5 things I didn’t expect when I released my first novel

It’s five years since I released My Memories of a Future Life. I actually hadn’t realised it was that long ago, but Facebook has an algorithm that nudges you to repost old updates. And recently it gave me this:


Still, I wasn’t feeling especially retrospective until I happened upon this post by Caroline Leavitt at Jane Friedman’s blog, which talked about a few realities of author life.  And I thought: yes. Releasing that book marked a big change. A set of new and unforeseen challenges.

Model posed in ornate costumes: in black pressed pleats, with top hat; standing tip-toe on champagne bottle

Pic from Wikimedia Commons

1 Lovely reactions – which will wildly delight you

My Memories of a Future Life wasn’t my first book. I’d ghosted lots of titles (more about that here), so I was used to seeing my work bound between covers. I’d also published the first Nail Your Novel book, and knew how nice it was to get feedback. But fiction sets up a different kind of relationship. I received long emails and reviews – as if the book had started a thoughtful and personal conversation. I didn’t know this happened.

2 Upsetting reactions – your author friends will see you through

In her piece, Caroline Leavitt talks about bad reviews. We all accept we’re not going to please everybody, so we shrug and move on. But sometimes, a bad reaction really knocks you. Especially if it’s soon after the release, when the book is finding its way.

I had two.

The first was from a pre-release reader. It all started well. He wrote me emails while reading, chapter by chapter, saying how much he was enjoying the book. Then the end threw him right out of whack. It wasn’t what he was expecting. He sent a long, wounded email.

I was prepared for disagreement, or even dislike. I’d had the book rubber-stamped by people who wouldn’t let me get away with bad work. But still, my confidence was battered. This reader was genuinely upset and I didn’t want that.

My fellow authors told me: ‘Never apologise for your book’. Even so, I wrote back – which I shouldn’t have done and probably wouldn’t now. He replied, calmer, admitting there were complicating personal factors. Quite horrendous ones, as it happened. Still, I sneaked back to my blurb and description and examined them carefully, in case any of it was misleading.

The other upsetting reaction was a thoroughly scathing review. A blogger eviscerated it viciously. Again, I wondered what to do. Again, other authors held me down: ‘It’s dripping with malice. Some people do that. Stop being so sensitive. You don’t have to do anything.’

This time I heeded their advice. But I worried about that streak of spite, sitting on a blog for all to see, a stain on my book’s reputation before it had had much of a chance in the world. And I also didn’t do anything about the person who voiced plenty of critical opinions about the book but managed to reveal she hadn’t read it.

Two lessons here. 1 – other authors are your rock. 2 – you have to hope that on balance, you reach enough of the right people.

3 Your book changes you – a deep work of fiction is a work of personal examination

You mine yourself to write a novel like that. Your central characters come from your understanding of the people around you, and of yourself. Spending time with people in deep crisis, even imaginary ones, can change you. As do your antagonists. In order to make them rounded, I had to empathise with their point of view.

Carol’s end point made me examine some of my own life. Her psychological journey felt like my own rite of passage, a memoir in parallel, even though it was all invented.

Hence the need to be talked down, from time to time.

clapham-lit-fest4 When the book comes out, that’s not the end

When I ghost-write, my contribution finishes when the book goes to press. But your own book needs constant shepherding and revisiting – and not just for promotion. I made an audiobook, which meant presenting it to voice actors, discussing the characters and approach – and finally, listening to the recordings chapter by chapter (which revealed how much of it I had completely forgotten). This year I was interviewed at the Clapham Literary Festival by Elizabeth Buchan, so had to brush up on it again.

Tip – keep a list of your old interviews so you know what you said about your book when it was fresh. Also read your good reviews so you can discuss the themes and bigger picture – I found my smartest reviewers identified these more readily than I could.

5 Your debut is a special time – enjoy it

‘Debut’ is a good word for releasing your first novel. ‘Inauguration’ would be a good word too. It’s more than just putting a book on public sale. It’s the beginning of a new order. Even though I’d written for years, been published under cover, taught and mentored, produced oodles of other books, nothing was like this. Releasing my own novel was like finally putting my feet down, having a voice in something I hadn’t been part of before.

3d-mm-smlAnd now a new look

Lately, Husband Dave had been dropping hints. Should My Memories of a Future Life have a new look, in tune with the style of Lifeform Three? I resisted long and hard. Getting a concept first time round was difficult enough. And if you’ve been round this blog for a while, you’ll remember that the cover of Lifeform Three was an epic undertaking.

But he was right and it’s now wearing its new jacket. I was going to sneak it out without much ado because, well, it’s just a jacket. But I didn’t anticipate how new it would feel, all over again.

Which is where we came in.


If you’ve released a novel, what took you by surprise? Is there anything you’d do differently? Any advice you’d pass on? And I think next time I owe you a writing craft post, so if there’s something you’d like me to tackle, leave it in the comments or drop me an email on RozMorrisWriter at gmail dotcom.

