This is a post about a publishing miracle. Not the sort that starts with a million pound advance, a big name and a huge PR campaign. The other sort, the sort that involves a wonderful book.

In this case, it involves a book called The Hare With Amber Eyes.

About six months ago, I asked my agent, Catherine Clarke, the usual question: “What have you read lately that’s memorable?”

Without missing a beat, she started extolling the virtues of Edmund de Waal’s memoir of his art-collecting Jewish family and how a priceless collection of netsuke was saved from the Nazis.

According to Catherine, Felicity Bryan (de Waal’s agent) could barely unload the manuscript of The Hare (too niche, not remotely commercial). Once published (for a very small advance), it was printed in the tiny numbers typical of a book no one expected to sell.

A few weeks later, I was in my favourite local independent bookshop, Clerkenwell Tales, and there it was, prominently displayed. I bought a copy, and Peter Ho (proprietor) told me that the indie circuit had started buzzing about the book almost immediately. One bookseller read it, phoned another, and soon, that magical publishing imponderable, word of mouth, had turned a non-player into 50,000 hardback sales.

In the meantime, it’s been shortlisted for the Costa prize, has appeared on numerous Best Of 2010 lists, and is currently at number 371 on Amazon USA, and 55 on Amazon UK (sorry to mix my bookshop metaphors, but Amazon ranking is always a good indicator of how well a book is selling), making the story of the book’s success almost as good as the story of de Waal’s hare.

I haven’t read it yet, but it’s coming on the plane with me to America and I haven’t looked forward to a book so much in ages.

So let’s give a great big Christmas cheer for publishing imponderables, for Felicity Bryan (for having the best instincts in the business), and for those surprise bestsellers that continue to make fools of us all.


9 thoughts on “The Tortoise and The Hare

  1. bookwitch 8 years ago

    Wonderful! And then someone will want to find the 2011 version of it, without understanding it doesn’t work that way. Just think of the Eats Shoots and Leaves clones the year after.

    1. Meg 8 years ago

      And do they ever learn?

  2. Teri Terry 8 years ago

    Any book with a bunny in it: I’m instantly a fan. And it is available on Kindle, too

    1. Meg 8 years ago

      Not sure hares count as bunnies. I was on a train going up to Yorkshire yesterday and passed a big empty snow-covered field, completely bare except for two huge hares, half-standing. They looked as big as dogs!

  3. jackie morris 8 years ago

    I found it in Jaffe and Neale in Chipping Norton. It sat on the shelf looking heavy and blue and beautiful just wanting to be picked up and held. I am a sucker for hares, for books and I love the small carvings.
    I started reading and it was lovely but then had to put it aside for other things, so maybe I will pick up again, and soon.
    I am glad that books like this get published, glad that independent book sellers talk to each other and pass on what is good.

  4. Lesley Martin 8 years ago

    This sounds like a good Christmas present for my daughter who got interested in netsuke when doing GCSE art and is now learning Japanese!
    Lucky Meg to see the hares – I saw one on a country road once and mistook it for a muntjac deer, they are much larger than you might think.

    1. Meg 8 years ago

      I know, wasn’t I lucky! I thought maybe I was hallucinating. And then on the train back, looked out for the same field in case they’d been sculptures or something. But no, no hares. Angels of the South….

  5. kokorako 8 years ago

    Such a positive story – and here’s a hunch that “When God Was a Rabbit” will do the same for Sarah Winman. Clearly long ear titles are key to literary glory… never mind the writing! Could it be anything to do with the lingering effect of Watership Down or The Magic Roundabout on a generation of grown up readers? Enjoy your trip.

    1. Meg 8 years ago

      Doesn’t work for me. Editor told me any title with Bride in it sells like mad. Except mine, that is….

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