How Long Does It Take To Write A Bestseller?

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Some of us have dreamed about writing a bestseller for a long time. A part of me was terrified when I published my first book. Would I be able to handle the fame that came with it? I mean, of course, I anticipated the critical acclaim and the validation it would bring, but the success might prove to be overwhelming. Hah! How innocent I was. How naive. But then again, they were the stories I saw on my TV, in the magazines. That was how it was supposed to happen. Authors, who were shot to stratospheric success with their first novel. Bidding wars. Movie deals. Reese Witherspoon gushing over the originality of the storyline.

But are these writers really representative of the majority of authors who make a living out of writing? Or are they just the one percent we hear about because it’s more exciting than reading a headline ’52 year old woman hits the NYT Bestseller List on her 6th novel’. Yeah, it doesn’t really have the same ring to it. We don’t hear about the writers who spend the best part of a decade slogging away before finally hitting the sweet-spot with their third or fourth or fifth novel.

That’s why I was so pleased to read the following on Twitter last week, the real life stories of successful writers who found longevity in their careers, rather than overnight success.

Traction is a very important concept here. As well as luck, timing and perseverance. I’m always talking about the changing landscape of publishing and how digital downloads have altered the way in which we find new authors. While books and their authors might not reach the masses right away (for whatever reason) if they keep producing good work that people are responding to, a momentum can build. Take Kristin Hannah for example, and her novel The Nightingale (which is, of course, being made into a movie!). I was astonished to find out that she has written over 20 novels! I had never heard of her and assumed that book was her debut, but no; she has been honing her craft for decades and is now reaping the critical and one assumes, financial rewards. Which is why publishers really need to support their writers and stand by them, while they build their readership.

UK author Joanne Harris often speaks about her first two novels, before Chocolat, and how they didn’t sell particularly well. I see other writers like Rowan Coleman, with a slew of books under her belt, who has found great traction with her recent bestseller, The Summer Of Impossible Things. It’s impossible to predict what will make a bestseller. If there was a foolproof recipe, we’d all be downloading it. But one thing is clear – if you give up, you’ll never know.

Then there’s age. We can sometimes see age as a barrier, but it can also be liberating. If the following tweet is anything to go by, age can give you the freedom to be yourself – to follow your heart and write what you want to write.

 

It is so encouraging to receive this message – there is no time limit on art, on creative passion, on reaching your full potential. I’m thinking of Richard E. Grant and the unbridled joy he exudes at finally receiving all of the accolades the acting world can shower upon him, at the age of 61. It doesn’t mean he’s any better now than he was ten or twenty years ago, but the right role came at the right time and he is now getting the recognition he always deserved.

If you don’t make the New York Times Bestseller List with your first book (or your second or third!) it doesn’t mean your not good enough, it just means that the stars haven’t aligned. Yet. There are so many variables that are outside of our control and all we can do is keep writing, keep believing in the power of telling stories.

***Evie Gaughan is an Irish novelist of historical and contemporary fiction with a touch of magic. Click on the links below for a preview ‚¨áÔłŹ

The Author Is Dead, Long Live The Reader

 

 

A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.

Rebecca Solnit

 

A very strange thing is happening as my new book, The Story Collector, takes its first tentative steps into the world.¬† Advance review copies are winging their way to people and for the first time in my writing career, I feel content to let go.¬† With my first two books, I stood nervously by, watching my ‘babies’ like a helicopter mom, growling at anyone who deigned to pick on them, ready to steady them if they stumbled.¬† But not with this one.

My sister began her Masters in Comparative Literature in NUIG last year, which has been great for me because I’m learning all about critical theory without having to leave my house!¬† One day, over a pot of tea, she introduced me to an essay¬†‘La mort de l’auteur’ (The Death of the Author)¬†by the French literary critic and theorist, Roland Barthes.¬† Coz that’s our life now.¬† Ultimately, he claims that ‘The birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the author’.¬† I was furious as my sister told me that the reader is the new author!¬† ‘Do you know how long I’ve been writing this story?’ I said.¬† ‘This story was my idea, it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for me!!’¬† I was on my high horse and refusing to come down.

