Fiction

Book Launch

You might assume that, as the sort of person who can happily devote hundreds of hours to sitting alone in a room making up stories, I’m unlikely to have much of the extrovert in me. Well, I don’t know if that’s just a stereotype, but if it is, it’s not one I could be said to buck. Hence my unease as my book launch drew nearer. Ah the horrifying prospect of a social event at which I’d be denied my usual refuge of (far too much) alcohol; one whose stated purpose was me!

With any luck, nobody would come.

But what if nobody were to come? That would be terrible.

My research had told me that, apart from a few high-end events, most book launches are relatively unimportant from the point of view of promoting a novel. They’re really just a chance for the writer to celebrate publication. So it wouldn’t matter if nobody came.

But what if nobody came? That would be awful.

Debut writers don’t tend to attract large audiences – nobody has heard of you after all. That’s why my publisher recommended I do my launch in the city where I live, so I could pull in favours, call on friends, colleagues, family, acquaintances… and thus (with luck) ensure myself a reasonable turnout.

And so, shamelessly – or rather with shamefaced determination – I set about pumping the upcoming event. To be fair, quite a number of people I know seemed excited by the novel, and interested in its central concept. Getting them out to a two hour event in a library on a Thursday evening, though, would be a different matter. I estimated that for every person who said yes to me, there would be two who wouldn’t make it. Twenty people would be reasonably respectable, I thought.

Then there were the practicalities. My publisher provided the wine, the library some soft drinks and cakes. I bought in fresh-made Indian finger food from a local shop. Since my novel is set in the 1960s, asking my friend Andy to put together a trio to play songs of the era seemed a nice idea.

and the band played on

Matt, the lovely community librarian, and his team of brilliant volunteers organised everything else. I wrote a talk, decided which bits from the book might make for good readings. Debbie from our local independent bookshop arranged for two members of her team to run a stall selling copies of the novel.

It went well. We sold out on the bookstall, the audience (about thirty in the end, including many people who didn’t know me) seemed to have a good time, and I now have a talk I can revise for use at future events. I won’t be looking to set myself up as a party planner any time soon, but I feel pretty good about it all.

a moment at which I was unusually animated

My triumphant return to Twitter

A few years ago, I had a lurker account. Even that kind of low-level involvement with social media didn’t sit too well with me, though, and I shut it down. I suffered no nostalgia; there was, I discovered, no Twitter-shaped hole in my life. It had merely been pushing more valuable activities out of the way. Let’s do a metaphor, shall we? If intentions are oxygen, Twitter is cigarette smoke.

And then I got a book deal. So there I was in September, lighting up again.

To begin with, it did not go well. After a nightmarish false start when I found myself surrounded by voices howling detestation and fury at each other, I temporarily closed my account and regrouped, unfollowed most of my previous lot and started again.

Now I mostly follow writers and people involved in publishing. They are in the main nice and supportive to each other. It’s been useful and entertaining. I’ve made many helpful connections and engaged with lots of thoughtful, interesting, funny people. Also, by a curious accident, Twitter has reconnected me to an old friend I thought had fallen out of my life entirely and forever.

Sometimes, though, you really can’t do right for doing wrong on there.

How my novel got its name

Although this is the first post in in my ‘debut novelist’ blog, I’ll skip the ‘my struggle towards publication’ part of the story if you don’t mind, except to say that writing novels is lengthy, lonely, often hopeless work, and like most novelists I got turned down a lot before someone said yes. So, of course it was a big deal, personally and emotionally, when Sandstone Press accepted my manuscript in September of last year. The novel they offered to take on, however, was not called Finer Things but The Unlosable Game.

Here’s why it had to change. I am an unknown novelist; my name means nothing to potential readers. Consequently everything else about my book’s cover has to pull in attention, including the title. Nobody at Sandstone much liked The Unlosable Game and, although I was a bit sad to give it up, my publishers had more experience and success at selling books than I did. Agreeing to choose a new title was easy; finding one, not so much. It would require the following qualities:

  1. The title had to say something about what was in the story – about the collision between Delia’s gangster world and the lives of my art school bohemians. That’s why Among Thieves was one of my favourite alternative choices – but…
  2. It must not already have been used for another novel (so Among Thieves didn’t make the cut – and a curse on Jeanette Winterson for having got to Art and Lies first).
  3. It couldn’t be too on the nose – hence goodbye to The Art of Shoplifting and all others of that variety.
  4. And it must not be rubbish. (I am too ashamed to list many of the titles I suggested during a week or so of emails, but trust me, plenty of them were abominable.
titles…titles….titles…..

We had to come up with an answer fairly quickly so the designer could get on with draft cover ideas. I kept throwing lists of ideas at my editor; she kept coming back to one particular title I didn’t like at all (at the time – though now I can see it might have worked). You go snowblind with a thing like that. Everything looks right and everything looks wrong.

And then Alice, who runs Sales, suggested ‘Finer Things’.

Hmmm. All of my characters are looking to make their lives better in some way; Tess and Jimmy are fine art students; the consumerist world of the department stores Delia robs is all predicated on an illusion of a life improved by expensive things. It fitted. During the edit I even found a way to slip those two words into the text, as if they had always been the title I planned. Look out for that, careful reader.