My book was out, but who knew? The advanced information publicity had been distributed to bookshops, reviewers and children’s related media and my website was up and running with additional story content, plus links to my new Twitter account, Amazon and publisher Troubador’s shop all to incite purchase.
I collected my stash of copies from the warehouse and headed home to wet the baby’s head.
But how would people get to hear of it? The initial fanfare would only extend to my immediate circle of friends, acquaintances and colleagues. Repeated general press and media releases remarking ‘New book out!’ were unlikely to grab headlines and, until I could secure that breakthrough review that would lead to a stampede of sales, I had to start generating my own publicity and hunt those would-be Arnie Jenks readers down. A mail shot generated very positive responses as did the Chearsley and Cuddington village websites alerting the local community. I started being stopped in the street.
The publication date was timely. Summer holidays were over.
I’d forewarned three nearby schools, two libraries and The Book House, my local independent bookshop in Thame, asking them to consider Arnie Jenks for their pupils and browsing public. I received a very broad welcome as much as one could expect before offering sight of the goods. But what if they didn't like the story? Or didn't think it suitable to recommend? Oh well, too late to worry about that now.
Cuddington and Dinton C of E school called. "We think it’ll appeal. Can we set up a visit?"
They were happy to take some copies appreciating that if one or two pupils knew the story in advance it would help open up the session. A date was set and I duly appeared in front of their school assembly comprising some 60 children aged between 9 and 11 years. They grew excited as my story unfolded, quizzing me extensively on how I’d created the characters before moving on to how the front cover had been conceived. Enthusiastic quick-fire questions followed, all insights as to how the young mind worked. My first focus group.
I revealed it’d taken me several years to have my book published. Quick as a flash, a hand flew up. “But I read it in less than a week, what took so long?” I wondered that a bit too.
So positive the response, I was asked to read extracts at a Christmas writing event at another school. My heart filled up.
The Book House was by now receiving a steady flow of orders, helped by word-of-mouth and a prominent display on the counter. My next visit to Lord Williams’ comprehensive school in Thame, was doubly successful.
Not only did the slightly older children there grab the story by the throat, showing real perception, but my first signing session exhausted the stock of books ordered and I needed to supplement to avoid disappointment. I think I broke their record!
By the middle of October, my hit rate was growing. I’d visited about fifteen libraries in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire and either donated a copy or received the promise of an order. "Might you come to one of our after-school reading clubs?" I was asked.
Events in Thame, Aylesbury, Amersham, Princes Risborough and High Wycombe followed.
The numbers varied depending on circumstances but, where I met people, the consensus was pretty clear. They loved the book and wanted to know when the second would follow. With each sale I asked them to help me do that. Tell a friend, show a teacher at their school, even post a review.
A couple of weeks after one of the larger library events I was rung to be told that all the copies in the library were out and they might plan to order a few more.
Small follow-up articles and reviews in local newspapers and on the web began to spring up. Mango Bubbles Books, a website for young readers reviewed by young readers asked for a copy and rewarded me with: “Arnie Jenks is an exciting book which will make you not want to stop reading.”
More towns, more visits. Many retailers were prepared try it out though one or two shied away despite it being available to order easily via the distributors and return if unsold.
One wouldn't even continue the conversation when it was realised I was the author. I hadn't expected that. Chain stores were particularly unwilling. Despite comments from counter staff, when I could persuade them to see me, like “I love the cover” and “It does sound great – I’d probably read this myself," they shrugged, citing central purchasing decisions as their reason for rejection. Even in Oxford where I had just learnt that I’d been nominated for the Oxfordshire Book Award, one that is voted on by pupils in the county, it was a no.
I approached the National Trust, thinking that as the story takes place in a country house evoking hundreds of years of history, it would a perfect fit for their shops where parents and grandparents might see Arnie Jenks as something for their youngsters to read. I'm still waiting to hear back.
However, I remain undaunted. Wherever I pitch up, be it a Christmas craft market or summer fair, library or school, shopping centre or coffee shop from Lymington to Salisbury, Winchester to Marlborough, Oxford to Portsmouth, the response is terrific. But in nearly every case they won’t have heard of ‘Arnie Jenks and the House of Strangers’. As at my local sports centre where the opportunity to write these articles arose.
In just over a year, I've sold nearly 1000 copies, which I'm told is a great start for a first self-published children’s book. But how can I reach the thousands more who I know would love to read it?
Tim Bradley was born in Portsmouth in 1964. After obtaining his degree from Southampton University he joined the BBC where he became a producer in television drama. In 2000 he left to freelance. Work include Teachers (Channel 4), Primeval, Unforgotten (ITV), Silent Witness, D-Day and Death in Paradise (BBC). He lives in Buckinghamshire with his wife, son and dog. Arnie Jenks and the House of Strangers is Tim’s debut novel for children aged 9-13 years. Follow him on Twitter here.