Like many people, I tend to judge myself against those who have more than me. This practice – unfortunately but inevitably – means that I constantly feel like a failure, no matter how I am doing.
Clausewitz: victory depends on having “limited aims” – otherwise you exhaust yourself
When I decided to self-publish, I tried to avoid this trap by defining some milestones in advance. I decided it would be too difficult to define success, but that I could try to define stages of non-failure. At a point when no one had bought the book, I tried to imagine having sold various numbers of copies, and thought about whether I’d class each as success or failure.
The point at which I found it difficult to imagine being able to tell myself that the whole thing had been a failure came at 750 copies.
That was the magic number (or perhaps the not un-magic number would be more accurate), but there were some way-stations before that. I calculated that I wouldn’t sell fewer than 12 copies unless my mother and close friends turned against me. Thirty seemed the point at which sales purely out of politeness would stop. A hundred was an important marker because of the two zeros in it. Then I overheard a couple of authors at the London Library talking about a friend whose commercially published book had sold only 312 copies in a year, so overtaking that was important. Then there was my official break-even number of 476 (an underestimate), and then a long gap.
Finally, a week or so ago, I reached 750. I can report that, having set the number in advance, I feel less like a failure now. Of course I still slip sometimes. I know a few writers who have achieved out-and-out success, with award nominations, big advances from publishers and tens or hundreds of thousands of sales. But it is now a bit easier to let that go.
I’ve just been to visit the Guardian’s offices again and see their training rooms. Now I’m really looking forward to my Self-Publishing Step by Stepmasterclass. I’ve chosen a smallish room, to make it as easy as possible for everyone to talk, with a big window and a view over the canal, because I think everyone needs as much daylight as possible at this time of year. I should have taken a photo.
Everyone there is extremely nice, and there’s someone there for the whole weekend in case something breaks down – and also to give everyone a guided tour of the newsrooms at lunchtime.
I’m particularly looking forward to my two guests. On Saturday afternoon we have Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors (of which I’m a member). I’ll be interviewing her (and everyone can join in) about why she went independent and why this is such a good time to self-publish. And on Sunday we have Fiona Robyn, author of the bestseller The Most Beautiful Thing. We’ll be talking to her about how she marketed her book in a way that felt easy and natural.
Anyone suspicious that the publishing industry may be run by a small group of corporate-minded killjoys will applaud the DIY-ethic of Shevlin, who has published this quirky comic novel himself. The perpetually astonished hero finds himself in a conspiracy involving murder and the theft of cabinet-level documents, having done no more than give directions to a large man wearing a balaclava on the Holloway Road (mental note: men in balaclavas are either thugs or terrorists, unless they have very poor circulation in their ears). Shevlin’s offbeat brand of urban absurdism should appeal to anyone susceptible to Nicola Barker’s whimsy, though the penchant for made-up onomatopoeic verbs can become a bit trying: “scooshed”, “tocked” and “prunked” in a paragraph about parking a car. But you can’t help being tickled by Shevlin’s view of Covent Garden as a place “thick with mildly diverting notions which now had their own branded carrier bags”; or the Holloway Road afflicted by “the North London disease that turns any unwary building into a chicken shop”.
It should appear in the paper this Saturday, or possibly the next (i.e. the 13th)…
The Broadway Bookshop on Broadway Market in Hackney today became the first bookshop to stock copies of the Perpetual Astonishment. I took them a copy a couple of weeks ago, and when I went back on Saturday they said that their manager had really liked it. So, now they have two copies on the shelves. Coincidentally, I got my first order today from Bertram, one of the two biggest book wholesalers. (This might be for Foyles, who asked me for a reading copy a week or so ago.)
Used by thousands of bookshops across the country and carrying millions of titles, Bertram placed an order for one copy. And because my account with Nielsen is set up wrongly, I had to fulfil the order myself, which meant it cost me money. But if I get another order, Lightning Source will take care of it all.
Now I just need to summon up the courage to ask another nice local bookshop if they’ll stock the book.
Self-publishing has its successes, as EL James’s racy ebook series, initially posted on a fansite, proved. Yet there are reasons why editors and publishers exist, as demonstrated by Christopher Shevlin’s debut novel.
That’s not to say that The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax isn’t a good book – it is and Shevlin was rightly picked up by the literary agency that represents the likes of David Nicholls. However, it could have been great: the comic hero is caught up in a murder plot that unravels into a political thriller, which is by turns absurd and engaging.
Although the plotting can be confusing, the perceptive one-liners reveal an author unafraid to laugh at the concept. At one point, Fairfax muses that reading a secret file makes him feel like he’s in a film, although only ‘the sort that would be on TV on a Wednesday morning’. Yet the same page has ‘she thought Kathy new what she was doing’ – the book is full of errors. Also, Fairfax’s bumbling astonishment at everything gets wearing – surely something an editor would have ironed out.
