Waterstone's was under attack recently for not being interested in self-published books and those from small publishers. This is the text of a letter I wrote to the newspapers about how helpful Scott Pack of Waterstone's was in getting Unimagined to publication.
There has been much criticism of Waterstone's recently, alleging its complete disinterest in self-published authors. However, my own experience in this area was extremely positive, even better than I could have imagined.
Having written a book which impartially I judged to be a potential bestseller (and having had this opinion validated by my friends and subordinates), I set off on the unknown road to publication. I read all the right guides, wrote a book proposal, and spent over six months trying to engage a literary agent. I often gleefully imagined getting an agent, then a publisher, and eventually seeing my book being read by all my fellow sombre grey-suited commuters on the 7:02 to Waterloo; the reality, as portended by all the rejection slips, looked very different. I received countless replies from agents which often said “Not right for my client list” or something very similar (if they bothered to reply).
Those few publishers whom I approached directly all advised me to get an agent.
Eventually, I decided to self-publish, and now there were no rejections, only requests for credit card details. Whilst my book was being prepared for publication, I began to explore the unknown territory of book marketing. I wrote to Scott Pack, the Buying Manager of Waterstone’s, giving him a short summary of my book. He then replied that he would be delighted to consider it, when it was available. I then impudently asked him to review my draft marketing flyer, which he did, responding with some very good advice on how to make it more effective.
When my box of self-published books finally arrived, I sent a copy to Scott Pack. He replied within a couple of weeks, and was very encouraging and complimentary about the content of the book, which he said had great potential. But he explained that the physical book, being self-published, looked amateurish and was not price-competitive. He said that my book deserved a ‘proper’ publisher and that he was willing to recommend it to a literary agent, if I was agreeable to this. I gave Mr Pack my permission and not two days later Charlie Viney of Mulcahy & Viney, an agent whom I had not approached before, contacted me, having read the entire book.
Mulcahy & Viney immediately took me on as a client, gave me some direction in shaping the book, and then successfully secured a choice of publishers. We now have a publishing deal with a mainstream publisher and Unimagined – A Muslim Boy Meets the West will be published by Aurum in March 2007.
I found Waterstone’s to be extremely helpful throughout his process. Without their help, I would still be struggling to market my self-published book. Scott Pack’s advice was helpful and very true; self-published books, regardless of narrative quality, often lack the polish and competitive edge that comes from having a professional publishing team. This does not belittle the talent of the writer, but the commonest advice is the best: “Get yourself an agent!”