‘To succeed, you must write a book for others, not yourself’
Robert Ashton shares the process behind writing and funding his new book, ‘Where are the Fellows who Cut the Hay?’

Robert Ashton has written 20 books in his career, most of which were written to help aspiring and developing entrepreneurs. Since completing his creative writing MA at the University of East Anglia in 2020 he’s moved away from business writing and is currently working on a book that explores how rural life has evolved over the past 120 years, and what that means for us today.

Below, Robert describes the journey behind his book Where are the Fellows who Cut the Hay? and the joys and challenges of publishing with Unbound.

I’d already written quite a few business books when I enrolled on the UEA’s creative writing MA. For each book I’d pitched a proposal to a handful of commissioning editors and usually one would say yes and give me a contract. But I had grown tired of writing business books and was fast approaching the age when most people retire. The MA, which I did as a full-time student over one year, was my opportunity to write about people, place and perhaps even dare to challenge prejudice.

Most of all, I wanted to write about George Ewart Evans, an oral historian who had collected the stories of people born in the closing years of the nineteenth century. They told Evans how things had been when they were young. I’d met Evans, and his wife taught me at primary school. My wife’s family farmed in Suffolk for more than 100 years so I shared Evans’s connection with the East Anglian landscape.

The structure of the book emerged during my MA. Each chapter explores our changing relationship with something familiar, such as milk, wheat and coal, looking back at the stories Evans collected, adding some of my own memories and meeting people who are bringing back some of the old ways, albeit usually with a contemporary twist. It was fascinating to realise just how much our future is starting to look like our past.

‘You must be willing to accept advice and not fall into the trap of thinking you know best’

I graduated, completed researching and writing the book, and then followed the well-trodden path of pitching to literary agents. Eventually, one agent did like my book, read the first draft and made some helpful suggestions. This led to months of conducting new interviews and rewriting. Then when presented with the second draft, admitted that she was overcommitted and could not take me on.

I didn’t have the heart to return to square one, so renewed my acquaintance with Unbound, a publisher who because they crowdfund a hardback first edition of each book, can publish more than mainstream publishers. Many Unbound authors are also TV celebrities or household names and so have the benefit of large social media followings. I am not famous, so am having to work a little harder. Crowdfunding is not easy and can be soul destroying. But there are benefits; once funded the royalties are generous. What have I learned so far?

  • That your readers call the shots; you quickly realise that to succeed, you must write a book for others, not yourself.
  • That sharing content on social media to tempt people to pledge their support prompts some healthy rewriting. It also connects you deeply with your book.
  • Unbound have lots of experience to share, but you must be willing to accept advice and not fall into the trap of thinking you know best.
  • That every crowdfunding campaign is different and takes as long as it takes.

Finally, you quickly learn never to miss an opportunity to share a link to your book’s Unbound page. You’ll see how there is a range of levels of pledge, and read an extract from the book: Where are the Fellows who Cut the Hay? If you have any questions about Unbound, or my book, please email me: [email protected]

You may also like...

Lynne Bryan clears writer’s block with her memoir ‘Iron Man’

After a decade of struggling to complete any stories, Lynne publishes a memoir addressing her relationship with her disabled father


2nd February 2022


Crowdfunded publishing with Tom Cox

Why and how Tom publishes his books with Unbound


26th March 2021

The Writing Life