Well, here we are. I cycled and Tubed all over London this evening trying to get an early copy of Stylist, only to find that my housemate had one. Here is the (extremely nice) review from their Book Wars section at the back of the magazine. I’ll start with their verdict – but read on for the full review.
The verdict: read the comic gem The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax
Exuberant is the word that comes to mind when describing this book. It’s one of those reads you can take an age to get through – simply because you find yourself re-reading joyous passages of comedy and revelling in the carefully constructed characters. One scene involving a murderer, a gym manager and a copy of The Cat In The Hat left one of our reviewers giggling helplessly. It’s a rare book that does this. Utterly recommended.
(And here’s the rest of the review…)
The Perpetual Astonishment vs Comfortably Awkward
Thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey, independent publishing is in the spotlight, so we’re putting two new self-published titles to the test
The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax
Stylist.co.uk’s online writer Anna Brech backs The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax by Christopher Shevlin
Not many books make me laugh out loud, but The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax is one of them. Like Comfortably Awkward, it stars a hapless and bumbling lead – Jonathon – who is struggling to come to terms with life in the urban fast lane. But while I found Albert Ferenzo’s never-ending neuroses over corporate life in New York grating, Jonathon’s foot-in-mouth persona is wonderfully endearing and acts as a perfect launch pad for the rest of the story. Read the rest of the review…
Twenty-four people have now bought the Kindle version and 15 have bought the paperback. Then there have been 212 downloads of the Kindle version on the two days when I’ve offered it free. Altogether, 258 copies are at large. At least two good bloggers have picked it up and say they plan to review it. It was mentioned on Quirky Girls Read’s first paragraph Tuesday. And there are some exciting things happening behind the scenes, which I don’t want to mention in case they fall through. Oh, and the other good review on Amazon has unaccountably reappeared.
The good news is that the staff in Pret a Manger have finally learned to understand what I mean when I say ‘Bakewell’. They’ve been selling Bakewell tarts for over a year now, but – until today – whenever I asked for one the person serving me (in my Pret, they’re almost exclusively girls from South America) would always just smile or giggle in a confused and polite way, as though I were making a joke that she didn’t understand, and then not give me a Bakewell tart. I got used to just pointing at what I wanted and maybe doing a small mime. But then today I was too far away to point, so I had to ask for it by name. I got it on only the second asking. Perhaps it was because it was a man serving me. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, this is good news.
The bad news is that yesterday’s good review of my book has unaccountably disappeared from Amazon. At least I have been able to console myself with a legitimately ordered Bakewell tart.
On the 19th of May, I launched the Kindle edition of Perpetual Astonishment with an apologetic message on Facebook. On the 1st of June, I celebrated the paperback launch with an embarrassed line on Facebook. Since then, I have sold seven paperback copies and sixteen Kindle copies. I’ve also had two of my five Kindle giveaway days, which have led to 212 downloads. Oh, and I’ve given away about seven paperback copies, for diverse reasons.
This is far from being a runaway success, but – more importantly – it’s also quite far from no one reading it. And of the people who are reading it or have read it, I would say that about ten have unequivocally convinced me that they like it. This is ten more than I feared.
All in all: a mixed bag, but one containing some plums and no rotten apples.
And I have the approval of a stranger, which is strangely important and moving.
I’ve just signed up with PayPal so that I can sell the book from my website. This means that I can send signed copies and what-not. (You also get a free bookmark with every copy – imagine.) Just click ‘Buy the book‘ at the top of the page.
The book is also available from Amazon, Foyles and all the other online book sellers.
Well, here we are. I cycled and Tubed all over London this evening trying to get an early copy of Stylist, only to find that my housemate had one. Here is the (extremely nice) review from their Book Wars section at the back of the magazine. I’ll start with their verdict – but read on(…)
I’ve written a short guide that I hope will be helpful to people – like me – who want their novel to be available in paperback and on Kindle, looking as much like a professionally published book as possible. The process has been much more complicated and confusing than I thought possible, as well as(…)
The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax is now available… On Kindle for £1.79 – or $2.99 if you’re an American In paperback from Amazon (or any other online bookshop) for £7.99 (inc. P&P) In paperback from me for £7.99 (inc. P&P and a bookmark) You can also order it from your local bookshop. “Not many books(…)
This is the first book I wrote. I did it back to front, which makes it a bit tricky to put it up here in a way that makes sense. Nonetheless, I’ve tried my best. So read on for the thrilling tale of King Moonfred and his Knights… +10