But weirdly enough, I’ve recently arrived at a similar conclusion myself.¬† In order for readers to interpret a text, they need to divorce it from the author.¬† To be honest, I think most authors would be happy enough with that.¬† We write stories to say the things we cannot – yet nowadays authors are expected to talk endlessly about their own work, which can spoil the magic and influence the meaning of the text.¬† Barthes argues against this kind of contamination and asserts that books are¬†“eternally written here and now”, with each re-reading.¬† I love that idea, because there is a kind of immortality in that.¬† Stories live on forever because they are constantly being reborn and rewritten by each new reader, long after the author has shuffled off to her great reward.¬† It’s up to the readers to assign meaning to the text now; my intentions are no longer important.¬† We produce the work, but the ultimate destiny of the work is in the hands of the reader.¬† It is now left open to their interpretation and I think that’s why it’s so important for authors to take a step back.

Maybe it’s having a (brilliant!) publisher this time around that means I don’t have that obsessive protectiveness I had over my first two books.¬† There are some major conflicts of interest when you are the author and the publisher.¬† Everything is taken personally because you are solely responsible for every aspect of writing, designing, producing and selling the book.¬† Or maybe it’s the length of time that has passed since I typed ‘The End’ and actually seeing the book in print that has given me a sense of distance.¬† Yet again, it could be the years of picking up good and bad reviews for my work and understanding that while some people might love what you write, others will hate it.¬† And that’s okay.¬† That’s normal.¬† I think I have finally realised that reviews don’t determine whether or not you are a good writer.¬† Chances are, those people aren’t even taking you or your writing career into consideration – they’re merely logging their own response to a work for (and this is the important bit) the benefit of other readers.¬† I’ve also taken to singing Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ when I get a one star review, which has been surprisingly helpful ūüôā

Either way, it’s a good thing, because The Story Collector belongs to the readers now.¬† Like our folklore and ancient stories, we don’t need to know who wrote them to appreciate them.¬† So the best thing I can do now is let this story out into the wild to make its own way – wave it off from the doorway, then turn back inside and seek out a new one.

Pre-Order your copy on Amazon now ~ The Story Collector

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The Perfect Book

Making art isn’t an exact science. ¬†So much is down to happenstance and luck, and I always admire authors who attribute their success to a strange marriage of dull slog and serendipity.

I recently read what was, in my eyes, a near perfect novel, but during a conversation with another reader, she pointed out some parts of the story that just didn’t ring true; things that, for her, made the rest of the story difficult to believe. ¬†I was surprised, because I had noticed those minor loop-holes too, but chose to ignore them for the sake of the story. ¬†The story just worked better if I chose to believe the author rather than question her. ¬†Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies is a cliche for a reason! ¬†I suppose we all read books differently, but for me, I am saying yes to an unspoken contract as soon as I open the cover: tell me a good story and I will believe.

Even though the reader had a completely valid point, it niggled at me. ¬†As a fiction writer, there are many times when you ask your reader to suspend their belief, in order to make the story work. ¬†But, are readers willing to do this? ¬†It goes without saying we have to ground our stories in reality and make our characters believable, but don’t we also have a bit of artistic license? ¬†As readers, are we expecting a perfection that doesn’t exist?

Just to be clear, I’m talking about minor infractions here, not great big bloody plot holes that push the entire story beyond credibility. ¬†Such questions are valid, but in this case, it caused merely a moment’s wondering. ¬†FYI, the novel was Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and the issue was her supposed ignorance of most modern cultural references. ¬†I also questioned if this was possible, but chose to believe that it was. ¬†Either way, this is a story. ¬†It’s not meant to be real. ¬†The writer is trying to create an atmosphere, not a documentary. ¬†You’ve got to allow for some artistic license when it comes to the business of show, or else, what are we all doing here? ¬†Do writers¬†really set out to write the perfect book, or is the pursuit of creating something greater than we can ever deliver, the art in itself? ¬†Critics might expect perfection, but we, as storytellers are more focused on telling a good story.

