Sunday, December 30, 2007

A big thank you to those who have helped me along the way

It has been a really strange year for me in so many ways, with so many things happening it seems all at the same time. Yet in some strange way, it has also seemed as if nothing has been happening at all. When I read back that list that I wrote though just the other day and go back over some of the older posts on this site, I am astonished to see just how much has happened, and how far I have progressed along both the writers and the spiritual path.

Coran has of course been the greatest inspiration in my life. We celebrated our 10th anniversary last summer (2007) and he has been there at my side during all those years, holding my hand and keeping me steady on the path when it seemed that all hope was lost. He was there mopping up the tears each time that I lost my job through redundancy or whatever, when my mother died just before the millennium, when my sister attempted suicide and called us in the middle of the night as a cry for help. He was also there each time a rejection letter popped through the letterbox from an agent, a publisher or a job, and when I signed the contract with Authors OnLine Ltd. He was there when I made my first ever book sale, and he will be there with me I hope until the day that I die. I can't think of anyone that I would rather spend the rest of my life with, and I don't need a piece of paper or the blessing of any church in order to declare that.

It seems fitting then as this year draws to a close, and I begin to look back, and then forward to the next year which is about to start, to acknowledge not just the part that he has played in creating that success, but also the part that so many others have played as well.

Of course the first person that needs to be acknowledged is Mr Fitt himself, the owner of my publishing company Authors OnLine Ltd. Were it not for his foresight and his belief in the book that I have written, Gardners would never have deigned to even look at placing it on such favourable terms, and it would not be enjoying anywhere near the level of success that it has done. I know that this is very modest compared to the likes of JK Rowling, whose programme a year in the life of was shown on ITV earlier tonight, but still to me it means a lot.

I also of course need to acknowledge the rest of his staff - his wife Marjorie who writes my royalty cheques, Gaynor who deals with all the book orders from Gardners, Bertrams and hopefully in 2008 some independent retailers, and of course the wonderful and rather eccentric, even if I do say so myself, Paul Rix, whose little black book (volume one) is a mish mash of contacts the mysteries of which I have only just begun to tap. I wish him well with his own second book due out in early 2008.

There are too many friends to mention them all by name here, so to any that I have missed - thank you, and you know who you are. The most influential and helpful during 2007 though have included Gillyann Osborne, Ariadne (I have been banned from mentioning her real name), Nadine Laman, Leslie Yetter, Claire Williams at Paradigm Shift Magazine, Phil Harris and the editors and journalists at the various publications that have featured me this year. I also cannot forget the rest of the team at the newsletter that I edit, and of course our regular readers, and finally the the staff of Lundy Island and the crew of MS Oldenburg and helicopter pilots and team that keep the island open and welcoming during the cold winter months. I look forward to my 23rd visit I think (I have lost count) on February 8th.

I don't mean this to sound corny or contrived, and I realise to some that it might, but it is important to acknowledge those who have helped you along the way, and this is my way of saying a big thank you.

So the countdown to the end of the year then begins and the dregs from the bottle of Baileys await ....

Friday, December 28, 2007

Highs and Lows of 2007

As 2007 begins to draw to a close, it seems an appropriate time to look back on the year and all that has transpired, from both a writing and personal point of view. The past year has been one of great highs and crashing lows, thankfully though there have been more of the highs.

These include from a writing point of view:

Doing a very well received talk at Borders, Kingston upon Thames in January
Various other talks and events throughout the year
The second updated edition of my book being published in May
3 fabulous reviews which appeared in the weeks following its launch - in Nexus magazine, Self Publishing and Paradigm Shift. The Self Publishing one has done brilliant things in particular since they said my book was the opposite to The God Delusion - mention that and I found that and book shops immediately ordered them!
Subsequently being featured in Self Publishing magazine as a self published success story
My first live radio appearance in June on Internet Voices Radio, New York
Taking over the editors reins of my village newsletter at the end of May/beginning of June
My book being accepted by Gardners in August as a stocked title
Getting featured on Grumpy Old Bookman's blog site and several others hosted by his regular readers
Getting the book into a total of 122 Waterstones stores after ringing each and every one of their 300 odd stores in turn
Also at least 7 branches of Borders - have only just started ringing them
Features in various newspapers and magazines - Self Publishing, Dorking Advertiser, Surrey Advertiser, Epsom Post, Staines and Chertsey Herald, Writers News (twice)
Meeting Richard and all those who work for Authors OnLine at their 10th anniversary celebration in October (and that was a celebration!)

On a more personal note highlights have included:

Seeing Coran finally start to deal with his gender dysphoria and understand where it comes from and also come to terms with other long standing personal issues
My new job, which I started in November
Settling into our new home and getting to know the residents of our village.
2 fabulous and relaxing trips to the wonderful place in the world - Lundy, and 2 trips to Forest Mere, also a lovely weekend in Glastonbury in November
Watching myself get gradually fitter and stronger after working my arse off at the gym
Making some truly wonderful friends through the Internet - on both sides of the Atlantic
The brilliant news that my brother has become engaged to his girlfriend of five years, and hopefully being able to meet her at long last very soon

The low points both personally and professionally have been:

A particularly nasty psychic attack by someone who purported to be my friend and being effectively forced to resign from my position as founder and co-administrator of the Internet forum I helped to launch - all water under the bridge now though
A nasty letter from someone slagging off my book - after they won it in a raffle would you believe - people don't respect things that they haven't had to pay for it seems
Various personal issues that I have had to deal with
The sheer hard slog to get into all those book shops which nothing can ever really prepare you for
The stupid excuses that certain book shops and other private individuals come up so as not to part with their money and buy your book - it is though their stuff and not mine!
Realising how little I would earn from it all - since sale or return has slashed my royalties in half
A disappointing turn out to my book signing at Waterstones in Staines - the people who promised to be there did not turn up and despite emailing to find out why I never did get a reply
An exceptionally busy run up to Christmas working seven days in a row and then having just two days off in which to enjoy the festivities

There will probably be other things that I think of as the week progresses, but whether I will have time to write them is another matter. I am once again working full time this week, and then have one more week of this to go before I revert back to my regular hours. I can't say I will be sorry. Really must crack on with the newsletter this weekend, in between going to the gym, trawling round the sales, tidying the house, surfing the net and going to sleep ...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Christmas to all!

What a delight it was to wake up this morning next to my beloved Coran and realise that today, and in fact for the next two days, I do not have to go to work. I honestly do not know how I have found the energy to keep going these past few weeks. By the time I finished work yesterday around 4.45 pm I had worked for seven days in a row and was just about fit to drop. Normally I would have gone to the Christmas Eve service at our local church, and part of me wanted to, as both of us have been pulling away from the church in recent months, but somehow sleep just seemed so much more appealing. My body was crying out for it, and it got it in abundance, because I woke up refreshed and relaxed and ready to cook a scrumptious feast.

Coran and I did not exchange gifts this year, as to be honest there is not much that either of us really wanted. In my case as well I have been busy serving everyone else so that they can buy their own Christmas gifts and Coran just needed a good long rest. I suspect that is the reason actually why I have been working so hard, so that he could have the house to himself and the time off that he needs. My time will come when I visit Lundy in February no doubt.

