Tor Udall is author of A Thousand Paper Birds (Bloomsbury), longlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award.
My debut A Thousand Paper Birds was published by Bloomsbury last June. Here are some of the things I’ve learned.
Agents Are Heroes
I am in love with each and every one of them.
I know, from a distance, that they can seem like impenetrable gatekeepers but they are passionate advocates for good writing, work ungodly hours for work that they believe in and have no guarantee of financial reward. Sound familiar?
Like writers, they too have to go through the precarious and heart-thumping process of submissions, rejections and deals. Agents not only help hone your work and protect your rights, but are a great sounding board throughout the entire journey. But most importantly they believe in, and fight for, books and writers. If you meet one, you should look them in the eye and say thank you.
(A deep bow to Jenny Savill.)
Book People Are Incredibly Generous
The generosity of the industry has taken my breath away.
Influential editors and publicists from other publishing houses have praised A Thousand Paper Birds on social media and encouraged others to read it – and I’ve seen them do it with other debuts too. Why? Because they are passionate about books that they love whether it’s from their imprint or not. There are so many inspiring, authentic, brilliant people in this industry – brains as big as planets (a big wave to Georgina Moore and Alison Barrow!).
The same is true of authors.
If they believe in your work, they will shout about it from the rooftops. Being published for the first time is a giddy ride and it’s helpful to meet other authors on the rollercoaster. Having received so much support, I’m keen to help upcoming writers. It’s one massive chain of ink-stained hands and I love being a part of it. I truly believe this industry contains some of the best human beings on the planet.
It Is A Team Effort
After years of solitary writing, it has been a privilege to collaborate with the team at Bloomsbury.
They are brilliant at what they do. From my sublimely smart editor to my sensitive and astute copy-editor, through to my designer and the publicity, marketing and digital teams, they’ve all been fighting my corner and helping the book be the best it can be.
What a freakin’ honour.
It’s Not True That You Need To Be Well Connected
I got my first agent through the slush pile (most writers do). After losing him, I went to the Festival of Writing and left with 8 agents interested in representing. I put in the graft. I said hello.
At my first meeting with my publicist, she asked if I had any media contacts and my awkward answer was ‘not a sausage.’ But we sent out the proofs and a few people really liked it. They then told other people who told other people and suddenly we had momentum.
I will be forever indebted to the authors, reviewers, bloggers and readers who have championed Paper Birds. And some of these ‘strangers’ have become friends. In an overcrowded market you need people singing about your book.
The beauty is that one voice can become a chorus.
Publishing Is A Vast Eco-system
Pre-publication, most writers learn about agents and publishers, but the vitality of the industry is dependent on a much larger eco-system that includes mentors and editors, literary scouts, translators, bloggers, vloggers, reviewers and most importantly booksellers.
Yes, that person behind the till at your local bookshop is the king or queen you should worship.
Booksellers can make or break a book. If they buy one copy and shelve it in alphabetical order (you will normally find ‘U’ in the darkest corner) there’s not much chance of that book being sold and the shop ordering more. But if they highlight it in a table or window display, things are very different.
Waterstones in Richmond did a gorgeous window for A Thousand Paper Birds. It became their biggest selling hardback for 4 weeks, almost outselling their bestselling paperback.
Get to know your local booksellers. Buy from them. Give them chocolate. They make all the difference.