Ten years ago this week I became a published author. The launch party for King of Ithaca took place on Friday 5th June in my local branch of Waterstones. I gave a speech in front of nearly 90 people and signed lots of copies of the book that I had started nine years earlier. Afterwards, I went home with a few friends and opened a bottle of champagne, kindly provided by my publisher, Pan Macmillan.
I’ve written elsewhere on the website about the long and bumpy journey to publication, but I haven’t said much about what came after. To start with, it was much harder work than I’d expected. Writing King of Ithaca had been a fairly leisurely process (it took me two and a half years) because I could work at my own pace. The Gates of Troy was a different matter altogether. Suddenly I had a deadline to meet. I also had a fulltime job, a 2 year old daughter and another baby daughter, neither of whom appreciated that their dad needed peace and quiet to get on with his writing. It taught me to be more disciplined with my writing, though. After that, I reduced my fulltime job to four days and managed to get The Armour of Achilles written and edited in good time. As both books are over 160,000 words each – the average novel is 90,000 – I think I did well.
Despite King of Ithaca, The Gates of Troy and The Armour of Achilles selling impressively – I’ve been told that sales over 15,000 are considered good, and all three exceeded that – as well as being translated into seven other languages, Pan Macmillan decided not to continue with the series. They’d been very quiet for a few months before I submitted The Oracles of Troy to them, which made me suspicious. What was worse, they didn’t come back to me with a decision. In desperation, I signed up with an agent who chased them on my behalf. He was told the third book hadn’t sold well enough in supermarkets.
I’d pinned a lot of hopes on completing the series with Pan Macmillan, so the rejection was a hard knock to take. My agent couldn’t get another publisher to pick up the second half of a series – not surprising, really – so I decided to self-publish The Oracles of Troy. I produced an e-book version first, and launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise the money for a paperback. I fell a little short of the target, but it was an interesting experience.
Eventually, I found a company called Mereo who offered to produce the paperback and cover the upfront costs for a higher cut of the profit. Their practices turned out to be a bit questionable, as they sent me a bill for several thousand pounds after the first print run had sold out, while also printing more books without my agreement. Fortunately, I knew a bit about contract law from my regular job, and managed to persuade them that I didn’t owe them a penny, but they actually owed me quite a large amount of money. In the end, they agreed and coughed up.
The fifth book in the series – The Voyage of Odysseus – I produced myself, using Kindle Direct Publishing for the paperback version. Then, entirely out of the blue, fate decided to bombard me with opportunities. I asked Pan Macmillan to revert the publishing rights back to me for the first three books. To my surprise, their Head of Adult Publishing contacted me to say he had enjoyed the first three books, and would I like to relaunch them with Pan Mac in e-book format, along with the last three in the series. At the same time, I was contacted by someone setting up a new e-book-only publisher, Canelo. He was interested in relaunching the first five books and publishing the sixth. I was then contacted by a third publisher, who wanted to know what plans I had in mind for future books.
After thinking things through, I chose to transfer all the Odysseus books to Canelo. I was impressed by their energy, ambition and optimism. Though the third publisher offered me a contract for my Heracles trilogy, Canelo made a counter offer and I chose to put all my eggs in one basket and give the new series to them, also. So far, the decision has proved to be a good one. I’ve sold nearly as many books with them as I did in all formats over the previous nine years. I’ve also been able to give up my regular job and write full-time. Hopefully, the gamble will continue to pay off. The second Heracles book is due out later this year, with the third in spring 2019. After that, I’m considering plans for another trilogy, this time on Jason and the Argonauts. I’d be keen to know whether readers would be interested in that.
As you can see, it’s been a challenging decade. If I’m still writing in another ten years, I hope the road will have been a lot smoother in retrospect. But it’s also been an interesting time to be in publishing as I’ve bridged the period between the old world and the new. When King of Ithaca was released, the only way to get into print was via a contract with an established publishing house such as Pan Macmillan, or to risk the expensive and difficult route of self-publishing. My first contract didn’t even mention e-books, as they didn’t exist. Now, though, e-books have changed everything. Good authors no longer need to squeeze through the eye of the needle that was the old publishing model. Instead, self-publishing is easy and affordable, and as long as an author can market their work effectively using social media etc. – and write good books, of course! – then they can do fantastically well. I know several people who have achieved this.
Finally, the last ten years would have been much more difficult and a whole lot less rewarding without the support of readers. I’ve received lots of encouragement through comments on my website, Facebook, Amazon feedback etc. and really am grateful for every supportive word and bit of well-meant criticism. It makes the job even more enjoyable than it already is. So my thanks go to everyone who has read the books, and those of you who have contacted me over the years.