“Frequently Asked Questions”July 31, 2009
I stumbled across this gem of a radio programme yesterday. It’s Ian Samson talking about – oh, why don’t I let the BBC explain?
“Ian Samson traces the relationship between authors and their readers through the changing nature of the correspondence between them. He asks his fellow writers whether festivals, promotional tours and the advent of the internet have altered their role.”
You can catch it here if you’re quick. (Sorry, that link didn’t work earlier . It’s now fixed.)
The many highlights of this programme included how Susan Hill successfully remonstrates with students who send her rude emails, the story of how Michael Rosen discovered the way to share poetry with 300 children, and the observation that back in the days of Dickens, authors were very much public figures. The idea of the aloof literary genius is a relatively modern creation.
A spokeswoman from Penguin explained that when they consider which authors to take on, they look not only at what they’ve written but at whether they are prepared to get involved in publicity – giving talks, meeting readers, doing interviews, etc.
Now, I have heard the last point before and know it to be true. However, I’d like to add a small word of encouragement to anyone currently slaving over a first novel who finds this added challenge somewhat daunting.
If someone as clueless as me can get taken on by a publisher, then anything is possible. I must have been the despair of the Penguin marketing department. The word ‘interview’ made my stomach shrivel up in fright. Frankly, if you add the words ‘live’ and ‘radio’ it still does. As for ‘events’ – if I’d had a natural flair for standing up in front of people and talking, I’d have been a teacher.
Faced with these terrifying expectations, I signed up for a Public Speaking course in the hope of learning how to be somebody else. Somebody confident and fluent. Unfortunately by the end of the day I was still a wimp.
I was, however, a wimp who had heard a famous actor confess to a group of strangers, ‘I’m all right when I have a script, but when I stand up in front of you here as “me”… I’m really nervous.’
It was the most valuable lesson of the day. Everybody is nervous. Four years later and three books in, I still tell myself that at the start of every event. And then I take a deep breath, launch in… and enjoy it. Hopefully, other people do too.
So to any prospective author who heard the programme and is now wondering whether they might as well give up now – please don’t be put off. As a wise man once said, ‘don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself.’
Just get on with writing a great book.