A very warm welcome back to my very good friend, the super-talented Tania Hershman, who’s here to talk about things one year on (and is also here to talk to us about a free book giveaway…).
Tania, September 1st is a bit of a special date, isn’t it? Can you tell us why?
It’s the first anniversary of a dream come true, a dream I have had since I was 6 years old. It is the day, one year ago, when my book, The White Road and Other Stories, was published, the day no-one can ever take away from me, the day I became an author.
What’s happened over this last year?
It’s been quite a rollercoaster year, the highs were very high, but they came with some pretty bad lows. On the day of publication, I didn’t have a copy of my book yet, it hadn’t reached me in Israel, although other people had it in England. The day before Sept 1st I was pretty upset about this, it felt as though I’d given birth and someone else had my baby and I couldn’t see it. However, the day itself was wonderful! I was utterly serene, I loved every minute of it. And then, when my book arrived a few days later, it was a wonderful, magical moment all to itself.
Because I am published by a small press, Salt, even though they are amazing and they made me this beautiful book, most of the marketing and promotion was and is down to me. And I have no clue about selling a book! Well, perhaps now I have a bit more of a clue. So, basically, I made it up as I went along. I built a website for the book, I set up a Facebook Page, I organised a hectic 11-stop Virtual Book Tour where I was interviewed on 11 blogs over 11 weeks about everything from my love for science to writing and religion…. I cajoled as many people as possible into writing reviews….I obsessively checked my Amazon rankings, searching for some indication of whether what I was doing was working. And whirring through my mind, all the time, was: “How can I sell the book? How can I sell the book?” It was a bit of a shock, having to not only become a salesperson but having to overcome my natural modesty and shyness and shout out: “Buy my book!” but every time I find it on the shelves in a bookshop, just after Hemingway (!) I am close to tears.
Getting used to the idea of people reading my book was another odd thing. I didn’t imagine many people would, and I never dreamed that they’d want to talk to me about it. And slowly, slowly, over the 12 months, I have had to get used to the idea of people I don’t know and who are in no way related to me who want to talk to me about my stories!
I would be lying if I said that this was pure and unadulterated joy. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I found some of this extremely stressful. I am going to be honest here and say that I got to a point, several months in, when I felt completely overwhelmed by it all, by the unexpected attention in my home city as well as online, and it caused me to physically retreat from the world for a while. I am by nature quite a shy person, and I began to suffer from anxiety for the first time in my life. My body, it seems, decided to protect me in rather an extreme manner!
However, luckily, I have a rich online life and I have wonderful writer friends who understand that while many people would assume having a book is easy and joyful, it can also be difficult. Your dream has come true, so what do you do next? And who are all these people reading your book??! But – and this is important – I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is totally wonderful. When someone says to me, “I don’t normally read short stories, but I really enjoyed your book,” there is nothing better than that! And when New Scientist magazine not only gave my book a glowing review in their Christmas Books Special but also published the title story, which is inspired by a New Scientist article, on their website – all my wildest dreams were realised!
What’s been the biggest surprise?
Being commended for the Orange Award for New Writers was an enormous surprise, and a shock! I had no idea I was being put in for the award, and found out about the commendation from a Google Alert for my name. But somehow, while I couldn’t get my head around my book being noticed in this way, what I felt about this was pure and unadulterated joy. It lifted me, that the judges said of me and the other commended writer that they want to see more of our writing. It made me grin and grin and grin.
The other surprise, though, is that I thought that the validation of my book being published would last for a while. The “your writing is good enough” feeling. And yet, the very next day, September 2nd, I was back to checking on the stories I had submitted to contests and to literary magazines, wondering when they might reply to me, hoping they accept what I’d sent, that I might get longlisted, shortlisted. So, 24 hours of validation. That’s it. But again this is a good thing. Otherwise I might have stopped, rested on my laurels, not cared. The stories in my book were written between 2003 and 2006, I have many stories, mostly flash fiction, written since then, and am writing more all the time. I don’t want to stop. I don’t want to stop caring. Each acceptance is a boost, but I never want to feel so complacent, so confident that it doesn’t matter anymore.
