I’m very pleased that Suzanne Joinson is visiting me On The Literary Sofa as part of her blog tour to mark the release of A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar. This is another of those titles which attracted a huge pre-publication buzz, but as Suzy explains, getting a book deal is just the beginning. Here’s the inside story…
Publishing often feels as though it is all about walls with the unpublished on one side crying into their unloved inkwells and the published on the other boogying all night at the best party in the world. Agents are frequently referred to as gatekeepers and the language found in ‘how to get published’ advice tends to focus on finding a way in, gaining access and pushing at doors. Moats get deeper, the drawbridges come up and windows slam shut all leading to: ACCESS DENIED.
Ok, you get it, I’ll stop with the fortress metaphor, but these walls are no joke – whether real or in the mind – they hurt. The book-deal is often seen as the golden ticket and since I got mine people from the Other Side call out in sad voices: what’s it like over there? I’m happy for you, honest.
But listen, here’s the deal: those walls never go away and recently I had the big revelation that they are never going to.
The writer-world is a strange one indeed. On the one hand it’s very supportive. Established writers frequently help out newbies by providing buckets of advice and kindness and there is a lot of support, encouragement and advice to be found online. On the other hand jealousies and resentments fester as everyone perpetually compares themselves and their own situation with other writers. An author we know gets a fabulous review (grrr). Another gets shortlisted for a prize (sob). This never-ending sense of inadequacy and fear is exacerbated, of course, by social networking, the spewing universe of showing off and self promotion.
I don’t underestimate how hard it is to deal with a manuscript being rejected. What are you even supposed to do with feedback like, ‘we loved it but we don’t want it’? But, you know that shrinking person you become when you receive a knock-back? You know that slapped down, trampled on, misunderstood artist, born-under-an-unlucky-star, needy, clinging, desperate self that you are finding harder and harder to keep hidden under a functional mask? I’m afraid to say that no matter where you are on the ‘writer journey’ that part of you never goes away.
Being edited, on its basic level, feels like rejection. I try to be grown up and professional about it but I hate getting edited manuscripts back, as honoured and gratified as I am that a qualified and clever person has taken the time to take my manuscript seriously. The sad truth is a manuscript never, ever comes back with post-it on the front saying ‘this is perfect, hurrah and you are a genius’ and yet they are the only words you want to hear. Even if your editor is brilliant and right (as he or she will undoubtedly be 99.999% of the time) all you will hear is something along the lines of: I don’t like that, you got that wrong, you are useless, there’s no way I’m signing you up for book number two, this is your writing career down the pan, goodbye.
I have learnt to put the manuscript down, allow myself to feel an irrational rage and depression for an afternoon, then to return the next day with an open mind and an objective eye ready to concede where the editor has a point or stand the ground if need be.
Most reviews out there are on Amazon or personal book blogs and the person writing them has no recourse or framework within which they are writing about you. An Amazon review might clearly be written by a lunatic speaking in ancient Greek who has confused your book with the third book of Virgil but still, ‘I hated it’ and ‘please don’t write another novel’ do not set you up for a good day.
The most impenetrable walls seem to be around writers who are in the inner-circle: invited to everything, loved by all. Who builds up these fortresses nobody knows but in the middle of all this neuroses and worry, you are supposed to be writing, right? You know the good bit about writing? Where you’ve been at your computer for three hours straight without going to the loo or making tea because you’re totally absorbed and something magical is happening? A connection: a link up, a photograph you once took and it relates to something you read, and a memory – can you recall it, catch it? Yes, you can, here it comes – and now you know why you’ve been thinking about the Bosphorus and you can feel a drop of your soul filtering into the words you’ve written set on the present day Isle of Wight about seagulls and loneliness. You know those moments? They are what it is all about and the trick to keep going (golden ticketed or not) is to find the space in the middle of all the neurotic white noise to write your heart out. Write your soul out. Then revise and edit to the absolute best of your ability. Edit again and then keep the faith that if you work as hard as humanly possible (and more) then the book in you will find its way out.
As for the walls that never go away, well, the best we can hope for is to develop coping strategies. Or at the very least turn off Twitter for a few hours every day.
Congratulations Suzy for being one of the ones who made it over ‘The Wall’ and thank you for this honest and interesting piece. I have a feeling many of my readers will be able to relate to it and as always, I look forward to everyone’s comments.
(See Top 10 Summer Reads 2012 for a brief description of the story.) Suzanne Joinson’s debut establishes her as a master storyteller and writer of impressive style and range, especially in her ability to capture in every dimension remote places that very few readers will know. Characterisation was another strength, especially in the earlier story. Novels with two distinct narratives present a challenge to reader and writer; I did feel for a while as if I was reading two different books and would have liked the two strands to converge a bit earlier. However, I found them equally intriguing and each rich enough to have become a novel in their own right, particularly Frieda’s contemporary story which I felt was a little short-changed by the structure here. Suzy’s writing is deliciously vibrant and enjoyable – I look forward to reading more from her.
It’s a year since I made my first tentative appearance online as a writer by joining Twitter. Later this week: the story of how I did as I was told and got myself an Online Platform.