My Path to Publication – Tom Williams

The path to publication can be a varied one, and I love to discover the different routes authors take, so every Saturday I’m going to ask an author to share their ‘path to publication’ journey with us. Author Tom Williams is my first guest, so over to you. Tom, how did you become a published author?


It was in Borneo around 1980 that I came across James Brooke, the first White Rajah. I was fascinated by his story and decided to write a book about him. It was laboriously typed out on a manual typewriter and submitted to a leading agent who sent me to an editor to do more work on it.

Looking back, this was clearly the opportunity of a lifetime, but I was young and had no idea how lucky I was. The editor was helpful but I just wasn’t able to produce the sort of thing that he was looking for and in the end he said that I was clearly getting tired and should rest the book and come back to it later. So I rested it for something over a quarter of a century.

When I came back to it, I wrote a completely different book. It benefited from the research I had done for the first one and a few pages were actually directly lifted from my previous attempt, but the structure was now completely different. I had always believed that James Brooke was gay, but back in 1980 this wasn’t something that I would have mentioned. Now, though, it seemed okay to write a book with a gay hero, so I did.

The White Rajah was sent off to agents and, again, it was picked up. The agent (who really did seem to know his job and have the right contacts) offered it to four major publishers. It seems that I might have felt the world was ready for a mainstream novel with a gay hero, but publishers disagreed. It was “too difficult” for a first novel. I should go away and write something else first, so I produced Burke in the Land of Silver with a hero (also based on a real person) so heterosexual he goes through three lovers in the course of the book.

The White Rajah, meanwhile sat in a drawer until I saw a tiny American publisher advertising for historical novels that would appeal to a gay audience. By now I just wanted my book to see the light of day so I sent it to her and it was published.

One thing I learned was that a tiny publisher who knows her market and really cares about her books can sell more copies than a larger business with less focus on new authors, but as the James Burke books (which she had absolutely no interest in) took off I needed a less niche publisher, preferably in the UK. I moved to a company that ended up publishing six of my books (including a new edition of The White Rajah).

I’ve moved on since: the publishing world changes all the time. Editors come and go; publishers flourish and decline; fashions shift. The secret is to take the opportunities that are offered and stay open to new ideas. Self-publishing? Audio-books? Film adaptations (it does happen)? Find an opening; write the best book you can (and then re-write it) and grab that opportunity.

Good luck!

Thanks, Tom, what an inspiring publication story. 🙂

Here are the covers of Tom’s books:

Burke In The Land of Silver      white rajah

Kindle        Paperback               Kindle       Paperback  

Author Bio

Tom Williams used to write books for business. Now he writes novels set in the 19th century that are generally described as fiction but which are often more honest than the business books. The stories have given him the excuse to travel to Argentina, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Egypt and Borneo and call it research.

Tom lives in London. His main interest is avoiding doing any honest work and this leaves him with time to ski, skate and dance tango, all of which he does quite well. In between he reads old books and spends far too much time looking at ancient weaponry.

Tom’s blogs appear regularly on his website, where you can also find details of all his books. You can follow him on Twitter as @TomCW99 or Facebook (

Check back in next Saturday to read Misha Herwin’s ‘path to publication’ story.


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