The Spill and I met years ago, when we were young(er) and unpublished. It wasn’t my first manuscript, but it was definitely the first one that I went all the way with. We stumbled along the rocky pathway towards publication, weathering feedback, revisions and rejections, and then celebrating our win of a major literary award and our very first publishing contract. Hand in hand, we tentatively entered the editorial process, emerging on the other side stronger and better than ever. We posted our first cover reveal and at least sixty people on Instagram loved us.
Together, we were ready to conquer the world.
Publication day passed by in a blur of well-wishes and social media posts, followed by a honeymoon full of reviews, interviews and online events. Giddily, we did everything our publicist asked of us. We didn’t care if only two people logged on to see our PowerPoint presentation for that regional library book group event. We were published!
Eventually the publicity trail went cold and the spotlight moved onto other people and books, and it was then that things began to change between my book and me. As a debut writer, I hadn’t anticipated how exposed and tender I would feel about having a book out in the world. My book, in stark contrast, didn’t share any of my anxieties, largely because it was an inanimate object devoid of human feelings, but also because books, once published, no longer belong to their writers. They belong to the readers.
As we spent less and less time in each other’s company, I started to forget the names of characters. Scenes that I’d delighted in writing, whose details had once felt more real than my own memories, began to fade from my mind. Why, there would be whole days when I would completely forget I had ever been published, where I wouldn’t think of my book even once!
But then, there were other, darker days where I was desperate to remind myself that I was a Real Writer and that my book was still out there, being read and perhaps even loved. I did all the things grown-up authors aren’t supposed to do: searching for photos of my book on Instagram, scouring the end of year “Best of” lists and (worse yet!) reading the reviews on Goodreads. “No-one will ever love and understand you the way I love and understand you,” I’d sob into my pillow as I imagined my book in the hands of another uncaring reader.
(Of course, during these darker days, the Word document that I’d cut and pasted all the lovely messages from friends and strangers, the Word document that was supposed to be my safety net on such days, went unopened and forgotten.)
And then one day, I finally hit rock bottom. I found myself messaging a friend-of-an-ex-friend who had given me—I mean my book—a 2 star rating (without review) on Goodreads. “Sorry you didn’t like the book!!!” I wrote to them, hoping to fend off my tears with an excessive use of exclamation marks. The minute I pressed send on that message, I knew I had gone too far. “Enough,”I said to myself, “Enough now!”, just like that creepy stalkery guy in Love Actually, except without the kiss from Keira Knightley.
In that moment, I realised two things: firstly, I had effaced the line between myself and my book so completely that my self-esteem was now dependent on every kind or nasty word written about it (but mostly the nasty ones); and secondly, I had forgotten that the one thing that made me feel like a “Real Writer” was doing some actual goddamn writing.
You see, dear reader, there is another book on the scene. A book that is asking for my complete attention. A book I’ve started thinking about when I go to sleep at night and when I wake in the morning. A book that I desperately need to write. But it’s hard to fall in love again when your ex is still toying with your feelings and messing with your head.
And so it’s time to formally break up with my first book, my first love, the book that taught me how to be a published author. I’m blocking Goodreads on my internet browser and deleting the app from my phone. I’m canceling my Google Alerts and leaving all the book- and reading-related groups on Facebook. I’m wishing my book all the very best, but I’m letting it go.
Of course, there may be times ahead when my book and I will be invited to the same party and we’ll have to stand next to each other and smile for the cameras. If and when that happens, I know I will be glad to see my book, because, really, it’s quite pleasant company and also incredibly good looking. But at the end of the evening, I hope I’ll be able to kiss it lightly on the cheek and then happily go home to my new book, where I know I now belong.