Well, itâ€™s finally out â€“ although almost two weeks on, the Amazon website still stubbornly refuses to accept this, claiming that it is â€˜not yet released.â€™ I send another email to my long suffering publisher, Clare, at RedDoor. She sends a long suffering reply. They have had stock for over a week. Updating is clearly still â€˜in processâ€¦â€™
I guess all first time authors suffer from magical thinking. This novel that has been years in the making will make its way into the world on this particular day. Copies will flow seamlessly to the bookshops where friends and family have placed their orders. Some well-known reviewer will immediately notice it and call you up for a well-placed interview. Your keenest readers will read it THE SAME DAY and call/email/Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/Instagram you with their congratulations. Five-star reviews will quickly appear on Amazonâ€¦Â Oh, except that Amazon still says it is not released so is not eligible to be reviewed. Meanwhile, your brother phones, put out that the man in Waterstones says it hasnâ€™t reached their distribution system and wanting to know when he will get his pre-ordered copy. You mutter reassurances. You have absolutely no idea when he will get it. But sweetly, he tells you that he has already looked at the literary pages of The Times to see if it has been reviewed.
The reality is of course that I am a completely unknown author of a piece of fiction that fits no obvious commercial genre. On one website, The Inheritance Powder is listed under Contemporary Fiction in the august company of â€˜Go Set a Watchmanâ€™ and â€˜The Kite Runner.â€™ On another, it is in the company of four books on murder and poisoning. I suppose an ambivalent post-colonial love story set in Bangladesh and centred on a mass arsenic poisoning is a bit hard to categorise.
Furthermore, it is being published in a time when the UK industry turns out in excess of 12,000 titles a month (and I have no idea if that figure includes all the plucky authors taking a punt on lone self-publishing through Amazon and other sites). And being published a few days before the Booker prize announcement probably means the book distribution industry has its eye on more lucrative contracts.
So I knew that you need to combine some pretty innovative ways of getting it noticed with a serious dose of shamelessness. Yes, the very nice woman two allotments away would obviously love a copy of it. After all, one of the main characters is an amateur botanist. She takes it. Being lower on shamelessness than is ideal, I offer it on a trial basis. â€˜Only pay me for it if you like it,â€™ I say, thereby (I realise afterwards) placing her in something of a moral dilemma. I havenâ€™t been back up to the allotment yet to find out how she resolves it.
I have joined Twitter though, persuaded by Wendy Ann Greenhalgh in one of her excellent workshops on social media for writers http://www.storyscavenger.blogspot.com that Twitter is great for writers. Despite a pathetic tweet count I find myself with new followers every day â€“ some of them wonderfully perplexing, especially their names.
And now there is the less glamorous work to be done: the local bookshops to be approached, reviewers to be found, talks to be offered, â€œhookâ€pieces to be written, emails to be sent all over the world, website and Facebook pages to be constantly updated. This is when the blessing and the curse of social media really hits you. The blessing is that it opens up possibilities without limit. The curse is that possibilities without limit grind you down, take over your day, deprive you of sleep, make you shout STOP IT! Iâ€™m TOO OLD for this! at the endless gurgling stream of tweets in your twitter feed.
I am also learning so much. One great lesson is the importance of your friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances. They are the kind folks who will buy your book because they know you and are pleased for you and are actually interested in what you have written. The extra-kind ones will tell their friends and social networks about it, and the saints will buy multiple copies to solve their Christmas present shopping problems.
But the first big lesson of all came just before publication and in conversation with some writer friends. It is a lesson about nakedness. While your precious novel remains unpublished, you chat about it freely to your friends and family and colleagues, but it remains yours. Only you know the narrative inside out. Only you have lived with these characters in your head for years. And only you know your most secret fears about this flawed endeavour. So putting it out into the world is simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. For, everyone who reads it will have an opinion, everyone will have their own interpretation of what you have written, and will take a view of you the writer as a person. You are exhibiting yourself in the most peculiarly intimate, vulnerability-inducing way. You can never go back, re-clothe yourself as someone whose novel is just a work-in-progress which may â€“ who knows (shrug)? â€“ get published one day. Youâ€™ve now let it go and itâ€™s made off, taking your coat with it.
The Inheritance Powder, by Hilary Standing, was published on 8th October 2015 by RedDoor Publishing http://www.reddoorpublishing.com/project/1019/