One of the many things that made Margaret Thatcher anathema to me – even now after all these years – was her apparent complete absence of self-doubt. It’s a ‘fundamentalist’ trait, I suppose, which manifests itself in similar ways whatever the beliefs of the believer. I have a reputation – undeserved, surely – for expressing myself quite forcefully at times, about Margaret Thatcher for example, but underneath it all I am frequently assailed by self-doubt and one of those times seems to be upon me now.
The ms of Cruel Tide is with my editor Charlotte and I’ll get it back for approval in a week or so. We’ve corresponded and talked at length about several previous drafts, but even so waiting for her editing suggestions feels like waiting for an exam result. Did I do a good job? Is it really crime fiction or just another character-driven story with ‘events’ like the trilogy that went before it? Was it a good idea to link it to the trilogy, or was that choice driven by commercial considerations? Is Cruel Tide as well-written as it should be? Does the dialogue work? On and on the questions go. I could lay some of them to rest perhaps by re-reading the text yet again, but I daren’t, and anyway it may be too late. Once the production machine begins to hum along there are few opportunities for major changes. Tweaking only from now on, and I do want the book to be ready for the shops well before Christmas. Now I’m thinking like a publisher rather than a writer, but when you self-publish you have to be both.
I was hoping that sales would be quite brisk as the summer moves on and more visitors arrive in the lake District, but things seem to be slow. Ebook sales go up and down without any explanation, and I can’t tell whether any of my promotional activities have any impact on anything except direct sales, which are always good when I’m ‘performing’ somewhere. Fortunately I so enjoy the ‘performing’ element of this work that I will continue to do it regardless of whether it sells books or not. Sometimes I yearn for a larger audience and somewhere other than a village hall or church rooms to do my work, but it’s the same old problem of breaking in to the ‘festivals’ circuit that many self-published authors like me face. What does it take to get enough recognition to be asked to do things that will build a reputation for quality? I know I can engage and entertain larger audiences as I’ve done it for decades in my previous life as an education presenter, but no one in the book business would take any notice of that. On paper I’m another elderly unagented northerner who writes and publishes old-fashioned stories, and I’m popular on the Cumbrian WI circuit. Nothing wrong with that, but it may not get you noticed by people wanting to sell tickets for ‘Words on the Water’ in Keswick or the Hay Festival. I look on Twitter at fellow-writers enjoying their contributions to book festivals and I think ‘I could do that!’
Nothing like a good moan. My partner thinks I should have more faith in myself. ‘Keep going’ he says. ‘The books are good, and eventually someone who matters in the book business will notice them.’ Maybe he’s right, but I’m not certain: the doubt is not enough to stop me thinking about the next book, however, and the current mood will probably pass. In the meantime I wonder if all this introspection is just unnecessary and a waste of energy. I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to live the life I have and afford the luxury of high-quality self-publishing. I’ve been writing fiction for less than five years and hopefully getting better with practice. Self-doubt is probably appropriate and realistic and OK. Get over it.