Written by A Guest Author

What Does Being Published for the First Time Mean?

By Ben Graff

Holding a copy of your own book, for the first time, is something to savor. The sheen of the cover, the smell of the paper, being able to say I made this. It is both a beginning and an ending of sorts. How do we best evaluate this staging point in the journey of a writer?

A part of your identity has just become more public

As a child, I would fill dog-eared notebook after notebook with stories, poems and plays. My output was prolific and more or less entirely hidden from view. This writer thing was for me and me alone. While I longed to be published, there was something to be said for creating worlds that remained entirely mine. (Which, given their quality, was probably just as well.) It takes time and a lot of paper to learn your craft. Conversations with others about wanting to write can feel akin to expressing a distant hope to be an astronaut. I knew I was far from where I wanted to be. When you first publish, things are a little different. You have something to point to that in part validates the assertion of you as writer. Your first work is an anchor point of reference for all that follows, something that will take your time in its marketing and will most likely form the first line of your C.V. for the foreseeable. Forget the fantasies about fame and fortune. My hunch is that most real writers have no illusions on that front. Yet, you have most likely achieved something deeper, fulfilled a longing to create. You have shown you can do this.

Friends and family now know more about you than they did before. Heck, anyone who chooses to buy a copy of your book has a direct route into thousands of hours of your thinking. There is a little part of yourself that has now been shown to the world that cannot be taken back, for good or ill. In some small way it is not just your book that is now out there, to some extent you are too. The demands of the social media age and the need to balance these against your own more introverted nature (just guessing) is something that has to be squared. There is no right answer, but you have to stay true to yourself. How you approach these questions requires conscious thought. I market my book, but don’t yet have a personal blog. I will in the future, but only when it feels right to me. For now, I publish where and when my work is accepted. You cannot control how you are perceived as a writer, but have the confidence to only take the steps that feel right for you. I always want to be writer first and a marketer as a very distant second, whatever the consequences. We all find our own way.

You begin to discover your voice

I have spoken to numerous seasoned writers about their first book and their reflections on them. I get differing reactions, but one of the themes I most notice, is that they tend to like some parts of their early work more than others. There are sections I would do very differently now… has been a relatively common observation. In first publishing, you have made a more tangible connection with your voice than ever before. Something has clicked in a way that it had not with previous projects. Yet you are still learning. The chances are for all the re-working the quality of your writing is uneven. Just looking back at my book even immediately after publication, I can already see some of the fault-lines, places where a more experienced engineer would have smoothed over the cracks more proficiently. It is the way of things. When looking to future projects, there is a need to not only channel the voice you have unlocked, but to further refine it, just like a work person in any other walk of life re-evaluates how they use their tools as they grow in competence.

The future is uncertain but you are on your path

In “Bird by Bird,” Anne Lamott wrote about the buzz from first being published as being a lot more fleeting and less meaningful than you might expect. It does not change everything or mean that all those other challenges that go with being human will somehow melt away. You are not suddenly a “writer” and there are no guarantees as to what will follow in terms of your writing career.

I take from this that it is important to stay grounded. To remember why it is that you write in the first place, which is surely because you fundamentally enjoy the act of writing (at least enough of the time to plough through the difficult days when the words refuse to flow.) A first book is just the beginning. Something, but far from everything, and what follows is going to be a mixture of further hard work and luck. There are no shortcuts and every writer, whether one book or twenty books in, wakes to the same blank page.

I have a three-pronged plan for my future over the next year or so. Having “thrown the kitchen sink” into my first book, I want to ensure that a second does not constitute the dregs. Hence, in addition to some marketing for book number one, I’ve set myself a target of writing shorter pieces (fiction and non-fiction) and building my portfolio of published work. This will leave me space to gently contemplate what my next book should be about. I have no shortage of ideas, but it takes time to discover which I care enough about to see through. Eventually, the right idea will find me.

Whatever the future holds, whatever the limitations in being published, take time to reflect on the present. Things have changed, you have changed and these changes cannot be wholly undone. There is much to celebrate. You are learning more about yourself and your voice, a staging post has been reached and your future is gradually shaping itself on the screen in front of you. You are a writer now.

Bio

Ben Graff’s first book, Find Another Place, was published on the 28th March, 2018.

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