Last night I went to bed early knowing I had to be up at 5am for work. By 1:30am I still hadn’t got to sleep.
I was thinking about my books, my royalty cheques, my relative status, my limitations. Payback isn’t out yet, so I have no idea what anyone will make of my little novel but I was fretting about what will happen to it.
The rational part of my brain knows exactly what will happen; it’ll do modest business then vanish. If I’m lucky its sales will earn me almost as much as I banked in a month doing my previous job. Some people will like it and I’ll get a mood-boosting blast of positivity on the days I hear good news. (It’s impossible to underestimate how thrilling it is to hear someone has read and enjoyed your book.) A slightly smaller number will read it and dislike it. It’ll end up at about 3.9 on Goodreads.
But the truth is, it’ll be beneath the notice of most.
I know this.
And yet… part of me still hopes it will do well. That it’ll end up on bookstore table-displays or face-out with a staff review, or a national newspaper runs a small but positive review. Or it gets optioned for a spell, or there’s an audiobook deal or calls for a sequel. Just imagine, right?
It’s managing these two opposing thoughts, the rational and the optimistic, that keeps me awake. Last night it took me getting on for three hours to thoroughly think through the issues I’ve expressed above.
I’m writing this at 6:30am the following morning on a train. Here’s a summary of my current state of mind.
Maybe there is no mass market. It might look like there’s wave after wave of hit books with mass appeal, but those books can only represent 5% of what’s published, right? The rest ticks over in the background. I’d need to write twenty books just to be in with a statistical shout of joining the ranks of the big-hitter.
The rest of us are niche. Thousands and thousands of us appealing to a small group of readers with specialist enthusiasms, and earning a modest living doing so. So if happiness is, as some people say, the result of expectation minus reality, one simple solution is to modulate expectation. To make peace with being niche.
Then there’s this. Once, I was the bloke who got picked. The Poison Boy happened because I was plucked out of nowhere, winning The Times Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition in 2012.
I’ve already won the lottery. I should pipe the hell down and get to work.
As it turns out once you've broadened your attention, stuff happens.
About a week after the last blog post, someone told me this. There's a high-speed rail link planned in some distant future where we aren't broke. It would connect Manchester and Sheffield, a mate was telling me. I tracked down a piece in the Guardian to check the facts. And get this (the italics are mine):
"David Higgins’s review of the second phase of HS2 endorsed the two planned routes... Higgins said either a new tunnelled high-speed route or an upgraded rail link through existing but unused tunnels through the Pennines were possible options."
That's right. Existing tunnels, closed in 1981. Here's a picture:
Boom. There it is. A group of surveyors are re-opening a bricked up tunnel to begin work on a new rail network. No-one's been in those tunnels for 35 years. Consider the possibilities, folks...
Cold case! Missing kid! Flashbacks to the early eighties! Other stuff!
This is how it happens, friends. Ideas collide with ideas. Maybe there'll be a third thing. I've a feeling there will...