I had been hoping that I may be able to extend the trip from 7 to 11 nights, but that is not to be. My editorial duties prevent me from extending the trip after 15th February when I am scheduled to return, and other bookings prevent me from going earlier. Still, maybe I will be invited onto Glastonbury radio or something and be able to spend some time there prior to going further west towards Barnstaple and the heliport at Hartland Point. I have 2 weeks to look forward to in the summer anyway - I have booked to go back to the island I love on my birthday, June 21st, which also happens of course to be the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. Now that we have passed the shortest day of the year and the days are slowly beginning to lengthen, I do feel a lot better. That to me is what this time of year is really much more about than celebrating the birth of Christ - welcoming back the light from the long, dark days of winter and that is what the Bible in all probability means when it says that he was born during one of the darkest times in the land, or words to that effect. It is talking much more in a spiritual sense.

The oven then shall be lit shortly to start preparing our Christmas lunch. Being both vegetarian and wheat free does present a unique set of challenges at this time of year, but I managed to find something suitable. We have a butternut squash and leek roast from Tesco with salsa sauce, which I shall cook with roast potatoes, carrots, roasted red onion, cauliflower cheese and wheat free sage and onion stuffing mix with lashings of roast onion gravy. We will save the Christmas pudding (wheat free as well of course) with custard for later on this afternoon with a glass of Baileys while we sit down to watch Monty Python's Life of Brian.

Happy Christmas then to all who read this and make sure it's a good one for you too!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Bringing things up to date

Phew what a busy week it has been - I have hardly had a moment to myself and feel like the proverbial hamster on a wheel running round and round in circles going nowhere. I have not though gone nowhere, but actually had a very successful week. Having worked in this job now for just 5 weeks, last week (the trading week ends on a Saturday) I had the proud distinction of being salesperson of the week! Yesterday we took a little under £10,000, £4000 of which I was responsible for, which is not bad at all.

I also chose the right week to work full time, since our store was the best performing in the entire region, meaning that those who worked full time will earn a bonus of £100. I will have earned around £350 last week, which is equal to around 250 book sales or 4 months solid hard work of ringing all those bloody book shops! When I see it in such black and white terms it does leave me wondering what the hell I am doing, and how mad must I be, but then again as I have said so many times before, it is who and what I am, my life times work and I can no more stop doing this can I can stop breathing.

Talking of Waterstones though, I visited the blog site for the forthcoming Big Green Bookshop today which is set to open in Wood Green in the New Year, run by Simon Key and Tim West, who worked together at the sadly departed former Waterstones branch in Wood Green. Despite a large petition, Waterstones head office closed the branch and left the people of Wood Green in a literary wilderness.

Their blog entry for December 18th makes somewhat amusing reading - it is their predictions for 2008. I am sure that Simon and Tim won't mind me repeating them here, so that you can all have a good chuckle as just how daft the publishing world is rapidly becoming ....

They are as follows:

January; The BIG GREEN bookshop opens to fanfares and there is celebrating in the streets of North London well into the night. Our first customer brings a book back that they got at Christmas, claiming 'it was definitely bought here'.

February; Crockatt & Powell II opens in the cosmopolitan Fulham Road. It is called Powell & Crockatt after a furious argument between Matthew and Adam, and the first customer buys '4 yards of books to fill my new shelves'.

March; Scott Pack reveals that the rumours are true, he is Steve Stack, author of 'It Is Just You, Everything's not Shit'. He also admits to being John TwelveHawks and The Batman.

April; Profits soar at Waterstone's after a sticker misprint means that their latest promotion is a 2 for 3. WH Smith quickly counters this with a '50% on' promotion for their top 40 hardbacks.

May; JK Rowling donates for charity a fart in a jam jar. Amazon buy it for $3.6million, and runs a competition in which the winner gets to open the jar.

June; Claiming 'every little helps', Tesco starts just selling just the last chapters of books, and circling the bits that we should read.

July; publishing assistants at a large publishing House get a 15% pay rise, but turn it down saying ,'we get paid enough already'.

August; Christmas promotions start in earnest at Borders, WH Smiths, and Waterstone's.

September; An updated Kindle is released which vibrates and has flick pictures in the corner of the book, because nobody who buys one is really interested in reading are they?

October; Katie Price wins the Man Booker prize for Shiny, her latest novel. Michael Portillo calls it 'a tour-de-force'.

November; Top selling Xmas titles start to come through the pack, including 'do spiders belch?', 'the slighlty Adventurous book for Grannies', 'Jamie on rollerskates' and 'Hammond, May and Clarkson ridicule stuff surrounded by goons lapping up every little thing they do'.

December; The BIG GREEN bookshop sells it's 1000th copy of Life in the UK. Our last customer of the year brings a book back that they got at Christmas, claiming 'it was definitely bought here' mark my words, it's all gonna happen.

I don't doubt for a minute that they are right ....

Simon must have seen the comments that I made on their blog and posted some interesting ones of his own regarding how re-ordering at Waterstones works which interested readers can see or themselves in the preceeding post. I have emailed Simon to say a big thank you and wish them both the best for their endeavours and a wonderful relaxing festive season.

I will be glad to finish work myself at 5.30 tomorrow after having worked 7 days in a row. It doesn't seem fair in some ways that shop workers who arguably work far harder than almost anyone else at this time of year have such a small amount of time off at Christmas so that others can go and spend yet more money that they don't have. In my case I have just 2 days off - Christmas and Boxing Day and we had to fight for them. If Head Office had had their way we would have opened on Boxing Day as well.

Spare a thought then for those hard working sales people when you go shopping over the festive season for we are the cogs who keep the tills ringing and everything else in motion too.

Monday, December 17, 2007

I am it seems being re-ordered after all!

I feel like I have been running round like a tit in a trance all day long (what a strange expression that is). Mind you, it is my own fault really, since I couldn't be bothered to get out of bed until 9am - it was just too cosy and warm. I have been having really strange dreams for these last couple of nights, but last night I was in some kind of Egyptian temple being initiated into a healing system called Sekkem in what looked like a symbolic womb of some kind. No doubt as it has some kind of obscure meaning, but I am buggered if I know what it is!

Today though I have been to Sainsbury's to get some bits and bobs, had lunch in Starbucks (a big wheaty sandwich which I will no doubt regret for the next three days, since I am supposed to be wheat free, with a cup of tea), taken my sisters Christmas presents round to her flat (thankfully she was not in), been on to the cemetery to see Mum and Dad's grave, and then been to our church to collect and deliver Christmas cards.

Somewhere in between that lot I have also made 2 trips to the Post Office to pay in my royalty cheque, get some cash and post my brother and his fiance's Christmas presents, had a chat with various residents who were in the Post Office queue, and answered an email from Justin Hutchinson, independent author advisor for Waterstones.

What he had to say was not earth shattering, but interesting nevertheless. It seems that I may have been mistaken when I thought that Waterstones branches were not re-ordering, for he says that the vast majority of stores who have sold copies do in fact still have stock. He did not say which branches have sold copies, which I would not expect him to when there are so many of them (I hope). He did though say that there were 173 copies in circulation throughout the company. Having done a quick count of all those who told me they have ordered copies, and a rough estimate of how many they ordered apiece, I estimate that around 240 copies in total have been circulated company wide since this whole thing started in August. This means that I have sold around 67 copies then through the tills, or just over a quarter of copies distributed. This is not a hugely fantastic figure, but a very good start. Once it goes to 100 copies which I am confident it will do in the next couple of months, then I will be off and running.

