From Self-Publisher to Publisher & Back Again

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Jeremy Atkins (OD 1972) writes about the experiences that have led him to where he is today, and why he launched his self-publishing house.


I am not sure where my love of books came from, but I’m sure that the Dragon School played a part. I think I only won one book prize, but I still have that over 50 years later! It must have installed in me a passion for reading, which has never left me and, from the presence of my book prize in my bookshelves, a tendency to retain each and every book I acquire, wherever from! Fortunately, my windmill home has lots of levels on which to house books!

At university I got involved in part-time sailing journalism, reporting on sailing events for the national newspapers in the days when one reversed the charges from a phone box to telephone through the report to the copy desk typist. Shortly after leaving Oxford, I was asked to write the centenary history of the Oxford University Yacht Club (A Hundred Years of Sailing at Oxford University) which I self-published in 1984. Again, this represented a bygone era with the printer physically setting the type prior to printing.

As many of those involved in the Dragon School will know, this book inevitably included ‘Skipper’ Lynam who was the Club’s Commodore from 1890 to 1893 and 1899 to 1903.

Twenty-five years later I published an update (25 More Years of Sailing at Oxford University), but now with access to a PC on which I could prepare the book to go straight to print and access to the internet on which I could do more research. This led me to start this book with a more detailed account of the early days of the Club and the famous Oxford Yawls – the first of which was Snake, built for Skipper. While we all know of him as a cruising sailor from the Blue Dragon logs, in these early days he was a successful racer – most notably when he beat all the other boats in the Falmouth regatta “by forty minutes, after a narrow escape from capsizing in a heavy gybe when rounding the Ganges.”

At the same time, I self-published another sailing club history, or rather the histories of two clubs: the Oxford & Cambridge Sailing Society and the Imperial Poona Yacht Club – in a double-fronted book called 75 Years of Port & Balls. The former was for the society’s penchant of investing in vintage port; the latter was because the club was described to Prince Philip as ‘a load of balls’ – immediately after which he joined. This gained quite a bit of publicity recently when the father of the house, Peter Bottomley, quoted Prince Philip’s foreword in his tribute to him in the House of Commons: “If you can bring yourself to read this book from cover to cover, you will be in a position to judge for yourself whether, or not, life can be significantly improved by not taking it too seriously all the time.”

When I began to lose interest in market research after a lifetime in it and over 15 years running my own agency, the opportunity came up to acquire the nautical list of publisher John Wiley. This had started off as Fernhurst Books before Wiley bought it, and so I revived the Fernhurst Books’ name and became a publisher overnight with a list of about 150 titles.

This has been a bit more strenuous than the retirement project it was supposed to be but, after eight years at it, I know a bit more about publishing than I did! One of the things we quickly learned was that lots of people want to write/publish books that aren’t going to be viable for a publisher to take on. But knowing the joy of having a book published, we launched the Self Publishing House, a consultancy offering publishing services, advice and support for self-publishers, enabling authors to craft, create and self-publish high-quality, bookshelf-worthy books (and eBooks). We are currently working on our third book by alumni of my secondary school (Radley College) and would be delighted if any of the Dragon community wanted to consider this option. For me, it would also be a return to where it all started. Find out more, or email Jeremy.

Photo: 1895 membership list of Oxford University Sailing Club showing C.C. Lynam and Dr R.G. Lynam as Life Members, along with the likes of Hilaire Belloc.