I’ve written around 150 books but I’ve never had to sell a book before. As a children’s non-fiction author, I supply my work to the publishers, and they do the rest. I work for a flat fee so I don’t have any involvement in the sales process and have no direct contact with customers.
But I’ve self-published my book, Stranded in the Six-Day War: The story of 14 ships trapped for eight years in the Suez Canal. I have to publicise the title to potential buyers and cope with the orders myself. Firstly, I hadn’t quite anticipated the cottage industry I’d need to set up in my office: vast quantities of Jiffy bags and cardboard envelopes (if you’re in the Brighton area and have used ones you don’t need, please get in touch); parcel tape, labels and compliments slips. As well as online payments, good old-fashioned cheques have arrived in the past – I’ve just received a Coutts cheque written in fountain pen in beautiful calligraphy. Secondly, there are the time-consuming trips to the post office and frustrating problems to solve – people sending too little or too much postage money and address queries (‘should that address have a building number?’ ‘No, it’s OK, it’s a French village and the postman knows my house!’)
There’s anxiety too. I’ve done a very short print-run but will I be able to empty those boxes of books surrounding me in the office? Lots of people have expressed an interest in the title, but will they actually buy it? This project is a hobby – I wanted to disseminate the unusual story of the ships trapped in the Suez Canal – a mini-community formed among seafarers from both sides of the Cold War in the midst of a warzone. But I do need to cover at least some of my costs.
I’m even more nervous about feedback. Will people enjoy reading my book? The seafarers who spent time trapped in the Great Bitter Lake have told me it was one of the most incredible experiences of their lives. I am hoping that I have done justice to their remarkable stories, and that’s the most important thing to me.
Stranded in the Six-Day War will be officially launched at the 50th anniversary reunion of the seafarers on the ships stranded in the Suez Canal at the Merseyside Maritime Museum on 1 June: