Thursday, October 18, 2007

The debate re POD rights

Yesterday it was such a strange day and I was feeling so out of sorts that I felt compelled to visit the Landmark Trust website to check availability for my favourite island - Lundy. There are a few weeks still left in December, but I didn't fancy going at that time of year with the long nights as it would mean I would have to be making my way back from the North End by 3.30pm. I noticed however that my favourite cottage - The Old Light Cottage was available from 8th February right through to 7th March. It isn't anymore, as I have booked to go for a week starting 8th February!

This is a wonderful time to go, despite the cold, as you get the wonderful crisp, clear late winter days, and the young animals (goats and soays) are starting to be born. The helicopter season does not end until the middle of March, so with a bit of luck I will get a birds eye view of the island as well from the front seat next to the pilot. I can hardly wait!

Reading the Bookseller website yesterday though, I noticed yet another article about the debate re digital rights - or to be more precise, POD rights. The industry is trying to decide, with the advent of POD technology exactly when a book is out of print, and when, if at all, rights should revert back to the author. Traditionally it has been when the book sales fall below a certain number - usually around 100 depending on the publisher, and genre. Should this though continue, or should it be when the income from book sales falls below a certain level instead?

Is a book deemed to be out of print when it exists as only a virtual file as happens with POD? These are all questions that need to be addressed, as the publishing world begins to embrace this technology.

I was warned when I went down the POD route that a lot of larger publishing houses, agents and even newspapers and magazines, still regarded self published (especially POD) books as vanity press, and they did not count as a writing credit on ones CV. Even worse, some magazines and newspapers refused to review them at all, since without the endorsement of a major (or even minor) publishing house, they could not be certain of the quality, and reviewing them might tarnish their own reputation ! Yes, you did read that right (the words shepherd and sheep once again spring to mind). I have found though that when ringing book shops and the media in general that these attitudes are changing, and people are no longer afraid, but are beginning to recognise the potential that POD has.

POD authors and providers have played a huge role in this, working tirelessly to increase standards, producing well written and produced books that are credit to them and their publishers. My experiences at the Authors OnLine 10th anniversary last weekend only served to confirm this. Like it or not, print on demand is here to stay, and is changing the industry in many important ways, The industry is finally beginning to realise that if they want to survive, then they have to embrace this and not fight against it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My books are back in stock - phew !

I breathed a big sigh of relief this morning when I went to Gardners website, typed in my ISBN and found that they have 36 copies of my book back in stock. They have been out of stock for almost 2 weeks now, and with the book signing at Waterstones in Staines approaching this weekend, I was having nightmares about turning up there and finding no books for me to sign!

Yesterday Coran and I drove out to Staines to make sure we know where the shop is, and find out about car parks, places to eat afterwards etc. He told me that I should drive while he read the map, as if I map read we would end up getting lost. What happened - you guessed it, we took a wrong turn and ended up halfway to Heathrow airport! Half an hour later we found ourselves in Staines, walked to the book shop and then spent another half an hour walking round looking for somewhere to eat ...

Both Coran and I are vegetarian and also wheat free, which can cause problems with eating out. We usually then go to Pizza Hut as they have a lovely eat as much as you like salad bar at lunchtimes, or failing that, go and get a jacket potato. We asked one of the security guards outside the shopping centre then where we could find a Pizza Hut, and he pointed us in the right direction. We couldn't see it anywhere though, and so ended up back in British Home Stores having small and somewhat hard baked potatoes with what they described as salad - this was a handful of wilted lettuce leaves with two slices of tomato. Then as we were driving home, what did we see but a big sign saying Pizza Hut in the local retail park - we had walked in the right direction alright, but not far enough! At least we know where it is though for Saturday, and more to the point, we can park for free outside, rather than paying £1 an hour for the multi storey up the road .... After all, it is only a five minute walk from Waterstones ....

After we got home I found the post waiting for me. There was a note from a friend who runs a spiritual magazine which has recently reviewed my book. She had very kindly sent me a list of all her stockists, knowing that the majority are small shops that also sell books. I rang then to thank her and then telephoned one of the shops on the list - Mysteries in London. This is one of the biggest independent new age book retailers in London.

I spoke to their Buyer who was very helpful, and said that she likes to try and help self published authors as much as she can. However with Christmas coming, they are very tight for space, and so she asked me to call back in the New Year, which I certainly will do.