And the third surprise was finding out a few weeks ago that I am currently Salt’s bestselling book – and no 4 on their all-time bestsellers. That was hard for me to process, I just don’t know what to make of it other than that it doesn’t really have much to do with my writing (lots of people may have bought it, but they might not have enjoyed it) but that my marketing efforts definitely did pay off! I was doing something right, it seems.
What’s the biggest change that being published has been responsible for?
Hmm. Biggest change. Well, it’s not in my bank account! I guess that it’s about my confidence. This has been an enormous shift for me, from writer to author. I had had stories published, but to hold your book in your hands, as I am sure you know, Nik, is a completely different feeling. And when the Orange commendation happened, this intensified: I felt suddenly that I was being seen, and that I could do anything. I am still feeling that way, happy in my own writer’s skin, writing what I want to write, not what someone else might want me to write. There are several agents I am in touch with, but I don’t feel in a rush now with anything.
Is there anything you’d have done differently?
Another good question! I don’t think so. I really don’t. No regrets. I am a first-time author, I learned as I went along, everything was useful. Other writers were enormously supportive and helpful, the Bookarazzi Bloggers with Book Deals group especially, they listened to my rants and moans and gave me the benefit of their experience.
Has anything disappointed you?
Going to the Orange Awards ceremony was the biggest disappointment. Even though some might say I was ungrateful, I felt I had to write about this on my blog because I was so upset. First, it wasn’t about books, it was about champagne and shmoozing, which I was naïve about so now I know! But Salt was going through enormous financial difficulties at that point, and a mention at the awards ceremony of the two of us who were commended could have been wonderful for them. The stated aim of the award was to give new writers a boost, so not to mention the two of us who were singled out for commendation was a shame.
But then, the worst disappointment came when the judge of the award, which is for “novels, novellas and short story collections”, told the assembled throngs how much she enjoyed reading “all the novels on the longlist”. Short stories? Gone. Novellas? Vanished. On the bus home, I cried.
What have you learned?
I’ve learned that I can sell something, that I am pretty good at this Web stuff and can use it to promote my writing. I’ve learned that it’s sometimes more about creating “buzz” than about the quality of the writing. I’ve learned that it’s ok to ask people to buy and review your book, it isn’t vulgar or shameful! I’ve learned that being published by a small press is most certainly not a disadvantage, that Salt loves their authors and the books they publish and are doing everything they humanly can (and sometimes more) to keep on doing what they do. I’ve learned not to put enormous stock in what reviewers say, both the glowing and the critical. I’ve learned not to respond to questions about particular stories because I have to let them go, it’s not about me any more, it’s not up to me to “explain”.
Do you think that there’s been a shift in the perception of the short story at all over this past year?
I don’t really see it myself. As editor of The Short Review, we get many offers of short story collections for review every week, so there are more out there than you might think, but are mainstream publishers shoving aside novelists as they rush towars the hot new short story writer? No. They aren’t. Foolish, foolish people! But at least there are publishers like Salt, Comma Press, Two Ravens Press, Dzanc Books, Rose Metal Press and others who are championing great writing in whatever form it happens to be. Please support them!
What will this year bring?
A calmness, I hope, and a move away from thoughts of promotion and selling towards more focus on writing, but not necessarily on “the next book”. Just writing for the joy of it. Last week, we relocated ourselves and our two cats from Israel, where I lived for 15 years, to Bristol, UK. It seemed the right choice for many reasons, among them the thriving arts scene here. In Israel there is no funding body for artists and writers, and if you are writing in English, there is not much of a literary scene. I am already looking forward to reading at the launch of the latest issue of the London Magazine (ICA in London, Sept 11th ) and at Ride the Word XV (The CAFE YUMCHAA 45 Berwick Street, Soho, London W.1 Wed. 23 September, 7- 9.15pm Free admission), and to hearing Margaret Atwood in Bristol on Sept 9th, and then going to the Small Wonder short story festival in Lewes, E Sussex at the end of Sept. It feels like a treasure trove of delights, and it’s all in English… which is certainly a relief and a delight.
I have many, many ideas, some related to short stories and cake, which I am looking forward to developing! Nik, thanks so much for having me. Just a quick last promotional plug: I’m doing a 1st birthday giveaway of signed copies on my blog, so pop over there and you could win!