A Novel Experience
by Jessica Thompson
I won’t ever forget the day when I found out I had been offered a publishing deal with Hodder and Stoughton.
It was a dull winter afternoon and my agent, Sheila Crowley of Curtis Brown, phoned with the good news. For me, as a writer, it was the stuff of dreams. I floated home from work, probably irritating a large number of my fellow commuters on the way, and unable to concentrate on anything my mother was saying to me on the phone. When I got in through the front door of my house-share I just scuttled upstairs and sat for a while grinning like an idiot and staring at a wall.
But nothing really prepared me for all the highs, nerves and excitement that was to come in the months spent waiting for my first novel to be released, during the launch itself, and afterwards of course. There were a good few months between the contract being confirmed and the release of the book itself. For the first part of it I was really excited, but calm too. It still didn’t feel like it was actually happening.
I developed a great working relationship with my editor, and together we made the final changes to This is a Love Story to ensure it was absolutely perfect.
The nerves eventually kicked in as publishing day approached. I couldn’t really put my finger on what it was that caused this. I think it’s natural to be frightened when you are sending something so close to your heart out into the world to be read by people you have never met.
I had some crazy dreams during this time, and I kept waking up in the middle of the night for no reason. It felt like Christmas every day, and it has been a long time since I felt that wild anticipation, fear and excitement all at the same time.
The strangest thing was getting pre-release feedback from the industry, and I am glad to say that it was all really positive. It was a huge boost to know that people were enjoying it. There were lots of things to be done, interviews with great bloggers, articles, and deciding on the jacket for the book. I was lost in a whirlwind of emails, tweets and phone calls.
One of the most significant moments was when the proof copy of my book, artwork complete, arrived on my doormat. I tore away the packaging and rang my best friend. She was pretty emotional. I think I was too shocked to cry, but I couldn’t stop looking at it in the days afterwards.
The weeks before the launch flew by, and the big day arrived. I booked some time off work, and prepared to walk into a bookshop for the first time and see my work on the shelves.
It was Waterstones in Trafalgar Square where I found the first copy. I stood there holding it, desperate to go and hug the shopkeeper, to run out into the street and just tell someone, anyone! Luckily I realised how weird that would be, so I quietly placed it back on the shelf and left with dignity intact.
The hardest thing was stumbling across a negative review for the first time. I knew it would happen, because it happens with all writers/artists/musicians. It is a very subjective thing, and I am under no illusion that my book will not be to everyone’s taste. How could it possibly be? I scanned over the words posted on Amazon and felt my stomach flip. I rang my sister and my agent. They were great. I think that was something I had to go through, and a shock that all creatives experience when their work is out in the big bad world. Since then, loads of great reviews have flooded in, and the ones that are less complimentary I read with interest. It doesn’t hurt any more. It would be arrogant and unwise not to learn anything from them, or pay attention to constructive criticism.
My fondest memory of the whole process was my launch party. I decided to hold it at Sevenoaks Bookshop, because it is the town where I grew up. I invited a large number of people, but I felt the usual pre-party nerves. Would anyone actually come? Would it be awkward? Would I throw champagne down my own dress during the speech? I was bowled over by the number of friends and family members who made the effort to come that night. My brother trekked from the Lake District, my sister came from Cornwall. A group of my former work colleagues bundled in a car from Hammersmith and drove out to what is comparably the wilderness. My agent came, and so did my editor and publicist at Hodder. Even my former head teacher from The Knole Academy made the effort. The speech went well. Everything was perfect.
The whole experience has been wonderful, not just the highs but the lows too. You have to take it all as part of the process and learn from every single stage. Now, having finished my second book my attention has turned to the future and all I know for sure is that I would like to write many more novels.
Jessica Thompson is a multimedia journalist and author living in West London. Her debut novel This is A Love Story was released in February.