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Twenty years to become a bestseller

19 November 2012

 After twenty years of rejection, Hilary Boyd certainly didn't expect to achieve phenomenal success with Thursdays in the Park. A 62 year-old grandmother, she was very much more used to failure. 'Fiction was always my dream, but at 60 I had lost heart - despite being repeatedly told about Mary Wesley' (the splendid British author who published her first novel at 70 and went on to have a very successful career as a novelist).

Boyd's book, published modestly by Quercus last year, made very little impression until it came out as an ebook, when it suddenly seemed to find its market. It shot up to No 1 in the UK ebook bestseller lists and stayed there. In some ways you can see why, as the definition of a bestseller is that it sells very well, but the point, as Fifty Shades of Grey has shown, is that, if you get enough people talking about it, a book will sell very well and when it does it will sell even more because it is defined as a bestseller, and people are curious about bestsellers by unknown authors or in unexpected categories.

This is the famous 'word of mouth' which so mystifies publishers, even though personal recommendation has always been a very powerful tool, which publishers long for, but cannot bring about through their own marketing efforts.

Perhaps it's that older readership, which may be particularly influenced by word of mouth. But whoever expected them to be flocking to buy an ebook? Weren't they snugly pigeon-holed as silver surfers, who naturally preferred the traditional print editions of books? Well no, not really, because everyone knows that statistically women of this age are big readers and many have more time now with a comfortable retirement just starting. And big readers do take to ebooks, which are cheaper and easy to consume on a reader, so many find them perfect for a heavy fiction habit.

The author herself puts her success down to subject-matter: 'Old people falling in love and having passionate relationships is not a story that's had much exposure before, but I'm in no doubt the market's out there.'

It is interesting how the ebook and self-publishing revolutions have shown that you can build bestselling writing careers in different ways now. Everything is more open and there really are more opportunities for writers to get more directly to readers, without, or perhaps in spite of, publishers.