Our two years of amateur novel writing ended with a visit from various agents and publishers, who were there to tell us how to get published.
“Forget it,” said a woman from Penguin to the assembled hopefuls. “You have no hope. Your life’s work will end up in a slush pile on the desk of some work experience junior whose main job it is to make the tea.”
As everyone burst into tears, she hurled her final brutal spear into the collective heart of our naivete. “The only way to get published would be if you already had, I don’t know, a national newspaper column or something.”
And through the veil of my tears, something inside me went huh? A newspaper column? Why, I had one of those! Did that mean I could get a book deal? Could I? Could I?
The short answer was no. You need a book to get a book deal, and what I had was a pile of alphabet spaghetti, a novel, of such unwieldy yet infantile proportions, that one of the agents had thought I was writing for teenagers. “No!” I had snapped. “It’s a grown up novel for grown ups!” “Oh,” she had replied uneasily, backing away, glancing towards the door.
Anyway. The crap novel is still on my hard drive, a place it will never leave, but stays there to remind me of what not to do. Then, last year, a book popped out of me in a matter of months, fully formed, like a live birth. No hatching, no brooding — it was entirely viviparous. (Great word, no? And so pretentious too).
Anyway, all by itself, the book got an agent and a publishing deal. I know I keep banging on about it, but blame the advice from that Penguin woman all those years ago.
Now the book is at the pre-marketing stage. Oh boy. This is when the marketing people get their hands on it, and try to persuade you to change everything. Not the content – this has been tweaked by a literary editor – but how it will look. “Hmmm,” they say. “Do you really want to keep your title?” Well, yes, thank you, I do actually. Then they spend ages trying to convince you to ditch your title and replace it with something generic to make it easier to classify when they go to sell it. NO! NO NO NO! Alright, you can keep your title, they relent. But what about a subtitle? They suggest something so naff that I think they are joking. Except they’re not. Then the cover art comes through and you almost have an orgasm.
This is the process. It’s incredibly exciting and makes you totally narcissistic. Your self importance inflates like a dinghy, bobbing on a sea of ego.
You let your imagination run wild and wonder aloud who will play you in the Hollywood film version. “Miss Piggy,” says my daughter emphatically. Oh. Right.