The power of small networks: how As We Were went from an online passion project to a print success

By   Hannah Bickerton 4 min read

whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books

The challenge

In recent years, a new model of publishing has emerged which flips the traditional model on its head. By this new method, an author can secure early pre-sales by establishing a base of eager customers in order to fund the book’s publication. Many publications have been funded this way through non-traditional publishers such as Unbound, who use crowdsourcing campaigns to obtain the funds for publishing their authors’ books. Using this innovative model, any book, no matter how niche or unique in form, can be published by finding the right readers to support it. However, crowdfunding like Unbound does come with a cost of shared royalties and copyright. The author may have more control, but the publisher ultimately makes the final decisions on the cover design, edits and pricing of their work.

Self-publishing allows authors to utilise this crowdfunding method while retaining complete creative control. This is evidenced by the success of As We Were by David Hargreaves and Margaret-Louise O’Keeffe. Consisting of a beautifully presented four-book box set, As We Were chronicles in rich detail the history of World War I as it unfolded, week-by-week.

As We Were first began in 2014 as an online project and developed over the course of four years into a hefty 780,000-word manuscript. Being such a long work, As We Were was deemed too large and expensive to be developed and brought to market by traditional publishers. Maintaining the integrity of the project, in its huge scope and ambition, was the key reason the author chose to self-publish. To make this goal a reality, David turned to whitefox for support in publishing this ambitious and highly unique project.

The solution

whitefox assembled a skilled team to tackle the project and ensure it became a beautiful, high-quality publication. With both in-house expertise and external partners and freelancers, whitefox provided publishing services in the areas of project management, editorial, design, image research and permissions, print, production, sales and distribution.

The team also worked closely with David on devising the most suitable way to present the enormous project. The solution was to divide it into four books housed in an elegantly designed slipcase. The books feature over sixty photographs from World War I along with its week-by-week breakdown of the war’s progression, serving as an immersive repository of what life was like at the time.

To secure funding to publish As We Were, whitefox and David discussed several options that would allow approximately half of the costs to be secured before the project was greenlit, with patronship seen as the best route. David tapped into his extensive professional network to spread the word and seek sponsorships. He has decades of experience as a history teacher, first at Stamford School in Lincolnshire, and then Westminster School in London, where he became the head of the sixth form and a boarding housemaster. Today he runs his education consultancy DHC London, and he is a governor of a London preparatory school. He has also published several other books and writes frequently for national newspapers and periodicals. With his vast network of colleagues, historians and academic researchers, David had no trouble exceeding his goal of securing 250 enthusiastic sponsors for the project.

The result

As We Were has already sold several hundred box sets. The pre-sales that David gained from his sponsorship initiative helped fund its publication. The project’s marketing campaign further aided in this, and it has also garnered rave reviews from several national newspapers. ‘It is gloriously readable,’ wrote the Sunday Times. ‘All human life is here: courage and cowardice, heroism and horror.’ And the Spectator said, ‘It is the voices that we don’t usually hear…that give these volumes their breadth and richness…It is a formidable achievement to bring these different worlds into a single focus.’

As We Were has also drawn the attention of other prominent academics and professionals in the field. These include Sir Anthony Seldon, former Vice-Chancellor of Buckingham University, former Master of Wellington College and author or editor of more than thirty-five books on history, politics and education. Sir Seldon said of As We Were, ‘These books never flinch from tragedy, but fight shy of sentimentality. Above all, they stay sensitive to the huge canvas against which war was played out.’

whitefox’s work helped David to turn his bespoke and ambitious book project into a reality. David’s achievement with As We Were shows the exciting possibilities for books of unusual forms and specialist subjects. The traditional publishing model is no longer the only option, and authors no longer need to appeal to broad audiences in order for their books to be successful. Authors can utilise their professional networks to find the right readers who will champion their book projects, and with the support from professional publishing services these projects can gain great success.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.