This year marks ten years since my first book was published and it’s been five years since my first crime novel was published. When I was first looking for an agent back in 2007 Darley Anderson told me that it takes ten years to establish an author’s career (he represents Lee Child and Martina Cole so he knows his stuff).
At the time I remember thinking, ‘ten books? TEN!’ It felt like an unachievable number and I secretly hoped that he was wrong – that my first book would be a smash hit and I would ride the wave of that success for the rest of my life. It makes me laugh, thinking how naive I was.
Of course there ARE authors who have a smash hit with their very first book – who get a six figure advance, 40+ foreign deals and a Hollywood film deal, before the book has even gone to the printers – but it’s rare to achieve that level of success so early in your career. If you look at authors who hit the number one slot on Amazon for months and have 2,000+ reviews, you’ll often find that the number of reviews for their second book is a LOT lower. You can only be a debut author and generate that level of excitement once.
Darley might have a point about it taking a LOT of books to build a career but that trajectory isn’t always a straight line (in fact it rarely is). As my agent Madeleine Milburn said to me recently – almost all authors’ careers have peaks and troughs. The lows are grim – they can make you wonder why you bother writing books at all – but the highs are AMAZING. It’s often said that publishers gamble on books. They don’t know which one will be a smash hit so they place their chips, and marketing spend, on one or two books a year, and spin the wheel, hoping for a win.
I increasingly think authors are gamblers too. We’re forever chasing the highs – a good review in a magazine, a new foreign deal, a TV option, a full house of supermarket slots, an award nomination (or win), a ‘best of the year’ placing, bloggers raving about our novel, Waterstones book of the month or an email from a reader saying they don’t normally enjoy reading but they flew through our book in a matter of hours.
The highs are addictive. They make us feel good about ourselves, they temporarily allay imposter syndrome and they’re exciting. But then we fall into a fallow period (often when we are writing a first draft) and the good news dries up. As we scroll through Twitter looking for distraction all we see are other authors celebrating the things we’d like to achieve. And that’s when the doubt sets in. Where is our good news? Why don’t the supermarkets/Waterstones/indies want to stock our novels? Are our disappointing sales figures the beginning of the end? Are we too crap a writer to ever win an award? Writing is too stressful, what’s the point?
I’ve been there. It might not seem like it when my social media is full of shiny, shiny happy news but I’ve had my fair share of professional lows in the last ten years. Every author I have ever spoken to has. But the key to making a career as an author is determination and perseverance. Sarah Pinborough wrote 20+ books before Behind Her Eyes went MASSIVE (filming is currently underway for the Netflix adaptation) and I’m sure Steve Cavanagh won’t mind me saying that that the first few books in his Eddie Flynn series didn’t fly high until Thirteen, his fourth book in the series went stratospheric and won him armfuls of awards, was featured in Waterstones window displays across the UK and sold in the hundreds of thousands. Rosie Walsh’s books written under the pseudonym Lucy Robinson were ADORED by her readers but it wasn’t until she wrote ‘The Man Who Didn’t Call’ that she really hit the dizzy heights of publishing with an incredible US deal and over a million copies sold internationally.
This year has been my high – the best, most exciting year of my career where I’ve experienced so many amazing things for the first time. I feel really awkward admitting that. It’s very un-British of me. But, knowing this career, there will be lows again at some point and I want to remember every amazing thing that has happened this year and all the long held dreams that finally came true. None of the things that happened would have been possible without the hard work of my publisher Avon Books, the support of my agent Madeleine Milburn and the wonderful people who reviewed, stocked and bought Sleep.
It took ten years to achieve all these things and I am hugely grateful and very, very lucky.
So here we go, my highlights of 2019:
My first hardback was published and it went to number 4 in the Sunday Times original fiction list.
Sleep was reviewed in The Guardian by Laura Wilson (first time any of my books have been reviewed in The Guardian)
I went on my first book shop tour across the UK, shared the stage with brilliant authors and met loads of readers.
I had a launch party in the amazing Goldsboro books (for the first time).
I went to Denmark for my first ever foreign publisher event.
I took part in a panel at Bloody Scotland in front of 200 readers and appeared on stage with Richard Osman, Susi Holliday and Mark Billingham (and we won the quiz!) .
I dieted like mad (lost nine pounds in two weeks) but still wore two pairs of spanx when I appeared on the Sara Cox show with Ross Kemp and Ricky Wilson from the Kaiser Chiefs.
Sleep was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club and I was interviewed by the legends themselves.
Tube posters for Sleep appeared all over London.
