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Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen, Reese Witherspoon, Robert PattinsonGuest Blogger: Ian Williamson, our Hodder man in the Midlands

I can’t remember why I started to read Water for Elephants. I think I just liked the sound of it. It’s not the sort of thing I usually read. The story of an elderly man recalling the time he spent working on a circus train in mid-1930’s America wouldn’t have been the first thing I’d jump to read. But I did read it and as I read it and realised I didn’t just like it, I loved it, I knew that I’d have to tell everyone I knew to read it.

I went into bookshops

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and talked to the booksellers and told them about this amazing book I’d read. I gave them copies of it and said, just give it a go. See what you think. I went away with no expectations. Maybe a few people will like it. When I went back and started getting feedback from people, it was obvious that Water for Elephants was going to be something very special and really important.

I’m not going to tell you about the plot or the characters. What I’m going to tell you about is what I saw happen after my initial visits to the bookshops.

It started gradually. The people I had given copies to read it and told me how much they loved it. Then booksellers who I had never met came up to me and told me they were reading it and they loved it too. I haven’t found one person who has read Water for Elephants who hasn’t found it to be one of the best books they’ve read.

Then they started recommending it to customers. The book started to appear on Bookseller Recommends bays. The small card, fixed to the shelf underneath containing phrases like, ‘An incredibly poignant novel’, ‘an exquisite cast of characters’, ‘powerful and affecting’, ‘a novel that truly captures the strength of the human spirit in times of adversity’. Many books stay in the recommends section for a short time, then are replaced by other, newer titles. Not this one. Once it was there it refused to move, because customers were drawn in by the passion that booksellers had for it.

Water for Elephants quickly became a word-of-mouth success across the Cotswolds and the Midlands. It showed in the sales. Two of the shops I visit have sold over a hundred copies each. One has now sold over a hundred and seventy.

Now, almost three years after I first read it, people are still discovering it, loving it and telling other people about it. It might not look like your sort of thing, it’s not mine. But try it, or better still, go find someone who has read it and ask them about it. Listen to them talking about how much they enjoyed it, what they discovered from it and how it made them feel at the end. I bet you’ll want to experience what they felt. Then you’ll be out there telling people who haven’t read it how great it is. But hurry up, because the number of people who haven’t read it is getting smaller and when the film comes out it’ll be smaller still. So hurry up.

Water for Elephants is now available on DVD.

Publishers are supposedly renowned for not going the distance with books. Actually, in my experience this just isn’t true. If we love the book, we defy logic or common sense with our outraged loyalty (family and friends are particularly at risk here). Ask any publisher and they’ll have a story about a fabulous book that just never sold or reached its full potential. Everything was lined up but the magic just didn’t happen.

In the UK, Water For Elephants is such a book: a fantastic piece of story telling that deserves a wide and appreciative audience . It’s a love story set during a fascinating period in 20th century history, it’s dark and violent in places, it’s a murder mystery with a cast of grifters, freaks and star crossed lovers and one very large elephant.

In the States, the book has sold over three million copies, spent years on the New York Times bestseller list and I believe it’s practically illegal for a book group not to read it. Internationally, it’s been sold in over 30 territories. Yet, despite extremely respectable sales, in the UK the blue touch paper of high profile chart success remains unlit. It’s not been on the radar of the ‘civilian’ (the non-book world) world. That is, until now, when things are about to change.

The movie, starring Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson and Christoph Waltz, opens in early May and looks terrific. This is not always the case with love book/love film (e g Captain Corelli – oh dearie me but One Day and Never Let Me Go seem safe) but with what I know I feel confident. We have the trailer on the Water For Elephants page of this site – judge for yourself. The movie (and the actors) will bring the book to a whole new audience. Many of this new audience may never see the film, but want to read the book and many will be brought to the book

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through the stars. Note to Twilight fans – this book is very much shorter than what you’re used to.

So, tenacity may yet pay off. I first published Water For Elephants in 2006 and since then I have put five different covers on it over five formats. The movie tie in will be its sixth outing. My colleagues and I have evangelised about this for five years and now, and now…

… the moral of this blog? Never give up!

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