Welsh author Jane Blank reveals how she found success with her second novel.
My second novel, The Shadow of Nanteos was launched at the Georgian mansion and hotel, Nanteos, on the 2nd of October 2015. Within a week, it had been picked by Waterstones to be their Welsh Book of the Month for November.
A magical month followed.
I was invited to signings in bookshops all over Wales, invited to read in London, appeared on Welsh television channel S4C and the novel was reviewed and featured several times on national radio. The book was reprinted after only two weeks. Bookings ranging from libraries, book groups, festivals and media interviews keep coming in and now stretch as far as October 2016.
Before publication, it had been long-listed for the Historical Novel Society Awards 2015. This doesn’t even feel like boasting. It feels like a miracle; like something that needs to be shared with all the hard-working writers who, like me, have slogged for years, looking into a black hole.
The book is a good read – especially for this time of year. But this is not what has made this novel, rather than my first and all the thousands of other small press or self-published gems, a success.
There are a whole range of factors that have come together to make the difference. Some are a result of deliberate decisions by those involved with the production but the most important factors though are what I call ‘the goodness of fortune’. It is these that have made the most difference.
Let me explain…
As I began writing the book, the beautiful Georgian mansion of Nanteos was a building site. Now it is a Country House Hotel visited by Prince Charles with its own helicopter landing site. This was not, of course, my doing but has meant that I have the most wonderful companion marketing and perpetual sales outlet. I made sure to include the hotel name in my title. My rule for writers is find a ‘hook’ for future sales. Where ever my book goes, the hotel is publicised. Whoever visits the hotel, in person or online, is exposed to my book.
Personal circumstances led to the BBC’s Robert Peston being kind enough to read the manuscript. His strapline, which hailed my novel as ‘a wonderfully gothic description of Wild Wales’, made a whole world of difference to how people regarded myself and the book.
It is a genre novel – historical, romantic, and gothic. It was published at exactly the right time before Halloween and with time to create some excitement going into Christmas.
But, and perhaps most importantly, I approached a respected local press – Y Lolfa. The book, based as it is in a real location that can be visited and is itself famous has worked extremely well. People are buying the book because they are interested in the locale – a market that can be expertly mined by a local press.
The house is notorious as one of the most haunted locations in Wales. I picked the real historical figure of Elizabeth Powell, the ‘Grey Lady’ of the mansion, as my heroine, thus harnessing an existing interest. Luck also brought huge coverage of the house when The Holy Grail / Nanteos Cup was stolen and featured on Crimewatch. The Grail is important to my story and, though thankfully the relic has now been recovered, the publicity did me no harm at all.
Last of all, working as hard after the book’s publication than before it is essential. I’ve said yes to every opportunity – from ten ‘take no prisoners’ readers in a tin hut near Machynlleth to bookings at major literary festivals. It hangs on a thread – but if the book is not just about you and if it can ride on other interests, places, passions, it might just win through.
Jane Blank’s The Shadow of Nanteos is available from Y Lolfa (£8.99)