Posted by: francesthomas | October 7, 2010

The Publishing that Dare not Speak its Name

posted by Frances Thomas for Jenny Sullivan

At last, at last. My first adult novel is about to be released upon an unsuspecting world. It’s a pity my Mum, who died two years ago at the age of 104, isn’t around to see it. She didn’t regard me as a “proper” writer, because I only wrote “little bits of stuff for kiddies”. She didn’t like my poetry, either, because it didn’t rhyme…

The book is called “Silver Fox”, and it’s the story of three members of Owain Glyndŵr’s household, and how their lives are affected by the War of Independence. I began it (serendipitously, if coincidentally) in 2000, 600 years to the month after the War began, and it took me four years to complete the first part. It was my project for a creative writing PhD at Cardiff University. I’d long wanted to write an historical novel, and have always been fascinated by Owain Glyndŵr ~ but since I left school at 15 with no qualifications whatsoever, I’m certainly no historian, and didn’t have a clue how to go about researching.

Thank God for libraries. I harrassed the lovely ladies of the Monmouth Branch and got them to order anything at all with “Owain Glyndŵr” in the title. And I read. And read, and read. After two years, I’d done one hell of a lot of reading, but still hadn’t found the magical “handle” to open the door into the book. I experimented with third person characters… They didn’t “live” ~ they were as cardboard as Amazon’s packing department. I tried to find a main character, but I had three of the sods, and they were all constantly clamouring for attention. I eventually went on a week-long “retreat” at Tŷ Newydd, and sequestered myself in the upstairs office with a selection of Owain books and a laptop… And on day two, the light bulb went on over my head. YOU’VE GOT THREE MAIN CHARACTERS, STUPID! And that was the way I wrote it: each character had his or her say in turn.

Eventually, I finished part one, submitted it with my thesis (and the submitting saga is a whole new blog, believe me!) and duly got the PhD. Now all I had to do was sell the book.

I’ll say that again: “sell the book”. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? I finally (after about a year) found a London agent willing to read it. Three days later she came back to me positively effervescent with enthusiasm. She loved it, she said, it was amazing, she said, she’d even cried at that bit where… She’d stayed up half the night finishing it. She’d love to represent me. But first, would I mind if her colleague also read it and gave an opinion? Colleague’s opinion was, in short “take out most of the history and put in more sex” which I had no intention of doing. So that was the end of that. Then I “sold” it to Honno ~ who appear to be the literary equivalent of a horse designed by a committee. Lovely, lovely people, and they’ve done so much for struggling women writers, but because it’s a commune sort of publisher, everything seems to have to be OKd by everyone… So, yes, they really wanted to publish it ~ sent it off to the WBC for funding ~ which they got ~ twice, because the WBC wanted a few amendments made. Yippee, I thought! All systems go. Except ~ because it had taken Honno so long to decide, the old editor had moved on, and the new editor didn’t think historical novels sold well. So back it came, after four years and I was back to square one, though a little purpler in the face and a little steamy and hissy about the ears.

In the meantime, I’d researched and written part two, so at least now I had a completed series on my hands. But I couldn’t get anyone at all to read it! I wrote to more than thirty agents ~ and got only one reply, to the effect that they already had Philippa Gregory, so why would they need me? Even Gomer didn’t want to know (or even read it), and Gomer/Pont have been publishing my stuff for the last fifteen years. History doesn’t sell, and Welsh history particularly doesn’t sell, apparently. It’s now 2010, and the iron has entered my soul. I WANT THIS ******* BOOK OFF MY ******* HANDS! (Insert obscenity/profanity of personal preference.)

And so, gentle reader, I’m doing the unforgivable thing: that Thing that makes “real” writers rotate in their typing chairs, if not their graves. I’m self-publishing the first part. It’s due out next week, and part two is in the pipeline. It’s featured on Amazon; the lovely manager of Waterstone’s in Abergavenny is going to stock it for me, I’m doing a signing there on the morning of Friday 14th and I’ll be selling it myself, too. I’m going to give myself the luxury of a launch party here in France, and if anyone would like a copy, it’s only £7.99 plus postage and packaging…

There’s another book out, too, the same week ~ “A Little Bit of Mischief”, a picture book set at Techniquest, published the more traditional way ~ with Pont’s money, not mine!

Jenny Sullivan



  1. Sounds like a real labour of love, Jen.
    You told me once about reading a heavy, historical tome in bed, falling asleep and dropping it on your head/face? Was this the book you were researching at the time?
    Best of luck with both books.

    • No ~ I believe the book that almost broke the nose was a Dorothy Dunnett historical tome ~ although I almost did it again recently with Wolf Hall…

  2. Well done for your perseverence, sounds great. How can we order a copy?

    • Well, Phil, you know what it’s like ~ when one puts that much work into a book it goes against the grain to let the MSS sit on a shelf gathering dust.

      It’s available from me ~ £7.99 + p & p, although Amazon is taking orders. However, I have a feeling that Amazon may just come to me for them, so…

  3. Jenny, are you going to give an account of the self-publishing process? I suspect a lot more writers will be taking this route in the coming years.

    • Hi Jon ~ yes, that’s going to be my next blog, I think, in November! Just heard that the WBC want 55% discount off the cover price to market it for me ~ which added to P & p from France is beyond a joke ~ and on sale or return, so I face the prospect of getting copies back that are unsaleable. So… At least they’ve got it on which is a start.

  4. What a story! I salute your determination and wish you great success … and i hope the next one isn’t such a saga!

  5. Thanks, Candy. I’ll keep everybody up to date in my November blog!

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