How sweet the reward for a job done.
The job: completing the author questionnaire or A.Q. to go with my forthcoming novel The Chicken Soup Murder.
What is an A.Q.? The completed Author Questionnaire is a document that draws together all the elements that will help to present you (the author) and your book to a possibly unsuspecting world of booksellers, reviewers, literary festival organisers, members of the wider media, and most importantly, potential readers. It’s an essential tool of communication and reference for the marketing department.
Exactly what goes into the A.Q. depends on who is asking the questions. Is it a small publisher who relies on your extra input and contacts? Or a big publisher with a formidable marketing and publicity machine (who nevertheless will hope that you bring in your own ideas and have active social media accounts). If you’re self-publishing, it would be useful to devise your own A.Q.
Filling in the answers will help you focus, if you have not done so already, on exactly what your work is about, who you think might want to read it and how you will engage with your potential reader. The A.Q. even offers legitimate opportunities to be creative, when it comes to summarising your book in 15 words, 30 words, 100 words, 250 words or whatever is required.
And yet I still approach mine with all the enthusiasm I usually keep for starting on my tax return.
Why? Perhaps it has something to do with the change of hats – no longer the writer doing as she pleases (more or less). Now you are the author with responsibilities.
It helps to prepare, to collect ideas along the way and to keep your author profile up to date. Even without the A.Q. it saves stress and embarrassment if you are able to respond quickly to a request for a photo or a bio and know what to say when someone asks, ‘What’s your book about?’ I keep a list of my publications and awards and can copy and paste a string of URLs about my online presence: website, email, social media accounts.
I also knew I’d be asked about ideas for a book launch, to make comparisons with other books written recently (which might help you to answer the ‘which section of the bookshop?’ question if you’re still unsure), to list influences, expound on ideas for readings, appearances at literary festivals, provide quotes from reviews and so on.
My method is to create a draft file and fill in the easy answers: name, date of birth and address. I try to read the whole set of questions in case it contains something I haven’t prepared for. Insert answers at will – even if they are highly speculative or a reminder to take action (where are all those clippings of your reviews?).
Do some research. Have a good think. If you’re forewarned you might have been already gathering an awareness of what goes on at a literary festival, or a reading in a library or bookshop. You might have attended some open mic events. The best advice is to engage with the A.Q. – even the bits that seem daunting. It will help you notice and develop the answers.
For me, the messy draft bloats as I shovel in ideas or reminders-to-self and try to get to grips with the whole package. Do I have ideas for related feature articles? Where would I like to have a launch?
These are lovely things to contemplate but a bit disconcerting if your initial answer is ‘Ermmm…’ While nothing is more important that creating the work in the first place, it’s reassuring to feel on top of the issues that form part of the business side of being an author. Even if, inside, you feel the job of a writer is to run from such responsibilities, an agent or publisher will be glad that you’ve give them some consideration. These are people too with jobs to perform and you can make that easier. After all, who knows your work better than you?
As long as the A.Q. remains in draft form it is still open to possibilities. Not that you can’t add ideas later on: it’s just that the A.Q. draws them all together and is a main point of reference. But eventually, with Orwell’s ‘menacing finger of the clock’ pointing towards some sort of deadline, completing the A.Q. has to become the #1 priority.
I make sure I have answered every question – even the difficult ones – and save a new file for editing. It has to be tidy and accurate. It must go by Friday. While this was not a strict deadline it’s good to have one, especially if the A.Q. has already been with you for some weeks.
OK, by Monday morning. No one is going to look at it over the weekend anyway.
Saturday and Sunday produce real progress.
Monday – a thorough check.
At 8.30pm, having slogged to completion, I attach the final, fully-filled in A.Q. of many pages, along with a high-res photo of myself and a suitable extract of The Chicken Soup Murder, to an email and press SEND.
As far the A.Q. goes, the process isn’t really ended, because it will help if you keep on engaging with its concerns. But then again you’ve just finished a large and important assignment and you really feel you deserve to do something relaxing. Something you can enjoy. It could be writing.
But whereas the creative work, the venting of the pressure cooker, is to some extent its own reward, the accomplishment of this kind of author-related task seems to call for a specific treat, a breathing space outside the normal working routine. It could be just going for a walk or seeing a friend. It could be ice cream.
In my case, a reward was a trip along the Dorset coast east from Bridport the next day, taking my lunch to Abbotsbury Castle, an iron-age hill fort overlooking Chesil Bank and the sea; a pause to sit with the ancestors, skylarks overhead and long views all around. And on the way back, a spontaneous detour to West Bay to visit an ice-cream seller I had heard about: Baboo Gelato.
Annie Hanbury trained in Italy and started making her ices from a surplus of fruits on her family’s smallholding in Dorset. The ices are hand-made in Bridport using seasonal produce. There’s a kiosk in West Bay – near the bridge over the sluice gates between the harbour and the River Brit – and another in Lyme Regis.
Baboo Gelato started winning awards in its first year: Taste of the West Gold for Lemon Sorbet in 2016 and again in 2017 for Maple and Walnut Ice Cream; a Taste of Dorset Award in 2016 (and a finalist again in 2017) in the category ‘Best Dairy Producer’; the Guild of Fine Food gave gold stars to the Raspberry Sorbet and the Pistachio Gelato.
It must only be a matter of time before local restaurants pick up on this deliciousness on their doorstep.
What lured me to this new enterprise was the promise of dairy-free sorbet. I couldn’t decide between the seasonal options of rhubarb (grown in Bothenhampton) and elderflower (picked from the makers’ own garden) and so settled on a scoop of each. I was also delighted to know the wafer cone is dairy (but not gluten) free. Annie herself served me with scoops untidy and generous, and sorbet sank all the way down to the tip of the cone. By the time I had walked past the boats for hire and crossed the bridge over the backwater to the footpath by the Riverside Café (a route which, if you care to know, is how you get within shouting distance of the blue wooden house once occupied by David Tennant in Broadchurch) to take this photo looking across the fields towards Bridport, I had already made at least a third of what I’d bought invisible.
Now that was a project I thoroughly enjoyed licking into shape.
What major or minor tasks have you accomplished lately?
If you were to give yourself a reward, what would it be?