Every book perpetuates a myth on its cover.
The myth I am talking about is the myth of the author. The myth of that name under or above the title, staring out at you in bold letters, like Stonehenge in a font, saying ‘I am an island of talent, and everything inside this book is down to me.’
I have a book coming out at the start of May. If you want to pre-order your copy you can do so here. It is called The Humans and, for the very first time in my publishing career, I am still proud of it. Normally what happens with my books is that I write the thing, love the hell out of it for a week, and then, by the time they come out I just want to hide under a rock and cringe.
But not with this one. Here I am, with actual printed hardback copies in existence (though not in shops until May) and I am not cringing about anything in that book. I am not even scared of the reviews. I’m not saying it’ll get good reviews. I’m just saying that for once reviews won’t alter my neurochemical balance or cause too much serotonin depletion.
I believe in this book. I believe it is the best thing I have written and that, if I were to die today, it is the one I’d want to be remembered for.
But this book is not just mine. No book is just anyone’s especially these days. If there were any truth about it, a book jacket would be like a film poster. The author might be the star or the director but there would be lots of other names too. There would, in this case, at least be the name of my editor, Francis Bickmore, who quoted Emily Dickinson at me and said ‘dazzle gradually, Or every man be blind…’
There are many, many other people who helped me make The Humans. My US editor, Millicent Bennet, my Canadian editor Kate Cassaday, the person producing the film – Tanya Seghatchian, my agent Caradoc King and his associate Louise Lamont, my editor/proof-reader/critic/spouse Andrea Semple. All of those names should be on the cover too. Along with many other people who work at the relevant publishing companies and agencies.
But it doesn’t stop there.
No. A writer these days is not a solo player (if we ever were). A writer does not create a novel out of a vacuum. But out of interaction – with editors, friends, family and other readers.
Now, in the age of Twitter and Facebook, the writer/reader relationship is closer than ever. I get my readers’ advice on everything. Which title they prefer, how I should say something in another language, help with historical and geographical and professional details etc. etc. etc.
A reader’s involvement in a book no longer starts and ends with them buying it and reading it. They can help make that book better, and help champion it far and wide when it comes out. I am lucky in this respect. I have some pretty amazing readers. They are willing to video themselves on trampolines and with their horses and on holiday in Thailand reading lines for a book trailer. I have evidence. Look:
I think, gradually, the author’s mystique will fade thanks to the internet. I think my mystique faded the moment I drunk-tweeted something about liking Taylor Swift last September. And many writers moan about this. They want to be invisible. They don’t want to be sitting in their glass boxes.
But for me, I think it is positive. I like involving my readers. I know writers aren’t islands, but part of wider continents – influenced by other writers and friends and editors and readers. I think it’s nice. Especially as writers tend to be the kinds of people who used to be picked last for sports teams at school. Now we get to create our own teams.
Teams built around books.
And I, for one, don’t care if the myth of the isolated genius author disappears for ever, because I believe the internet is taking stories back to where they first started. Back to humans, telling tales to each other, and getting each other involved as we sit around the fire, or in our caves, tapping into the most universal experience we have – imagination.
So, I hope you enjoy The Humans. If you do, or even if you don’t, you’re welcome in the team.