The Story Behind the Success of The Sewing Machine

Author, Natalie Fergie

The story in two words: Social Media.

The Sewing Machine exists because of Twitter, and to a lesser extent, Instagram.

I’ve posted the sales stats at the end of this article.

I started to write the book in Autumn 2014, and had got to the Fifty Thousand Words And Completely Stuck stage by Spring 2015. More on this later.

The book was crowdfunded with Unbound and the crowdfunding process is an integral part of the story. It’s not an easy thing, to ask friends and family and complete strangers to pledge for your project, but it allowed me to make contact with more than 200 people who very much wanted to read the story of an old 1911 sewing machine, the factory workers, and the family who owned the machine across four generations. Those readers became cheerleaders for the book.

The crowdfunding took 33 days. This is not typical.

The budget

I knew, early on, that there was no slice of the crowdfunding pie allocated to publicity and marketing. I had opted for the lowest level of fundraising, which would produce an ebook, but no paperbacks. During the year between getting funded and publication, this changed and Unbound began to offer short-run printing for their digital list.

At the time the sum needed was just under £4000.

Every penny was pre allocated to editing, proofreading, cover design and the dreaded VAT. I think this has changed now, but in 2017, I knew it was my job to be as creative as possible about reaching readers. I wasn’t expecting any marketing or publicity. I didn’t mind this, but I didn’t have a big budget.

I bought 20 copies of my own book at the usual publisher 50% discount. This came to £100. I wrapped them up in old dressmaking pattern tissue paper (from my stash) and tied them with raffia, and then I posted them out to people I thought might be interested and also to people who might take a photo and put it on Instagram.

Sam, of the Empowered Author, was one of those people.

The postage and padded envelopes came to about £40.

Total spend £140.


Location, location, location.

I went to Clydebank, to the railway station called Singer (yes, there is a station named after the factory), to Fountainbridge Library in Edinburgh, to the Royal Infirmary and to the canal beside the former rubber factory where one of my characters fed the ducks at lunchtime.

My goal was to take potential readers on a visual journey and to try and give them a sense of being in the book; feeling the chill wind that scurries around the ward pavilions of the old Royal Infirmary after a long night shift, or standing in the library when Connie and Alf met.

During the research for the book I had taken photos of objects that I had used to add texture to the story. There was a pre-screwtop thermos flask with a cork stopper, a 1940s tin of cocoa, jars of Marmite and of course, many old sewing machines found their way onto my IG feed.

Even now, if I see an old Singer, I can’t resist taking a photo and researching the date of manufacture. And then I realise that the machine could have been touched by Jean in the factory, or by the real life Singer strikers. The men and women who fought for worker’s rights in 1911.


For me, social media is not about broadcasting, it’s all about the conversations we have in the tiny slivers of our days. Chats about what to have for dinner, about Painted Lady butterflies, about the gardener who hasn’t turned up again, and about tea and biscuits. Yes, I talk about Big Stuff sometimes, but mostly my twitter feed is about soup and sparrows and snow.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Twitter is the reason the book exists. It’s where I found the Write Like A Grrrl course that empowered me to turn 50,000 of research and very unpolished plotting into a 94,000 word, edited manuscript.

It’s where I saw a tweet from Scott Pack, scout extraordinaire, who was looking for new projects to take to Unbound.

It’s where book festivals and libraries have contacted me to invite me to speak.

It’s one of the places where the book blogger community gather - a generous and warm hearted group of people who share the book-love freely.

It’s where readers get in touch to ask questions and to post photos of the book out there in the world of bookshops, and it’s where they post links to blog reviews and tell friends “you might like this book".

Top Tip: Always have your DMs open so anyone can message you.


The Sewing Machine was published by Unbound, the crowdfunding publisher, in April 2017.

Since then it has sold more than 110,000 copies, amassed more than 6,000 Goodreads reviews and 1,300 amazon reviews, and been translated into German, Greek and Dutch. I still, two years on, find all of this quite astonishing and rather humbling.

If you’d like to share the story of your book, then get in touch here.