Adventures in ePublishing with The Patron Saint of Married Women

It wasn’t quite how I’d imagined it.

My first book launch, pressing a button and sending the manuscript into the ether, only to see it appear on a world-wide platform 12 hours later. When I was little, my vision of a book launch was a big party with lots of champagne and, as I reached my teens, preferably with Wham!, Spandau Ballet and Haircut 100 in attendance. But after years of near-misses, the Internet finally turned out to be my best option.

Over the years, I’ve been signed with three different agents, all lovely, as is my current one. We’ve battled together through novels, film and TV scripts and each time, just as we thought we’d cracked it, something happened and the deals dissolved. It’s been tough dealing with the rejection but, you know, there are tougher things and we survive.

So, after another round of: “We love it but it isn’t right for us” comments, my red-haired temper came to the fore and I decided enough was enough, I was going to embrace MODERN TECHNOLOGY and do this thing with the help of the website I use the most: Amazon.

Angel or demon? Purveyor of books that would otherwise never find a platform or destroyer of the independent retailer and the integrity of publishing. Hard to say really, I can argue it from both sides depending on my mood.

Mostly on Amazon though, I’ve discovered books I would never have found elsewhere. One particular nugget was Winifred Watson’s, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Simple, elegant and truly wonderful. Another was Rachel Ferguson’s, The Brontes went to Woolworths. Then there was Elizabeth Gaskell’s, Lois the Witch, unavailable in every bookshop I tried but delivered the following day from Amazon.

E L James is, I understand, a big fan too! After all, her trilogy has done quite well! It’s sales peaked in July 2012 when it sold 1.4million copies in one week.

1.4million copies!! One week!!

While I have no pretentions to those levels of sales figures, it shows that things are changing and if the publishing industry wants to avoid the pitfalls that befell the record industry when downloads became the popular choice of consumers, it needs to look at the speed with which electronic reading devices have swept the world this year.

I’ve always commuted and to while away the time I have always read. Whether these were slim paperbacks or weighty, hard-back tomes, I simply adjusted the size of my handbag to accommodate my literature. Then, finally, this year, even I, die-hard, luddite who is only truly happy when surrounded by shelves and shelves of books (preferably with that lovely, musty, leathery smell you get with old editions…) and who turns to books for happiness, companionship and to help me through hard times (I do leave the house occasionally) gave in and got a Kindle.

It felt like a betrayal, at first.

I had gone over to the dark side, but with over £16million worth of eBooks being sold in 2010 and the sales of consumer eBooks increasing 366% in 2011, according to the Publishers Association, I wasn’t the only one. Neither, looking around at my fellow commuters, was this merely statistical hyperbole. I would guess that 80% of people on the London commute have some kind of electronic device which they use for reading, playing games, watching TV, whatever, while they chug between stations.

Even Richard Mollison, chief executive of the Publishers Association admitted: “The story of [2011] is a decline in physical sales almost being compensated for by a strong performance in digital.”

Although he countered it with: “That said, physical books remain the format of choice for the vast majority of British readers, underlining the continued importance of a strong high street sector.”

Something with which, I agree. Despite my defection to the electronic side, publishers actually do rather well out of me as I often buy books in both formats. Hilary Mantel’s, Bring Up The Bodies, was a book I had been eagerly awaiting. I’d enjoyed Wolf Hall and I wanted to own them both. However, rushing out to buy it on the day of release all that was available was a hefty, hard-back edition, so for commuting, I downloaded the Kindle version – cher-ching to the publisher – two copies sold to the lady in the front train carriage.

The same applied to J K Rowling’s, The Casual Vacancy, not to mention all the Harry Potter’s once they were available to download. Kate Mosse’s, Citadel, is another one I’m pondering owning in two formats and, just to add to my eclectic Kindle collection, I also bought, on Kindle, an entire series of Enid Blyton books – The Island, Castle, Valley, Sea, Mountain, Ship, Circus and River of Adventure – which I’ve owned in paperback since I was a child. I suddenly felt the urge to re-read them (there is a reason, I haven’t taken complete leave of my senses just yet, although I might download the Malory Towers series next, especially In the Fifth at Malory Towers, which was my favourite, where main character Darrell Rivers wrote a play… I digress) and having e-copies preserved my crumbling, well-thumbed, childhood paperbacks.

So, despite my disloyal step away from musty books to slick downloads, I realised owning a Kindle didn’t mean I’d never buy another physical book again and that there were definite advantages to the download. When Ben Aaronvitch’s new Peter Grant book, Whispers Underground, was released earlier this year, I downloaded it immediately and had finished it on Kindle before the copy I’d ordered from Amazon arrived. Before going on holiday recently I didn’t have time to do my usual three-hour browse around a bookshop so instead I downloaded Jeanette Winterson’s, The Daylight Gate, and Alison Weir’s, Innocent Traitor, about an hour before I left.

Which is why, after my agent and I had exhausted the few places to sell physical manuscripts and having had no obvious reasons why (apart from budgetary restrictions) no one was buying, I decided to bite the bullet.

Who knows where this will lead?

Maybe nowhere much, but I think I may have sold a few copies, and not all to my mum. At least my book is out there, even if I did have to forego my night of champagne and fun with Eighties popstars.

Although if any of Wham!, Spandau Ballet or Haircut 100 are available for a small launch party, I’m easily persuaded…

● If you’d like to buy my book, The Patron Saint of Married Women, it’s available for download now on Amazon.co.uk or go to my homepage and click on Buy It Here.