I’m going to be signing copies of Babylon Steel at Waterstone’s in Sutton on Saturday 10 March. 10 am to 4 pm. There I will be, with my pen, a hopeful expression, a little table and a chair; and, one hopes, a source of caffeinated beverages.
I am regarding the whole thing with a combination of delight (Me! A Signing! Waterstone’s! People knowing about my book and maybe reading it and buying it and wanting to talk about it!) and a sort of practical pessimism. (Hey, if no-one turns up, it’s six hours of writing time. In a bookshop. What more could one ask?)
But, rather scarily, I have been informed by Persons in the Know that on occasion people turn up at signings simply in order to buttonhole the author and ask them what The Secret is. You know the one. The one published authors have, the Special Magic Key, that gets you from ‘I haz manuscript’ to ‘I haz contract’.
If this happens, how do you tell them, politely and fairly briefly, that there isn’t one? If someone says, ‘How do I get published,’ what is the best response?
“Read a lot. Write a lot. Next!” seems a bit abrupt. “I don’t know, it just sort of happened”, may be seen as deliberately unhelpful, even though that’s sometimes what it feels like. “Here is a list of my favourite books/blogs on writing, go read ‘em”? “Discipline! Training! Wordcount goals! Get up at 4 am every day for the next twenty years”? “Go visit that little old lady in Schenectady, the one who does ideas”?
Unfortunately the real answer is probably some version of, “All of the above.” (Except the little old lady in Schenectady, of course. I never did manage to find her address).
There is no Magic Key. If there was, I’d have got published much earlier, at an age where there was less risk that 3pm may find me fast asleep and drooling gently onto a pile of books.
Which, of course, is likely to be exactly the moment when the photographer from the local paper turns up.