FROM YOUR EDITOR Happenstance or strategic planning?

Words & Pictures Editor Claire Watts considers taking a different approach to marketing.

Marketing books is hard. I know this because I have self-published. I have discovered that, while writing books can feel everything between an all-consuming slog and a magical channelling of story  from some mysterious other place, marketing books when you have no idea how to do it and you’re actually rather shy and retiring is very nearly impossible.

So this week I was struck by a couple of things that made me wonder if perhaps I was going about the whole business the wrong way. First, I read in The Bookseller  that, as part of a new partnership with Imperial War Museums (IWM), Penguin Random House are to republish books showing the impact of World War I on British children’s lives by Noel Streatfeild, John Boyne and Theresa Breslin.

Lucky them, I thought. Having your book linked to a historical theme like this can do wonders for sales. I don’t believe there is a primary school in Britain that doesn’t have a class set of Carrie’s War for when they study World War II.

Secondly, I came across this Twitter thread from Sally Nicholls about the success of her suffragette novel Things a Bright Girl Can Do.

Sally says that the timing of the book, in this year of the hundredth anniversary of (partial) suffrage for women and when books about women achievers are so prominent in our bookshops, is pure happenstance as far as she is concerned and very good marketing on the part of her publisher.

What I am thinking is this: maybe it’s not such a bad idea to pursue a saleable idea rather than the idea that you fall in love with. Schools will always want books that link to bits of history they cover; museums and historical sites will stock books that relate to their content; publishers are attracted to books that link to big anniversaries (as long as they are submitted to them in time). I know this isn’t news to you. The point of creating a book is to find an audience. But maybe, instead of finishing a book and then spending hours pondering over the part of your submission letter that says, “I think this book will appeal to…”, you – like me – need to give a bit more thought to how what you are creating will capture its potential audience at the planning stage.

But don’t forget – you need to love it too…

A few anniversaries coming in the next few years

It's always the anniversary of something. Have a look. Something may inspire you!

100 years since the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb
100 years since the first publication of Richmal Compton's Just William stories in book form
200 years since the translation of the Rosetta Stone
200 years since Charles Babbage published a proposal for his 'Difference Engine'
200 years since Gideon and Mary Mantell discovered and identified the dinosaur tooth which led to the scientific study of dinosaurs.

100 years since the first round-the-world flight
200 years since Charles Macintosh patented his waterproof fabric

Claire Watts is Editor of Words & Pictures. You can contact her at


  1. Well if you can find an idea you love that could be helped by the energy of some big histoptical milestone, then you're on your way! But I'm sure there are other forces at play. Sally Nichols book for example is one of many that were published on the theme of women's rights this year. Why is it doing so well? Perhaps Sally underestimates what a damn fine writer she is.

  2. Interesting! Everyone always tells you not to "write for the market" —but most of us want to make (at least some!) money on our writing. Why not find some anniversary that appeals to you and time it right? This is what freelancers do with articles all the time. So why not books?

    In the US, there isn't one set curriculum for all schools—it varies by state and sometimes within districts. So it's harder to be sure your story will be relevant for schools.


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