How an email thread became a novel

Dan Brotzel introduces the comic novel he and his neighbours wrote via email

From left; Southgate authors Martin, Dan and Alex
From left; Southgate authors Martin, Dan and Alex

After five years of writing and crowdfunding a comic novel written by myself and two other authors – all living on the same road in Southgate – has finally been published.

The book, Work in Progress, is about a group of oddball wannabe writers who meet regularly to feed back on each other’s work. The seven members are all quite eccentric in their different ways, and the plot involves romance, deception, a cosplay stalker and an alien mothership invasion, among many other things!

We all belong to a writers’ group, which gave us the idea for the book, which we originally called ‘Kitten on a Fatberg’. Alex explained: “We each took on a couple of the characters, and sent each other email messages in character.

“None of us knew exactly what would happen next, so you’d have to read the email, find out what your character had been up to and come up with a response. Every so often we’d have a pub meet and try to think about the overall plot.

“It’s not the most straightforward process but it was brilliant fun.”

The manuscript was accepted for publication by Unbound, a publisher which eschews the traditional publishing model in favour of a crowdfunding approach.

Martin said: “The idea is that you raise the money up front in advance sales to cover all the costs of producing the book, from editing, to publicity, to distribution.

“Once the book is published, there’s no advance to work off, but a profit-share agreement operates instead.”

Raising the money took about 18 months. In addition to attracting over 200 advance customers, we raised some of the money ourselves, for example by writing articles and editing other people’s books.

It’s not a quick process, but it was a fantastic feeling when it was done. After another year of production, the book finally hit the shelves this summer and has been receiving very positive reviews – it currently averages 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon.

“This was a funny, clever book that made me laugh out loud,” said one reviewer. “What more can you want in a pandemic?”

Would we ever do it again? Well, we already are. Alex says: “Writing the book together was a joy – a real celebration of our friendship. Crowdfunding is hard work but we’ll definitely do another book together.”

The new story centres on a fading UFO cult that’s running out of members. “It’s another comedy about a kooky group of unappreciated misfits,” says Martin. “I can’t think where we get these ideas from.”

Work in Progress is available from Amazon, Waterstones and Bookshop.org, among other retailers.