I hope everyone had a wonderful Boxing Day. Now we enter the lull between Christmas and New Year, so we have plenty of time to reflect on our debut authors of 2015.
Today Helen Maslin joins to talk about her debut. Helen debuted with Chicken House in August with Darkmere.
How did it feel to sign your first book?
I’m grinning just remembering it!
It felt very weird. But definitely good weird.
Before my book came out, I saw a photo of dozens of different attempts at a professional-looking signature which had been tweeted by the author David Owen. He’d tried curly writing…capitals…an initial...a flourish or two…all sorts of variations on his two names – and he’d covered an entire page.* People were nominating their favourites. It was funny, but it made me realise I had to have an author’s signature too. After I stopped laughing, I sat down and filled several pages with different versions of my own name. It felt like being back in school and daydreaming about being famous.
The main problem was that I couldn’t imagine being asked to sign my book by anyone who wasn’t already a friend or family member, which made using my surname ridiculously formal. “Woo, get you, Helen Maslin!”
But neither could I use only my first name since I’m not Madonna or Cher. In the end, I dug out every signed book I owned and decided to copy Robin Stevens, who had signed hers with Robin S which seemed like a friendly balance. Deep down, I still couldn’t believe I’d ever need to use it, though.
The first two books I signed were for Lorna and Morag Haddow, who had given me my earliest reviews on Goodreads. They were both lovely – and extremely patient with me. I grinned at them both in disbelief, fully expecting them to say ‘Only kidding!’ and run away. When they eventually persuaded me they weren’t kidding, I made someone take a photo of me signing the books in case it never happened again.
I went on to sign lots at YALC, but I gave every single person who asked that same look of incredulity. Like I said – it’s good, but it’s weird!
*And in case you’re wondering – David Owen later signed my copy of Panther with both first name and surname in a very classy and undulating style.
Has being published opened opportunities for you that you wouldn’t have had before? If yes, what are they?
Before I was published, I read a lot of book-blogs and bought the latest YA books, but it never occurred to me to tell anyone how much I enjoyed what they’d written. I'd always thought: "Well, why would they care what I think?"
After I was published of course, I thought the opposite. If anyone praised my writing, I thought: "Thank you – thank you – thank you!”
So perhaps the best thing about being published is that it’s given me the confidence (and often the opportunity) to tell my favourite authors and bloggers how much I like their books or blogs.
I can remember being completely in awe of Emma Carroll, whose books made my children refuse to go to bed until they were finished. And now I’m happy to go on Twitter and tell her so. And if the twist in Keris Stainton’s latest book makes me laugh out loud and I’m keen to tell her that too.
I have been given all sorts of advice by fellow Chicken Housers – Emma Shevah, Lucy Ingles, Rachel Ward – oh, there are too many to list! – but they’ve all made being published feel less nerve-racking and solitary. And a whole lot more fun!
The same goes for book-bloggers. I assumed the greats such as Vivienne Dacosta or Liz de Jager would be too lofty to notice my debut, but they’ve been among the most supportive. When I met Liz at the UKExtravaganza, she refused to let me fangirl even for a second. We ended up eating crisps and talking about which books had the most blood in them. Although the events – the book brunches and #YAmeet-ups – are brilliant, the best thing about them is that they’re full of readers and writers I think of as friends – I’m looking at you Chelle, Lisa, Michelle, Sally – again there are far too many to mention!
Before this post gets any more gushing, I’m going to mention one more – far more obnoxious – thing I got to do this year as a published author. I got to jump the queue at YALC!
Seriously, I have never walked past such a long queue in my life! And I tried not to enjoy it – I really did, but that queue went on forever. There were teens with totes full of books, cosplayers, all the bloggers who'd been at the book brunch – and I walked past them with Chicken House publicists, Jazz and Laura.
