Written by A Guest Author April 28th, 2022

Case Study: How I Published My Debut Book – Into the Dragon’s Lair: A Supernatural History of Wales

By Chris Saunders

I’ll always remember the expression on the teacher’s face when I told him I wanted to be a writer. It was a look of amusement and mild shock, with maybe a touch of sympathy. Years later, it dawned on me that he probably thought I was being sarcastic. I wasn’t. I was deadly serious. Being a writer is the only thing I ever wanted to do, but people from the economically deprived valleys of south Wales don’t usually write for a living.

Admittedly, I wasn’t the best pupil in the world. Like many others, I felt I just didn’t fit into the neat little box the education system wanted to put me in. As a result, I left school at 16 with no qualifications and went to work at a local factory. It was hard, physical work with minimal career prospects, and it didn’t take long to work out I didn’t want to do it forever.

I decided to channel my frustration into making good on my long-held dream of becoming a writer. The problem was, I lacked all the necessary skills. I wasn’t computer savvy, I couldn’t even type, and I had no concept of the business side of writing. But I wasn’t going to let little things like that deter me, and set about researching and writing what would eventually become my first book. I chose a topic, Welsh history and folklore, that I was already passionate about, and saw the project primarily as a learning exercise.

Having only a limited amount of free time in which to work on it each day actually helped me. I devised a routine whereby I would write religiously for an hour a night, and time management became critical. I would spend most of the day at work stringing words together in my head and making notes when my supervisor wasn’t looking. By the time I could actually sit down and write I knew exactly what I wanted to say.

It was a slow process. But even slow progress is progress. There was a lot of research involved, which usually meant trips to various museums and libraries as a lot of the information I sought wasn’t digitized.

Time went by, and eight years later, I was in a position to approach publishers. The first thing I did was use the latest edition of The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook to compile a list of twenty or so traditional publishers with a proven track record in my genre. Naturally, I put the larger, better-established publishers at the top of the list and submitted to them first, then waited a few weeks before moving on to the next. I tailored and personalized each proposal, and made sure to mention it was a simultaneous submission. If this was a deal-breaker, so be it. I, like most people, couldn’t afford to wait around for six months or more while someone somewhere took their time making a decision. In today’s climate, I find publishers are generally much more flexible and understanding in this respect.

Predictably, the first few publishers I approached weren’t remotely interested in my book. Some offered constructive feedback, most didn’t. A few didn’t even reply. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but as I worked my way down the list my hopes began to fade.

Then, at around the midway point, I contacted a small press called Gwasg Carreg Gwalch. The name, derived from a local landmark called Carreg-y-gwalch (meaning ‘Falcon Rock’) doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but a little research told me they could be a great match for my book. They had good distribution links both online and in bricks-and-mortar book shops, with a large slice of their business coming from the tourist trade. I signed my first publishing contract, and soon after, Into the Dragon’s Lair: A Supernatural History of Wales became a minor hit.

I can’t explain the euphoria of finally seeing eight years’ work in print and the sense of pride that comes with it. Additionally, the book opened more doors than I ever thought possible. It was instrumental in winning me a bursary that enabled me to study for a degree in journalism which became the cornerstone of my career. I am living proof that if you work hard enough, your dreams really can come true.

I only wish that teacher of mine was around to see it!

Bio: Chris Saunders has written over a dozen books and currently writes for a special interest magazine in the UK. Find out more here: https://cmsaunders.wordpress.com/




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