Confessions of a Neurotic First-Time Author
June 1, 2017
Writing a book and getting it published has ruined going to bookstores for me forever.
I stare at the shelves in my friendly neighbourhood bookshop. The bestseller section is dominated by teen-accessible poetry. The fiction shelves yawn with all manner of romance and sci-fi new arrivals. Non-fiction: a smorgasbord of important reads, on everything from Nazi death camps to the oral history of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. I run my eyes and fingers over their spines.
I scan the ‘C’-section. Run my fingers over the spines of books shelved by author’s last name. My name’s not there. A strange pang. Disappointment? Ouch.
In the face of so many titles, am I just shouting uselessly against the tide? Why add a lone whisper to an avalanche of voices?
Let’s back up. In 2014, I quit my day job as a newspaper copyeditor to write fiction full-time. SG50 was still in the future; the nation was in rah-rah mode. Commemorative titles were starting to appear in bookstores. “Why not a collection of short stories inspired by imaginary buildings,” I thought. Mine would be a blueprint of a Singapore that could have been. Structures not built, skylines never realised. It was my attempt to stem the unceasing urban development in the city I call home. Nostalgic paeans. Cautionary tales.
I interviewed Singapore-based architects. Award-winning veterans or visionary up-and-comers, they met me in their offices, in cafés and sushi restaurants. Central to our chats was this question: What building do they dream of designing?
I wrote short stories set in these dream buildings. If these buildings existed, would we be a very different country? By the time Dream Storeys came out in November 2016, SG50 was long over. But my journey as a neurotic first-time book author had only just begun.
Seven signs of the neurotic first-time author:
Your editor dreads your E-mails and/or calls.
You send disjointed E-mails to your editor, on everything from grammar mistakes in the proofs, to highly impractical ideas on book concepts (Each chapter in the book die-cut into different shapes! Pages you could tear out after reading and assemble into origami to make-your-own-paper-city!). To her credit, your editor nods sagely, says sympathetic things, and leaves you alone to run out of steam. As the print deadline looms, you become even more unhinged, calling her up while wringing your hands over whether the books will be printed in time for the launch. You have visions of other writers pointing out howlers in the text, and of savage reviews.
Reality: None of these visions have come to pass (not yet at least). Your editor is still speaking to you. She even claims to love you.
You are the client from hell for book designers.
Suddenly, you’re Chip Kidd. You’re looking at every font in every sample layout with a critical eye, thinking that the right font will make your writing sound more intelligent, more elegant. You veto covers left and right. You send conflicting ideas, and ask if they can all be mashed up into one brilliant cover image (minimalist monochrome, with surreal sci-fi and pulp fiction aesthetics, can?). You wonder why it’s so hard to express what you want in words. You start doubting that your book will ever have a cover.
Reality: Your book has a cover you love.
You start viewing friends in terms of favours.
Hi! Oh, we haven’t spoken since the time I met you with your best friend, my ex-boyfriend from three boyfriends ago. You’re looking good. Your own book magazine and podcast, and all. Hey, say, a thought just hit me: I wrote a book. Would you be interested in reviewing it?
Reality: Go ahead, be shameless. True friends will be supportive. And fake friends? Shrug.
You find it hard to get out of bed.
No one has ever published a book before you. No one knows how hard it is. Why. Is. The. Weight. Of. The. Universe. On. My. Shoulders?
Reality: Not true. Nope. No, it’s not.
You wake up in cold sweat at night.
There will always be that typo you didn’t see, which will grin up at you from the random page you turned to while trying to decide which chapter to read from at the launch.
Reality: There’s always the reprint. If there is a reprint. Go back to bed.
You secretly rearrange your books in stores.
Wherever they place your books, there will always be a spot that you’ll perceive as more prominent, prestigious or with more bookstore traffic. Let me just sprinkle a handful of this wonderful title over there…
Reality: Everybody does it.
Sales figures delude and depress you.
You can’t step into a bookstore anymore without checking if your book is in stock, on the local or weekly bestsellers list, or in the remainder bin. Finally, you muster up courage to ask your publisher how many copies of your book has been sold. You’re expecting that it sold a thousand copies within a month, and is now going into a second or third print run. The answer is closer to 42.
Reality: Wait, that’s the answer to life, the universe, and everything—isn’t it? Getting a book out is like having a kid. Giving birth is the easy part; now, promote and market it until you die. Or, at least—fingers crossed—until your next book comes out.
Copyright © 2017 Singapore Institute of Management
Article Found In
Issue 2, 2017