A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Sometimes it’s more fun to figure things out as you go; I think that was the case for me with a lot that I learned about being published. But these things might have been good to know from the get-go…
1. How it feels to see your book in a shop for the first time
Before Blackfin Sky came out last year, I’d developed a habit of placing my finger on the shelf in every bookshop to mark where my book would be when it was finally published. It earned me quite a few stares, I admit, but I got a thrill out of imagining my little book there between authors whose novels I’d been reading for years. But it never came anywhere close to the feeling of actually seeing it there, where people could buy it and take it away with them to their own homes. The first time this happened to me was in Waterstones in Wrexham, and I was so emotional that my voice got all croaky and nervous-sounding, and I probably looked like a shoplifter.
2. Obsessing over purple gel ink pens is both justified and smart
I’ve always liked fancy pens. Stationery in general, to be honest, but especially pens. Before my book was published, I read a few articles online about authors signing their books in bookshops and at events, and saw a few tips that I hadn’t considered before. For instance, if you sign your books with a standard black ink biro, it looks a bit crap. Also, if you use certain kinds of ink, they bleed through the paper and make it look like you signed it in the bath… Not good.
So I went digging through my stationery cache (what? That’s normal) and found my favourite purple gel ink pens, and stashed one in each and every handbag I own… just in case. Now, if ever I spot my little book hanging out in a bookshop, I can go in and offer to sign it with Old Purply. Signing your books in bookshops is a good idea, by the way, because they get a snazzy ‘SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR’ sticker on the front, and are much more likely to be displayed cover-out on the shelf.
3. The only merchandise you really need is bookmarks
…and maybe postcards, at a push. I’m not saying don’t go out and get t-shirts and posters and novelty mugs printed with your book cover on them if you want to, but I found it cost waaaay too much to send things like that out to readers on the regular.
I got heat-reveal mugs made with my UK cover on, and ‘All will be revealed – 14th May 2014’ written across the top. They looked baller, I will admit, which probably contributed to most of them being snatched by friends and family members. The few I did send out, though, were massively expensive to post. Now, I use my postcards a lot for correspondence with readers, and I have some ace bookmarks with all the necessary social media info etc. on them, but everything else… well, I just don’t use it.
4. You will get bored with your own anecdotes
It’s inevitable that you’ll get asked a lot of the same questions over and over again if you do author interviews, panels, etc. People always want to know where you came up with the idea for your book, why you became a writer, where you get your inspiration from. And you’ll probably come up with anecdotes that work for each one, and when they work, you stick to them. Until you get bored, and you start making stuff up. You change your answers, possibly to something completely absurd. (I’ve done this.) Then you’re left waiting for the day when someone at a conference raises their hand, having done their Google research, and calls you out on it. Well, BRING IT ON, HOTSHOT. *Cowers*
5. It’s sometimes difficult to think of writing as work, even when it’s your job
I think this partly comes from the fact that I LOVE writing. Love it. And ‘work’, to me, has always meant something I had to do (so that I wouldn’t become homeless and starve) rather than something I loved.
I only started writing full-time this year, and found it really hard at first to be disciplined about my time. I went from squeezing writing around my full-time office job to having oodles of uninterrupted writing time every day. But then I started to fill all that precious time with things like housework, exercise (or at least the intention to exercise), cooking elaborate meals, days out, shopping… basically, anything that wasn’t writing. I soon realized I was getting less done than when I’d held down a full-time office job, and I knew I needed to make a drastic change.
My work hours are now pretty much 9 to 5 for writing, with a few hours for reading and social media stuff in the evenings. But it took me a while, and a very pointed comment from my husband – “You work just as many hours as I do” – to get myself into the mindset that actually, I work pretty hard. I just really love my job.
Kat Ellis is a YA author from North Wales, where she lives with her husband and evil cat. She grew up immersed in ancient myths about dragons and giants, and spent most of her childhood getting into trouble while exploring the local cemetery. Now, you’ll usually find her faffing around on social media or out taking photographs of the Welsh wilderness. Blackfin Sky is her debut novel (out now), and Breaker will be released in Spring 2016.