What being published has taught me

In last week’s blog I pretty much reduced everything that happened to me in my formative years to an 800 word blog.

This week is a kind of sequel. And one in which I talk about my other life, my life since 2003, the year I got a publishing deal, and everything I have learnt since. Okay, deep breath, look straight ahead, here goes.
– Choose battles wisely.
– Choose agents even more wisely.
– Literary fiction is a genre that pretends it is not a genre.
– Editors are essential.
– If an editor is talking about culling their list in the first meeting, this is a bad sign.– You have to be good. And keep getting better. For every writer taken on, another is dropped. A paradox: you have to rise to stay level.
– There are two types of friends. Actual friends, and the other kind.
– When I was little I didn’t believe anyone really said ‘hurrah’ but there are plenty.
– Ninety per cent of people in the publishing industry are twenty-six years old.
– If you sell the film rights to your book it doesn’t mean there will be a film. I have sold the rights to five books, and had zero films made. Take the money and be thankful.
– Having my name on a book never makes me more confident.
– Most things that go on with a writer’s career the writer doesn’t know about.
– Foreign rights = free money.
– There is no modernist stream-of-consciousness novel harder to get through than a ‘Publisher-Author Agreement’.
– People like your book more if other people like it.
– Authors shouldn’t go to book fairs any more than chickens should go to Nando’s.
– Being published doesn’t make you happy. It just swaps your old neuroses for new ones. (I should have gone to Oxbridge! Why wasn’t I invited to Hay? Am I not Granta enough? I wish I was Jonathan Franzen!)
– It is easy to be consumed by ‘if onlys’. If only I wore glasses/flannel blazers/ran my own literary salon/lived in Paris/had died in 1922/had written a book about jazz/had finished my Boer War novel/was called Tobias thenI’d be taken more seriously!
– You’d be more likely to work out your sales by staring at tea leaves than an Amazon ranking.
– It is not about the advance. My debut got £5000 and sold a respectable 60,000 copies in the UK. My third got an advance ten times that and had zero promotion. It struggled to shift 2,000 copies. Sometimes, for longevity, it is better to sneak in under the radar and prove your worth.
– Humans get excited about new things. With a debut, you are the new thing. With every other book you write the new thing must come from elsewhere.
– Success depends on great words, and passionate people. The words are up to you. The people you have to pray for, and stand by them once you find them.
– Beauty breeds beauty, truth triggers truth. The cure for writer’s block is therefore to read.
– The writer is now as much a commodity as a book.
– The gatekeepers still have the power, but there are a lot more gates than there used to be.
– There are as many versions of a book as there are readers.
– People always want the book you have just written. But if you give it them you will lose their respect. (People are weird.)
– Everyone is worried about the future of the book. But that is because people hate uncertainty. But then, if you hate uncertainty you shouldn’t be a writer in the first place.
– The joy of writing never changes, however many books you have published. It is not always a joy. It is only a joy for a fraction of the time, but it is worth it, just for that fraction. And much of that joy comes from being that misfit kid grown up, leading readers and yourself to the wildest parts of your imagination. And none of the associated pain can ever outweigh that sweet unbeatable pleasure of being read.

This first appeared on the Booktrust website ( where I am currently writer-in-residence.