One of the perks of being a published author is the ability to tell people that I’m a published author. Oh I know that’s terribly vain, but I’m really quite proud of it. And being extremely reserved, I’m always looking for ways of cramming this revelation into everyday conversation. A visit to the supermarket usually ends like this: “I’d like a receipt too if you don’t mind, because I’m a published author.” But I’ve had to restrain myself slightly since last week when I went to get a pint of milk at the corner shop: “Do you have any soya milk left…because I’m a published author.” The poor shopkeeper’s left eyebrow raised itself all the way up into orbit; Tim Peake probably saw it during one of his spacewalks.
A few months ago I had a lifelong dream come true. No not a Carnegie nomination, but a chance meeting with one of my school teachers. Mrs. Keene (not her real name) was very pleased to see me, even though I was dressed like an unhinged traffic light with red jeans, an orange shirt, and a green wig. Mrs. Keene was the first person to read stories to me, bringing The Witches to life so that the pupils of Langlands Primary School could experience the genius of Dahl. Basically she’s to blame for everything.
“I hear you’ve published some books,” she said with a smile.
Ah. This was my moment to shine. I’d been waiting for this for years! Validation from a teacher I always adored. My brother may have gone to prison for armed robbery and my sister might have been in charge of Cumbernauld’s only lesbian girl gang…BUT I AM A PUBLISHED AUTHOR!
“Yes,” I told her, mentally rubbing my hands together in glee. “I’m very busy touring school libraries and theatres…”
Now I would have continued on and said, “THANK YOU for everything.”
But out of nowhere a familiar figure lunged into view.
INTRODUCING MR. MORDEN
Mr Morden (not his real name) was someone I had encountered in the past. He had come to me with his new book, looking for advice, but who was I to give anyone advice? Not only am I extremely modest, but I’m also extremely insecure…can’t you tell? I didn’t feel it was my place to tell him how to be successful in the industry when I’m barely there myself. Mr. Morden’s book had languished in his attic since the 70s (haven’t we all got a book languishing in the attic? Not me. I didn’t actually have an attic because I grew up in a council house…) and his wife had recovered it during a rummage around said attic. Immediately he wanted it published, but decided to go the self-publishing route.
“I’m an author too!” He yelled at Mrs. Keene.
Mrs. Keene suddenly lost interest in me because being an author simply didn’t seem very special anymore. My status had been violently robbed by a man whose book resembled an NHS pamphlet.
“I’m so pathetic,” I wept as Mr. Morden shoved one of his books into my hand.
“Good luck Kirkland,” Mrs. Keene said kindly as she headed off to the bingo.
“My book helps with language skills and numeracy!” Mr. Morden called out as Mrs. Keene vanished into the distance.
This sort of thing would happen to me more regularly than I would have liked over the next few weeks. I had been humbled. But the worst was yet to come…
INTRODUCING MRS. KINROSS
A few months later I happened to chance upon Mrs. Kinross (not her real name) during a day in the library. She must have thought I was a librarian; but of course wearing spectacles and browsing through books in a library usually has that effect.
“I’ve given birth!” She said in a quivering voice.
“Congratulations,” I replied, looking up with a smile. I recognised her because she worked in a shop I regularly used to buy tubes of Ready Salted flavour Pringles. “Is it a boy or a girl?”
“It’s a book!” She said excitedly, placing it down in front of me. “WELL,” I said, choking slightly. (My mother used to tell me that I was an immaculate conception when she didn’t want me talking about my father. This probably explains a lot about me, but even I was astonished at the idea of a woman giving birth to a book).
I studied her book quickly. It was self-published, a tale about a famous historical figure. Now she didn’t really know who I was – oh how that burned – but since she assumed I was a librarian, I meekly accepted my fate. I did, however, recognise her publisher and I knew roughly how much she had paid for this book to be published. A part of me wanted to explain that she should be paid by a publisher; she shouldn’t be paying a publisher. But who was I to tell her these things? It was none of my business.
“There are libraries down in London that wants this book,” she said.
“WELL,” I said again. I was slightly miffed because only a few libraries in London have a copy of Conjuring The Infinite but none of my new book North Of Porter. One day, I vowed, shelves in libraries around the world will heave with my books.
“There are libraries down in Wales that wants this book,” she said.
Say something other than “WELL,” I thought frantically.
“Oh,” I mumbled.
“But I’m giving this book to you as an exclusive. My agent said it could be turned into a movie.”
Wait. She has an agent? I’m in talks for my new book but I’ve made it this far without an agent. And yet…Mrs. Kinross has an agent for a self-published book. My Spidey-Sense was tingling off the scale but of course I said nothing.
The week afterwards Mrs. Kinross appeared in the local newspaper in a story about her new book. She was being asked for autographs in her shop.
I have been in the Daily Record! I have been in the Evening Times! The Teen Titles! Virtually every local newspaper in Scotland!
“I’ll have to get into the Falkirk Herald soon,” I said while dialling their office.
INTRODUCING THE BRICKIE
My story in the Falkirk Herald was co-opted by a self-published author who had put out a biography of his days as a bricklayer at the same time ENDLESS EMPRESS was published. My amazing quotes, my wonderfully witty comments, my punk rock persona…well I had a face like a dropped trifle when I saw the headline AUTHORS CREATE MINI PUBLISHING BOOM! Funnily enough though, the newspaper used a photograph of me posing with a Mills & Boon novel. That poor bricklayer probably cursed me for being shoved into his story. And casual readers might have thought I was a bricklayer with my black velvet shirt and ironic appreciation of romance novels.
WHAT MAKES US THIS WAY?
There is no point in going around telling people that you’re an author. Why? I think everyone knows someone who has published or self-published. We all wanted so badly to be authors, whether or not we’re paid or paid for the title. ‘Author’ is the sort of nebulous job description that people don’t really comprehend; maybe people see J.K. Rowling sitting on a chair speaking about her books, that they don’t quite see the work that goes on behind the scenes to make those books. A recent YouGov survey placed ‘Author’ at the top of a list of MOST DESIRABLE JOBS. Is there a glamour or mystique around being an author. And why did I need to crowbar my relatively recent profession into conversation? It’s ridiculous of me to need that sort of validation from old acquaintances. Stupid, really. But don’t judge me. Here’s a secret: most authors are anxious people, constantly in need of attention and more money. We are capricious, nervous, egotistical, brilliant, and contradictory.
If you desire a life of uncertainty then being an author is the perfect job for you.