Yinka, what happened next?

Yinka, what happened next?

In her series of columns Lizzie Damilola Blackburn, debut author of Yinka, Where is Your Huzband? (Viking), reveals all about the reality behind the dream of being published.

I’m staring at the blinking cursor at the top of the blank page. Sooo much has happened since my last column. Gosh, where do I even start?

With five months to go until my UK release, the text is almost finalised, the cover has been revealed, and the campaign to promote the book is steaming ahead. As a result, I’ve been involved in several exciting activities to help spread the word about Yinka and to (hopefully) get her in the hands of many voracious readers. This is one of the most important things me and my team will do between now and publication.

The way it works is, my brilliant publicity team will email me when there’s a new opportunity, and because I only get one shot at being a debut author, I pretty much say yes to everything. Sometimes that means pushing ‘introverted Lizzie’ out of her comfort zone from behind the scenes. 

Growing up, I’ve never been one to crave the spotlight. "She keeps her head down and gets on with it," was what my teachers would say about me during parents’ evening. Even when I became an adult, at work, I would inwardly groan whenever I was asked to give a presentation – because, come on, why would I nominate myself? ­– and still, I would plaster a smile on my face and say, "Yeah, that’s fine," while wondering how suspicious it would be if I happened to call in sick that day.    

So, when my publicist informed me that they would like me to feature in their Penguin General Showcase – a short film highlighting some of the hotly anticipated books coming out next year – of course I jumped at the opportunity, but I was nervous inside.

"You can do as many takes as you like," my publicist reassured me in her email, as dreaded thoughts of me spluttering through my lines flashed to mind. Speaking on camera has never been a natural forte of mine. God knows I’m in awe of all those YouTubers. Even those short videos that I sometimes do to promote my Bookseller columns takes me five, 10, 12 takes! For some annoying reason, I will suddenly get temporary brain fog. Or end up waffling like an MP, or worse, sounding robotic (which happens after you’ve been saying the same lines over and over. Or at least, trying to). 

But if there’s one thing that therapy and my faith has taught me, it’s to never let fear hold you back. And because the inevitable nerves will always be there, the best way to overcome fear is to get ahead of it. The best way to overcome fear is to prepare. 

So, ahead of the filming, I looked through all my notes. (Shout out to Jane, Olivia and Rosie for the great media training!) I practised saying my answers aloud and recorded them on my phone, trying not to wince when I heard the sound of my raspy voice as I replayed the audio back to myself. I picked out an outfit I knew I would be comfortable in: a pale sage green denim jacket over light jeans and suede Adidas trainers. I experimented with lip colour, because, hey, I’m going to be on camera (FYI, I settled with a cherry gloss), and most importantly, I spoke words of affirmation: Lizzie, you can do this. 

And I did! I couldn’t believe it. I smashed the filming! I was nailing my lines, many times after the first take. Even when I stumbled over my words or they escaped me, I didn’t beat myself up as I used to in the past; instead, I tried again. But most importantly, I wasn’t just enduring the filming, I was, dare I say . . . enjoying it. 

 You see, you only get to be a debut author once, and when I look back on this journey, I want to know that I maximized every opportunity, but also that I had fun. I mean, what’s the point of going on a rollercoaster if you’re not going to open your eyes and let go of the handrail?

So, when my publicist presented me with another opportunity – the chance to go on a Yinka book proof tour – this time, when I said, "Great! I would love to!", I really meant it. Spread across three days, I visited over 20 stores in London and beyond. I chatted with the booksellers about Yinka, gave them a copy along with a bag of sweets (I promise you it wasn’t a bribe), and ended the visit with a photo together for the ‘gram. And as I pitched my novel from bookstore to bookstore, I had one of those imagined out-of-body experiences: I couldn’t believe how confidently I was talking about my book. Go me!

And it didn’t stop there. Gig after gig, I was absolutely smashing it. Whether it was going on stage and doing an impromptu pitch at a friend’s event or taking part in an online panel discussion, my confidence blossomed. Sure, I wasn’t perfect, and I would sometimes look back and wish I could have said something better, but after years of beating myself up, I’m learning now that perfection is not the goal, progression is. And progression is always within our reach as long as we practise – a simple but effective technique I’m using these days. Practise in private the things that you’re uncomfortable doing so that you can shine when you have to do it in public. Now that’s a quote for your fridge magnet.

When I look at how far I’ve come, I feel so, so proud of myself. A year ago, I would have balked at all the things that I’m doing today. And I know that having a sense of pride is very un-British, but what the heck. Good on you, Lizzie