Away with the fairies...
I started working for Ross Bradshaw at Five Leaves Publications on August 13th 2010. I knew nothing whatsoever about publishing, but I did know enough about books to realise that Five Leaves isn’t your ordinary small press. The walls of the office in the Lace Market are adorned with book covers, ranging from young adult fiction to Jewish poetry to books about the East End of London to crime fiction to Catalan plays to social history to a book about cycling across America to London fiction to holiday camps to allotments to a re-issue of Rose Fyleman’s Fairy Book (don’t get me started on sodding fairies)...
You’d have thought that a publishing house that can only bring out 15-25 books a year might specialise. Oh no. You wouldn’t believe how much I’ve learned about working class life in Stratford (London), Butlins in the 1950s, being Jewish in Glasgow during and after World War I, the life and times of Ray Gosling, and sodding fairies (I said DON’T get me started).
One of the more fascinating books I’ve been involved with is Roman Nottinghamshire by Mark Patterson. Apparently Ross the Boss has been trying to fill this gap in the market for years. More or less by chance he discovered Mark’s interest in the subject, and commissioned a 96 page book with a few illustrations. A year later Mark delivered 300 pages of text including 109 maps and photos, many in colour. ‘Not a problem, delighted to have the extra material,’ said Ross. At least, I assume that’s what he said, because that’s what we published.
I started marketing the book before I’d even seen the copy – unusually, it had to go to a specialist proofreader due to the nature of the language used. Lots of Latin, and that sort of thing. Ross wouldn’t let me see it until it came back. So I met Mark to find out more. I was delighted to hear that the book isn’t only about the Romans and their coins and mosaics and long straight roads, it’s also the story of the archaeology that took place (and is still ongoing) to discover what we know about the Roman occupation of the county. Lots of juicy stories about nutty professor types who stuck their heads into plague pits and lost all sense of taste and smell, and Catholic priests who forbade the excavation of Roman mosaics because they didn’t want the hassle, for example.
How on earth does one market a book? Well… who knows?
It helps to have an interesting book. I’ve read it twice so far, and I suspect I’ll read it again before long. Mark’s style is not at all dry and academic, which makes the book much easier to sell, so the main task is to make sure the people who are likely to buy it are aware of its existence.
I’ve written to all the local museums with shops, the tourist information centres, and local bookshops. I sent review copies to local newspapers and any magazines relating to archaeology or ancient history. I sent press releases out to anyone I could think of, and as a result I ended up writing a short article for the Southwell Bramley (could this be the start of a journalistic career?). I’ve sent follow-up letters out and phoned various people who have expressed an interest in running an article or interviewing Mark. We almost got on ITV Central News last weekend, but I guess there were more interesting things happening. So far the anticipated press frenzy hasn’t quite happened, but I’m still trying.
The launch of the book, now that was another thing entirely. As the Nottingham University Museum was more or less founded by Felix Oswald, one of the aforementioned nutty professor types who dedicated years to single-handed excavation of Margidunum (read the book – it’s a fascinating story), it seemed the perfect place to hold the reception. I met with Clare Pickersgill, the curator, who was very keen to help out. On May 26th, armed with Italian wine and many boxes of books (and Ross’s jokes, but the less said about those the safer my job will be), we set up shop in the Museum and welcomed around 60 people to celebrate the publication of a superb book.
Since then I’m reliably informed that it’s flying off the shelves of Waterstone’s, and we might be heading for a reprint even sooner than we expected. The next job is to get a website up and running which Mark can update with breaking news – it might be ancient history but Things Are Definitely Afoot! (and what’s more, fairies are Not Involved!)