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How to get from a cardboard box in a tiny Cardiganshire village to Waterstones Book of the month - in a week

The gothic The Shadow of Nanteos, published by Y Lolfa last year, soared to success in book awards and reviews in an exceptionally short amount of time. Here, author Jane Blank discusses her experience of her novel's success. 

My second novel  was launched at the Georgian mansion and hotel Plas Nanteos on the second of October 2015. The following week it had been picked by Waterstones to be their Wales November Book of the Month.

During that magical month I was invited to signings in bookshops all over Wales, asked to read in London and appeared on S4C. The novel was reviewed extensively in the press and featured several times on national radio.  The book had to go into a second print run after only two weeks.  Bookings from libraries, book groups, festivals and media interviews keep coming in and now stretch as far as October 2016.

Before publication the book was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society Awards 2015 – but I don’t feel shy about telling you this. It doesn’t even feel like boasting. It feels like a miracle: like something that needs to be shared with all the hard-working writers who, like me, have slogged for years, staring into a black hole.

Yes, it’s a good read, but that is not what has made this novel, rather than my first and rather than all the thousands of other small press or self-published gems, a success.

There are many elements that have come together to make the difference; some are a result of deliberate decisions by those involved with the production. The most important factors though are what I call ‘the goodness of fortune’. It is these that have made the most difference. Let me explain:

As I started writing the book, the beautiful Georgian mansion of Nanteos was a building site – now it is a Country House Hotel, visited by Prince Charles, with its own helicopter landing site. This was not my doing but has meant that I have the most wonderful companion marketing and perpetual sales outlet. I made sure to include the hotel name in my title. (My rule for writers: find a ‘hook’ for future sales). Wherever my book goes, the hotel is publicised: whoever visits the hotel (in person or online) is exposed to my book.

Personal circumstances led to the BBC’s Robert Peston being kind enough to read the manuscript. His strapline made a whole world of difference to how people regarded both the book and, to be honest, me.

It’s a genre novel: historical, romantic, gothic. We released it at the right time: before Halloween and in time to create some excitement going into the first Christmas.

Very importantly, I think, I approached a respected local press (Y Lolfa). The book, based as it is in a real location that can be visited and is, in itself, famous, has worked extremely well. People are buying the book as they’re interested in the locale – a market that can be expertly mined by a local press.

The house is notorious as one of the most haunted locations in Wales. I picked the real historical figure of Elizabeth Powell, the ‘Grey Lady’ of the mansion, as my heroine, thus harnessing an existing interest. Luck also brought huge coverage of the house when The Holy Grail/ Nanteos Cup was stolen and featured on Crimewatch. The Grail is important to my story and, though thankfully the relic has now been recovered, the publicity did me no harm at all.

Last of all, working as hard after the book’s publication as before it, is essential. I’ve said yes to every opportunity – from 10 ‘take no prisoners’ readers in a tin hut near Machynlleth to bookings at major literary festivals.  It hangs on a thread – but if the book is not just about you, if it can ride on other interests/ places /passions, it might just win through.

Look out for Jane Blank's tour dates on our website, Twitter, and Facebook, coming soon!