Some things I’ve learned in my year of being published

DSCF4159A year ago today, my debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days was published by Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin. Many things have happened since then which I could never have imagined – my book won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction, was published in nine territories around the world (with a few more to come), and was selected for both the Waterstones, and Richard & Judy book clubs. But it’s not just the (mostly) great reception that the book has received which has amazed me, but the things I’ve learned along the way – some good, some not so good. Here they are in no particular order.

Good: People

The Prime Writers

The Prime Writers

This has to be the biggest and best thing that having my novel published has brought me – meeting others who love books. The list of these lovely people is enormous, but includes other writers especially The Prime Writers, The Taverners and the Friday Fictioneers; Book bloggers; Editors and publicists; My literary agent and foreign rights agent; and many many booksellers. But perhaps most lovely of all are readers. Those who have turned up to events, those who chat about books on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and those who have sent me messages.

Not so Good: Self-Comparison

Writers don’t talk publicly about this, but I’ve had enough whispered conversations to know everyone feels it: ‘Why is that book being promoted over mine?’ ‘How is that book doing so well?’ ‘Why him? Why her?’ And then we turn to face the crowd, sip our wine and smile. We barely even admit these feelings to ourselves, perhaps with good reason – they’re negative and can easily send us into a downward spiral, but I suspect all writers suffer from them. There’s always going to be writers many rungs above me on the publishing ladder, and sometimes they might have written a book that I think wasn’t very good, didn’t deserve the awards, the shortlisting, the publicity money allocated it.

I am learning to switch off self-comparison, but it’s something I have to work at, especially when I see particular books all over social media. But of course I’m certain some writers will be thinking this about me and my book. One way I’ve found that helps overcome it is to talk publicly about the books I do love, especially those I think should have won the award, should have been shortlisted, or had more promotion.

Good: Getting out there

Talking with Rowan Pelling

Talking with Rowan Pelling at The Curious Arts Festival

In the year since Our Endless Numbered Days was published I’ve done nearly seventy events – literary festivals, university talks, book club appearances, and more. And all of them because I wanted to. Before I sat on stage at my first ever event at Cheltenham Literature Festival I didn’t know I could do public speaking, and had no idea I would actually come to enjoy it.

Not so good: Learning how books are promoted

Before I my book was published, and I was just a reader, if I thought about it at all, I would have assumed that good books simply get found by readers, and that bestsellers are discovered, not created. The reality isn’t quite so simple. There’s some luck involved, and some passion, but also an awful lot of business. It never occurred to me that books get reviews, get talked about, get promotions, and posters (mine included) because the publisher has chosen to invest in that book. And they’re probably investing in it because they’ve paid quite a lot for it.

Putting this under ‘not so good’, perhaps isn’t quite right. Promotion and marketing isn’t aren’t bad things, I’ve just had my eyes opened to how they work, and why some books get to the top of the pile.

Good: Writing

In this year I’ve learnt a lot more about what I like about my own writing (I don’t like to do it, I prefer editing), what I like to write about (I keep an on-going list of my favourite things), how I write (better with deadlines). And I’ve learnt the absolute pleasure of doing this for a living.

Not so Good: Something for nothing

This is a debate that still has a long way to run. Of the nearly seventy events I’ve done in the past year, I was only paid for about five of them. Of course I could have said no – I chose to go, unpaid. I haven’t counted up the exact number of interviews, articles and short stories I’ve written in this year (I reckon it must be about forty), and again the majority were unpaid. It’s promotion, right? Yes, of course, but some of those literary events, newspapers and magazines charge their readers and have decided for commercial reasons not to pay the people who provide the content.

Good and bad: reviews

There’s no point in writing a book that doesn’t get read. And not all readers are going to like the same book. But a novel is a creative thing that comes from inside the writer, and it’s difficult when something you’ve worked so hard on is criticised without thought. I read all my reviews and I don’t engage. I might, however, shout at the screen a bit, and then go and read a good one.

Good: Some wonderful moments

There have been lots of amazing moments in this year. Here are a few of them:

  • I still haven’t seen someone I don’t know reading my book, but during some hovering in a bookshop (as you do when you’re an author), I did see a stranger pick up a copy, read the back and buy it.
  • Hearing the announcement in a crowded room at the top of Fortnum andDE3 Mason that Our Endless Numbered Days had won the Desmond Elliott Prize
  • Watching a couple of teenage boys holding hands under the desk at a sixth form college event I was speaking at. (They didn’t know I could see.)
  • Finding the courage to go and say hello to David Vann (Legend of a Suicide), one of my literary heroes, at an event in Oxford, and before I could speak, him holding out his hand and saying, ‘You’re Claire Fuller, aren’t you?’

It has been a momentous year. Next year please can I have more of the same, and yes, I’m happy to take both the good and the not so good.

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61 thoughts on “Some things I’ve learned in my year of being published

  1. Fabulous blog post Claire. Your book remains with me a year later as a stand out read of 2015. The comparisons we make are all part of what makes us human and your book shows your wonderful sensitivity to the human condition. Be proud of all you’ve achieved.