Of course this figure does not include copies sold through Borders and other sources such as Amazon, which I estimate to be another 50 or so by now. Then there are the 100 odd copies that I have hand sold, bringing the total sales now to well in excess of 200. Only sales through the tills though count as far as sales compilation charts go, more's the pity, because although I do my best to keep records regarding hand selling, according to the powers that be, these cannot be proven, and could be made up. Not in my case though as I have bank statements to prove it.

Here though is what Justin had to say:

"Dear June

I have just checked and I can confirm that a vast majority of stores who have sold copies still have stock. It may be that the other stores have opted not to replenish stock of this, which they are free to do. There certainly does not seem to be any issue with this stock and I do feel that stores would probably not wish to be called to see if they have reordered a title and I agree that your time would be better spend promoting this title. As a company we have 173 copies in stock which is more that enough given the sale at present.



There you have it then, I am still no closer to discovering what the optimum number of copies is for it to be re-ordered as stock. I guess this depends then on the individual store and what space they have available. As Justin says, they are free to make such decisions, and at the end of the day there is not a lot I can do about this. I am better off continuing to contact other stores and outlets and gather publicity. In January then this is exactly what I will do.

The business account has another £210 in it thanks to the royalty cheque that I have just paid in, so I will send out some more review copies, enter a few competitions that I have recently come across, get some articles published in magazines, work on this blog and my main website and basically do what I need to do.

As far as book stores go, I will ring the Waterstones I did not manage to get through prior to Christmas, and then start on Borders. Following that I shall start with the independents, beginning with having another crack at Same Day Books (all three branches) and Mysteries and Watkins in London. The MBS manager at Waterstones in Maidstone Fremlin Walk used to work for Watkins and has provided me with one or two names who may be able to help, since the Manager does not return my emails. I guess like the rest of us he is just too busy - I know the feeling.

Still, if I get nowhere I will just move on and concentrate on those who are going to help me. It's no skin off my nose after all - there are plenty of other stores to contact - 3500 independents in fact in the UK alone and this does not include the smaller new age type stores who have one or two shelves of this type of book, and which ultimately might provide a much better outlet since they are likely to be firm sale. The list which my friend who runs an unnamed spiritual magazine provides will be very useful in this regard. I also need to to order though a directory of independent book sellers from the Independent Booksellers Association. Let's get Christmas out of the way first though.

What is happening then in the book world at large? Remarkably little it seems, as very few news articles or even blog updates seem to have been added to The Bookseller today. Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion has won yet another accolade, this time as audio book of the year via website He received just over 3000 votes from those who downloaded copies via said website, seeing off competition from a shortlist that included Ian Rankin's The Naming of the Dead, Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader and Andrew Marr's A History of Modern Britain. I must try and find out what is happening to his Turkish publisher and whether the unfortunate chap will be spending the festive season (to Christians anyway) in jail. As an atheist I wonder what Mr Dawkins makes of the PC brigade telling us not to display Christmas cards etc on our desks. Decency prevents me from saying what I think, and you can draw your own conclusions from that ...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A surprise present from the postman

I am enjoying an almost long weekend, having three days off work before I have to do five days full time on the trot from Tuesday to Saturday. I would really rather not have to do this, but beggars can't be choosers and although my newly arrived royalty cheque for just over £200 should in theory help, in practise it will go straight into my business bank account where it will be offset against other expenses - such as the large phone bill which has also just arrived.

It could be worse were it not for the fact that we have one of those very useful unlimited call packages courtesy of Virgin - something that I would advise any self published author to do if they wish to seriously promote their book(s). It is worth paying a little extra for this privilege, as otherwise I dread to think what the size of the bill would be.

As it stands, having printed out and gone through this months bill call by call, I am surprised to find that a full 74 percent of calls that were made last month were in some way related to my publishing business. Of course I can only claim 74 percent of my half of the bill, as opposed to 74 percent of the whole lot, since Coran also works from home and makes business calls as well -not nearly as many as myself though, and a few less now that he has resigned as a trustee of our local church. It was getting to the point for both of us that we were spending a ridiculous amount of time there, and although it has its rewards, one cannot continue to give ones time away for free, especially when one is not being listened to or heard, as neither of us have been for a while. This more than anything is the reason that I decided to stop going to the healing sessions on Monday where I used to work as a volunteer receptionist.

It just became clear that something had to give, and my time would be better spent promoting my book. As it turned out, that was the right decision, as it freed up another day of the week which was put to good use, as that phone bill proves.

Apart from going through phone bills, what else have I been up to this weekend? Yesterday we met our friend Julie Ann for lunch and to go and see The Golden Compass. Most of today has been spent cleaning the house, going to the gym and writing Christmas cards. It has to be done after all, as the last posting date is fast approaching. I have some parcels to send tomorrow to my brother and sister, and then a few more cards to hand deliver to friends and book shops around the area, and then once the weekly shop is done (courtesy of Coran this week, since I will be working full time) we will be all set.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Amazon sales up again

Just to emphasise that the Internet must be seen as by far the biggest challenge facing the publishing world today, I see that Amazon sales are continuing to spiral - according to The Bookseller they are going up by 45 to 50 percent year on year. E-publishing is undoubtedly a challenge that the industry it has to be said are gearing up for admirably now, but remember that it is the Internet that has made this possible - without the Internet people would not be able to download these books in the first place.

The fact that Waterstones do not appear to be re-ordering my book continues to cause concern, so much so that I have emailed Justin Hutchinson, their independent author advisor to ask whether the information I have been provided with regarding their ordering system is correct. I have been led to believe by the managers of virtually all of the 122 or so of their stores that I am now stocked in that once stocks of any given title are exhausted at individual store level, they are automatically re-ordered. As a print on demand author who is unable to access sales data, the only thing I have to go on is what book sellers tell me when I go into their stores to check sales and how many books are still in stock, and the number of copies in stock with Gardners (you can type in your ISBN to check this on their home page).

It is possible to keep at least some sort of tab on this by making a note of which book stores tell you they are going to order and cross checking this against the number in stock, although of course there may be other stores ordering that I am not aware of, or individuals ordering through Amazon, since they also obtain their titles from Gardners. From the number that I know have sold through the tills, and the number that Gardners have in stock (they have at last been delivered) there seems to a large discrepancy that leads me to conclude that more than the two stores that I definitely know about, have not re-ordered. I await Justin's reply on Monday, which I hope will shed some light on this situation.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

the hidden cost of a Christmas best seller part two

Following on from my post a few days ago, entitled the hidden cost of a Christmas best seller, I started a thread along the same theme on my favourite writers discussion forum, My Writers Circle. I guess it is okay to post the article from the Times Online on here, as long as I provide a link, so here goes. It does somewhat set the scene.

"Every day thousands of shoppers decide to buy a new book because Waterstones prominently displays or recommends it. The reader may imagine that merit alone has inspired the country’s largest book chain to champion the volume now resting in their hands. The truth is a little less romantic. In a confidential letter to publishers seen by The Times, Waterstones has set out what it expects them to pay if they want their books to be well promoted in its network of more than 300 stores this Christmas. The most expensive package, available for only six books and designed to “maximise the potential of the biggest titles for Christmas”, costs £45,000 per title.

