Publish and Perish – the Birth of a Book part 3

My new book is coming out shortly, and I’m delighted to announce that its title is Mastering The Sun

In the meantime here are my continuing experiences of publishing In Restoration a few years ago.

Substantial lockdown reading through a journey back into the court of Henry VIII


On my publisher’s website, they promised to approach local papers, radio and to place feature articles in local journals to attract interest. That was before I encountered the myths that circulate as well-tried experience that writers are strongly advised to follow. Somewhere exist people who achieve worthwhile book sales through signings in bookshops. I’ve never met anyone who has. When one factors in overheads like the cost of travel to the designated place, one is left distinctly out of pocket and valuable time.

On my second sortie to Guildford, nothing at all was done by my publishers except to send me the books and some leaflets to hand out, all requested by me. Not one suggestion. Not one marketing action by them. All these promises on their website and contract to contact local radio, papers, and to get interviews and reviews and issue press releases came to nothing, though I provided full details of all. I should have been wiser. Since my astonishment and despair when the initial publisher’s press release got the names of the main characters wrong, I learnt that they ‘have too many authors to deal with to read their books after they have been accepted by the submissions reader and only have a synopsis to work from. It can’t have been mine, as I wouldn’t have made such an elementary mistake as muddling the names of two main characters – I wrote the damn book! I didn’t have much faith in what my publisher was doing – or not doing- to promote my book. Totally inexperienced, and losing hope in support from experts that I assumed worked for the publishing house, I attempted to write my own press release and feature article with photo for local newspapers. All were acts of desperation as the time for the signing approached.

Back to Guildford. The table was there. None of my expensively produced posters except a board in front of the desk. Fortunately, I had my husband to talk to. He stood at the door to hand out leaflets, not always taken. Not many shoppers came in. No seagull incident as in Scarborough, but another signing by a well-known children’s writer – sorry, I’ve forgotten the name. Good for her, but no one told me. It was all over the shop window, but was taking place elsewhere to accommodate all the parents and children. We talked to each other. All the friends we have in the area came – three of them, loyal and true. I tried approaching the few people looking at the fiction shelves, mostly women.

I resented the advice given to have a greeter at the door, to approach potential buyers and even to have such an activity as a book signing. Where is the non-celebrity person who signs and sells lots of copies? Where are the browsers who love to talk to an unknown author? A figment of the lucrative business of book promotion services’ imagination? An invention by people selling self-help publications on how to promote and market books to gullible authors? One can’t exactly say, ‘Your advice has put me through two hours of agony to sell precisely five copies. Introduce me to this mythological person.’ Or better, ‘Have you made this person up?’ I can imagine a line of authors, clutching their books, being led up the garden path by self-publishing concerns who masquerade as publishers, book promoters with marketing advisors and self-help books for authors.

We were staying with friends nearby. That restored my sanity. So why on earth did I face another book signing nearer home?

As in my Guildford efforts, none of the promised back-up materialised. Just to see if my publisher had woken up, I supplied all the information to my new minder, Sue. You could almost hear her panicking as she was fed the formulaic responses, now not bounced back a few minutes after my email had landed in her computer. ‘Thank you for providing all the local information. In our experience (here I am about to scream) it is the authors who are best equipped to approach the local radio and media from the material you have sent us…’ and more of that crap.

The nicest part of this was, unexpectedly, the radio interview. Obviously I had prepared notes, but the man who spoke to me (I wish I could remember his name), couldn’t have been easier. Though I was nervous at the outset, I have done interviews before and this one was sheer pleasure. He was obviously interested in me (always where they start) and, with promptings on my part, led on to the novel I had published, and books I had already written, or was planning to write.

At the end he invited everyone to ‘look in at Waterstone’s Hull on Saturday between 11 and 1 pm, to meet the author and sample her new novel…’ He couldn’t have done more.

That was on a Thursday, and it raised my spirits until the sunny Saturday when I was to sign books at Waterstone’s, Hull.

The management could not have been nicer. We were supplied with frothy coffee to fortify us, and my husband went to the door with leaflets. The same happened as at Guildford, but without the other book signing event. Browsers didn’t want to be disturbed. Women asked if I was a local author, and I said I was. So she perused the cover.

‘This doesn’t look like Yorkshire.’

‘It isn’t. It’s Tuscany. The story –‘

‘Doesn’t it happen here, in Yorkshire?’

