No, I’m not recycling the best bits of 2011 like Jeff did. This is closer to Dale’s announcement that December is Read a New Book Month. Though I probably don’t qualify, since every month is Read a New Book (or two) Month for me. And it does kind of follow on after last week’s last-minute hint-dropping to Santa.
The old guy in red came up trumps as he always does: a total of five crisp new paperbacks now adorn my To Read shelf, and I hadn’t even got through what was already there. So that should see me nicely through to my birthday in a few months, by which time, fingers firmly crossed, a few more of the titles on the list I subtly left lying around the house in early December should have appeared in paperback.
But before I made a start on the new ones, there was one to finish. I was halfway through The Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris. I don’t know if it’s available in paper form in the US yet, though Kindle-minded readers may already have discovered it; according to a prominent flash on the cover, it made number one in Amazon’s Kindle chart, and became ‘the word-of-mouth hit that left the others in its wake’ or words to similar effect – I don’t have it to hand, so the quote may not be exact, but that's the gist.
OK, I declare an interest. Gordon Ferris is another of my alumni. I published his first two, both of which will shortly be reissued by his new publisher, and this is the third. And doesn’t it make you feel good when as a former small indie publisher you see your fledglings stretch their wings and head for the big time?
Because, you see, that’s what it was all about for me. If I’m going to indulge in nostalgia for my brief career as a publisher (though less brief than some – small publishers rise and fall and often don’t even come close to the seven year mark) it’s not going to be for the money, of which there was very little; or for the fame, of which there was none at all. It isn’t even entirely about the books that sold out their first print runs and went into reprint. It might be, a little, for the year I was shortlisted for an award honouring women in publishing. The other shortlisted candidates were all people who had achieved something substantial for one of the big houses, and the eventual winner was a distinguished editor who was close to retirement, so I knew from the start I was never going to take the prize; but to be there, in that illustrious company when I’d begun from a point of almost no knowledge of the business, made me feel I must be doing something right against the odds.
But most of it, in fact 99% of it, was nothing to do with sales figures or Amazon ratings. It was about opening up a manuscript from the morning mail and realizing hours later that most of my to-do list for the day remained undone, because in my hand I had something special. Gordon Ferris’s first novel was one of those manuscripts.
Publishing is a business, of course, and sales figures had to play a part in my little set-up. Each book had to earn its keep, and unfortunately the lack of spare cash to spend on advertising campaigns and booksellers’ marketing fees meant that Gordon was one of several highly talented authors whose sales couldn’t justify a third title.
Unfortunately, that is, for me. For him it has proved a blessing. One of the reviews in the front of The Hanging Shed describes him as the next Ian Rankin; since the hero is a maverick, not a policeman, I’d go for a Scottish Lee Child, but you get the picture. When people start to say that kind of thing, other people sit up and take notice.
I have other alumni, several of them as deserving as Gordon Ferris and Chris Nickson (see last week), and I wait to see their rise to prominence.
Because for me, that’s what it was all about. We jokingly used to call ourselves the nursery slopes, where new crime writers tried out before heading for the big runs. And what do you know – sometimes it worked!