The next category down offers prominent display spots at the front of each branch to about 45 new books for £25,000. Inclusion on the Paperbacks of the Year list costs up to £7,000 for each book, while an entry in Waterstones Gift Guide, with a book review, is a relative snip at £500. To the despair of publishers, similar charges have become standard across the industry. The leading chains excuse them as a “contribution” towards marketing costs and recognition of a booksellers’ power to create bestsellers by heavily promoting select books. At Borders, bookshop staff vote to decide the book of the month, while schools are polled to find the children’s book of the month. But the publishers still have to pay an undisclosed fee for the chosen book to be awarded the accolade. A spokeswoman for W H Smith said: “Our premium promotion spaces are oversubscribed, which suggests that publishers feel they are getting value for money.”

Anthony Cheetham, the chairman of Quercus books, a small independent publisher, said: “It’s not a system you can opt out of. If Smith’s offer you one of these slots and you say no, their order doesn’t go down from 1,000 copies to 500 copies. It goes down to 20 copies.” One of Quercus’s biggest successes is The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney. It won the Costa Book of the Year award for 2006 but will not make the booksellers’ Christmas selections unless Quercus pays the going rate, Mr Cheetham said. “The big chains will choose, say, 100 books of the year for Christmas but they will only put into their final selection the ones that are paid for.

“We are currently trying to decide whether we feel strong enough to say no and see what happens with that book if we don’t pay. It’s difficult, the only publisher who is in a strong position [to negotiate with booksellers on this] is Bloomsbury, the proud owners of H. Potter Esq.” The imbalance is becoming more marked, with one supermarket proposing to start charging publishers just to pitch books at them. “There is a genuine level of exasperation and anxiety in the publishing industry that the booksellers have gone too far down this road,” Mr Cheetham said. “It’s the reader who loses because it’s throttling the distribution of a wider range of high-quality books and [perpetuating] the system whereby you plaster the entire country with copies of the same few books.”

Neil Jewsbury, the commercial director of Waterstones, defended the charges and said that the quality of books chosen for books-of-the-year lists and other promotions was not compromised by money changing hands. “Our expert booksellers, with years of experience, decide on what the best books of the last year are,” he said. “It’s only after that that we enter into a confidential commercial agreement with the publishers to decide how best to feature and promote these titles.” But most customers are not aware of the practice. One leading figure in the publishing world said: “What the book stores are doing is what other trades do, whether it’s frocks or sun-cream. The problem and the difference here is that the customers don’t realise it. They think what they are seeing is a recommendation and have no idea that the retailer has taken good money from the publisher for it.”

At Waterstones flagship Piccadilly branch in Central London yesterday shoppers said they were appalled by the practice. Helen Brooks, 36, a television sales director and budding author, said: “It’s disgraceful, I certainly would not trust them or their lists. It doesn’t do a lot for home-grown talent, small publishers or writing independently.”

Peter Wheeler, 68, a pensioner, said: “It’s a con.”

What it costs:

£45,000 For one book to appear in window and front-of-store displays, and in Waterstones national press and TV advertisement campaign

£25,000 To feature in a bay at front of store as a ‘gift book’ in its genre and be displayed at the till

£17,000 To be one of two titles promoted as the ‘offer of the week’ for one week in the run-up to Christmas

£7,000 To be displayed at front of store as a ‘paperback of the year’ and be mentioned in newspaper adverts.

£500 Price of an entry in Waterstones Christmas gift guide, complete with a bookseller review"

I won't post all the comments on here, since there are issues of security to consider, and to be honest, it would take too long anyway, so as this is my blog, I will concentrate more on my response to the comments.

The system is flawed, and every writer knows this, but it is the only system for the moment that we have, and we have to do our best to work with it by selling to different markets and not just the book stores. It is good that a paper of the calibre of The Times was discussing this and opening peoples eyes to these practises, as that is ultimately the only way that things will change. When the supermarkets somewhat similar practises were revealed to the public they faced a huge backlash with people turning to local stores and farmers markets etc instead, and from the comments posted on The Times website, at least some people are doing the same with the chain stores because of this, and buying either direct or online instead. Understand that it makes no difference to me as an author; I make the same regardless of whether my book is bought from Amazon or Waterstones - they both after all use the same wholesaler and get them for the same 40 percent discount. That is the thing that gets up my nose even more to be honest - the fact that these stores make £6 a copy from selling my book while as I as the author get £1.39 for 5 years work. I don't know many people who would work for 27.8 pence a year!

One member though did state that she has gone through the rounds of writers conferences, talking to agents, publishers as we all do, and the attitude from many still seems to be the going down the self publishing, or heaven forbid print on demand route is seen as the 'kiss of death'. She queried why this is, and my response, which can be read on the site is as follows:

I think that to a large extent both publishers and book sellers do feel threatened by print on demand, because like so many other things, they do not want to admit that it is their mis treatment of authors and the failings of the publishing industry in general that has led to so many of us choosing to embrace this route in the first place. People self publish for a variety of reasons - sometimes because they have a niche market that enables them to sell direct to the public cutting out the middle men, sometimes because they have been unable to secure a commercial publishing contract and remain convinced, despite the rejections, that there is a market for their work, but increasingly people are also choosing this route because they are tired of being treated by the industry as a disposable commodity and they wish to take back control of their work, and their own power. I chose to self publish for all of the above reasons and then some, as regular or even occasional readers of this blog will know.

The industry is led by greedy retailers, and that is the bottom line. It is the book sellers that demand the high discounts and not the publishers and wholesalers, and it is also the book seller that takes the biggest share of the books profits. In my case from a cover price of £14.99, print costs swallow up £4.06, the wholesaler earns £2.64 and the book seller £6, leaving £2.29 split between myself and the publisher, 60/40 in my favour. It is not a lot, but more than I would have got from a commercial publisher, since the book price would have been lower. How though can this be fair, when I spent 5 years and £5000 writing and paying for this book to be published, not to mention the cost of phone calls to get the shops to stock it, emails, stamps, printer ink, paper, etc, etc, etc? It just doesn't seem right, but very, very one sided. I sometimes think that I must have been mad to have even contemplated doing this, but I keep soldiering on regardless because it my vocation, my life times work, and also because it who I am; as a writer I can no more stop doing this than I can stop breathing, it would be like cutting off my right arm without anaesthetic.

It is though ultimately the book buying public who have the power to change things. This will only happen if we the authors educate our readers as to what is going on. The publishing industry is notoriously resistant to change and everything happens so slowly, and that is also part of the problem, for in the digital world including print on demand, everything moves very fast. Although there are moves towards firm sale instead of sale or return which should in theory help authors, book sellers are demanding even higher discounts to compensate for this loss.

I mentioned an article on The Bookseller just recently that quoted one of the buyers from Foyles (another chain I have been trying to get into with some success). The buyer actually stated that independent authors need them more then they need us, and sadly a lot of the time he/she (the buyer was not identified by name, but I don't think it was the one I have been dealing with) is correct.