, , , , , ,

  1. #1 by Alexander M Zoltai on September 25, 2016 - 8:04 pm

    Reblogged this on Notes from An Alien and commented:
    Because my short novel was published 5 years ago; and, even though I’ve already done a bonus post about Banned Book Week, I give you Roz Morris in re-blog, about her 5-year-old novel—which I read and deeply appreciated…

  2. #2 by Viv on September 25, 2016 - 9:21 pm

    Hmmm. I’d echo the second of the poster phrases from The X Files: Trust no-one. I’ve had to do a lot of healing from the issues with my first book, because I trusted the wrong person entirely.
    Aside from that, what I didn’t expect is how uncomfortable I am with other people about any of my work; I really find it difficult to have anyone come to me and say, I read your book…Doesn’t matter if it’s praise or criticism, I just want to get away or talk about almost anything else. There are a few people I am OK with, but generally not happy at all. Probably just as well I’ll never be doing signings and stuff like that.

    • #3 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on September 26, 2016 - 7:41 am

      Viv, I guess this shows how we create in a private, personal space – except, perhaps, for a trusted inner circle of people. (Assuming they are good to trust, of course.)

  3. #4 by acflory on September 26, 2016 - 1:53 am

    I still remember the one, scathing review I received for Vokhtah because it shook my confidence so badly. The reviewer seemed genuinely aggrieved that my world building was ‘good’ but he simply could not get into the characters. Given that they [the characters] were all psychopathic winged hermaphrodites without a human in sight to explain their alien nature, I should not have been surprised, or hurt. But I was. I’d worked so hard to give my aliens /something/ we humans could related to, yet I’d obviously failed. So I went back and re-read some of the wonderful reviews I had received and took comfort from the fact that I hadn’t failed completely.🙂

  4. #7 by Josephine on September 26, 2016 - 4:34 am

    I enjoyed reading this post, Roz. It sounds like having a trusty author tribe is key when releasing novel 1…
    I would love a craft post on pace:how to speed up/slow down the action/plot (and when) in a novel. I wonder if there is a kind of general blueprint or if it is the story (type) itself which dictates the peaks and troughs of emotion/action/change….

  5. #10 by DRMarvello on September 26, 2016 - 1:41 pm

    Five years! I remember reading the four parts of MMoaFL as you released them. Good times.

    Your retrospective here also reminds me of how long I’ve been following your blog and commenting. I found you before I published my first novel, and I’m still getting useful and fresh advice from you (and your publications) as I draft my way through my sixth novel. I’m so glad you are still willing to put up with me after all this time.

    Back to your prompt question about what took me by surprise. A lot of things did, actually. When you come at something new with few expectations, just about every experience comes as a surprise and an education.

    If I had to pick one thing, it would be how my family reacted to my writing. Most of them aren’t fantasy readers, so I didn’t expect them to even read my first book. After some of the horror stories I heard from other authors about how unsupportive their spouses and families were, I didn’t push them at all. As it turned out, several members of my family have read my stories and have been extremely supportive. Frankly, they all seemed shocked that I had it in me, which I choose to view as a compliment.😉

    • #11 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on September 26, 2016 - 11:34 pm

      Mr Marvello! You were one of those lovely people who made me feel so supported. Good times, definitely. Glad I still manage to strike you with useful stuff. We’d better have a virtual hug.

    • #12 by DRMarvello on September 27, 2016 - 1:50 pm


      I had hoped to connect with you and Dave in person when my wife and I traveled to the UK in June, but we were only in London long enough to fly in and out. Perhaps next time.

      However, we did get a chance to meet up with a supportive fellow author while we were across the pond. We had a great time sitting and having lunch with someone we’d met online who lives 4,600 miles away.

  6. #14 by Erin Bartels on September 26, 2016 - 11:27 pm

    Love the new cover!

    • #15 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on September 26, 2016 - 11:36 pm

      Thanks, Erin! I just took delivery of 10 paperbacks and posted a pic on Facebook as I unwrapped them. 5 of them are now spoken for!

  7. #16 by dgkaye on September 27, 2016 - 1:52 am

    You said it Roz, our author friends are our tribe of rocks. This post was timely as I dive into publishing my 5th book this week. It still feels the same each time – that anticipation about how it will be received and that underlying fear of not satisfying the masses, even though we know we never can. I’m blessed that my books haven’t been trolled by naysayers, but I remember the first time I got a crappy review that didn’t even make sense, someone complaining my memoir was all about me, lol. My tribe helped me shake it off. But nonetheless, it still stung.🙂

    • #17 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on September 27, 2016 - 7:12 am

      A review that complained your memoir was all about you? That’s priceless, Debby. But I can see how it might knock you at a stage where you might be wondering ‘should I have published a book that’s all about me….’
      All the best with book 5.

      • #18 by dgkaye on September 28, 2016 - 1:40 am

        It really bothered me for a few days, as it was my first ever slam on my books, my first book too, lol. Happily I can say that I’ve had not even a handful since.🙂 Thanks Roz!

  8. #19 by prncssgeek on October 11, 2016 - 3:32 pm

    I love this article. #2 hits home with me. I can handle a bad review if it’s about my books. But a review that attacks me personally I can’t handle. I’ve written two books under my own name and a local person who I had a disagreement with and ended our friendship (8 years earlier) decided to leave very personal nasty reviews on both books which were memoirs.

    • #20 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on October 11, 2016 - 3:58 pm

      It’s so hard to remain cool and collected under those circumstances, isn’t it? I think it’s because the behaviour is so bad mannered, unfair, likely to mislead – and the kind of thing we’d never do ourselves. Thanks for stopping by.

  1. ‘Hope, chaos and a fighting spirit’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Deborah Andrews | Nail Your Novel

Your turn!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: