Published in Paperback

englishpubnames

The above is my latest book. Only available as an e-book since its publication last month, the paperback version will follow very soon. This is the 76th book with my name on the front. Never did it cross my mind that so many volumes would be produced more than twenty years ago when my first hit the shelves….

StaffsPN

When Staffordshire Place Names came out in 1996, I dashed off to local newspaper as soon as it hit the newsagents. I remember it was wintertime, or at least late autumn, as I was forced to stand under a street light to be able to find the ‘review’. Covering half a page and with my image and the cover of the book dominating the piece, I felt a sense of achievement – and justifiably so.

The mood didn’t last. As I read the ‘review’ it soon started to seem very familiar. Initially I couldn’t put a finger on why, indeed it annoyed me for a few hours until I realised what had happened. Almost two years earlier I had pitched the idea to one publisher after another and after only about three or four rejection slips, received a positive reply from Countryside Books. Contract followed, manuscript and images eventually sent off, editors queries answered and page proofs pored over. During this process, and with a publication date now known, the publisher issued the usual press release. A number of Staffordshire newspapers would have also received a complimentary copy – among them my local newspaper. This press release, had I seen it, would have been very familiar for it was based on my initial pitch. Of course this makes sense. As I made the book sound the wondrous idea it undoubtedly was, so did the publisher likewise try to impress potential buyers.

In my naivety I expected the local press to read at least part of the book, particularly that pertaining to the area covered by their newspaper. What I found was a barely edited version of the press release, itself very close to my original pitch. Effectively, I had written the review of my own book some two years before the book appeared in print. So disappointed was I by this ‘review’ by someone who had clearly never bothered to read my book, that was the last newspaper I ever purchased.

As other books appeared I quickly learned to ignore views, be they by newspapers and magazines or by buyers on such as Amazon. In truth many buyers of books will take the time to offer a reasonable comment on whatever they have purchased. However, beware those who give but one star or even five. Take the trouble to examine other reviews by the same individual and at least 50% of these ‘reviewers’ will be seen to have posted nothing but negative comments. Hence they have used the site purely as a place to complain. Similarly those who live nought but five stars are equally unreliable.

Whilst these comments once wounded, today I never bother to even read any comments online. Yet I may take under consideration comments from those who bother to write to me directly and I will certainly reply to every letter and email.

One further relevant observation, although it does mean jumping ahead some fifteen years in my writing story. When pitching an idea to a publisher I had not previously worked with, I received a reply that she would never consider taking on an author who had not received a single five star review. Firstly, there were five star reviews of a number of my books on at least two sites – so she hadn’t done her homework – but more importantly why would she only consider published authors? Seems a little short-sighted.

Prior to posting I did have a quick look to see if this short-sighted publisher had changed their minds and offered previously unpublished authors a chance. I found no evidence of them having done so, indeed I found no evidence of them having published anything since approximately two years after I received my rejection slip with comments.

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The Journey Begins

I had already written a dozen or so articles when fortune – or perhaps misfortune would be more accurate – thrust writing upon me as a full time occupation.

For twenty years I had happily worked in light engineering. Fastenings to be precise, the screws, washers, rivets, nuts and bolts without which all the better known parts of the engine would fall apart. But times were changing and after being made redundant three times in just under four years (coupled with some other rather radical changes in my life) decided not to scrap for the few crumbs of the ever-diminishing engineering cake, but to change track completely. Hence I turned to writing.

Reflecting on this decision from a fiscal point of view, this was not overly wise. Had I foreseen the demise of the job (and personal life) I could have started to wean myself onto the new career some ten years earlier and given myself a healthy start in the literary world. Anyone thinking of taking up writing full time, please note.

Still I managed to combine early writing steps with turning my hand to other, quite diverse, tasks – garden maintenance, walking dogs, decorating, installing a garden pond, clearing guttering and other equally non-literary jobs which at least prevented me from going hungry and enabled me to write. I also signed up for a correspondence course on how to write. That course is still running and I did learn something from it, although it did prove a tad disappointing.

This was a different time for wordsmiths. Newspaper and magazine editors were more open to freelance submissions. Thrift tips proved quite good earners considering the effort involved and letters pages also paid reasonably well. The internet has put paid to all that today.

I wrote about what I knew – which wasn’t walking dogs, decorating, but did include garden ponds and their maintenance – which had always been etymology, the origins and development of words and language. With numerous local publications, and a couple of national ones, interested I soon amassed a reasonable portfolio and within a couple of years began pitching the idea of same as a book covering my home county to book publishers.

It took but six months to receive the contract for said book….. but more on that and this book next time.