How do you publish a book? We talk to two local authors who have ignored the traditional book publishing route and done it their own way by self-publishing their own novel.
When Gordon Bloor first went to writing classes, his tutor was Joanna Harris, award-winning author of Chocolat. On the first day of the course the students were intrigued by a papier mâché chicken that she had brought to the class. Joanna explained that it was made out of the 28 rejection letters she had received for Chocolat. The book was later made into a film and has sold over a million copies. Joanna keeps the chicken on her dining room table as a reminder.
The traditional book publishing industry, where an author is represented by a publisher who edits, designs, prints and promotes the book and pays the author royalties, has always been hard to break into. It is tougher than ever today as publishers, in need of assured returns, look for celebrity names and bestselling authors to justify their endorsement. But whereas a pile of rejections 15 years ago meant just that, the growth of self-publishing over the last 10 years has opened up unexpected opportunities for aspiring authors.
Two Bath-based authors, Gordon Bloor and Sandy Osborne, have both self-published their own novels, with significant success. A local story for local people Gordon Bloor, a.k.a. Douglas Westcott, is the self-published author of Go Swift and Far, a coming-of-age tale set in Bath after the World War II bombings had reduced parts of the city to rubble.
Gordon felt that it was surprising that the story of a city with such a fascinating history had not before been told in a novel. The book (the first in a trilogy) is set from 1942 to 1967 with the protagonist a young man who is orphaned at 17.
“Much of it is autobiographical, beefed up, because it would be very boring if it was just my story”, Gordon explains. The novel is also notable for featuring what he refers to as “a cast of 40, all friends of mine”, each of whom had the task of proofreading the first draft.
First published in hardback in November 2013, the reception was tremendous, due in no small part to Gordon’s ferocious enthusiasm, energy and hard work. “I have replaced the publisher”, he explains simply. So, after writing his story (which started with 500,000 words, was edited down to 85,000 and then back up to 115,000), he talked to friends and experts in the industry, made new contacts and got the book edited, printed, marketed, publicised and packaged. Then he persuaded over 60 retailers in Bath to display the book, hired his own chalet in the Bath Christmas Market and spent two weeks there selling the book in fancy dress.
His publishing plans were initially met with some cynicim – one of his advisors, marketing expert Alastair Giles, bet him £10 that he would sell around 850 copies of the book when the hardback was launched. He ended up selling 2,500 copies in the first three months. “We were the first bookseller ever to be in the Christmas Market”, Gordon says, “… and in one day we sold 125 books in 10 hours, one book every four and a half minutes”.
“You have got to have a good story”, he explains, “But it’s 99 per cent perspiration and 1 per cent inspiration, and there is just no easy way.”
The book is available at bookshops in and around Bath (see douglaswestcott.co.uk). £1 of every copy sold is given to Julian House.