New Life for an Old Novel Thanks to e-books – Dear Sister by Judith Summers

Posted by Justine Solomons on 22 April 2013, in News

When Judith Summers got in touch to tell us about her story of the self-publishing an old novel we were intrigued. Here's what she told us:

Where do old novels go when they die? The answer used to be the remainder bin – or, in my case, the graveyard of the garden shed, where the few remaining hard copies of my first published novel, Dear Sister have now been decaying for a quarter of a century.

Published way back in 1985, Dear Sister is a saga of two sisters caught up in the dramatic events of the early twentieth century. Swept apart by an accident of fate on their way to America, they end up on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and are destined not to see each other for sixty years.  Originally published in the UK by Muller, Blond and White and Arrow, and in the USA by St Martin’s Press, the novel sold respectably by the standards of the time, but that probably amounted to no more than a few thousand copies in all.

Nine published books later, I presumed Dear Sister was beyond resurrection, until a friend persuaded me to self-publish it as an e-book.  All I had to do, he said, was upload it to Amazon and wait for the money to roll in.

But unless you’re tech- and internet- savvy, cutting out the middleman and going straight to the reader can be a daunting business. How to scan in a physical book that was written on a defunct BBC Acorn in a computer language that has long been extinct?  How to price it? Most perplexing of all, how to publicise it? Blogging, Twitter and Facebook are the obvious channels, but if, like me, you can’t cope with them, there’s nothing to stop your book from sinking into the electronic abyss.

Since I lacked the skill, the technology and, above all, the patience to scan the book myself, I ended up paying someone else to do it for me page by painful page. Then, using Amazon’s self-publishing tool, I posted it online. And, as my friend suggested, waited for the money to roll in.

Nothing happened.

After a few months of zero sales, I decided to enlist the help of an online self-publishing house, Acorn Independent Press. And last month they secured Dear  Sister a place in one of  Amazon’s monthly Kindle promotions.

Eureka! In the past fortnight sales have suddenly taken off.   Twenty-eight years after it was first published, Dear Sister is currently no.16 in the UK Kindle bestseller chart, and the No 1 bestseller in Historical Fiction – and no one is more amazed than I am.  Though it has yet to emulate the phenomenal success of Hilary Boyd’s tale of oldie love, Thursdays in the Park, I’ve clocked up around 4000 sales in the past few weeks –  that’s 4000 more than in the past quarter century, and probably more than the book originally sold.

The money I’ll earn from this will amount to a few thousand pounds, but the real thrill is knowing that Rosa and Esther, the characters I sweated blood to create when I was an aspiring young author, are no longer gathering dust between the pages of a few mildewed tomes, but are coming to life again on screen for a whole new generations of e-readers.

It’s almost enough to make me buy a Kindle myself.

You can buy Dear Sister here.

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