Tessa West on self-publication

Hawking the Owls

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Open any magazine whose readers include novice or would-be writers – from Writers’ News to the London Review of Books to Mslexia – and it’s clear that there must be an increasing number of people prepared to pay to be published. There are numerous businesses which say they will turn your manuscript into a real book, and they probably do a decent job. But the real issue for a self-publisher, whether this is someone who does it virtually on their own as I do, or a company with a sales team, is marketing.

Having sold some thousands of my first two self-published novels and made a profit (as long as I don’t factor in actual writing time), I decided to devote a day to selling my third. My novels are all set in East Anglia and it’s this geographical aspect that enables me to interest the local media, big and small booksellers, and a range of other less conventional outlets such as museums, tearooms and pubs. I’ve learned that it’s well worth the trouble to seek out the last group. One pub, featured in my first novel, sold 200 copies. Moreover, the landlord agreed to a 25 per cent discount – a much more generous deal than any bookshop gave. Better still, I never had to send invoices or chase them up. I’d just turn up at the pub when they wanted another pack of books and the landlord would reach for the beer mug containing my takings, insist I count the cash there and then, and pour me a half of Adnams.

Few bookshops buy and re-order self-published books without prompting, and even if they do you also have to get out there and sell them directly, which is why I spent one August Bank Holiday Saturday at Thorney, near Peterborough. I chose this small village because my novel Companion to Owls is set there. So, having arranged to have a stall at the tri-annual flower festival, I and my partner Ralph loaded a pile of the hot-off-the-press copies into my Mini and set off for the Fens.

It was a beautiful day

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About the contributor

Tessa West is the author of The Estuary, The Reed Flute and Companion to Owls. Waterside Press, which published her Prisons of Promise in 1997, has just brought out her biography of the prison reformer The Curious Mr Howard.

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