It has been a full year since my book, The Naked Swiss: A Nation Behind 10 Myths, was published by Bergli Books. This is a good occasion to share the story of the winding path I followed to become a published author.
Working on this book has given me a crash course in publishing. First lesson: everything always takes more time than you expect. In response to my initial email query in May 2015, the publisher gave me a “very tentative maybe”. Never had such vague, non-committal words caused such excitement!
Quick rewind: this was actually the fourth book I submitted. Before it came a children’s picture book about Switzerland (2006), a humorous parenting book (2010) and a novel (2013), none of which have yet seen the light of day.
Back to Bergli. We met in Basel to discuss the project and I realised I still had some way to go before the book proposal would pass muster. I scribbled lots of notes and went away with a plan for the summer. There was some recrafting to be done on the concept, a summary and a sample chapter to be written. The material I wrote for the query was never used. In September, the publisher requested another sample chapter, then another. Finally, in November, I got the green light.
Second lesson: your project will evolve a considerable distance from the initial idea, possibly beyond recognition.
From November to the end of April I researched and wrote like a maniac, evenings and weekends especially. I continued to work as a part-time translator and freelance writer and I looked after the children around their school hours but they got used to me opting out of family activities in what used to be my free time. Chapters ping ponged back and forth between me and the editor on multiple rewrites. I got faster and the later chapters required fewer fundamental changes. Third lesson: Writing is rewriting and practice brings progress.
When the manuscript was finally handed in, on time, I expected there to be a void, a very welcome void. All I had to do in May was source some pictures for the book, two per chapter. How hard could that be? (Hollow laugh). The answer is very hard.
Finding the right photos, getting hold of the images in a big enough format for printing, getting approval and cooperation from the owners and holders of the photographs – each photo was a separate challenge. Some of the most ‘harmless’ photos turned out to be the trickiest. One single picture requested from an official source generated about 20 emails. I ended up dealing with three different people who wanted to not only see and approve any passages relating to the photo, they wanted to edit the language into official speak. I’m still not over that one. Fourth lesson: A writer’s work is never done.
It was August last year before I really kissed goodbye to the book, proofread, introduction and afterword written, title decided upon, cover text written and approved. Too late to change anything at last.
And then came the fun stuff. I never get tired of seeing The Naked Swiss on display in shops. Those are the moments that make it all worthwhile. The good news is that the book has sold well and the second edition is coming out in January.
Initially I was only going to have a Swiss launch for the book because I thought there wouldn’t be much interest in Ireland but I’m very glad a good friend of mine convinced me to have a Dublin launch. She was right, why give up such a great opportunity to celebrate?
Part of marketing a book is giving author talks, and I discovered from the two launches that I really enjoyed public speaking. I was happy to seek out more opportunities to speak to groups about the book. Meeting readers has mostly been a positive experience, with people telling me what the book means to them, and explaining what stage they are at in their relationship with Switzerland. Most Swiss readers have some international connection, like a foreign spouse, and they have also been enthusiastic.
But this is real life and, of course, not everybody likes the book. Some people have been quite forceful in getting this message across. Thankfully the vast majority of the feedback and the reviews have been positive. I wonder if this will change when the book is read by more Swiss people in translation next year …
There were some great highs, the in-depth review in the Dublin Review of Books, an appearance on Swiss TV, participating in the Morges Book Festival and a review in the Financial Times. Fifth lesson: You’ve got to make the marketing effort.
There have been lows, such as talks no one turned up to (in particular my first talk beside a bouncing castle, a story for another day) , or dealing with disgruntled people. The social media has to be kept ticking over and that sometimes feels a bit forced. As long as no one knows what really works in marketing, you are supposed to keep several plates spinning at once.
I hope you enjoyed this warts-and-all account of my experience in publishing. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the business, whether you are an observer or part of the madness.
Photo credit: Elaine Pringle Photography