I can feel it coming in the air tonight, Oh Lord,
I've been waiting for this moment all my life, Oh Lord,
Can you feel it coming in the air tonight?
Indulge me the 1980s moment! I'm a tad excited. When you've worked in publishing as long as I have, you know that a genuine word of mouth is as rare as hen's teeth. The last time I remember being taken by surprise by a book phenomenon was back in the 1990s. Back then, my job in children's publishing still left my peers and friends smiling indulgently. Ah, bless. To read a children's novel on the tube (as all children's editors and writers surely do) left one feeling embarrassed. Then, the Harry Potter phenomenon started and the landscape of children's publishing changed for ever. Adults in suits sat on the tubes, proudly displaying the cover of their Harry Potter novels as the world devoured these books.
My first clue that something special was happening was when an old school friend, male and (at that time) single and child-free asked me:
'What's all this about the boy in the glasses with the scar on his forehead?'
'Harry Potter?' I asked.
'That's the one!'
I was shocked and impressed in equal measure. And it's happening again now. I'm watching my second phenomenon, but the landscape has changed again. No one's asking me about this book. No one needs to. It's there for all interested parties to see on Facebook: the slow, excited reveal of reviews, a reprint, the publisher's own Facebook page, a meeting this week with Rights People and, most recently, a splendid review in The Guardian and a place in The Times' review of children's books of the year.
I'm talking about Gillian Philip's Firebrand, published three months ago and already onto a reprint. If you're one of the lucky ones, you'll have a rare first edition. I haven't read this novel yet, but a pristine copy is sat on my desk waiting for its turn once I've finished Keren David's Almost True. (A whole other, yummy blog post right there!)
So why should I care that a children's author in Scotland is enjoying fabulous success? Because the Internet made me. I first came across Gillian Philip when I learned that we both contribute to the shared blog, An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Gillian's posts leapt out at me, making me laugh. So I asked to become her Facebook friend and discovered that the early signs rang true - Gillian is funny, down-to-earth, honest and supportive to the community of children's writers that use Facebook. Only this week, Gillian shared a great blog post about the joys of Facebook.
I just missed meeting Gillian face-to-face this week when we were both in the same building but each oblivious to the near presence of a Facebook friend. Doh! If it hadn't been for blogs and social networking sites, I wouldn't have known or cared. I'd have inhabited a smaller, more selfish world. As it is, I hope we will have coffee one day and I am truly delighted to see that Gillian is one of those writers we all dream of being: The Not Overnight Success.
What is most interesting for me is the timing of this success. It's been a really odd, wobbly couple of years in the publishing community, thanks to a recession and the rise of ebooks. In this week's The Bookseller, there's an interesting article about our first truly electronic Christmas. Will Firebrand become an ebook? Who knows. But for any authors out there who still think that Twitter, blogs and Facebook are a waste of time - scroll down to the penultimate paragraph of this article and read carefully.
The world's changing, but not so much that something special and old-fashioned can't still happen. The word of mouth success. And it's happening to someone I (almost!) know.
Firebrand is published by Strident Publishing.