Are You Willing to Make the Trade?
I was working at Blockbuster Video when I got the call: it was sometime during March 2002. My agent, who had been negotiating with a major UK publisher for a few days, asked me if I was sitting down.
‘I can’t sit down,’ I said. ‘I’m on shift in twenty minutes.’
‘Your books have just sold to Hodder, David. It’s a huge deal, and a lot of money: I think you’re going to need a few minutes to process this.’
I took a deep breath, and checked to see who else was in the room. My girlfriend was already at work: she started on Saturday mornings a bit earlier than I did. My mum was standing in the doorway, and my grandmother was in the kitchen (she liked to smoke at least five cigarettes in the morning before she could think about tea).
I held the phone a bit tighter, and said. ‘How big a deal?’
She told me…and I sat down.
I will always remember my mother’s first words on the subject. She said ‘If you average that money out for all the years you’ve been trying to get published, it’s just a really, really good wage.’
Less than a year later, I would get another call to tell me that Disney had bought the same series in the USA, but this initial call—turning a dream I’d had since I was twelve years old into a reality—is the one I remember most vividly.
I left Blockbuster Video a few months after the first publishing deal was done. I didn’t want to leave, and it certainly wasn’t about the money. It’s just that the job had changed, and I was being viewed differently. I wasn’t one of the ‘guys’ any more: I was that guy…or, at least, I felt that way.
Finally, during a week when the Sunday Times wrote a feature on myself and my family, and Richard & Judy interviewed us on their Channel 4 show, it actually became impossible for me to just go ‘on shift’ and do my job. My girlfriend and I chatted about what would be the best course of action, and I decided to quit.
If you’re a sociable person—I am—then becoming a successful author can be likened to being handed a poisoned chalice. You get your dream, you get the money, you get the media whirlwind and you get all the free time. You trade in a lot of your friends, lose your sense of ‘place’ in the world and have a whole new set of worries to replace the old ones: will my book sell? Is my Amazon rank good enough? Why are these newspaper reviews saying these things about my writing? Why is nobody calling me? Those people who said they were going to make a film—are they still making it? Who was doing the audio books again: the guy I thought was good, or the other guy?
I would send out a very serious warning to all would-be authors: make sure you want the job as badly as you think you do…and be sure you’re willing to make the trade.
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© 2016 Keystone Brown Ltd
David Grimstone (David Lee Stone) from Ramsgate is a bestselling author of series fiction for Disney USA, Penguin USA and Hodder UK.