And what is art for anyway? ¬†Why do writers want to express themselves through stories and why do readers love hearing them? ¬†I think Matthew Arnold, Professor of Poetry at Oxford (Culture and Anarchy) expressed it perfectly when he said that all great artists possess ‘the noble aspiration to leave the world better and happier than we found it‘. ¬†I love this quote, because I think everyone who picks up a pen/brush/instrument wants to make something good, something true. ¬†We want to add our voice to the collective narrative, our unique take on life, our desires, our hopes and our fears. ¬†It might not be perfect, but it’s ours and no-one else can tell our story in quite the same way. ¬†If a book speaks to you, makes you think and makes you feel, then that is the perfect book. ¬†For you. ¬†Regardless of what the critics say.

 

Where Was Your Book Born?

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We’ve all heard how JK Rowling famously wrote Harry Potter in a local cafe. ¬†In fact, the chair she sat on recently sold for ‚ā¨344,300. ¬†That’s some indication as to the importance we give a writer’s creative perch. ¬†Writers and readers alike are enchanted by the idea of where a book was conceived, convincing themselves that even the chair they sat on must¬†be¬†oozing with literary genius. ¬†There’s something romantic about it, scribbling ideas in a local cafe. ¬†Writing ¬†at a desk wedged into the corner of your council flat while wearing old Primark pyjamas doesn’t really have the same ring to it, although one can only assume that Rowling must have written at home too. ¬†But does it really matter where you write your masterpiece?

I think I’ve written in every room in my house, bar the toilet. ¬†I would include a photo of my beloved attic (where I write in the summer and stare up at longingly during the winter as it transforms into a fridge) but I’m saving that for the OK! Magazine spread.¬† The dawn of Pinterest has introduced us to a plethora of ‘designs’ to ‘inspire’ us with ‘ideas’ to create our own ‘writing nook’. ¬†In other words, Pinterest is the devil’s work which bombards us with over-styled images of unattainable shabby chic home offices we will never have. ¬†No¬†I don’t have a pure white room with an old-fashioned writing desk which I’ve upcycled with chalk paint and I’m not surrounded by flower-clad boxes with all my papers neatly filed away in alphabetical order. ¬†I’m the kind of person who sees an empty space and immediately feels the need to fill it with bits n bobs (i.e. junk). ¬†I would love the perfect writing nook, but in the meantime, I generally pick the warmest spot in the house and write there. ¬†I’m basically a cat. ¬†With¬†thumbs.

So what about venturing outside? ¬†Well, yes, writing en pleine air could be a nice change except…. again, I live in Ireland. ¬†I did try to write at the beach a couple of times, but there’s a lot to be said for a comfortable chair and while a large flat stone jutting out to sea might look attractive, my bum says otherwise. ¬†Then there’s the whole writing long hand thing. ¬†It can make a nice alternative every once in a while, but I’m the kind of writer who needs the entire manuscript in front of me when I write. ¬†So squinting at my laptop while my bum goes to sleep on a rock gets old very fast.

Cafes seem like the ideal place to get the creative juices going, but the only problem with that is that they are full of OTHER PEOPLE! ¬†At the best of times, people in public places can be tiresome, but when ¬†you’re trying to write a novel, they are downright intrusive! ¬†I have no idea how writers can focus on their own thoughts while they are being drowned out by clattering delph, noisy conversations and earth-shatteringly loud baristas (do they have to smash that coffee filter like a judge’s gavel Every. Damn. Time.!!) ¬†Seriously, doesn’t anyone drink tea anymore? ¬†Sartre had it only partly right; hell isn’t just other people, it’s other people who drink coffee.

