Swimming lessons – Em Muslin

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By Em Muslin

There’s a quote on my computer which reads ‘A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.’ (Thomas Mann).♥

There are times I couldn’t agree more. Luckily those are few and far between. There’s nothing like ‘being in the moment’ when you’re entranced by your characters and they take the lead, being there with them, following in their footsteps, feeling the words roll out of their mouths onto the page as you suddenly hit the right cadence. To me writing feels a little like swimming, you fiddle with your cap and goggles (sharpen your pencils), sort your locker out (check your emails), have a shower (have a shower!), think maybe you’ll have a steam beforehand (make a cup of coffee) – anything, that prevents you actually dipping your toe in the water.

But once you’re in, and you’ve passed the first part, where your arms ache, you have to goad yourself into doing another length, thinking ‘maybe I’m just too tired, I could just have another steam and swim tomorrow’, you suddenly begin moving upstream, your whole body works in unison and then you’re gliding through the water, dipping and diving rhythmically length after length, word after word cramming the page – and you’re filled with such euphoria you don’t want to stop.

Now that I’ve got to the dizzy heights of having my debut novel Before You Were Mine published by HarperCollins, I’m thinking I may alter the quote slightly to ‘A writer is someone for whom Book Promotion is more difficult than it is for other people.’

Or at least it is for me. After many months in a room with my imaginary friends, who I have become fond of, nestled in the safety of their bosom, you are suddenly thrust into a world of Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Goodreads, blogs, reviews, author blurb and quite simply put; my idea of hell.

I find posting tweets, sending emails asking people to forward/retweet/post on Facebook/review the book, go on Goodreads etc somewhat like the moment when I’m in my swimming costume looking down at the icy water, thinking about my comfy sofa and my Kindle. However, diving into that water and swimming past the pain barrier is something all writers need to do.

How do you sell books without PR? Quite simply, I don’t think you can. We are more and more drawn these days to the ‘public review’. It’s of course fantastic to be able to get our books reviewed in the major press – but we are influenced by what other people think. And isn’t it better to get a ‘majority’ vote rather than a vote based on the opinion of one person? I hold my hand up to reading how many stars an author gets on Goodreads or author links before sometimes purchasing their latest novel – and to get those stars we have to generate two words that make my toes curl ‘noise’ and ‘buzz’. We can only do this by getting out and swimming length after length after length. Even when our bodies are tired and feeling a little chilly, we need to keep on going.

Elena Ferrante had the right idea – to keep herself tucked away (a great PR tactic in itself – but more likely she feels like me – safer curled up with her characters), until some journalist decided staying private wasn’t her choice after all … or maybe be at least like Anne Tyler, whose work I love and admire, who rarely does an interview – but they are the exception to the rule and Anne Tyler has earned that right – her writing sells itself.

In a world of millions of books, books I want to read, there is little choice for a writer to accept they cannot hide their light under a bushel. Like an ugly ducking, I have to learn to swim and accept the fact that people actually want to celebrate your book and help you become a glorious swan. So I am out there, with my goggles on, having had my shower, learning if I am to sink or swim.

As I write this, I am in the middle of tweeting, and writing blogs, setting up publicity pages, responding to authors who have kindly agreed to read, responding to others who understandably don’t have the time to read and so on and so forth.

I am still within my first fifteen minutes, my arms ache as I struggle to push my book, goosebumps cover my skin, and the water still looks decidedly cool – but I hope soon enough that I will be swimming gracefully through the world of promotion and social media – diving into the pool of writers who have swum before me – and let’s face it – ‘hope has a way of changing everything …’ so maybe I will make a big splash after all!

So come on in fellow writers, the water’s warm (apparently).

Em Muslin has worked in the film and television industry for over 20 years. She first fell in love with reading and writing after experiencing Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. She hasn’t stopped devouring books ever since. Her writing focuses on the texture of domestic life, relationships, family and the pressures of social convention. Before You Were Mine is out now.


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