies. Have mild panic about absence from twitter.
19:00 - Back home, phone charging. Update twitter, pleased to see some love for My Sister in the shape of independent blogger competitions. Earmark five of my own copies for a giveaway, post that to twitter. Try to finish blog post at the same time as keeping up with twitter replies.
20:00 - Answer last emails and catch up with various social media outlets like Instagram and FB that I've been ignoring all day. Realise I haven't posted to Facebook about the release, and somehow still fail to do so. Do however manage to check Amazon, and find book in the Guardian Bookshop which makes me ridiculously happy because I read that paper every day.
21:30 - Pour some wine when I reach the conclusion that's it for the day, and put my feet up. Decide my growing Amazon obsession is unhealthy and promise myself no more for the rest of the day.
23:10 - Head to bed, read the first chapter of a new book. Check Amazon despite my promises to myself. Realise I still didn't finish this post but my mind flicks to a problem with the first chapter of book three. I fall alseep thinking about that and have the weirdest dream about Teresa May.
It’s just over a week until My Sister will be set loose into the world, and still I haven’t given it a huge amount of thought. The thing is I have so many other things I am focusing on that My Sister feels a bit like a long lost friend, that person that you intend to call, only you never quite get round to doing so because you know they are doing just fine. And with My Sister on autopilot I’ve spent most of the last month writing and editing a new book and waiting on edits for the second. But every now and again I get a little reminder of the impending release that’s looming in nine days time.
The most obvious and exciting of these reminders was the arrival of a ticket from DHL. Knowing I hadn’t ordered anything I convinced myself it was a box of books, and I wasn’t disappointed. Twelve lovely copies all in a row, minus those snaffled by eager family members. Friends sent me screen shots of their Amazon pre-orders too, and I added pre-order buttons to my website. What started off as a vague idea for a book a few years ago has in the last few days become something tangible. It's ready. There's nothing else to do. Whether I’m ready or not is another matter entirely.
But I suppose I am. I’ve been waiting for this moment for years. From about the age of nine years old to be semi-precise, during a time when I also wanted to be a makeup artist in Hollywood and the first female fighter pilot in the RAF. I suppose at that age anything feels possible. But then I picked up my first adult book (Gerald’s Game, by Stephen King) and all other dreams faded; I wanted to be a writer. That was before I had even opened the cover. Why? Because there was this great picture on the front along with the name of the author in embossed gold lettering. The coolest black and white 80’s style author shot on the back. In short, the guy looked cool. I suggested borrowing it which stirred much furor from my folks, a fact which only served to make me all the more enthusiastic.
The thing was it seemed so different to the books I had read up until then. And of course it was, turning out to be a horror story concerning a sadomasochistic weekend gone wrong, but still you get the point. But equal to the book was the conversation that ensued between the grownups of the room about how King must be crackers to write the kind of things he did, which seemed so bizarre to me. I couldn’t understand it. It was just a story, wasn’t it? Make believe? I realised then that some writers could hold a sort of magic over their readers, created by their words alone. They could make you believe things, even to the point that you might question their own sanity. And I wanted in on that. Incidentally I borrowed the book. Loved it. I boxed up my Winnie the Pooh and Roald Dahl books not long after I’d finished it and started visiting different shelves in the library from then on, still wondering why anybody would handcuff another person to a bed in the first place. There were, for obvious reasons, huge plot points lost on me. Still, the book won me over.
And just like when I held that King book in my hand for the first time, holding my own book felt just as magical. Something I had dreamed of, including the embossed lettering. I tore open the box, stroked the cover, turned the pages, read snippets from various chapters. I shared it on Snapchat and Instagram it. Was it mine? Really? Was this my doing? It all seemed a bit unbelievable. But there they were, twelve copies of a book with my name on them. My family read the acknowledgements and seemed pleased they got a mention. My husband Facebooked a picture when he found his name in the back pages, and told everybody prepared to listen how proud he was of me. Somebody happened to give him a bottle of champagne as a thank you for doing a good job, and so we have put that in the fridge and earmarked it for the release date next Thursday. Next Thursday.....so close I can barely believe it. I was talking to my brother and he joked that it would be great if somebody made My Sister into a film. I suppose maybe it would be. But right now, it’s a book. Finally, it’s a book.