Salvation Turns 1!

A Year in the Life of a New Novel

My second novel, Salvation, turns 1 today!

I’m often asked, “how’s the book doing?” I understand the question, but it’s a hard one to answer, and even if I do figure out how to answer it, my response will never be complete or representative.

So, instead, I lapse into classic British male behaviour, say “Pretty good”, and then talk vaguely about some book-related thoughts before changing the subject. 

Until now.

This is the first of a regular series of Blogs that aim to answer the question “How’s the book doing?” more holistically. 

The blogs will cover topics such as:

  • What is it like to write a novel and how do you do it? 
  • How do you get published and what does it involve?
  • How do you get people to read your novels?
  • Book events, creative writing workshops and book clubs
  • How Novel #3 is progressing
  • How I’ve managed to master the art of balancing a young family, a busy job, and writing novels with such admirable serenity.

The last topic will be an extremely short blog (synopsis: I haven’t). I reckon I can give insightful, imperfect, and personal viewpoints on the rest...

For this first blog, I’m going to reflect on Salvation’s first year.

I’ll play coy about my ambitions for Salvation, but it’s important to share a few things. Firstly, I wanted the novel to look great (to attract readers), be enjoyed by those who read it (to encourage strong word-of mouth) and to reach an audience who have never heard of me before.

So far, I’d score myself 1½ out of 3. 

First, the full point: the look of the book has received unanimous praise. The cover and typeface were the result of a collaborative approach with my excellent publisher, Troubador. I had a clear idea of how I wanted it to look and Troubador listened, built on my idea, and exceeded my expectations.

Second, those who have read Salvation have enjoyed it. On Goodreads, it is currently rated 4.07 out of 5. For comparison purposes, the UK Top 10 Fiction books have an average Goodreads rating of 3.97. It’s also rated 4.6 out of 5 on Amazon. Essentially, if someone reads Salvation, there’s a good chance they’ll enjoy it. That’s a great confidence builder and it fends off Imposter Syndrome: the book holds its own. It belongs on the bookshelves.

So, why am I only giving myself half a point here?

In short, because while reviews and feedback have been strong, they haven’t necessarily translated into strong word-of-mouth.

I’m not a high-profile author. There aren’t many reasons for customers to look at a bookshelf in a bookstore, see my novel nestled between legendary titles written by Cormac McCarthy and Hilary Mantel, and think “I’ll spend £9 on a book by this McNair guy that I’ve never heard of!” Instead, it stands to reason that my initial readers are going to be people who know me. 

A word on that: people are really supportive when they hear that I’ve written two novels. They’re usually impressed and talk about the fact that they either could never write a novel or have been meaning to write one for ages. But—in the same way that I’m impressed when I hear that a friend is running the London Marathon but may not take the next step of sponsoring them—supportive intent doesn’t necessarily equate to sales. There are far more people who wish me well with my writing than buy a copy of the book. Similarly, there are more people who have read Salvation than have subsequently given it an online review. And, in the first few months after its release, if I knew someone who had read but hadn’t let me know what they thought of it, then self-doubt would give me a little shoulder tap.

There’s no judgment in any of this. Every word of encouragement, every reader, and every review is valuable. It’s just that, when you’re trying to break beyond your extended circle of friends to get your novel read by people who have never heard of you, word-of-mouth is essential currency. Without it, the book won’t have the second, third and fourth lives that I want for it.

Hence, half a point for strong word-of-mouth getting me out to new readers. 

None of this should sound disheartening, by the way. Troubador Publishing were clear with me that there is a long game to be played here, and just because attracting new readers is hard, that doesn’t mean it isn’t rewarding and enjoyable.

For example, I recently held a promotional event at the beautiful Grove Bookshop in Ilkley. The audience was a mix of familiar and unfamiliar faces, and it was a great night. I spoke about my experience of writing; the book itself; involved the attendees by having them take part in an interactive session; and rounded it off with some thought-provoking questions in a Q&A.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to return to my old high school and deliver a day of Creative Writing workshops to students aged 15-17. The standard of their writing was impressive, especially their opening lines! I neither read nor wrote for pleasure at school, so I was delighted to tell them that they’re already ahead of where I was at their age. 

It is hard to beat the thrill of seeing my book on the shelves of bookshops. Some local independent bookshops were tremendously supportive. If anything could beat that feeling, it was when my then 5-year-old daughter visited a local bookshop, spotted my novel—which she had seen knocking around our house without thinking much about it—and gleefully picked it up and posed for a photo. 

I was invited to a Book Club in Manchester to discuss Salvation, which they had chosen as their book for that month and got more constructive feedback in three hours than I would otherwise have received in six months.

I appeared in the local newspaper of the town I grew up in for the first time since I won the local tennis tournament in 1994! I’m happy to write a lengthy blog on that landmark day for British tennis at a later date …

Great experiences that I would otherwise never have had.

The disappointments are very few, but they stay with me. Despite knowing it was a likely outcome, for neither Waterstones nor WHSmith to stock the book in stores (you can order it online)—or even reply to the request—was a blow. Less predictable, and therefore more of a letdown, was when several local bookstores (either here in West Yorkshire or back where I grew up) similarly didn’t engage or stock the book.

The one that particularly stung was when Leeds Libraries told me that they wouldn’t stock the book because it wasn’t published by their contracted suppliers. Having spent a lot of my 20s and 30s using libraries as a gateway to explore new authors—particularly Leeds Libraries—that was a real shame.

Minor grumbles. Salvation’s first year has been a positive one. I’m grateful to everyone who has supported me in any way, and for the unique experiences it has brought. If you’re thinking of buying, reading, or reviewing Salvation, please do. And let me know what you think of it. In the meantime, I’ll keep doing anything I can to make sure it does enjoy a second, third and fourth life. And I’ll produce more blogs. And I’ll keep writing Novel #3. And I’ll keep going to bed well after midnight, having scribbled and typed for far longer than I meant to, and having loved every minute of it.