Traditional Publishing

How I found a publisher - An interview with author, Brian Withecombe – Saturday November 24, 2007

Brian Withecombe recently acquired a publisher using's database of publishers. We asked him about his writing, and how he found success.

fw: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Brian. Tell us a little about the book you recently placed with a publisher.

BW: The book is called The Seagull and LeCorsair, and is set in 1795/6. It is the first in the series of "Courtenay" novels and is a "Hornblower" type book about a Royal Navy sloop-of-war hunting for pirates and privateers in the Caribbean, and in particular for a mysterious and particularly violent pirate called LeCorsair.

fw: What gave you the inspiration for the book?

BW: I have always been a Hornblower fan, and then I found the Douglas Reeman books, writing as Alexander Kent about the Bolitho family. There was also Dudley Pope but I suppose most of my inspiration comes from the Alexander Kent novels. As to ideas, I have the wonderful works of James on the Royal Navy during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars to fall back on, but I just use my imagination for the rest!

fw: How did you get started with the storyline?

BW: I just had the idea to write a book of that genre, and I have to say I did not really plan it in any detail. I thought up the storyline as I went along. I wrote the book some time ago now so I can’t remember how long it took to write but I suppose I produced the first draft in about 3 months or so. There have been a number of re-writes since then.

fw: Is this your first foray into the world of publishing?

BW: No, I had written a number of books before Seagull. One was published, unfortunately by a vanity publisher when I knew nothing about that side of things. It was called Fabric Dope…and Revenge and was set in WWI. It was the story of a half-English, half-German RFC pilot who was out to kill his German cousins for raping his sister before the War. I persuaded Waterstones in our town to take it and they sold 14 copies, 4 going in one morning, which they were quite pleased about! Then, after Seagull, I was asked by my former agent to do a children's book for the Trafalgar celebrations. It is called Trafalgar…and before, but the Publisher went bust before many got sold! This told the story of some of the important sea-battles which led up to Trafalgar. Many people know of that fight but what about the Nile or Copenhagen or Camperdown or St Vincent?

fw: How important do you think that track record was to you in securing your current publisher?

BW: I honestly doubt it helps to be previously published. I know someone who is regularly published in magazines but regrettably it hasn’t secured him a publishing deal at the moment, although he has had some books published in the past. I think a publisher will only take on a book if they like it and think it is a good commercial proposition, not because the author may have had something published before. There is an exception of course. It seems to me that there are plenty of publishers out there who will publish whatever you write if you are famous (or infamous)!

fw: What were the first steps you took to try and get your book into print?

BW: I tried the usual routes. Writing to publishers and agents, and for the most part with the latter, getting no replies at all to even an enquiry. I have tried the Writers’ Year Book, and then I joined and tried many of the publishers listed there as well. Most of them replied, but most of them said it was not for them... some without even seeing any part of the MS! To be frank, I find most literary agents incredibly rude, and I really think sometimes they do not understand what they are actually looking for to try and sell. I did use to have an agent, but he let me down very badly. Then I found another one, and he did just the same. They both said they were sending lots of submissions when in fact they had done no such thing.

fw: What did you find was the best way to look for potential publishers?

BW: As I have said above, the Writers Year Book is a good start, but in my view is even better because there is the feedback system as well. It is a very good system, and extremely helpful as a whole.

fw: How did you go about approaching the publishers you found?

BW: Generally I make sure that publishers do publish the type of book I have written, then I send an enquiry first to see if they might be interested and it goes from there. I no longer send the first three chapters and synopsis.

fw: How long did you spend trying to place your work before you succeeded?

BW: Some time, believe me! I actually wrote the first version of Seagull some years ago when I was with my first agent. He was a film man primarily and I think he spent more time trying to get it made into a film than trying to sell the book. The one good thing he did do for me was to teach me how to write a screenplay. There are five completed books in the series at the moment, and three screenplays to go with them. Hopefully one day… I have lost count of the publishers I have approached.

fw: How did you keep going through all the rejections?

BW: Like most aspiring authors, I received many, many rejections. You just chalk it up to experience. I think in the end you expect them, and if there is even the shadow of an acceptance it is a pleasant surprise. Most rejections were polite and some were very nice. One big publisher only turned me down because they were about to embark on a similar period piece. Another liked the book, but felt the characters were not deep enough, although another said the characters were fine! It only just goes to show that one man’s meat etc.

fw: Which publisher will be bringing your book to market?

BW: Best Global Publishing, which is part of Chipmunkapublishing. It may be that Chipmunkapublishing will publish one of my novels as well, but I have to do some re-writes first. Best Global are publishing the first two of the series of British naval historical fiction books I have written.

fw: Chipmunkapublishing describe themselves as a social enterprise set up to work with charities and the government to help people with mental illness, but they do also provide a printing service. Have you been asked to pay anything towards the cost of publishing your book?

BW: There has not so far been any suggestion to me that Chipmunkapublishing charge. As far as Best Global is concerned, there is no payment due in respect of anything. You get your royalties, but there is no advance payment.

fw: When will the book be released?

BW: The book will be released as an e-book first, followed by paperback in 2008.

fw: Do you have any advice for other writers trying to get published?

BW: Yes, keep trying but be prepared to accept that publishing is a funny old industry (and film-making is even worse!).

fw: And what are you concentrating on now?

BW: The publishers have an option on the second in the series and that will be with them next week. As I said above, I have written the next three in the series on top of that, and the sixth book is nearing completion in first draft. I also have another book finished about the First World War and their other imprint is going to consider that one. At the moment I am busy on re-writes, but I am into the "Courtenay" books of course and I am also doing research for the seventh one. Hopefully, depending upon what the first two do, the publishers may be interested in the rest. So, readers and aspiring authors out there, go and buy The Seagull and LeCorsair!

fw: Thank you for your time, Brian, and best of luck with all your works!

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