A Note To Self: About Being Northern, Measuring Success And Smurfs
Twitter was alive with the sound of northern authors yesterday. A day for us. Voices heard and permission given for a bit of self-promotion and - this feels odd when written down - to be northern.
An agent once told me that The Drowning Arthur Braxton was too northern. She said that if I wanted it to be a 'success', then I needed to make it more ‘neutral’. And by that, she outlined:
- Remove all accent.
- Reconsider working class aspects.
- Relocate the characters to London (or nearer London).
- Definitely remove the swearing.
- Change the ending.
And if I did all of that, she'd consider working with me. I didn’t do any of that; the book remains set in the north-west and the word ‘twat’ is on the cover.
Did that impact on the book’s success?
Did that impact on the book’s success?
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how success is measured in this industry. Surely every person involved in publishing will view that differently?
- Is it successful because it’s published (as so many books never are)? (✓)
- Is it successful if it earns back its advance? (✓)
- Is it only successful if it has foreign rights sales? (x)
- Is it a success when someone tells me that it’s their favourite novel? (✓)
- Is that countered when someone leaves a review saying I should hang myself ‘with a twatting rope’? (✓)
- Is it only successful if every single reader loves it? (x)
- Or is it only successful when it sells out its first, second, third print runs? (✓✓✓)
- Or on the day the film is released? (? Soon)
- What about being sold in a supermarket, is that how we measure success? (x)
I don't know the answer. But I do worry that there’s a constant shifting of the ‘measure’ and, because of that, having one of the above isn't ‘enough’. There’s always going to be another author posting photos online of themselves next to their tube poster, or another making it to the NYT bestseller list or another with multiple six-figure deals. Social media makes it a little too easy for writers to compare/beat ourselves up for not being ‘better’ at this 'being an author' thing. And sometimes that constant striving for ‘success’ takes us so far from this now that we forget to celebrate along the way. That we forget to pause and to say, ‘That’ll do.’
I buy Smurfs for every book related deal. Yes, the small, blue, human-like creatures who live in mushroom-shaped houses in the forest. No, I’m not actually a 'Smurf fan', it just happens to be what I bought the day I finished my first novel (in August 2006). I was in France and the little figure seemed fitting when I saw it in the window of a local shop. Since then, and because I'm a sucker for a tradition, I’ve bought them every time I’ve signed a contract . They live in my office. A reminder, I guess, of simpler times when it was ‘enough’ of an achievement just to actually finish writing a novel.
This week, to celebrate signing the contract for my next novel, I bought Smurf number twenty-five.
And of that next novel (out in October), I’ve already been told that no one will want to read a festive book about a sweary, working class teen from Liverpool. And, as an additional extra, to give up on it because I'd 'write something good' one day. That dismissal was hard to handle. I did consider deleting the novel. It’s too easy to take those words and to stick them onto this new book; like it’s failed already, like I’ve failed already, even before publication day.
So this note’s a reminder for me. Because this week’s been a successful week. Yesterday's #NationalNorthernAuthorsDay was ace. So many new online connections and a celebration of northern creativity. And last night I saw the front cover concept for that next novel, and two wonderful authors have already given me cover quotes:
‘It’s absolutely fucking glorious, which is actually what I would use as my quote if we were allowed. If we have to be grown up and sensible, how is “funny and touching and utterly brilliant” and/or “if you loved Arthur Braxton you will adore this” Or “Caroline Smailes is a fucking genius and you should all buy this immediately”?’ Rachael Lucas, author of The Telephone Box Library.
‘I guarantee you won’t have read a Christmas story like [title removed] before - but that’s what makes it marvellous. It’s clever and inventive, ballsy and beautiful, never saccharine but always startling in its revelations about life, love and loss. A remarkable, funny, truly redemptive read. I flippin’ loved it!’ Miranda Dickinson, author of The Day We Meet Again.
Oh, come on - there's only one way to end this note.