FOR EVERYONE WAITING for On Sacred Ground I have an announcement and a sincere apology to make: I’m pushing back the release date to October 1.
To be clear, I regret doing this. Many of you have told me how much you are looking forward to On Sacred Ground. Some of you – especially those who read The Earth Beneath My Feet last summer – have been patiently waiting a long time. I hate extending that wait.
I’ve struggled with this decision, but I’ll try to explain why I’ve made it. I hope you’ll understand.
(Before explaining, please note that I WILL have a small number of unproofed Advance Reader Copies available at a much earlier date. If you are interested in one of these, please send me a message and let me know.)
Both of my books have been a long time coming; over half of my lifetime, a ridiculous amount of time! To say that creating them has been a labour of love would be an understatement. I’ve invested heart and soul and thousands upon thousands of hours into these books. After so much effort I don’t want to rush the final steps. I want to get this critical last stage right. I owe it to myself and I owe it to the story.
For the last six weeks, production has been on hold. An opportunity arose to discuss my books with an extremely well-regarded publisher. The commissioning editor at this publisher loved them – told me that they, personally, were 100% behind both books being taken on. This was HUGE.
The problem with the independent publishing route that I took for The Earth Beneath My Feet is that many doors within the publishing world are systemically closed to me. Bookstores and libraries rarely stock indie books, mainstream media reviewers seldom respond when approached, and literary awards are more likely to favour books from established publishers, regardless of literary merit – or so I’ve been told by award insiders. (And who am I to doubt these inside revelations? A prestigious award based in Canada wouldn’t even let me know that they’d received my entry, despite frequent emails and voicemails asking them to confirm it. Evidence suggests that, to them, I simply wasn’t worth responding to.) The credibility bias against indie books is pervasive, even among many readers. It makes reaching even the tiniest fraction of a potential audience an uphill battle. If few people know a book exists few people will ever read it.
(Which is why every time a reader recommends my book, and every time it receives a review, it is PROFOUNDLY appreciated!)
Established mainstream publishers don’t just possess the credibility, connections and marketing budgets that indie publishers lack, they also have the means to produce better quality books. Being self-funded, the only realistic option available to me is print-on-demand print services, often with ‘variable’ results that are utterly beyond my control. I’ve always wanted to give my readers the very best quality books that I could in all aspects of them. It’s why I spent so many years fine-tuning the manuscript when publishing it years earlier would have been significantly easier. This desire to give readers ‘the best’ is at the heart of why I put production on hold these last six weeks. The opportunity to place my books with a publisher well-known for gorgeous production quality was too much of an opportunity to ignore. It was the preeminent draw for going mainstream.
With the commissioning editor 100% on board I felt cautiously optimistic. Being told that ‘everyone else is keen’ raised my pulse further. But then, unfortunately, a message came last week:
“I’m afraid I don’t have good news. We had a long discussion about your books today, after much research and preparation of material, and while everybody was agreed that they are superb books, unfortunately the commercial decision was that we can’t pursue them. It came down to the possible confusion and overlap of having two books covering the one journey (but I absolutely understand why you’ve done this) and partly our lack of confidence in our marketing of books like this. We are very good at marketing to our [niche outdoor] market but sometimes we fall down on trying to market books more widely to a more general adventure market and trade audience. And I think that your books should reach that wider market that Wild, A Walk in the Woods and Clear Waters Rising have reached. I have to say that it’s absolutely no reflection on the quality of your work and this is what makes these types of project so frustrating. We know that they are great books and they deserve to do well, but we know that we aren’t going to be the best fit for them as a publisher, as much as we want to be.”
As you might imagine, this was bitterly disappointing. I’d come so close. But life goes on. In the scheme of world events, this wasn’t something to cry over.
And to be honest, it wasn’t a total surprise. Since I first approached the established publishing world thirty years ago it’s become clear it’s a risk-adverse industry. (To be fair, perhaps it needs to be.) Over the years I’ve received many similar rejections. Publishers and agents have frequently told me that they really like my writing, but no one has wanted to take a risk on it. ‘Not quite the right fit for us.’ ‘We won’t do it justice.’ ‘You deserve a wider readership than we can get you.’ But this isn’t unusual. Professional gatekeepers on the lookout for commercially-viable books have rejected hundreds of books that ultimately proved to be commercial block busters. Look at how many times J. K. Rowling, Frank Herbert and numerous other now-famous authors were rejected. Not to mention the uncountable number of talented authors who never got their lucky break.
This was why I published independently in the first place.
My discussions with the publisher (who I won’t ever name, as a professional courtesy) meant I was now far behind my original schedule – a schedule that was already arguably too tight. An effective book launch needs a good build up – several months of publicity. Most mainstream reviewers won’t look at a book unless it’s received at least three months prior to release (if they even look at indie books at all) – and my original release date is now only two and a half months away. To make the timing even tighter, I’m not yet ready to send out copies for review. I still need time to finish the design, get samples printed, and have it professionally proofed. Plus, a brilliant award-winning author whom I greatly respect has offered to write an introduction for On Sacred Ground. This incredibly supportive and valuable offer will give the book an immense credibility boost, something clearly needed. But this author (who writes with a depth of insight that I aspire to) needs time to read my book and write the forward.
When I launched The Earth Beneath My Feet the launch was rushed and ineffective. In my excitement to get the book ‘out there’ I made a great many marketing mistakes. I’d prefer not to make those mistakes again! The odds are still stacked against reaching my full audience, but I have to try to unstack them as best I can. On Sacred Ground has been too many years in the making to fail through last minute impatience.
In a real sense, I’ve been working on this project for twenty-seven years. It began in 1995 when I decided to walk from Calabria to the North Cape. Originally, the journey was a relatively simple undertaking, but as the miles passed, as the experiences added up, and as the journey’s lessons sank ever-deeper, it became so much more. By the time I reached the North Cape the journey had become the pole around which my entire life revolved.
Even though the physical walk ended in October 1998 the real journey was only beginning. As time passed The Walk only grew in immediacy, meaning and value. Eventually, articulating everything that it was became a task I had to undertake. The writing ‘journey’ that followed was far harder than walking to the North Cape. I dread to think how many thousands of hours I slaved at the project attempting to make sure I got it right. Occasionally it even felt impossible; a project without an end. But I kept at it. I wanted to do The Walk justice. I needed to do it justice.
This, in essence, is why I’m delaying the launch now. After everything I’ve invested in The Earth Beneath My Feet and On Sacred Ground they aren’t just books to me. They are my life’s work, and they deserve the best chance I can give them. It’s clear to me now that I need extra time (and all the help I can get) to get the word out that they exist.
So, I hope you understand. I hope you’ll stick with me. I hope you know how much I value every single one of you for choosing to read my books.
And I hope you’ll appreciate that I truly am sorry for this delay… and will forgive me for it.