We met up with Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison; and then security men with walkie-talkies showed us all into a sort of vast underground garage/hangar and from there into a room-sized, industrial lift, already filled with stacks of extra chairs for the talks and trolleys filled with gigantic glass jugs of ice for the cafe. YALC 2015 was just about to start and I was going in ahead of the crowd. Easily the closest I’ve ever come to rock star treatment.
What was it like working with a publicist?
It didn’t take me very long to see that it would be impossible for anyone to promote a book effectively without a publicist – and I say that as someone who enjoys going on Twitter and talking to other writers and bloggers. The #UKYA book people make up one of the friendliest communities on the internet, so chatting to them never feels like networking. I love the #UKYAchats and quizzes. I even like writing blog-posts or answering questionnaires about books.
But that’s a tiny percentage of what goes into publicizing a book. I’ve been lucky enough to work with publicists who seem to know everyone – and who have persuaded each and every one of them to read and review my book. I like to think that Laura uses the Jedi Mind Trick, while Jazz favours the Imperius Curse…although I may have made those up.
They’ve invited me to brilliant events – brunches, breakfasts and a stall at YALC with games, treasure hunts and giveaways. They’ve organized articles, blog-tours and beautiful Darkmere postcards. And they’ve both given me endless advice on everything from train tickets to book blurbs.
When I was recovering from unexpected surgery this year, both Laura and Jazz came to see me and took me out for tea at my favourite restaurant. They’d even brought the first ARC of my book with them. That’s what it’s been like working with publicists – not like work at all!
How has your life changed since publication?
I don’t say ‘I can’t do that’ anymore.
It didn’t matter what I was being asked to do, ‘I can’t do that’ was always my default setting. But I also said I couldn’t be a published author and it turned out that I could. So now, if someone asks me to – I don’t know – film a video or speak at an author event or fly to Germany to visit a book fair, I hear myself saying ‘Yeah…maybe I can.’
Sounds cheesy, I know – but the increase in self esteem is by far the best of the changes. I recently got trapped in the corner of a pub by a woman who told me all about her career as a successful solicitor, and instead of shrinking and feeling inferior, I was impatient for her to reach the point of asking me what I did. ‘Ask me what I do…ask me what I do…ask me…ask me!’
Of course she never asked.
But it didn’t matter. I realised I didn’t need to impress her after all. I was happy just to discover that my published book works as invisible armour against show-offs!
Another of the best things about being a published author is the advance – not going to lie. Money earned by writing feels like magical money no matter what I spend it on. Not just the weird things I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise – like the carved stag’s head with amazing antlers that now hangs in the dining room. But also the new uniform I bought for my son’s first year at senior school. Now, when he loses yet another part of his games kit, I find myself clutching the one remaining rugby sock and whining: ‘But I bought that sock with my book money – it was special. You have to find it.’
What was the best quote about your book that you received?
Well, this question is an excellent excuse to re-read all my favourite reviews until I’m grinning like a loon. I’m going to find it incredibly hard to choose a favourite quote, though – I’ve genuinely loved every positive comment. Some are so flattering I’m almost too embarrassed to type them – almost. Like the line in Cora Linn’s (Tea Party Princess) review when she says that she had to put the book down because she was physically shaking. Or the comment from Rosy Mercer (The Review Diaries) that she’d had to put the book in her freezer – she even added a photo as proof! Or the beautiful review from Jesse Owen (That Jesse Bloke Reads) when he said it was like reading a film. They all made me teary.
Perhaps the best was a quote from Imogen Russell Williams, who described it as one of her favourite YAs of the year. She also said it was ‘Gothic, sexy, hilarious, horrific’ – which is pretty much a shopping list of everything I was aiming for. When someone completely gets what you were trying to write, it makes you want to moonwalk and spin around and fist-pump all at the same time. Not that I tried to do that.*
*I totally tried to do that!
Thank you Helen for the shout out and thank you for sharing your thoughts on your debut with us.
Come back tomorrow for more debut inspiration.