Sleep won the ‘best ebook’ award at the inaugural Capital Crime festival.
Ricky Wilson, Ian Rankin and Marian Keyes enjoyed my books.
Sleep took the number five slot in the Sunday Times paperback chart and has now sold over 150,000 copies across all formats.
And finally…my highlight of the year, and nothing to do with publishing…
Back in October my partner of ten years, and the father of my son, took me to North Devon for my birthday. It was too dark and rainy for him to suggest a walk on the beach after dinner so he got down on one knee in our hotel. He asked me to marry him and I said yes.
Now there’s a plot twist even I wasn’t expecting…
23 thoughts on “It took ten years…”
What a year Cally! Congratulations. You’ve put in the hard work and absolute deserve to reap and celebrate the rewards. May 2020 bring more good things.
Thank you so much, Helen.
Congratulations on your forthcoming marriage.
AND, makes more difference to my own life, all your books.
I’ve loved every one of them. So, don’t get too caught up in
Thanks so, much, Bren. I don’t have time to plan a wedding for a while so you’re good there!
Wonderful and inspirational. Congratulations and much happiness to come xx
Thanks so much, Tracy.
Thank you so much for your inspirational words. As a writer with one unpublished book in a drawer and 47,000 or so words into my next book, I found your insight and advice extremely helpful. It’s a lonely world out there as a writer but one filled with stories to tell. PS – I loved your book!
Keep going. The difference between a publisher writer and an unpublished one is perseverance. It’s a lonely and exhausting business but the reaction you get from readers makes it all worth it. Good luck.
This is such a brilliant post, which I think all authors should read. I’m only a couple of years into my career and am so grateful for people telling me early on that it takes time and patience – otherwise I think the disappointments could have been crushing. But it’s so encouraging to hear stories like yours and Sarah’s, which prove that it’s about perseverance and grit as much as talent or luck. And congrats for all of your success – it’s much deserved, and I look forward to reading even more of your brilliant books in future!
Thank you, Elle. Yes, patience is a huge part of it too. All you can do is put your heart into every book you write, and make it the best you can.
It’s so refreshing to have someone irrelevant of occupation tell it like it is. There are highs and lows everywhere and with Instagram perfection it’s so hard to remain positive sometimes. The first book I read of yours which I found in my library was The Lie. I was hooked there and then. Don’t know what it is with your storytelling but it’s different. Your stories draw a person in, your characters oh the women are so strong and have a mind of their own. The Fear was mind blowing and so real as I think at the time there was an actual case of an English girl going to France with her teacher and he has since done prison time. I have read every book from The Lie onwards and now I see there are 3 prior to that, I must get them!
You are definitely one of my go to writers all the time. I am picky because I have to be drawn in quick and the plot must be interesting. You definitely achieve this. Thank you for writing, congratulations on your engagement and achievements really well deserved. Please continue to do this and communicate with your readers so many just ignore us and I just don’t read them anymore (that’s you John Grisham). You keep getting better and better looking forward to Strangers in April 2020 here in the UK.
Oh wow, Tracy. What an absolutely INCREDIBLE message to receive. Honestly, everything you have said, all the kind, complimentary and encouraging things, mean so much. I really hope you like the characters in my next book, Strangers, they are some of my favourites that I’ve ever written. Thank so much for taking the time to send me a message. I really appreciate it. All the best, Cally.
What an amazing year, Cally, and so well-deserved, and how lovely to end with a proposal! Congratulations 🙂 xx
What an amazing year, and so well deserved, and how lovely to end with a proposal! Congratulations 🙂 xx
Thank you, Karen. Doesn’t ‘A Story A Fortnight’ feel a million years ago now? So much has happened. But such a special group. X
Absolutely loved your latest book, Sleep,
We live in lovely North Devon, our family room looks over towards Saunton, and beyond to Lundy Island.
Wonderful. I actually considered Lundy as the setting for Sleep. I haven’t been there but an ex-boyfriend worked there. Sounds lovely and remote.
Firstly, management congratulations on your marriage proposal. I hope you both a happy & healthy marriage of many, many years to come.
Secondly, wow, what an author you are. Your books along with all your achievements are massive and I am such a fan of your books. Looking forward to many more to follow.
Best wishes for a Very Happy Christmas and a Very Prosperous 202o x
I really should read what I post! Of course is should read many many congratulations. Followed by I hope you both have a very happy & healthy marriage.
No worries, at all. I ALWAYS make typos on social media! I completely understood what you were trying to say. Thank you for all your good wishes.