If I do decide to venture out, I usually go to a hotel. ¬†These are much more sedate affairs and best of all, they usually have comfy armchairs so you can really settle in. ¬†No-one really cares how long you stay or whether you order coffee (but if you do, they thankfully prepare it out of earshot). ¬†My nearest hotel has a conservatory that is, for the most part, empty and pipes out a nice mix of chilled-out tunes in the background. ¬†The best part is, you can’t come up with a million excuses to leave your desk when you’re writing outside of the home. ¬†You can’t start attacking the hotel toilets with bleach and a brush, so you just have to stay put and keep typing – not least to make everyone else think you’re extremely busy and important and overflowing with intelligent ideas.

So are there any benefits to having a ‘special place’ to write? ¬†After all, we’re not like visual artists who rely heavily on their surroundings for inspiration. ¬†Writers inhabit the interior world, the imagination. ¬†We create worlds. ¬†We mine our memories and nose through nostalgia for material, then spin all of these threads together into a fine cloak to envelop ourselves and our readers. ¬†In fact, I think the plainer your surroundings, the better. ¬†I’m not talking a monastic cell here, but the truth is that even if you bag yourself one of those writing retreats in rural Italy replete with red tile roofs and cypress trees, you still have to retreat to the solitude of your own mind and write the book.

I think we all saw this coming ‚ėļ

Can Reading Make You Happier? Probably!

book_of_rose_flower_pink_soft_nature_hd-wallpaper-1562660¬†Read a book for what ails you…

We’ve all had that experience – when the exact book we need just happens to come along at the right time. ¬†Maybe it’s a break-up, or a health issue, or just feeling ‘stuck’ in ¬†your life, when a book that seems to speak to you and your life situation directly, magically finds its way to your lap. ¬†Perhaps it was a friend who insisted, ‘Oh you have to read this book, it really helped me through x, y or z’, or it could have been a chance discovery in a library or a review you read in a magazine. ¬†But for all this glorious happenstance, what if there was someone who could prescribe the perfect book for you? ¬†Say hello to the bibliotherapist! ¬†For some time now, bibliotherapy has been used by the health service to recommend various self-help books as a means of providing psychological therapy for people experiencing emotional difficulties. ¬†However, is it possible that fiction can hold similarly helpful insights, while telling a story and reaching our subconscious in a more subtle and entertaining way?

Ceridwen Dovey’s article in The New Yorker, is written around her experience¬†with a bibliotherapist at the London headquarters of the School of Life, which offers innovative courses to help people deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence. ¬†Following her session with the bibliotherapist, she was ‘prescribed’ certain books that were relevant to her life situation. ¬†After a year of working her way through the reading list, she commented:

‘In a secular age, I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence…’

What’s more, reading has been shown to be very good for our health and well-being. ¬†According to the article, studies have shown that readers of fiction tend to be better at empathising with others and that reading can ‘improve social abilities and move us emotionally – prompting changes of self-hood’. ¬†¬†Ceridwen concludes:

‘Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm’.

So, if you ever needed a reason to read more and carefully consider your reading choices, bibliotherapy is it!  Reading fiction offers us the greatest escape; where we can literally lose ourselves (or our ego at least) in another world of possibility and untold futures.  Characters who lodge in our hearts with their feisty attitudes, or their ability to turn a terrible situation into something beauty, can in turn help us to re-frame our own attitudes to a particular situation.  Just the very act of taking time out of life to drift away on the prose of a well-crafted book, is a gift to ourselves and an oasis from the demands of modern life.

For those of us who can’t make it to a bibliotherapist, there are plenty of resources online where you can find reading lists and recommendations for every kind of challenge life can throw at ¬†you. ¬†Here is a list of bibliotherapy books on Goodreads¬†and a mood-boosting list from the Reading Agency¬†and if you have any recommendations of fiction books that helped you through a challenging time, please add them in the comments below.