Across the water The Writers Guild strike is proving that it is screen writers who have the real power and not studios and television networks, but they are in a different league to the more humble book writer. Nevertheless though it is time the retailers realised that without us to write the books there would be no Waterstones, Borders or WH Smiths. The way forward then is to educate the book buying public as to what really goes on in whatever way that we can. Write about it on our blog sites, let people know on your mailing list why you ask them to buy direct from you and list the figures involved as to who gets what, write to the newspapers, take part in discussions like the one they had on The Times Online, add your comments to the blogs that The Bookseller links to (I do this a lot as well), do whatever you need to do in order to get the point across without antagonising.

It is a dangerous path in some ways to tread, since there is always the fear at the back of ones mind that if the wrong person reads it the retailers will boycott your work. I have to then be very careful with what I say, as at the moment although I hate to admit it, until I can get some decent media coverage from the national press, I do need the book shops more than they need me. It is an uncomfortable fact. I have tried online selling, social networking, book fairs, you name it I have done it - the bottom line is though that 90 percent of books are still sold through shops. So for all my good words above, for the moment I shall continue to do my best to tread softly and work with the flawed system that we have in the best and only way that I can.

Occasionally I do get to speak to a more enlightened manager or book seller who understands the problems that we as authors have to face, and that does make it more worthwhile. There are a few who work for Waterstones and some who work for Borders as well! Same Day Books are the most enlightened ones that I have come across - even they are struggling, as 2 of their 5 branches have closed this year, and and there are redundancies in the offing - they are concentrating more on online selling now, since there are less overheads, but that is a whole other discussion ....

Continuing on though with the same theme, the industry has for some time now it seems been debating the issues surrounding digital publishing. This covers of course not just the rise in print on demand, but also the threat as they see it from e-publishing. It has come much more to the forefront in recent weeks with the launch in America of the Amazon Kindle reading device. The technology is not as yet available here, but it is only a matter of time.

Adam Powell talks about this on his blog, which is linked to The Bookseller, where he also talks about the Espresso machine, which is of course a giant print on demand machine recently installed in various public libraries and book stores across the pond. Dane Keller, CEO of OnDemand Books, the creators of the Espresso machine, are keen to try and also get it into stores over here. The only problem is that there is only one company through which material can be accessed, and even then some of the out of copyright material they have access to is still in copyright here, since the laws are different. What this basically means then is that there is very little that can actually be printed.

Adam makes the point that by utilising digital technology in the form of both print on demand and e-books, it will help to cut out the middle men, thus you would think, maximising profits for both book sellers and publishers. However, although the big presses may complain about the high costs of distribution and heavy discounting (they should try being a small press or self published author, then they would have something to really get upset about), he also points out that nearly all of them - including Penguin, HarperCollins and MacMillan either own or have a large share in their own distribution companies - why then would they be willing to put part of their own profits at risk? It would be cutting off their noses to spite their own face.

Personally I can't see e-readers catching on, not even in the United States. Nothing, and I mean nothing, will ever replace paper books, people love the feel of them and being able to leaf through at their own leisure on the train or in the local coffee house before or after work. Both Amazon and myself as an author would love to be proven wrong, since the idea of cutting out all these middle men has much appeal - my own book is in fact already available as an e-book as part of the Authors OnLine publishing package. I have only ever though sold one, to some unknown person overseas who I suppose preferred to read it in this way. When I do sell in this form I earn considerably more - about three times more in fact, since the only overheads are the credit card processing fee, and then 60 percent of what is left (about £5) is mine. This cannot compete or compare with the £1.39 I get from paper copy sales. I have said enough about that though already to fill 10 textbooks, and I am not talking mobile phones here either.

As a worst case scenario, in 10 0r maybe 20 years time, 10 percent of books may be sold as e-books. Traditional publishers and book sellers will somehow have to find a way of making up for those lost sales. The most obvious way is for them to sell the e-readers in their shops or direct from their own websites. Why though should a consumer go to a publishers website instead of Amazon where they can everything they need at low cost in the same place, not just from one publisher, but from all of them. Amazon in this scenario can be seen as a giant online book supermarket against which the high street stores cannot realistically compete other than on service, and the ability to browse, but even this is being diminished with the search inside option and Google Books.

The British Retail Consortium predict that 15 percent of all Christmas related purchases will be made online this year, compared to 13 percent in 2006. This then must be seen as the real threat, which may be much greater than anyone could imagine.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

I have been on local radio!

Later on today, in about an hour in fact, I am going out to lunch with the rest of the team from the newsletter that I edit. The Chairman and his wife are keen gardeners, and so I bought them a gardeners radio set for Christmas. This morning I was wrapping it up when I realised it did not have batteries, so I grabbed some from somewhere in the house and switched the radio on to see if they worked. BBC Southern Counties came on the air, and it reminded me to listen to it in the car on my way to the gym.

As I left the house and drove past the National Trust centre, they said that they would like people who had done the Alpha course to ring in with their experiences, so my ears immediately pricked up, since I have written a whole chapter on my less than happy experiences of it in my book. There is also an article entitled Alpha and Probably Omega (the same as the chapter heading) on my website. Anyway, when I got to the Sports Centre car park and rang them up they put me on the air.

It was obviously divine providence since the batteries on my mobile phone gave out as soon as I put the phone down. I didn't have time to say much, as I was only live for about 2 minutes, but I did the important bit - mentioning the book, and so that is what matters!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The hidden cost of a Christmas best seller

One of the biggest problems I have found with print on demand is the fact that because the ISBN is registered to the publisher or POD provider, in my case Authors OnLine Ltd, rather than you as the author, as in traditional lithographic short print run self publishing, it means that you have no way of accessing your own sales data. As it stands, the best I can hope for is to try and keep tabs on how many books Gardners are ordering, and then go to their home page, type in my ISBN and see how many copies they have in stock. This is far from reliable though, since for one thing the system is not necessarily updated on a regular basis, and for another, it does not tell me where the books are going when they are shipped out. Many book shops have told me that they will order copies but without any means of accessing this data, I have absolutely no idea whether they have done this or not.

It has become apparent though from the number of shops that have told me they will be ordering, the total numbers that friendly book sellers have told me have sold through the tills, and the total numbers in circulation across Waterstones stores that the figures do not add up. There out to be more books in circulation than there are. The reason for this can only be one of two possibilities - either some stores who told me they would order have not done so, or for some reason they are failing to replenish their stock when the books do sell. It seems to me that it is far more likely to be the latter, and I am not sure what I can do about this.

I know for a fact that there are at least 2 local branches of Waterstones where this has happened - and the reason I know this is because I have been to the shops in question and spoken to book sellers, who have told me that they have indeed sold copies of my book, and yet further copies have not been ordered. I am at a loss as to know why this is, since I was given to understand that once stocks had been exhausted in a particular branch, another copy was automatically re-ordered. I suspect that like the system in Borders, what actually happens is that a list of books that have been sold and gone out of stock is generated on a weekly basis, and the department or store manager makes a decision as to whether they should re-order. For some reason, best known to them they have decided not to in my case.

