A Number 1 bestseller

December 5, 2010, 8 Comments

How does it feel to have written a bestseller? A customer asked me that last week, but it’s a question I found quite hard to answer. And it’s not the only one: how does an author define success? Even as a bookseller, if I had thought about that it was only in the most general terms. But six months ago today my book had its launch party and since then I’ve been confronted with ever-moving goalposts. I’ve gone from being overjoyed at being published at all to feeling miffed that my Amazon sales ranking hasn’t been higher; from wondering if anyone I didn’t know would buy Swiss Watching to hearing that the Financial Times made it one of the Best Books of 2010. Does that make me vain and suffering from delusions of grandeur? Or just human? No idea, but here’s a look at my moments of authorial ‘success’:

  • The first book. After all the writing, editing, rewriting, and negotiating (not forgetting the trials of finding an agent and publisher), there’s nothing quite like holding that first copy of your own book. I still have to pinch myself, even now, when I look at it and realise that every word inside came from me. How did that happen?
  • The first glimpse. Waterstone’s Covent Garden. That’s where I saw my book on display for the first time in Britain. There it was, at the beginning of the travel literature shelves, looking as anonymous as all the books on either side of it. Except for the handsome cow on the spine, it could easily be glanced over by an undiscerning eye. But to me it stood out a mile.
  • The first window. I’m in the rather unusual position of being able to sell my book where I work, but it is fun. And even more enjoyable when I can make sure that it gets in the window. Unfair advantage, you might say, but one I wasn’t going to turn down. And thanks to Orell Füssli English Bookshop in Zurich, Swiss Watching got its own window display in a shop where I don’t work (pictured above).
  • The first review. Does it matter what other people think of your baby? Of course! Reviews still count, even in the internet age, and still help someone become a reader of that book. I’m sure that in their hearts every author hopes to reads phrases like ‘Bewes has the Bryson touch’ (, or ‘a love letter from a foreigner to his adopted home’ (Tages Anzeiger), or ‘informative and entertaining’ (Mail on Sunday).
  • The first interview. All I can say is thank goodness I endured all those years of interviews while I was a travel journalist. Otherwise the 20 or so that I have done in the last few months might have overwhelmed me. Even then two still gave me a good case of sweaty hands and wobbly tummy: Excess Baggage on BBC Radio 4 and Persönlich on DRS1, live in German. Click on the links to listen to my babblings.
  • The first mail. Official reviews are one thing, but reader feedback means a whole lot more, and not just on Amazon. The unexpected side of having had a book published has been the fan mail. It’s been such a surprise, but a lovely one, to hear from so many readers who have taken the time to write and say how much they’ve enjoyed my book. Thank you to everyone who has contacted me – it means so much.
  • The first spot. Number One Bestseller: three words that every author, if they’re honest, yearns to hear. All summer Swiss Watching was the bestselling book (in any language) in the whole of Stauffacher Bookshop, where I work; not bad going for a book that’s only in English. Better yet was being told that it is the bestselling English book in Switzerland this year. Dan Brown, who’s he?

So how does it feel? Wonderful, if a little surreal at times – like when a stranger accosted me in the street in Geneva to tell me how much he loved the book (how on earth did he recognise me from the tiny photo on the back cover?). Or being told that I’m much smaller than my voice. Or realising that thousands of people all around the world have been reading the words I wrote. That’s still a little mind-boggling for me.

I set out to fulfil a dream and write a book. Now I get recognised on the tram (Bern really is a small place!) and listed in the FT alongside so many great non-fiction authors. And Swiss Watching is now available on Amazon as a Kindle edition. It’s been quite a memorable six months.

8 Comments on "A Number 1 bestseller"

  1. sunneschii Sunday December 5th, 2010 at 06:48 PM · Reply

    I have to admit, I still have to read the book. But what I can say from reading the blog, you deserve all the fame.
    And I will go and buy and read the book soon, I promise! 😉

  2. Kimberly Sunday December 5th, 2010 at 11:03 PM · Reply

    The book is the top item on my Christmas Wish List! Love your blog, so I’m sure I will love the book!

  3. aegeanx Monday December 6th, 2010 at 12:57 AM · Reply

    I expect to the in CH next year and will take the time to pick up a copy in Orell Füssli in Zürich. Can’t wait!

    Congratulations on your success!



  4. Spike Monday December 6th, 2010 at 02:22 AM · Reply

    I bought the book and loved it! We spent last summer in Switzerland visiting my husband’s family and driving around the country and I could quote so many interesting facts from your book–things even my Swiss husband didn’t know or had forgotten. It kept us all entertained on our drives, gave us many discussion topics and also quite a few laughs. Thank you!

  5. John Mal Monday December 6th, 2010 at 02:39 PM · Reply

    I read the book and I liked the combination of travel tips and general background on Swiss specifics and oddities. The fact that it has been written by a travel writer shows though. More like a compendium of travel articles than a real book. Entertaining enough, so thank you.

  6. Kerrin @ MyKugelhopf Wednesday December 8th, 2010 at 02:48 PM · Reply

    major bravo for all the well-deserved success the book has seen !! i just read it during vacation, and already want to read it again. i could not love switzerland any more, but i certainly feel even luckier to live here now. and wow, you certainly did your research !

    congrats for the financial times mention, big time ! only… the person who wrote the blurb needs to read the book again too. cuckoo clocks ? not swiss. 😉

  7. Andrew Monday December 13th, 2010 at 11:48 PM · Reply

    Love the book! I’ve been graced with an annual month-long business assignment to Bern area each year (2010 made for my 6th visit). Although I’ve been too lazy to learn any of their languages, everything in the book really ‘rang true’ with my personal experiences. Of course, there was much, much more that I didn’t know. I’m reading it again, and probably will a few more times. Bravo!

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