A few months ago I blogged about my then favourite possession in the whole world, a little book of psalms printed and bound by the Edinburgh bookseller Andro Hart in 1617.
Today I want to own up to having a new favourite, which is also a book but was published in 2017, not 1617. The book is called Random Treasure – Antiques, Auctions and Alchemy. It’s my favourite not because it’s rare (indeed I hope it won’t be rare) but because I spent most of the past four years writing it and getting it ready for publication. And less than a month ago, when some copies were delivered to my home, I finally got to see it as a finished product and hold it in my hands.
Making a book was much harder work than I had anticipated. The first draft took about a year to write, and after that I thought it would be plain sailing. But then I spent two years seeking and failing to find a literary agent or a publisher, all the while revising and polishing my manuscript over and over until I got it more or less the way I wanted it. Eventually I was able to make a partnership publishing arrangement with Book Guild Publishing Ltd and the next step was to get the book ready for publication. Checking notes and references for accuracy (painstaking!). Getting permissions and licences to use photographic images (nightmare!). Typesetting (irksome! – but perhaps more for the ever-patient typesetter than for me). Proofreading (tedious!). Cover design (argumentative!). Signing-off for printing (scary!). Another year gone.
And now, suddenly, here it is. I’m very pleased with it. As a physical book, it looks and feels good: nice quality paper, clearly printed, well laid out, clear and bright images, attractive and arresting cover. I can see how, if you’re in a bookshop browsing titles about antiques, you might want to pick it up and buy it. I can see how, if you notice it on an online bookseller’s website, you might think “I’ll order that”.
In all those four years of writing and preparation, I had no trouble making a commitment to Random Treasure as a project, working at it steadily in my spare time while doing other busy stuff, accepting (mostly) the criticisms of my small panel of readers, refusing to give up in the face of multiple rejections from agents and publishers. But in all that time, that’s what it was – a project.
Not now. Random Treasure isn’t a project any longer. It has changed. Now it’s a thing. An artefact. A product. It’s not part of me any more. It’s out there.
And now that it’s self-standing, I find unexpectedly that my attitude towards the book has changed radically. Suddenly I care so much more. I didn’t used to be sentimental or emotional about it, but now I am. I desperately want it to succeed. For sure, I’ve always wanted it to do well, not in order to make a profit (no serious likelihood of that), but as a measure of success – but it didn’t really matter all that much to me whether anyone read it or took it seriously. But now I want readers not only to buy it but to read it too. Right through from beginning to end. I want them to enjoy it and to think it’s a well-written, entertaining, amusing, useful, educational and lovely book.
I don’t merely want my book to become a bestseller: I want it to be respected and valued. I want to protect it. Fiercely.
Yes, my book has turned into my child. I feel an urge every day to do something to advance its interests – email a journalist, visit a bookshop, feel insulted about being spurned or ignored. When I share a link on a specialist Facebook group I’m pathetically anxious to get “likes”. When I look at the Amazon bestseller rankings, I’m devastated if Random Treasure has slipped a few thousand places. When I see blanket media coverage for a new book by a celebrity author – Tom Hanks last week, Philip Pullman this week – I’m filled with vicious resentment at their ability to get attention, while all the time perfectly willing to acknowledge that their books are a hundred times more desirable and saleable than mine, and for all I know, fifty times better (indeed I’m a huge fan of Pullman and hope and expect that his book will sell by the million).
I yearn for praise from readers, for a good review. I’ve received some kind words, in the form of cards and emails from friends and family: “it had me on the edge of my seat”, “laugh-out-loud moments”, “can’t put it down”, “a page turner”, “very readable, interesting, heart-searching, heartfelt, and a very personal honest and true story”. I’m touched. I’m moved. I’m a proud parent.
But then a new thought comes unbidden – those quotes are from people who know me. What if they are only saying nice things because I’m being so needy? What if the truth is that they don’t like the book at all – it’s boring, it’s unreadable, it’s rubbish?
What I need is praise from people who don’t know me. But what if, when it comes, it isn’t praise? How did I get myself into such a pickle?
Yesterday – the first review from someone I don’t know. A brief one on the Amazon website. Five stars! “A treasure trove indeed. A fascinating and very informed account, full of inside information and interesting anecdotes . . . I was enthralled!”
Today – the second review. Another five stars! “A gem of a book. This whole book is a treasure! . . . wonderfully descriptive and warmly recounted. I got lost in it very easily and have bought extra copies for Christmas gifts!”
Oh, my goodness! They said that about my offspring! So proud!
I imagine that the turbulent feelings described in this posting are common to all authors, but they’re new to me. In the past, I’ve never had or wanted a public persona. Now, on behalf of my book, my precious progeny, I’m seeking recognition. I’m uncomfortably exposed, barrelling along on an emotional roller-coaster. I don’t like it. Yes I do. No I don’t. Yes I do . . .