I then set to work ringing a few more Waterstones - without much luck. I have almost got to the end of the list now - and so will have to start back at the beginning chasing the ones I have not managed to get hold of. This is never ending, and if I thought contacting over 300 Waterstones was bad enough, there are 3500 independents to contend with as well. Thankfully at least half of them probably don't stock books like mine ....

I then had an email from my friend Miller Caldwell, who I met over the weekend at the Authors OnLine 10th anniversary. He has published 5 books with Richard now, and he very kindly offered a free copy of his latest one, 7 point 7, to each of the authors that were there last weekend. It seemed only right and fair then to offer him one of mine in exchange.

Well, he loved my book and made some lovely comments, so I asked him if he would consider reviewing it for me - I will do the same for him of course in return. I also asked him if he would like to be featured in Conversations with POD - which he readily agreed to. So, I uploaded his answers this morning. He has written about his first book - Operation Oboe, and a very interesting book it sounds too.

Today not much has happened - a trip to Tescos to fill up the fridge and take back the application form for a Christmas job, followed by a few more book stores (still no luck) and then a visit to our friend Helen, for afternoon tea.

National Trust again tomorrow -and then I shall have to start preparing for the book signing this weekend. I wonder if the Staines and Ashford Herald will have a photographer free - I hope so, but Coran and the shop will take some photos if not.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Back to business

After the weekend, today was a relatively quiet day. It started off reasonably well with my trawling through the notes I made from Paul's little black book and seeing which people I could ring. I decided to start with Methvens, who as it turns out, are now Same Day Books. I have a vague recollection of reading about them on The Bookseller recently and how some of their branches have closed.

Most of their business these days seems to be be conducted online, so I checked first to see if my book was on their website. It was but with the original cover, so I emailed them to let them know that it needs to be changed, and then set about ringing their stores. Their website lists five stores throughout the south east, including one in nearby Chertsey, so I started with that one, thinking that as a local author, it would be the best place to start.

The Manager turned out to a very helpful man, sympathetic to the needs of self published authors, and not adverse to dealing with them direct. It is of course though easier for everyone to deal with wholesalers and distributors rather than the authors supplying direct, so he was delighted to know that my book is one of the few POD books stocked by Gardners, and suitably impressed. He explained though that was about to go on holiday (lucky him) for a couple of weeks, and would not be back until mid November. He then asked me to call into the shop on his return with a copy of the book and other publicity materials. This then, when it happens will be my very first official face to face sales call.

I then rang their other two stores - Worthing and Gosport. Worthing were willing to talk, and asked me to send them information in post, but Gosport were not so helpful. The Manager explained that there is currently an embargo from their Head Office on ordering new titles, and I need to call back after Christmas. This seemed strange given the helpfulness of their other two branches, but I thanked her for her honesty and said that I would make a note to call in the New Year. It gives me time to hopefully get some decent sales in the Chertsey branch at least I suppose, which might persuade her to change her mind!

Following that I made some calls to Waterstones branches that I have posted stuff to in the last few weeks - Nottingham, Oxford, Plymouth and Southend. Three of them said they not received it which is perhaps not surprising when you consider the recent Post Office strikes. They asked me then to email instead - the words bang and head once again sprang to mind ! Nottingham though were very helpful indeed; the Manager even promised to call me should he decide to order come copies - and he certainly seemed interested from our conversation. It is then once again a matter of wait and see.

After that it was time for lunch. I then decided to have a crack at Foyles, where I successfully obtained the email and direct telephone number for the Principal Buyer. An email then was fired off accordingly with the obligatory information sheet.

I then went round to the Post Office with the letter for Same Day Books in Worthing, and a review copy for Glastonbury Radio. Five minutes later Coran arrived home and we drove up to the view point for a well deserved cup of tea.

In between all this activity I have been posting on some writers sites to try and get some people interested in the new blog site - Conversations with POD. Tomorrow I will contact some of the writing magazines and maybe local paper, and get them to give it a mention, as that is one sure fire way to get people posting. The possibility of appearing in the new book may entice them even more. I may contact Grumpy Old Bookman again as well, and Jerry Simmons at the Nothing Binding project and get them both to mention it. I will be very surprised if Jerry's site doesn't produce some results.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Authors OnLine 10th Anniversary Celebration

Coran and I got back from out trip to Buckden near St Neots about an hour ago. It was an interesting and eventful weekend and great to meet Richard and the crew - his wife Marjorie who deals with all the administration, including author royalties, Gaynor who deals with book orders, and Paul who of course deals with publicity. None of them looked like what I expected, even though I have seen pictures of Richard, Marjorie and Gaynor on the Authors OnLine website! Richard is much taller than I expected, while Gaynor was a lot younger looking (she will be delighted no doubt if and when she reads this). Marjorie's hair looked a different colour, and Paul, well, what can I say about Paul .... he is certainly a character that's for sure.

