Clare Mackintosh: What I’ve Learned Since Becoming a Published Author

Clare Mackintosh: What I’ve Learned Since Becoming a Published Author

Like every job, there are downsides. But just as you can’t have a rainbow without the rain, these spots of bad weather simply serve to highlight how great things are the rest of the time. Mixed in with the rough and the smooth are a few things that have surprised me about being a published author.

You can’t wait for the muse

In an ideal world writers would only write when they felt compelled to do so; when the creative juices were flowing, and the story coming alive beneath our finger tips. It isn’t an ideal world. Imagine being a window cleaner and telling your customers you just ‘don’t feel the urge’ today – you wouldn’t stay in business very long. So I sit at my desk even when writing is the last thing I want to be doing. Even when I don’t have a single idea in my head, and every word is an effort. Because the only cure for writer’s block is to write.

There are numbers. Lots of numbers

Spreadsheets, too. Advances (sometimes), royalties (hopefully) and sales figures (fingers crossed), as well as a myriad of grown-up documents about marketing plans, social media reach and distribution targets. For many authors – drawn to the creative pull of writing, and pathologically averse to statistics – this side of the job can be at best dull; at worst stressful. As a self-confessed geek I love nothing more than seeing the back-end of the business – like popping a car bonnet and seeing all the components of the engine. I can’t make a car run – I’m no mechanic – but it’s reassuring to see it working.

You have a boss. And deadlines

Technically authors are self-employed. But just like any other freelancer, working to a client’s brief, you have a boss. For the duration of that project, at least. Publishing houses set their publication slots months in advance, and although there’s flexibility to a degree, missing a deadline could be a problem. Fortunately I quite like deadlines. Give me an open-ended task and I’ll procrastinate for weeks, dribbling out half-hearted words. Set a date in stone – be it a month in the future or a year – and I suddenly become more focused, breaking down the task and making sure I stay on track.

Bad reviews don’t kill you

When my first novel, I LET YOU GO, came out, I read every single review, and that first critical review was like a knife through the heart; like someone standing over my baby’s pram and commenting on her milk rash. You harden up quickly. You have to. Fortunately my good reviews have so far significantly outnumbered the bad, and nowadays I’m (pretty much) immune to criticism. Books – like art and film – are subjective, and the world would be a very boring place if everyone liked the same things.

Good reviews make you feel amazing

Just as it’s an author’s prerogative to gloss over the bad reviews, so it is our right to seize good reviews and take them as Gospel. Even if they’re written by your mum’s cousin’s neighbour, who’s been given strict instructions to Say Something Nice. Positive comments from readers – whether in reviews or via social media – are like crack for authors, and can turn a bad day into a great one. Before I started writing I had absolutely no idea just how powerful a good review could be, and nowadays I’m so grateful to anyone who takes time to write one.

It’s not the writing, it’s the rewriting

I wrote my debut novel, I LET YOU GO, eight times before the story was right. I SEE YOU went through four big structural edits. On each occasion I set the old version to one side and started a brand new draft. Writing ‘The End’ provides only a fleeting feeling of euphoria because that’s really where the hard work starts. Ripping the book apart and piecing it back together. Making it stronger, tighter, more tense. Fleshing out characters. It’s exhausting and – at times – demoralising, but it produces a better book.

There’s more – so much more – I could say about life as a published writer. I could tell you about the book club that insisted on scoring my book while I was still in the room. I could tell you about the reader who threw down my book in disgust because a fictional character studied veterinary science at a university that doesn’t offer such a course. I could tell you how absurdly hard it is to think of titles, or of names for your characters; or about the weird anticlimax after publication days. But this is a blog post, not a novel.

Besides, I have books to write.

Suffice to say, life as a published author has been surprising, exhilarating, and downright amazing. I feel incredibly lucky to do what I do, and I’m grateful to you – the readers – for making it possible.