I am at a loss to as why this should be when copies have in the past been sold in these stores, and sold quickly as well, in both cases within a matter of weeks of the books going on sale, but it does concern me, since it makes me wonder how prevalent this practise is, and how many other stores are doing this. It pees me off big time, since they are not giving the book or myself as the author a fair chance, and at this time of year especially I need to maximise every single opportunity I can get. It is not as if they do not make money on this book, in fact they make very good money at £6 profit per book as opposed to my paltry £1.39. This is the other thing that pees me off, how certain stores like to bang on about how they do not order from wholesalers since they do not get a high enough margin, and they consider it too much of a risk. Exactly who is taking the risk here - me or them, and more to the point, who spent five years of their lives writing this thing for such little return!

The story from The Times (entitled The hidden cost of a Christmas best seller) about how Waterstones charge obscene amounts of money for front line promotion and display is once again doing the rounds, and it does make one feel, as a self published author very despondent indeed, as if one is battling against almost insurmountable odds. I know I am doing much better than almost every POD author that I know (and I know quite a lot of them now), but that is not the point - this book could and should be doing so much better, if only it were given a fair chance, and by failing to re-order it when it has sold, these 2 stores, and possibly others too are just not doing this.

It is waste of time trying to get through to them now on the phone to query this so close to Christmas, but I did send an email out to all stores who ordered in August and September as a precaution and urging them to re-order if they have not already done so. Whether it will or has done any good I will only be able to tell when I ask the next friendly book seller in the New Year. In the meantime though, I will add all those stores who are stocking me to the list for not only Christmas e-cards, but also a phone call in the New Year to check exactly what has been sold and ordered! Thank goodness for those unlimited calls phone packages that's all I can say !

Friday, December 07, 2007

131 book shops, 401 orders and counting ....

Six months ago when I published the second edition of my book and began to promote it in earnest, I would never have dreamt in a million years that I would be in the position that I am in now, and sometimes I still have to pinch myself to make sure that it really is happening and I will not wake up tomorrow (Bobby Ewing style) and realise it was all just a dream ...

Following the announcement in August that Gardners, the largest wholesaler in the UK had taken my book on as a stocked title (only a handful of other POD titles in the whole country are in this esteemed position), I have been ringing book stores up and down the country at the rate of around 10 - 12 a day. This has been an exhausting and time consuming task, that at various times has left me both exacerbated and elated. It is now though I am proud to say, stocked in 122 out of the 296 Waterstones stores in the UK (not including those in Ireland or university shops).

The last month has been absolutely manic - with the number of stockists doubling in the run up to Christmas. Gardners have I just heard, placed their 3rd order for another 50 copies in the space of one month, and the back orders are piling up, as they no doubt are for other books as well. As Christmas though began to approach I set myself a target to achieve orders for 400 books by Christmas and today I have exceeded it - thanks to Norwich Castle Street who have agreed today to order 2 copies.

The figure is probably in actual fact higher than 400 copies (the order from Norwich actually brought the total to 401) since this does not take into account repeat orders or orders from branches I have not been able to get through to on the phone (I emailed them all as well). I suspect the fact that Gardners have ordered another 50 copies means that there have been a fair number of repeat orders, so the total may be 430 or even higher than that. Whatever it is though I am delighted and looking forward to a big fat royalty cheque in 4 months time.

Following on from yesterday though when I wrote of my concerns regarding the length of time that the book has now been out of stock, I rang Waterstones (the old Ottakars branch in Norfolk Street) in Kings Lynn to see if the copy they ordered had arrived, and it seems that at long last it has. The fact that Gardners are still showing as being out of stock means that as I suspected, that the first batch of 50 books has indeed arrived, but the high volume of back orders meant that in shipping them out, they promptly went out of stock again. The 50 copies that were ordered just over a week ago should then arrive very soon, which will hopefully cover the rest of the backlog, and then the next 50 copies should arrive sometime between Christmas and New Year - Lightning Source, Richard tells me, are currently taking around 10 days to fulfil orders.

This is then a manic time for all, so much so, that it has become apparent that I will be wasting my time now in continuing to ring the stores. Most of them are not answering their phones anyway, so in fairness to them and having reached my objective, I am giving myself three weeks of well earned rest from all this ringing round. I shall come back to it then in the New Year with renewed vigour and ready to take on not just Borders, but the whole world. So, 131 book shops (122 Waterstones), 401 books and counting ....

Thursday, December 06, 2007

It's raining book orders....

It has been chucking down with rain for most of the day (and half of last night as well), so the area around our village is starting to resemble a lake. The gullies which run along the top end of the main road into the village are in full flow. By the time I walked up the hill to work this morning from where I had parked the car, despite the fact that I was wearing a thick waterproof, my uniform was soaked. Thankfully it dried out within 10 minutes or so, but it made the men's eyes pop out and put a temporary smile on their faces at least.

Despite the rain though it turned out to be a reasonably busy day. I must remember to ring the bank in a minute and see how much my first pay check is for.

The good news though is that we have another new chap starting on Monday. This means that the staffing problems have been alleviated. My boss is taking him on for the moment as a Christmas temp, but as soon as becomes official that his predecessor is not coming back (company procedures say that you have to wait 3 weeks from the first date of absence - the first week was up yesterday), this new chap will become a permanent member of staff. I met him briefly when he came in this afternoon to confirm the details. He seems nice enough and I am sure will do a good job. It will be strange not to be the new person anymore, but I am sure I will get used to it!

Going back to the book business though, I have decided that tomorrow will definitely be the last day that I make calls to book stores, since Christmas is fast approaching and it is becoming just too busy for most of them to talk to me. Some of them I have called every day this week, and been told it is the managers day off, so I get the feeling that they just don't want to talk to me anyway. This is fine, as it just means that I shall bookmark them for a call in the New Year instead. I don't give up that easily !

Still the week has not been a total loss though, since I have managed to receive orders from several more Waterstones in Watford, Maidstone, both branches in Colchester (they share a Manager), Winchester Brooks, Windsor, Torquay and Salisbury High Street, and today I got Telford and Wrexham in North Wales. This is good since I need more in Wales, and the MBS Manager there sounded particularly keen. She ordered 5 copies where most stores order just 1 or 2 to begin with. She even indicated that she might read the book herself, which is always good.
I also had an interesting conversation with the Manager of Swindon, who although she is not willing to order copies this side of Christmas, has asked me to ring her in the New Year to arrange a book signing and/or talk. Apparently she knows people at the local radio station well and they often come down to interview authors live in the store when they host such events. Richard then will be pleased, as will Paul. Might give him a ring later on, and Richard tomorrow as well again, if Gardners are still out of stock.

This is really beginning to irritate me now - they have been out of stock for almost 2 weeks again, and this is the worst time of year for it to happen. I have book stores who ordered books on November 22nd who are still waiting for them, and if they don't hurry up then I risk losing valuable Christmas sales, increasing the chance that the books will be returned. This is the last thing that Richard and I want or need right now. I am not sure what the delay is - 50 copies were ordered nearly 2 weeks ago and another 50 just last week, but the orders are backing up, to the tune of 66 to 70 copies I estimate which must now be on back order, so as soon as the first lot do arrive they will be sent straight out again, meaning that they are immediately once again out of stock. I can see why some people do all the fulfilment themselves! Then again, if I had done that several things would have happened - firstly the house would be overrun by books, padded envelopes etc, secondly my shoes (not to mention arm muscle) would be very worn from constant trips to the Post Office and thirdly of course most shops only order through a wholesaler/distributor anyway. Fingers crossed that they arrive tomorrow then ....