His wife Babs had told me that he had very long hair and would be wearing a black Authors OnLine bodywarmer with gold lettering. Well the body warmer was there, but Babs had given him a haircut. He is a lot skinner also than I expected (sorry Paul) and smarter as well, since I had the image of long lank and greasy locks! He was dressed in a black shirt with white tie, with glasses and collar length grey hair with the broad Norfolk accent that made both Coran and I sound terribly posh!

He is though every bit as nice and friendly in real life as he is on the phone, and even allowed me to look through his little black book. That book is legendary among Authors Online authors. It is a tatty old thing, with a black cover and literally loads of contact details from Lands End to John O'Groats scribbled inside. Apparently this was only volume one as well, as volume two had been left at home. I can't wait to see that!

No one else can make head nor tail of this book, but somehow Paul manages to find things! I managed to find quite a few numbers in there myself, including the much sought after direct line to Borders Buying Team - bravo! Also Methwens, WH Smith and various national newspapers and magazines, not to mention Cactus TV who do the Richard and Judy show (getting on there is to Brits what Oprah is to Americans, with featured authors practically guaranteed sales of at least 50,000 copies). Actually I happen to know that the lady responsible for deciding which books are to be featured is doing a talk at the Guildford Book Festival in a couple of weeks time. I shall have to get some tickets then and book a front row seat. My book has already been submitted, but talking to her in person wouldn't be a bad thing ....

Around 40 people then were there in total; mostly other authors, but also some proof readers, cover designers and illustrators. There was supposed to be rep from Lightning Source there as well, but I am not sure what happened to him. I suspect I was so busy talking to everyone else that I missed him. Still, I am sure they would talk to me and answer questions direct if I needed them to, and I may well do soon, since I have decided it is high time I started work on my next book - Conversations with POD.

There do not seem to be that many books around on the subject of POD and how it works and what authors can expect. Those I have seen seem to be predominantly for the US market and I certainly haven't seen any in the shops. There are plenty of books out there on how to self publish, but they concentrate mainly on short print run with only a few pages on POD, and most of the information in them is somewhat misleading and out of date. I thought then why don't I write a book detailing my own experiences and explaining how it works, with a series of interviews with POD authors - hence the title, Conversations with POD.

I mentioned it to Richard briefly but had a more in depth discussion with Marjorie as Coran and I were leaving - both seemed to like the idea very much indeed. I would have a ready made market for sure, as thousands of people embrace the POD route each year with providers springing up all over the place. The potential then for sales with a book like this is huge.

I have set up a blog site to get the ball rolling and posted on a few forums inviting POD authors to submit. I will email Richard tomorrow I expect and have a more in depth chat and ask him to post it on the authors area asking people to submit, and then I will start to write the rest.

Talking to the other authors then has re-fired my determination to really crack on with both books and get the publicity machine firing on all four cylinders. I was struck by the sheer amount of talent that was there in that one small room yesterday - authors of all different genres, from all different walks of life, all with their own experiences to share. There was a display of every single POD book that Richard has ever published - including the very first one (he was the first POD provider in the UK - the original and still the best) covered in plastic in order to preserve it. Richard jokingly said that book is his grandchildrens inheritance, but actually I don't doubt that he is right, as in years to come it will become a museum piece. He knows and I know that POD is the future of publishing, but the rest of the world is yet to catch up ....

The company has also some ambitious plans for the future, which were mentioned in speech by Richard and Derek, one of the company founders who went away for a while but has now come back into the fold. They have plans for a kind of POD book club where people will pay an annual or monthly subscription and buy Richards books at discount, giving feedback on the quality and price, and whether or not they are worth that price. These reviews and comments can then be used to publicise the books, and also ultimately to change opnions from inside the industry, challenging the vanity press perception of bady written and over priced books.

They also have plans to have stands in independent book stores supplying the books on sale or return and even getting poeple to sponsor the cost of publishing certain new titles. Interesting times then ahead.

It was then an interesting weekend of networking and exchanging ideas and information that left me in no doubt (not that I had any to begin with) that I have chosen the right company to publish with.