Thoughts on publishing a novel
It’s official. As of today, The Heat of the Sun is available in its UK edition, from all the usual places. I’m glad. But not, it must be admitted, as glad as you probably think. People imagine publication day must be exciting for authors. This isn’t quite true. You wake up to a day like any other. No fanfares play outside your window. Congratulatory telegrams don’t roll in. It isn’t, alas, like those Broadway first nights in old movies, with stars and writers and director and producer clustered in a luxury hotel suite, waiting for the early papers with the reviews that will make or break the show.
The exciting parts of publishing happen either earlier (signing the contract, sales of foreign rights, getting the final edit in shape) or later, if you’re lucky (success, and all that comes with it). Publication day is the eye of the storm. It’s also, for the author, a time of leavetaking. The book, after months or years, finally exists. It’s rather as if it’s left home, its possessions tied up in a spotted handkerchief at the end of a gnarled stick. The book has gone and I can’t protect it now. It must make its way in the world alone. So no, I’m not as glad as I should be. I’ve lost something I loved.
John Updike said somewhere that all the ceremony around publication was just a pretext for a dusty copy of the book being discovered one day by some kid in a public library in Texas (or similar). It’s odd that Updike, so much a part of that metropolitan New Yorker world, should have thought that, and one wonders what the kid in Texas made of Couples. But Updike’s right: the real life of books exists not in publicity or sales. It’s in someone the author has never met, far away perhaps in place and time, finding the book, reading it and feeling as if – suddenly, unexpectedly – a door has opened. Books have to be “successful” (to some degree) if that’s going to happen. There’ll be no copies in that library if the book was never publicised and never sold. But the writers I care about don’t write for publicity and don’t write for sales. They write for the kid in Texas.
What did I do on publication day? Recently I completed the draft of a new book. It needs revising. So, yes, I woke up to a day like any other. But no, I’m not feeling sorry for myself: not a bit. I did the thing I most want to do. I got out of bed and went to work.