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The Scarlet Letter, or what it’s really like to be a debut author

October 25th, 2013

Eleanor

It’s an odd experience, having my first novel out in the world.red a

Now, I know this sounds ridiculous, but I used to think once I was published the A for Author would be permanently emblazoned on my chest (a reverse Scarlet Letter – denoting pride rather than shame) and life would be different because of it.

Here’s the truth: very little changes. The dishes still pile up in the sink, the dog still needs walking, the children their hair brushed/lunches made/fights broken up and none of them think I am any different now that I am an author. Okay, well, the kids are thrilled about the fact that “mummy wrote a book” and they fought to hold it the first time they saw it in a bookstore. But then they spotted the children’s section and pulled me away, asking for a real book – one with pictures in it.

It is impossible not to worry that What Was Left will go unnoticed. I search for it in every bookstore I go into. I have been known to ask why the bookstore isn’t carrying it, like the most annoying author on the planet. I have looked at all of the reviews – good and bad – in newspapers, journals, on Goodreads and Amazon. I have Googled the title to see what appears first. I have Googled myself to see if the title comes up. And yes, all of this does detract from precious writing time. But I can’t help myself. I don’t know how authors don’t read reviews of their book – I understand why but I don’t know how their will is that strong. Is there a pill I can take that delivers that degree of self control?

998958_158389384360617_319161064_nAs for  friends, family and acquaintances – they have been (mostly) very supportive. Champagne, hugs and kind words aplenty. My mother did give me four out of five stars on Goodreads, but she’s never been one to sugar-coat things. And then I get asked the same question, a lot. How is it selling? Honestly, I have no idea. I’m not out there selling copies personally, so I just don’t know. I won’t until I get my first royalties statement.

The best surprise has been how many people are still readers. People who, in spite of smart phones and blogs and Twitter and Instagram and TV on demand still devour actual books and share them with friends and talk about them. I have been delighted by friends of friends and total strangers approaching me and talking to me about my book. I realise that this is the purpose of publishing in the first place, this shared experience. What Was Left becomes about the readers, the experience they bring to it, it is their book now. That scarlet A was never real, it was in my head. And now What Was Left is a part of its readers, just as The Scarlet Letter and every book I have read is a part of me.

4 Comments

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  1. October 26, 2013

    Dear Eleonor,

    Congratulations for the first novel you have already published which I read it in my kindle. What do you think of translating it in foreign languages?
    I am your mom’s friend from Albania and you have to be proud of her and your father who have given a great contribution to the development of democracy in Albania, the most beautiful country in the world, though poor because of the communist regime.

    I wish you firn time to visit my country where your parents passed some of their life here.

    Best regards

    Shpresa

    • Eleanor #
      October 27, 2013

      Thank you Shpresa and thank you for reading my book. I would love to visit Albania again one day – I visited my parents there in 2001 and it is indeed a beautiful place. Hopefully the novel will be translated into other languages at some stage.
      Thank you for getting in touch! – Eleanor

  2. April 1, 2014

    My first novel was also published last year, and I pretty much agree entirely with everything you say here (and I’m still googling the thing constantly, though I hope I’ve eased off a little from that first mad rush…). But for me I think the biggest change was the permission to call myself a writer, and to focus on writing; to think, ‘I’m good enough at this that I should keep going and not give up’. That was a big deal. It has affected a lot of decisions I’ve since made about my life.

    • Eleanor #
      April 1, 2014

      Hi Jane, thanks for reading and replying. Good to know I’m not alone in my Google obsession (though I have eased off a bit as well). I know what you mean about permission to call yourself a writer, before being published I felt as though I was an imposter calling myself a writer, and I still do at times. Your book looks interesting, I’m going to keep my eyes out for it.

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