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Trouble in paradise?

Continuing on from the religious theme, the Bookseller website today carries another tale of woe regarding the troubled Christian book selling chain formerly known and owned by SPCK (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge). The chain was taken over by the SSG (St Stephen the Great), a more orthodox Christian charity last year, headed by Mark and Phil Brewer, and the stores subsequently renamed to reflect this change. The changes were apparently made in order to reflect what they term as 'traditional Christian values'. Exactly what this means is not made clear.

Whatever it does mean though, it is clear that the company's staff are far from happy, as an insider claimed in November of this year that since the Brewers had taken control of the chain, more than 100 staff had left. Carole Burrows who managed the Durham shop left at the end of October, and earlier that month 11 staff simultaneously walked from the Exeter store. The latest casualties are Newcastle and Truro, where both Managers are due to leave on Christmas Eve. 4 book sellers have simultaneously announced their own departure from the Truro store on the same date.

Mark Brewer acknowledges that the company has staffing problems, but says this is no more than what one would expect. He states in a typical head in sand stance, that it is important that the company's employees are supportive of the charity's aims and devoted to supporting its work, since this is not just a job, but a mission. He went on to say that the shops are like the talents the Lord spoke of in the parables, and to earn His favour as 'good and faithful servants' we must invest these talents for His glory.

It is clear that these two men just do not get it, as the fact that so many staff have resigned and that church attendance as a whole has fallen in the last decade signifies to me that these so called traditional Christian values just do not work, and are not seen as important in the lives of a) those who work for the company and b) those in mainstream society.

The former Manager of the Leicester branch had the right idea when he bought the store from the Brewers earlier this year, renaming it as Christian Resources - this is one that I shall certainly be contacting myself in the New Year to see if they may be interested in stocking my own book.

Leicester is after all a interfaith and multi cultural city (more Muslim in fact than anything else these days) and the range of books stocked needs to reflect that. Rather than stocking exclusively Christian items and books, the new store then stocks books from a variety of different faiths and belief systems, including Anglican, Methodist and Afro-Caribbean churches. It also sells books direct to churches on a sale or return basis so that they can sell them in church events and stalls etc, which certainly makes sense to me. It is nice to know that someone within the 'faith' movement has some (common sense that is).

On a personal note, I have not had the same amount of time to write this blog since I started back at work. It is only a part time job, but it has still meant a lot of adjustment, since it is more than two years since I had a permanent job like this. The money and the stimulation were desperately needed, but even so, it has not been easy rushing straight home and changing from corporate saleswoman back to book saleswoman in the five minutes it takes me to dump my bag and change out of my uniform.

The fact that the other new person, a full timer who started a week after I did, did one days work and has not turned up since has not helped matters, especially since the man that he was supposed to replace is due to leave at the end of the week. Fortunately he has agreed to stay on for a few more weeks on a part time basis to cover days off, or otherwise they would be really stuck, as all they would have had would be me, the Manager and his new deputy, together with 2 weekend staff. As it is I have to work all day on Monday so that the Manager can have a day off and his deputy will not be on his own in the shop all day.

They have tried everything they can do to get hold of this chap who has left, but to no avail. All they need is for him to simply tell them that he is not coming back, but he won't do that, and under company rules they have to give him three weeks absence before they can even begin advertising for someone else. I think this absolutely stinks myself, but that's the way it is.

I suppose having to possibly work full time over the next week or so will not affect my book promotion plans too much though, since it is getting to the point now where the shops are becoming too busy to call anyway, so I have to look at this philosophically and just think of the extra money, which I must admit will come in handy. I have managed to get the book now into well over 100 Waterstones and although I will continue to call until the end of this week, anyone that I cannot now get through to will have to bookmarked for a call in the New Year after Christmas. Until then, I shall just hold my breath and pray that the books are not all sent back in the New Year - one would hope that they would give them at least 6 months to try and sell, but in the book selling business shelf space is money and anything can happen.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

God Delusion to be banned in Turkey?

I see from the Independent that Richard Dawkins' Turkish publisher Kuzey Publications is being hauled over the coals by religious fundamentalists. It seems that they are being threatened with legal action by prosecutors who claim that their publication of Dawkins' best selling work The God Delusion insults believers. I don't know they are so upset about myself, as the Turkish translation has apparently only sold 6000 copies since publication.

Erol Karaaslan, the founder Kuzey Publications could though face between six months and twelve months in jail if found guilty. Prosecutors are still debating over to press charges.

It is not the first time that Dawkins' has come against such problems in Turkey, since it seems that Islamic fundamentalists also tried to ban his earlier work The Selfish Gene.

I don't understand the furore personally or even why it was deemed necessary to publish in this territory in the first place - the book discusses Christianity more than other religions, and Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country. It also then puzzles me as to exactly who has been offended. Having read the book myself, I don't recall it even mentioning Islam.

Neither is Dawkins the first author to face controversy. The article states that Nobel prize winning novelist Orhan Pamuk and Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink were just two several dozens writers to be charged last year under a controversial law that makes it a crime to insult Turkishness, whatever that means. Pamuk was acquitted, but Dink – who was murdered earlier this year by a teenage ultra-nationalist - was found guilty.

What though does it mean to be Turkish, or for that matter, any other nationality? Does one have to be born in that country or have parents who were, or is it sufficient to have lived there for a certain number of years. If so, then how many? Is a child of Jamaican parents who emigrated to Britain in the 1950's any less British that I am - of course not, for in their hearts they still think of themselves as British, and that is what counts.

This also brings to mind an episode from my favourite science fiction series Babylon Five entitled Infection. It is I believe an episode from series two. It basically revolves around a machine on an uninhabited planet that seems hell bent on destroying everything in its path. When they ask what the machine actually wants it transpires that it was put in place to protect its former inhabitants, the Icarans from raiders by destroying anything that was not pure Icaran. The predictable result was of course the destruction of the entire race. Muslims and for that matter any other fundamentalist regime, should take note for if they do not pull up their own socks and start to behave in a more sensible manner by not being threatened by anything that does not agree with their own faith, they will ultimately share the same fate.

The word atheist is generally recognised in most societies as meaning one who does not believe in God. There is nothing wrong in this, as it is like anything else just one of many widely held beliefs. Being an atheist does not make one less moral or less of anything in fact, in fact when you look at the statistics the opposite is true. The more secular societies are nine times out of ten more tolerant and understanding of each other.

The word atheist has it seems only recently crept into the Turkish language, where it is regarded as a kind of insult. The Independent cites a survey of religious attitudes conducted in Turkey in 2006, which found that less than 2 percent of corespondents claimed not to believe in God. More recently polls showed that just 25 percent of Turks accept evolutionary theory.

On the one hand, while I am the first to espouse religious freedom, and in no way agree with the ridiculousness of this case, one has to ask why the book was published in this territory in the first place, when there seems to be such limited demand. Surely they must have known the controversy it would cause. The cynic or perhaps spiritual aspect of myself, wonders if this was the whole idea, since the only way to really shed light on these situations for them to be open to the light of public scrutiny so that they can be discussed by the world media and these regimes will realise and understand that their views are simply not those of a civilised society.