‘No. But -’

‘Then you’re not a local author,’ and she walked away. She was right and she was wrong. I’m not a parish pump author, but I do live in Yorkshire. I think others thought like her. In their eyes, I’m not a local author. An interesting English woman who lived in Germany wanted to buy three copies to give as presents. She liked the two contrasting locations, Surrey, England, and Tuscany, Italy. We had an interesting talk. There doesn’t seem to be all the commercialising of books and some sort of Net Publisher Agreement still appears to be in place. However, Random House (and now Penguin too, I imagine) is part of a commercial empire owned by a German magnate. Hachette is one of the Big Five, and that always used to be a French firm. But the money is in the English language for now, when you add Canada, Australia, S. Africa and India to the UK and USA.

My friends had already come to a launch party in Beverley, Yorkshire. I sold seven copies in two hours. Local radio doesn’t seem to reach my sort of reader.

It was summer. I was going to Italy, to where I wrote most of the book. Perhaps English speakers there, residents and tourists alike, would like to read it? At least there would be local interest. Much of the novel took place in Italy.

So I went to Italy after Easter when the fares were cheaper. It was soon clear that the bookshop chains would only order my book through their distributors, Messaggiatrice Internazionale or Penguin. They had never heard of Gardner’s, my publisher’s distributor. So I turned to small independent ones. They hesitated, but said they would accept copies if I brought then in. That would mean getting them sent out by the publisher. I would have to wait until the summer, missing some of the bestselling months for travellers from May onwards.

So I asked my publisher to have them displayed at airport bookshops so people travelling to Tuscany could see them there. No way. To have a book sold in Smiths on airports was impossible, my publisher informed me. What I found out later was that they would not pay. Only big publishing houses get suitable works displayed. So that was that.

Meanwhile Sue had morphed back into Shannon. Yes, the books would be sent to Italy, but they had a lot to do and so forth. Months later I arrived in Italy and still the books hadn’t appeared. They didn’t have the address, though I had sent it to them twice.

I distributed books and flyers to independent bookshops in Siena, Arezzo and Florence and Cortona. My spirits rose, only to be dashed. My fault. I could have had a book signing in the Cortona Festival of the Tuscan Sun if only I hadn’t changed the name of the place where the action took place from Cortona to an invented town of Montesasso, which was Cortona anyway.

Not expecting anything much to happen in Italy, given the limited market of English-speaking people, I was pleasantly surprised by the willingness of the independent bookshops to take a chance. I was also given a slot in the Festival of the Tuscan Sun. A reasonable number of local ex-pats and some tourists turned up for the free wine, nibbles and talk. I did sell a few copies, if you consider each couple bought one copy.

Another event was in an old hotel perched on the city battlements with superb views. I warned her that I didn’t know anyone. Often one joins up with another enterprise for such events, each hoping to gain more clients for their own businesses. I came with a friend who alerted two others. A stray man turned up, one who had lived in Italy since retirement because he agreed to return to his wife’s native city. He had never learned Italian. She had died and he stayed on, lonely and listless. He was known and treated kindly. Two American research students completed the company, but it was a lovely occasion as I talked and the sun set slowly over the olive groves scattered over the hills. Too few people to sell many copies, but a warm occasion.

Nobody in Italy can explain to me why 17 is their unlucky number, while with us it’s 13. That’s easy to explain. Christ had 12 disciples. So counting Jesus they were 13 in all, but one of them was the betrayer – Judas the traitor. He was later replaced, but the number 13 has become unlucky because associated with him. I don’t know another explanation. Many years ago a friend, German by birth, was having a serious heart operation in London. Her husband, a Sicilian I had coached in English so he could enter the diplomatic corps, welcomed me with a buzz of worry. Yes, Heidi had had a successful operation. All was well but, she refused to change her room. Why should she? Because it was room 17. I told him I would check there was no room 13. I was right. In London there was no problem with 17. Inside her room 17 Heidi was sitting up in bed. She asked her husband to fetch her something outside and, the moment the door was closed, hissed,

‘I won’t change room, whatever he says. It would be too painful.’ Her ribs had been cut, after all, and 17 was no more unlucky to her than it was to me. Just an inexplicable Italian thing.

Back to my book. By this time I was getting mightily worried. The first royalties had arrived with the ominous warning that if they amounted to £5 or less – which mercifully they didn’t – they would be paid with the next set of royalties. That set me thinking. If my publishing house contemplated there would be virtually no royalties for the books they published, then what was their business model? Aha! Got it! Go through the palaver of getting the manuscripts offered read and vetted by their in-house reader, then condescending to accept them, but only if a considerable amount of money was paid. If that had been up front, as it probably is now, then I would have paused before going along with them. But the name sounded good, and the director was warm and encouraging – at the start. I began to be worried about the company my book was keeping. If there was no selection except on the basis of money, then what were the other books they were publishing? All sorts, it seemed. Unless I bought them, there was no way of finding out. Nowhere to read extracts, at least to find out what the style was like.


Then Shannon sent me an agitated email.

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My latest book, Mastering The Sun, is available from Amazon…

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