It’s been four weeks since Summer of No Regrets was published.
I’m resisting the urge to express myself using only emojis and superlatives. It has been an incredible month: exciting, nerve-wracking with many new experiences and one of the steepest learning curves I’ve ever experienced.
I’m wanting to avoid just listing everything I’ve done. Instead, I’m going to pick seven things that I’ve learnt or have stuck with me.
1. It’s unusual to find an author who isn’t nervous around publication day, and I found I was no different. My nerves reached their peak about 10 days before publication – there was still lots to organise for the launch, but it felt like it was so close. The pressure came mainly from me – I have worked hard to get here so I didn’t want to mess it up and not give my book the best start possible. I was doing lots of social media, and most people find that their mental health isn’t great when that happens. That was my low point. I felt overwhelmed and terrified. I tweeted about it and immediately I was flooded with advice, lots of authors feeling the same and some great tips on how to manage those feelings. So note to self: sharing a problem really can help. People are kind and generous and are very often feeling the same.
2. My launch at Waterstones in Birmingham was everything I hoped it would be. Lots of friends and family came. I managed to make reasonable sense when ‘in conversation’ with Michelle Toy, and when I look back, I have a warm glow. It genuinely was a lovely thing to do, and definitely worth all the early morning wake-up-and-worries about drinks/cupcakes/pink deckchairs!
3. I know this may seem obvious, but I have a book published. There is a book with my name on it. And I didn’t know until I started doing events what a confidence boost this would be. To feel nervous, look down and see my book gives me such strength. If I can do that, then all of these other new things are easy in comparison. Linked to this is the realisation that I don’t need to pretend to be anyone or anything else. I can just be me. When I listen to other authors talk about their books or their writing journeys and processes, I always find it fascinating. And now when I talk about my book and my writing, there aren’t wrong answers and this has lifted a great weight of worry from my shoulders. Being me is enough.
4. For someone who is not usually overly confident having her photo taken, there are now loads of photos of me. Some of them lovely, some of them truly awful. And that’s fine. It’s just taking a bit of time to get used to.
5. I now have some new normals. My comfort zone is expanding. A year ago, I felt nervous about talking in front of any more than a classroom of students. Now a hall full of school kids is okay – it’s fun even. The buzz I get out of seeing a crowd of young people engage with what I’m saying, of hearing teachers say how well a challenging child has listened, of having a teen tell me about the story they’re writing – there’s nothing like it. The energy in a room full of teenagers is wonderful. I am delighted (and massively relieved!) that this is such a pleasurable part of my new job. Now I just have to get good at pitching for these events!
6. The rule I learnt when writing, querying and subbing that I shouldn’t look sideways still very much applies. I can only do what I can do. Which is quite often more than I think, but isn’t always the same as everyone else. At every step, people have different challenges and different flashes of luck. A lot of these are out of my control. I try to do what I can with what I’ve got, and not waste a second looking at the seemingly greener grass. Very often when I get chatting to other writers, that grass isn’t actually greener.
7. It is still a long game. There is so much hype around a launch that it can feel like once that’s done, it’s all downhill from there. This is absolutely not true. This is just the beginning. As with every other aspect of writing, this is a marathon not a sprint. I’ve been trying to keep ‘writing me’ separate from ‘author me’. ‘Writing me’ is sensitive to emotions, gets lost in stories and spends ages dreaming plots and story snippets. ‘Author me’ is more business-minded. I imagine having a book published like starting my own business. It’s going to take a bit of time to get up and running. I might have to put in long hours. I might have to do some lower-key or lower-paid events to get established. I’m not turning down any opportunity that comes along – who knows where it might lead. But equally, what two booksellers have told me (and what I did really know), is the best thing I can do as a debut author is write my next. So while I am doing lots of events and festivals over the coming months (who’s coming to YALC?) I am also going to be writing, because actually writer and author me are inextricably linked.
Interestingly, I tried to write this blog after two weeks, but I couldn’t see a clear way through my feelings. It hasn’t been until this fourth week that my mind has cleared a bit and the adrenaline has dropped to manageable levels that I’ve been able to order my thoughts. It’s been an intense yet thoroughly enjoyable first month. Whatever comes next, I feel happy that Summer of No Regrets has had the best start I could manage.
Out of an ocean of firsts and highlights, the absolute pinnacle, my purest dream come true, is being read. Teens have told me that they love the story and which characters they relate to. The reviews that are coming in have been better than I allowed myself to hope for. I’m still bracing myself for the bad ones, but so far, none have come (please, this is not a challenge!) Thank you to everyone for being so generous with their time in reading and reviewing.
My story is being read and loved, and honestly, I couldn’t want for more.