Opening scene. Early morning. An author walks into her writing room with a cup of coffee. She smiles as she remembers writing her first books at the kitchen table. Her desk is cluttered with life: a note about her son’s driving lessons, a timetable for her other son’s exams, headphones, hand cream, a ring light, receipts, neglected proofs of other authors’ books she feels guilty about not reading. In two weeks, her new book will be published. She takes a deep breath…
Publication dates are a curious thing, the culmination of years of words, hope and expectation, and an almost overwhelming point of no return. This is when the craft of writing stops and the business of publishing takes over, and the author has no control over what happens next. Imagine the scene in Apollo 13 where the arms pull back and the rocket leaves the tower and Tom Hanks is now at the mercy of Nasa scientists’ calculations. So too the experience of publication. It’s no coincidence that we talk about books being launched.
I’ll never forget visiting my local bookshop on my debut’s publication day only to be told no copies were in stock. (I left in a hurry and bought gin). I’ve known the ego-crushing shame of empty chairs at events. (Again, gin).
Over 10 years of writing, I’ve become very familiar with the I’ve-made-it highs and the let’s-never-speak-of-it-again lows that publication day can bring. I’ll never forget visiting my local bookshop on publication day of my debut, so excited to see my book on a shelf, only to be told there weren’t any copies in stock. (I left in a hurry and bought gin). I’ve known the ego-crushing shame of empty chairs at events. (Again, gin). On the flip side, I’ve been announced onto an enormous stage at a Rhode Island casino, I’ve broadcast live from a radio station studio in New York, and I’ve spoken to a packed bookshop in Charleston. Empty chairs? Not enough chairs. Ups and downs. Impossible to predict.
A book’s publication date is usually determined by what works best for a publisher’s list, or to coincide with a seasonal event or occasion that ties into the theme of the book, and always with the intention of optimizing sales and success. But dates set a year (or more) in advance, can lead to complications. Houston - we have a problem.
The Last Lifeboat is being published on both sides of the Atlantic, and in Australia and New Zealand, over a single week in June. Dates set a year ago, which (laughs hysterically) happen to align perfectly with my son’s Junior Cert exams. My Dad is waiting for a date for major surgery and there’s every chance it might fall at the same time. I believe this is called Sod’s Law of Publishing. There is nothing I can do about any of this apart from keep calm, schedule another blow dry (if there’s one thing I can control in all this, it’s my hair), and hope everyone emerges on the other side in one piece. The show must go on, and if that means living on miscellaneous brown things from the freezer for a month, so be it.
Publication day is a focal point of an author’s year, seared onto them like a literary tattoo with everything else orbiting around it. Yet publication days are not unique. They are shared by dozens of authors, which means that for publishers and booksellers, my book is just one new release among many. I know – shocking stuff. But to me, I’m one book among one. The only book that matters. Every time, it’s personal. I care deeply about my characters, the story, the history and lives that inspired it. Quite frankly, I’m very proud of my book and on this day of days, I will toot my trumpet about it.
And, for the record, publication day is, of course, so much more than a date in the diary. It encapsulates all the hours of creative solitude and the snatched paragraphs between football training and lifts to the cinema. It carries the weight of an author’s self-doubt and self-belief. It is scented with candlelit, deadline-chasing nights, and hums with the energy of early-morning, caffeine-fuelled shifts at the desk. It carries the echo of an author’s ever-present inner monologue of ‘I wonder’ and ‘what if’.
Publication day is both an ending and a beginning. Finally, real people will be able to read the book, and the story will begin again and again, becoming something slightly different in each of their hands. There will (hopefully) be interviews, features in the weekend papers, surprising questions about your personal life. There might be TV appearances and photoshoots that require your hair to resemble an American news anchor’s. Your makeup will become MAKEUP. Your children will ask what happened to your eyebrows. You’ll have 85 dresses and nothing to wear. Your nails will be polished, your hands fully moisturized. (I wonder if Tom Hanks has to deal with these things now that he’s launching books rather than rockets).
And all the time, you are waiting for the sales figures because – spoiler alert – a book’s commercial success matters! It can determine the shape of a new contract, orders for the next book, invitations to events and literary festivals. The emotional and professional stakes are high, which is why we need frequent celebratory fluids. And, everything else aside, a celebration is exactly what publication day should be for an author. You wrote a book! Again! Open the Whispering Angel and rejoice!
So here we are. Two weeks to publication day and I’m as ready as I’ll ever be as I take a giant hopeful leap into the unknown. Part of me wants to run away to the Wicklow mountains and stay there until Christmas. Part of me wants to project an image of my book onto Dublin Castle and say ‘Look what I did!’ Whatever happens, I will embrace it all. Preferably with good hair and normal eyebrows.
Final scene. Early morning. The author wakes up, makes coffee, opens her diary. The words PUBLICATION DAY are circled in neon pink highlighter. She opens the door to let the cat out. The dawn chorus is in full song. She takes a deep breath…
The Last Lifeboat by Hazel Gaynor is published today by HarperCollins