A Bridge of Straw: A really excellent first novel.

Will the next classic novel be self published?

My novel was self published using the services of Silverwood Books. They gave the book a copy edit,professional design (based on an image I provided), and sorted the legals.

Being a Silverwood author means I get to meet some interesting people. One chap was a publisher of ebooks (we’ll call him Carlos, he might not appreciate me using his real name), and we had a very interesting chat about the state of publishing.

You see, Carlos loves to read the classics, and in particular Russian authors. Dostoyevsky, Nabakov, Tolstoy, and so on. He was forced to read their books as an English Literature student and found them very hard going. Slowly but surely they grew on him, and now they are his reading material of choice.

I asked Carlos if the Russian authors would be published today. Without hesitation he answered “No. Not a chance.” They are too lengthy, too intense, and take too long to draw the reader in, he explained. They would not sell, so they would not get published. But he loves reading them.

When Norah Jones released her album Come Away With Me in 2002 she was unknown and the album, with its laid back feel and jazz inflection, was not considered to be commercial. Instead it sold by the bucketload and was the dinner party album of the year (that’s not meant as an insult, just one reason why it sold so well – it remains a great album).

The result? For the next 5 years or so, record labels were on the lookout for the ‘next Norah Jones’. Pity the young female solo artist trying to break through during that period.

There are many other examples of those that sell product taking the easy option. The success from nowhere of the Dragon Tattoo books, for one. It’s calmed down now, but for a while there the Foyles ‘3 for 2’ section was filled with dark covers featuring a scared woman and a Scandiavian author’s name.

Books are written for two reasons. Firstly, to sell. Secondly, because the author had no choice but to write it, to wrench the story and the characters from their very soul. A venn diagram of these two types of books could very well end up as two circles on a page.

Of course, there are many ‘worthy’ books that sell well. But is has been said that the death knell of any book club is when someone first suggests they read ‘the classics’.

Any submission to an agent or publisher requires the first 5,000 words or the first chapter. There are so many books published these days that a new one has to capture the attention quickly. A book that slowly draws you in through deep character development my take more time to capture the imagination. Agents want to check the writing style, but also how quickly the book gets to a point. Prologues are frowned upon (whoops!). Hence Carlos’s response that the Russian authors simply would not get published today.

This is not the fault of any one group of people, of course. It is a function of the market. But the fact that Carlos was at the Silverwood event may hint at a solution. Maybe the classics of the future are going to come from the world of self-publishing. There are no restrictions, no ‘writing for the market’. Maybe the next Lolita or War And Peace will be a self published novel that did not have to have to worry about finding an audience.

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4 entries in the Will the next classic novel be self published?

  1. Elaine

    I’m so happy to read this. Yes! Yes! And why not? There remains a stigma attached to indie publishing that does not exist in the other arts (art, film, music) and for the life of me I can’t fathom why. I too am a SilverWood author and very happy to be so. Indie is not vanity, it is hard work and dedication. Let readers lead the way. After all, we write for them.

  2. Maggie Alderson

    I so so agree with this. I read classic books now and I can see exactly the bits the publisher would tell them to cut – ‘Leo, can we lose the character of Pierre? he’s just not moving the story along enough.’
    Wuthering Heights would never be published now. Jane Austen would be given a pink cover and marketed as chick lit… Also as in those days, it’s increasingly the case that you will only be able to be a novelist if you have a private income. The 20th century was a golden age for writers…

  3. Debbie Young

    Terrific post, Chris, well done. I hope it’s ok that I’ve added a link to this post from the Alliance of Independent Authors’ blog of self-publishing advice, of which I’m editor – I’m sure it’ll inspire many members there too.

  4. Dave Murray


    And maybe it will first be sold through an independent bookshop. I was at a conference this week and Tim West from The Big Green Bookshop was one of the speakers – perhaps you should send him your book!


With the winter days approaching this is a perfect excuse to light a fire, open a bottle of wine and not move. It has the addictive ‘just another chapter’ until you reach a stage when you absolutely need to know the ending. I tried to work out the twist, and if I had been right with any of my ideas it would have been disappointing in retrospect. This ending was very clever. A day later and I’m still mulling it over in my mind, that is the sign of a good book.

Suzy Boys

A Bridge of Straw: Buy now on amazon.co.uk

Also available via The Book Depository