750+ emails.  That’s how many I found waiting for me when I got home last night from the UK. Of course many of them are spam, but still.  That’s a load of email to answer, and I’ve spent most of today trying to whittle down the list.

My book tour in the UK was a blast.  It reminded me yet again that my publisher there, Transworld, is one of the best in the world.  It’s a small enough house so that it feels like a close-knit family, and everyone, from editorial to publicity to sales, seems to have a personal stake in the success of every title they publish.  These aren’t just bean-counters; these people love books. 

For the first three days of my tour, I traveled to Birmingham, then to Manchester, and then to Cambridge.  That’s a lot of driving, but much of it was through beautiful countryside.  I was pleased that each event had a pretty good turnout — around 40 to 60 people.  I’ve discovered that UK crowds tend to be a lot shyer about asking questions.  In the US, people aren’t afraid to raise their hands.  As an author, I really hope for those questions, because they often remind me of things I’d forgotten to say.  Or they open up other interesting subjects that aren’t part of my planned talk. 

My trip also reminded me of how important non-bookstore outlets are for book sales in the UK.  Even before my books officially went on sale in the bookstores, both THE MEPHISTO CLUB and VANISH had already gone on sale in grocery/supermarket chains, and just on the basis of those supermarket sales alone, both books hit the London Times top-ten bestseller lists (MEPHISTO CLUB AT #2 and VANISH at #4) their very first week.  The lesson here?  If your book isn’t picked up by Tesco’s stores, it has almost no chance of making it onto the bestseller lists.

I also encountered the deep discounting that bookstores must resort to, to be competitive.   Nowhere in the U.S. do you find 50% discounts on brand-new bestsellers.  In the UK, readers expect them.   Yet it means that bookstores can’t make a profit on the very titles they know they’ll sell a lot of.  Many independents, for instance, lost money on Harry Potter sales, because they were discounting so deeply that they slashed away all their profits and more.  Such deep discounting is great for authors, since we get our royalty no matter what, and it means a lot more people buy our books.  But surely the stores suffer.

Touring in the UK is so much more civilized than in the U.S.  First, you always get the weekends off, since no stores host weekend events.  The distances traveled are shorter, so there isn’t the rush to get to yet another airport in the morning, the way there is here at home.  My US tours sometimes seem to be marathon endurance races.  Up at five AM for the airport.  Roll into bed exhausted at 10 PM.  Repeat the next day, and the next, and the next, until you’re too tired to see straight.  

In the UK, they love their business lunches.  And they actually drink wine and eat dessert at lunch.  I can’t remember the last time I saw that happen in New York, where everyone’s watching their weight and no one orders wine at lunch — because they all have to rush back to their desks.  In so many ways, UK publishing seems like what publishing used to be: a genteel and civilized profession, just as much about the books as it is about making money. 

This was supposed to be a really quick blog — all those emails are still awaiting me — so for now I’ll leave you with a link to a terrific article about how to end your novel.  I’ve got lots more to post about later! 

16 replies
  1. MattScudder
    MattScudder says:

    Really enjoyed the article about endings. I wonder, since you often have to plant earlier incidents and clues to foreshadow your un-planned ending, how many drafts you put your novels through? Do you tend to do a lot of rewriting? Do you enjoy that part of the process?

  2. Tess
    Tess says:

    I go through about five drafts before I’m happy with the book. The second draft is still pretty rough. It involves putting in the necessary clues I suddenly realize I need and fixing the story. My method of plotting (no map, no outline) means that much of the hard work comes in the second and third drafts.

  3. wy82331
    wy82331 says:

    It never amazes me. When do you finally get it? Your up there Tess. You stand shoulder to shoulder with them all. Don’t run so much that you don’t find time to work on another great book.
    Take care and stay well.

  4. john lovell
    john lovell says:

    Apropos of nothing in particular, I’ve been pondering the causal relationship between physical height and literary success. Among Maine writers, for example, Stephen King is much, much taller than me; Richard Russo is taller than me, though not so much; and I think I’m an inch or so shorter than you. On the other hand, it’s heartening to know that Julia Spencer-Fleming is about my height. “I just keep beavering away,” she once told me (eye to eye). “If you write a page a day, at the end of the year you’ve got a book.

  5. laykuan
    laykuan says:

    Tess, I always wonder do you reply the emails yourself or you have an assistant to reply them for you?

  6. Tess
    Tess says:

    John, re author heights:
    there’s no correlation at all between height and success as a novelist. I’m average height. Richard Russo is average. And Sebastian Junger is very, very hot, but on the short side. All a reader can tell about us is what we look like on our author photos. You can hide a lot that way!

  7. john lovell
    john lovell says:

    Tess, I meant it as a joke. I actually know height has zip to do with writing talent. Though I’m reminded of what Garrison Keiller once said about short people: “Last to get rained on, forst to drown.”

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