An Education in Authorly Duties

An Education in Authorly Duties
Posted 9 October 2012 by Hannah Berry

When my first book came out, I was a quiet and respectable person. I toed the line of decency, and I only mentioned my book when it was raised in conversation. Preferably by the other person. I was working in a reasonably-sized office at the time, and most of my colleagues had no idea that the person at the end of ext.360 was also an author. I was shy and demure about it - I lived in terror of being perceived as smug or self-satisfied. The book did pretty well for a graphic novel in the UK I think, but I didn't wave it around. It would've been vulgar.



While the publicity mill was rolling, I continued with my life at the end of ext.360 with a few occasional breaks in the routine. I'd pop upstairs to a quiet corner of a quiet floor to do a telephone interview, then go back down and continue writing appointment letters. If a newspaper featured a good review I'd nip out to buy it discreetly in my lunch break. I was normal, you know? I was bumbling everyday Clark Kent with a fun secret life.


Eventually as it always does the publicity mill winds down - other books come out, other new authors take the stage, and the spotlight such as it was moves elsewhere. Things start to get quieter. It's like making popcorn: after a while, the pops become fewer and fewer, before stopping altogether. So I put thoughts of publicity aside and concentrated on my next book.


No matter what else is going on in your life, writing is a completely immersive activity, encompassing the same highs and lows found in any job. It's what gets me out of bed in the morning and what occasionally makes me reach for a bottle in the evening. It is glorious liberty and dehumanising frustration. It puts wonderful things within my grasp while isolating me utterly from the world at large: no mistress is as beautifully cruel as writing - she can give you the universe while chaining you to a 3ft desk.


The reward of creative satisfaction is highly addictive, and once you start writing you may never want to stop. You can hang up your keyboard for weeks or even years, but never forever. I write because I want to write, that's all.


But that's not all: still more addictive, as it turns out, is the satisfaction that your work is being enjoyed by someone, somewhere. Addictive on an insidious level - I wasn't even aware that I was hooked. This summer when my second book was released I was very excited to be going through the publicity mill again, and I was more than ready for it. There'd be no startled expressions when people asked me questions this time, or nervous laughter when I'm told about an upcoming promotional event. I'd take it all in my stride.


Something seems to have happened in the intervening years between books, though. The book was published and I was met with…with…is there less popping than before…? Nothing is happening. Are less people interested, or am I just imagining it? If they are, is it because of the book itself? Is it less enjoyable than the first? Is it less appealing? Or has the comics landscape changed so dramatically over those last few years? Was there too big a delay between the two books? Why don't you like it? Have I done something wrong?? WHAT HAVE I DONE WRONG?!


I lie awake at night and hear the screaming silence of the popcorn.


Admittedly things have shifted slightly in four years - a young female graphic novelist is no longer such a curious novelty, and the increase in the number of noteworthy graphic novels has been exponential. (Hooray! And…damn.) Meanwhile two economical slumps have given the nation cause to tighten their belts and industry everywhere to play it a little safer and back its winners, and no matter how much I wish on shooting stars or birthday candles, noir /mystery and horror/mystery graphic novels do not grace the carousels of airport book vendors, nor do they win national literary prizes.


Still, external factors aside, there have been many things that I should have done.


As I'm sure you know, getting a book published has nothing to do with who you know. Absolutely nothing. (No doubt editors everywhere have had some awkward conversations with friends and family who've expected their manuscript to be fast-tracked to the magic kingdom only to be told to join the queue with everyone else.


No doubt editors everywhere have been pointedly removed from Christmas card lists as a result.) Publicising a book, however, has everything to do with who you know: putting out the word, calling in favours, pushing events, pulling strings, cajoling contacts, soothing egos, phoning, emailing, dealing, double-dealing, tantalising, wheedling, begging, bribing, blackmailing…all of which and more I did absolutely none of. I've gotten to know a lot of very interesting people in the gap between books, and I didn't exploit a single one.


So as much as I am disappointed by the silence, I know now that it's my own stupid fault. There is no room in this industry to be shy and demure any more. I'd taken the pops from the first book for granted, and I now need to get out there and promote myself, to fulfil my authorly duties.


I'm in the process of turning things around for Adamtine, hence, among other things, my recent appearance on Twitter a couple of months ago, and my really very clever in-bag advertising campaign to pique the interest of customers (see participating comic shops for details).


I've been awash with ideas and plans to help spread the word. I even drew myself a kind of 'mind map' to try and collate them all, but it's since descended into a sort of hopeless crap-spider. The crap-spider's suggestions range from sensible ("do limited edition bookplate") to wildly ambitious ("film rights - send copy to Guillermo del Toro"), but I will not rest until I've obeyed all of crap-spider's demands. I need more people to enjoy my work.


There's just one problem and, like most problems, it's in my head.


I can see what I need to do and why I need to do it, but the idea is still a repellent one. Really, 'repellent' is too light for what I'm trying to describe: I experience full-on physical revulsion and crippling self-loathing every single time I have to tell people about myself or my book. I disgust myself when I discuss myself. Suggesting someone actually reads my book, as in the tweet at the very beginning of this post, makes me want to tear off my own skin and throw it over my head like a terrifying burka to hide my shameful face. Unless I can disguise it as a joke, of course, but even then it seems such an obvious and shallow attempt… Does it ever become any less unpleasant? And if it does, will I like the person I've become?


I'll do it because I have to. It's my duty to earn the damn popcorn, so I will go out there and I will earn it. Does anyone have a postal address for Guillermo del Toro?




Ambling Alp by Yeasayer



(Song suggestion purloined after discovering it here and listening to it relentlessly for days and days)


Hi Hannah, I love this post. I can relate to the lack of 'pop'. Until I published my memoir I had no idea just how essential publicity is and how much you have to blow your own trumpet. The publishers will not do it for you, nowadays as you say there is no room for a shy retiring author - if you want to be successful

23 October 2012

Thought about contacting you on Twitter. Thought better of it. As you are coming up to Leeds [i hear] for Thought Bubble on Saturday 18th, would you like to be waylaid by giving a talk to our students on the Graphic Arts and Design course at Leeds Met on Friday 17th? i'm a big fan of Britten and Brulightly and i'm sure our students would love to see you talk about your work...

Aidan Winterburn
10 October 2012

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