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  2. Thanks for this post and it’s great you’re enjoying your well-deserved success. I really enjoyed Our Endless Numbered Days, as did my 15 year old daughter. Out of interest, was it your decision to place it into the Adult market as opposed to Young Adult? As a YA writer, I felt it could have been for a younger audience. Or did the thought not occur?

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    • I suppose I was trying to write a book I like to read, and I don’t read much YA. Plus then when it was written all the publishers thought it was slightly too dark for YA. Having said that, in America, a library YA review journal reviewed it as YA and many people have read it in that marketing in the US. I’m happy to have readers whatever age.

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  3. This is really wonderful, Claire. I’ve read numerous pieces about this subject by all kinds of writers, but never one that is so genuine and humble. Publishing has changed almost as much as the recording industry, so many of the accepted tropes about what happens when you’re published no longer apply. It’s helpful to have such an honest perspective, especially since the recent rare exceptions of wild success (The Martian and City on Fire) get all the press. Thanks for this.
    – JHC

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  4. What a lovely post. With three weeks to go before my own book comes out, your words are both food for thought & encouraging. I’m going to file this away for future reference. And I hope this coming year brings you yet more joys! xXx

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  5. Dear Claire,

    So much of this I could relate to. A lot to look back on and forward to. Your book deserves the awards. I’m most definitely a fan.

    When I dreamed of having my book published I never dreamed of the work involved. Wonderful article.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

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  6. I loved OEND, truly, so thank you.

    And thank you for this, my own debut is October 2016 and I feel like I’m hurtling forward without knowing where I’m going. This piece helped show me what good things lie ahead.

    Stephanie Gangi (The Next)

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  7. I too have found out more about myself and the way I write in the past year. I’m the opposite when it comes to editing: I am not a fan, although I know it can be one of the most important parts of the writing process, deadlines are a necessary evil as they make me finish things (I am the world’s worst procrastinator), and I’m still learning to think about what I’m writing as opposed to just sitting down and writing until I get stuck. It’s a very delicate balance!

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  9. Great post Claire, I found myself nodding in agreement with everything except the prizes (not won any of those, but was so pleased when you did). You might not have seen anyone reading your book but I have, and I’ve also been in Sainsbury’s next to someone who picked it up and bought it on my insistence that they should 😉 ( I’m sure they would have anyway, but there’s no harm in helping these things along – haha). Here’s to the future, hopefully with a few more of the ups and less of the downs. x

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  10. I’m ordering this book today–and I love the cover art. Julianna Swaney is one of my favorite artists. Also, I was reading reviews on Amazon, and seemingly because of the protagonist’s age, many are reading this as a YA novel. I wonder how you feel about that?

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  11. What a lovely article! It was such a pleasure to meet you at Lutyens & Rubinstein and our book club. I’m very much looking forward to your next book.

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  12. What a wonderful year you’ve had, Claire. Wow, so many events! That’s so impressive. Thanks for sharing all your insights and wisdom. Congrats on a successful year. I wish you many more to come.

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  13. I’m wondering how different my first year with a book will be, since poetry is a different ballgame — The book’s supposed to launch late May and I find myself wanting to pester the editor on a near-daily basis for a progress update. 🙂

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  14. Yesterday, in Belfast Airport, I saw Our Endless Numbered Days piled up on a stand and I thought, sod it, my friend is never going to return my lovely original hardback, I’ll buy one.
    I enjoyed your run-through of the year. This is both helpful and, to my surprise, mostly stuff I was already aware of. Your success has given me much vicarious pleasure. My non-fiction book out this summer will have no promotion to speak of, but unexpected chances for publicity have been popping up (a freelance journalist wants an advance copy to write about my parent’s old house, which is going up for sale and where the book launch party will take place). After offering to talk to a museum, they accepted and told me I would receive a small fee!

    Looking forward to the next one.

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    • Hilary, Thank you so much – for buying another copy and for being an online friend right from the beginning of this whole publishing thing. You must be very excited about your non-fiction book, and great to have so much interest before it’s even out!
      Claire

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  18. I have a habit of repeating myself, some people find it irritating, bit I’ll take that risk. I loved your book, the whole idea of the story, the stunning ending and as always your writing.

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  19. Thanks for a refreshingly open post. As a reader, there are lots of things behind the “business of books” that we don’t see and I think it’s important to be aware of them.

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  20. I really enjoyed this post. It was honest and included the bad as well as good points of being published. highlighting its not all plain sailing. It’s a hard slog and it seems the hard part isn’t over just because you’ve written a book either. WIshing you all the best with your new book.

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  21. Onward and upward! What a year you’ve had and what a fabulous book! Our book group read it right out of the gate, and loved it. I am and will continue to be a fan, and hope to get my act together (find time!) and get a proper interview, before you’re ridiculously famous! 🙂 xox

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