The treatment of women in Islamic countries has also been in the news in recent days. Firstly of course the ridiculous case in Sudan where a female teacher has been jailed for allowing the children in her case to name an innocent teddy bear as Mohamed. The British Government are I understand intervening to get her released, but in the meantime, some have called for a suspension of aid to that country. They are cutting off their noses then to spite their face.

The other case is that of a young recently married woman in Saudi Arabia, whose husband thankfully is standing by her. It seems that in Saudi Arabia with its extreme laws of sexual segregation, the only way that men and women can form any kind of relationship is for men to stand in the streets with their mobile phone numbers either on display as women walk past with their male chaperone's, or to literally throw them car windows. Somehow then prior to her marriage, this woman then formed a phone relationship with such a man.

After she was married he threatened to tell her husband unless she agreed to meet him, and so foolishly it seems she did. They were driving together when another car swung in front of them, hijacked their own car and drove them to an isolated place, where both her and her male companion were gang raped repeatedly by up to seven attackers. She tried to keep it from her husband and family, but the rapists (who had filmed the attack on their mobile phones) started to boast about what had happened and so the truth came out. Astonishingly the woman was sentenced to 90 lashes and then when she and fer family complained this was increased to 200 lashes and 6 months in jail. The rapists in the meantime were sentenced to between 2 and 11 years apiece.

The world can no longer sit back and allow this kind of thing to happen, we have to send a strong signal to these countries that this behaviour is not acceptable.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Genesis of Man now in 109 Waterstones !

When I first began to ring book shops in August, I did not really know what to expect. I hoped for success and to get stocked in as many as possible, but didn't have a particular figure in mind. As Christmas began to approach I set myself a goal though to have received orders to the value of 400 books by the end of the year. It looks as if I may achieve that a lot earlier than I thought, since as of today the figure is 386.

In fact I am proud to say that my book is now stocked in over 100 branches of Waterstones in total - not bad at all for a book that no one wanted to publish and which most agents and publishers said wouldn't not sell. What do they know! If you want anything doing, do it yourself, women have known this for years and they are not far wrong it seems.

More importantly perhaps though than the number of stockists is the number of sales. I do not have the exact figures, but suffice to say that the sales are coming in thick and fast with no signs of diminishing.

It has also though come to light that there may be a problem with supply, since yesterday morning Paul went into his local branch at Kings Lynn in Norfolk and it seems that they have not yet received the copies that they ordered over a week ago. Paul in return reported this to Richard, who did some digging around. It seems that they are not the only ones to be kept waiting, since I understand that Gardners have back orders for a considerable number of copies. I have had it has to be said, a phenomenal couple of weeks with book shops ordering left right and centre.

The 30 copies they ordered on November 6th sold out almost as soon as they arrived, and so last week an order was placed for another 50 copies. Then when Richard discovered just how many branches I am now in, he rang them up and asked why they were not ordering more given its popularity. They have then ordered another 50 copies as of yesterday, bringing the total for November to 130 copies ordered! Mind you, I will have to scale things down by the middle of December anyway, since for one thing the shops will be too busy to take my calls, and for another, any they do order at that late stage will not arrive in time for Christmas anyway. I suspect then that this may the last order I receive until Christmas now. We will see as always, but at least I know that any more orders that I do get can now be fulfilled quickly and easily.

Still can't believe it is in 109 Waterstones though !!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Getting stocked in book stores lesson no. 2

Continuing on from yesterday - how should one approach book shops when do you get round to ringing them and is it really worth the time and effort that entails? I mean, no one likes to receive unsolicited sales calls at the best of times do they? In this situation the calls are not exactly unsolicited, as when ones works in or manages a book store talking to authors who want you to stock their books goes with the territory, that is why Waterstones have people like independent author advisor Justin Hutchinson in the first place - to help and advise independent and self published authors and put them on the right track.

Actually I have found it to be THE most worthwhile piece of marketing I have ever undertaken. It does take a certain amount of courage to do this for sure, and you have to know your market and your product, but you have already done that right - or you wouldn't have self published in the first place would you? I sincerely hope you did your research anyway, as it not, I fear you will be in for one hell of a shock otherwise ....

The way that I did it then was to decide firstly on how many calls to make each day. You don't want to rush this and call everyone at once, as for one thing you rapidly tire of doing this, and for another if you say it enough times it does start to sound rehearsed. You want your pitch to sound as natural as possible if you are to be in with a chance.

I try then to make between 10 and 12 calls a day, and no more than that. You will need of course though some means of recording what has been said and who needs to be call next. The spreadsheet of Waterstones details that Justin sends you is read only so you will need to copy this into a format that can be edited. I don't have excel on my machine, so I use Works instead, which is a somewhat simpler version to use. I have added several columns entitled contact name, date and what was said, and then follow up columns with dates as well. Sometimes you may need to contact a store several times after all before you get a result.

In my case then I started with the local stores within say an hour of home and then started to work down the list country wide from A to Z. The whole process I estimate will take around 4-5 months to complete and will in all honesty be ongoing since you continually have to make follow up calls as well to build up a relationship with your stockists.

Who you need to speak to will depend on the size of the store you are calling, and unfortunately it is difficult for you to know this until they pick up the phone and tell you! The best approach then is simply to explain who are and ask who the right person to speak to is. I say it something like this 'good morning/afternoon, my name is June Austin and I am the author of a mind, body and spirit book entitled Genesis of Man, I was wondering who the right person would be to speak to about getting it stocked in your branch'.

The book seller will then do one of several things - put you through to the right person, tell you there are not in or ask you send them some information. Sometimes they will also try and tell you that you have to go through Head Office. If they do this, then politely explain to them that you have already spoken to their independent author advisor who said that you are free to contact any store that you choose direct.

When you do get to speak to someone make sure that you know exactly what you need to say and make sure you have the ISBN close by as well, as they are bound to want to know this so that they can look it up. If you are very lucky and say the right things then they may agree to order copies then and there, but they are more likely to request further information. Whether you choose to send this by fax, email or letter is up to you, but email is by far the cheapest of course. If you do send emails then make sure they are not overloaded with attachments as they will not get through the system. I send them a standard email with a copy of my information sheet and a link to the book trade page on my own website which contains reviews, sample chapter etc should they wish some more information.

Make a note then of who you spoke to and sent the information to and call them in a weeks time to make sure if was received and see what their interest was. I use my Works spreadsheet in conjunction with Works calendar to record this information. It is a useful tool since if it happens for example to be the persons day off when you call, then you simply make a note to call them on the next available day, which you will see when you open the calendar on that day.

One tip I will also pass on is that if you speak to a manager or book seller and they say that they will mention the book to the section manager of your genre (children's or whatever) see if you can get that persons name as well. Even if you can't, then when you call to follow up, do not ask for the store manager but the section manager direct. Store Managers are busy people and nine times out of ten when they tell you they are going to do something they don't. because they forget or get distracted. Talk then to the section manager direct, who makes the final decision to buy and save yourself a lot of time.

When I do get orders I also always send out a confirmation email thanking the store for their custom and providing a link to my website should they wish to use reviews etc for promotional purposes. Like I said earlier, these stores do gt busy, and sometimes they may tell you they are going to order copies and then forget, so sending these emails serves to remind them.

Here then ends lesson number two in how to get stocked in the chain stores.