Friday, October 26, 2007

The Blair book project ...

I see that the battle for who is going to get Tony Blair's memoirs has been won by Random House for an undisclosed sum, but is estimated to be in the region of £5 to £6 million, considerably less than the £8 million hoped for. This means I guess that at least 2 million of the British population have the good sense not to consider this book worthwhile reading. Suffice to say that I am one of them ... The deal which is believed to rank second only to the $10 million paid to Bill Clinton for his memoirs (now that would be a book worth reading), includes pre and post publication serial rights, English language and translation rights, as well as audio and electronic rights.

As Peter Cox commented on the relevant news page on the Bookseller website, "As the selfless, ethically-motivated politician that we know him to be, I’m sure he’ll do the right thing and donate his advance & any royalty(?) to care for all the widows and orphans he’s created both in Britain and Iraq." As a non subscriber, I do not have permission to post comments of my own, but I think Peter sums it up nicely and there is really not much more that I can add.

What though have I been up to this morning, apart from reading the news? It has been a busy morning actually. I have rung three national daily newspapers re book reviews - The Independent, The Guardian and the Telegraph. I have been pleasantly surprised in that all three do, and indeed have reviewed print on demand books. Things are indeed changing then. I have all the relevant details anyway, and so will post the books out this afternoon and get the ball rolling - I will then keep everything crossed for as long as it takes - which might make it a bit difficult to type !

I have also though made a dozen or so phone calls to yet more Waterstones stores, as there are quite a few that I have been unable to get through to the first time around. It transpires that I have been emailing the wrong person at Aberdeen Union Bridge, and so will fire off an email to the correct person in a minute, once I have finished on here. Same thing with Bishops Stortford.

Ballymena in Northern Ireland and Bath have both confirmed orders, and Amersham and Birmingham New Street have requested further information. Birmingham is likely to be a goer, since I happen to know that Pat, the MBS Manager has hosted events before for Authors OnLine, which went very well, so she knows that these books are not vanity press.

The lady at Bath was very helpful, since she told me that Waterstones have sold at least one book for every day last week, which is certainly encouraging. I told Richard they would sell! This knowledge may help to give those more reluctant stores a bit of a nudge ...

Oh well, back to the email then.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Amazon sales up 33 percent

Looking at The Bookseller just now, I noticed an interesting article by Philip Jones who happens to the editor, entitled International Book Sales up 40 percent at Amazon. Amazon is of course a US company and so this means that the UK site along with Germany, France, China and Japan, is considered to be an international site.

The article states than that sales on each sites grew by 40 percent in the last quarter with operating profit almost doubling in the same period. Turnover on these sites rose by around 33 percent, or one third.

Bearing in mind that 40 percent of books sold on are not available in bricks and mortar stores, either because they are backlist titles or perhaps self published titles that book stores do not stock or are even aware of, this tells me two things.

Firstly that there is considerable money to be made from such titles, that should not be discarded or under estimated. It also though more importantly, tells me that book stores are not stocking what people want. While online shopping, even with search inside and Google Books, does not compare with the experience of actually handling and browsing books in a book store, customers are increasingly drawn to these sites, as they know that the prices are not just more competitive (very often with free shipping), but they can get a much wider range of titles than is available in book stores. Every book in print that is registered with Nielson Bookdata and available through Gardners and Bertrams - the two wholesalers that Amazon obtain their books from (Ingram and Baker and Taylor in the states) is available on amazon, and other such websites like How can the book stores hope to begin competing with this other than on service, and let's face it, in many chain stores, this is non existant ....

Interestingly Philip also states in an earlier article, that a poll at the recent Frankfurt Book Fair showed that almost a quarter of international publishing professionals believe that book stores will become completely obsolete within 50 years, while 11 percent believed that printed books would themselves vanish, in favour of e-book and audio books. I can't see this myself, but I could be wrong.

Borders and book shelves

For the past day or so I have been in the process of trying to sort out my tax. This entails going through records of all the calls I have made in the last few months. These have all been recorded on the database I set up of book stores, and backed up by notes made on Works Calendar. In July just 3 percent of calls that I made were business related - mostly to Paul and Gaynor, but in August this figure shot up to 50 percent. In September it went as high as 70 percent, before settling back down to 50 percent for October. November may be slightly less again, with the run up to Christmas, since a lot of stores are now advising me to call them back in the New Year (already). Still, this is an indicator of just how hard I have been working to get this book off the ground and beginning to walk, and then run, as opposed to just dawdling, or hanging around on street corners ....

I do hope then that it starts to pay off. The signs are encouraging. Mind you, last time I checked Gardners website, they still had 36 copies in stock, despite the fact that 3 branches of Borders assured me 2 days ago that they would be ordering copies. Will they be ordering later in the week I wonder, is there a set day of the week when they order stock, so that it is done in bulk and all arrives at the same time I wonder? The trouble with Borders is that the emails (when addresses are given - none are listed on their website) inevitably end up bouncing back, so you cannot send friendly thank you emails out to the Managers, reminding them to order, as I have been doing with Waterstones. I can see that getting any sort of mass coverage in Borders then is going to be very, very hard work, necessitating constant follow ups in the form of phone calls - I will have to make sure then I am doubly well organised.

I also need to recontact Claire at the New Press Dept to see if the ordering system works in the same way as Waterstones - i.e. that when copies of a book sell, an order is automatically triggered for replacement copies. This is very handy, as it saves me the hard work of constantly ringing the store to check on stock levels. This is where it would be very handy to be able to log into Gardners or Bookdata to check which stores have stock and which need replenishing. The only way I could get this though is by registering the ISBN in my name, so that I am the publisher rather than Richard, Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

One thing that Borders have got right though is the launch, last week of their new Local Borders website, where store managers can actually post pictures and introductions about their staff, as well as listing events and recommended titles themselves. This could turn out to be quite handy, as I would know by looking at this site who does what in each store, and therefore know who to ask for and who I am speaking to when I do call. The site though is in its infancy, so many stores have yet added their details.

My book is due to be reviewed on Shelfari any day now as well though, which may bring in some more US sales. I am aware of at least 2 that I have had for this month through that site because of this initiative. Shelfari is one of those sites (like Library Thing) where you list all the books that you have and make comments on them, so that others can get recommendations from those that have read these things and know whether or not the books are for them. They also have a variety of different groups that you can join, one of which, Author Review, is aimed to helping to promote the work of members who are also authors.

The idea is that you send them a copy of the book, which is then read and reviewed on the site, and a series of questions asked of the author who then posts the answers on the site. Members are then invited to ask the author questions and make comments, which can result in substantial sales. My US sales are firm sale as well, which means I earn slightly more, which has to be a good thing. My book then is scheduled to be reviewed any day now. I have answered the questions, and am just waiting for it to go online.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Borders and Book (Reviewers) etc

I have had the most successful morning for a while, and am feeling full of the joys of autumn. Let's hope that some of that good luck rubs off on me, as I have an interview this afternoon for a part time job. This will be my first interview for a while.

It has got to the point where I have to return to work, since it has become clear that book sales alone will not sustain me! Now the book is on sale or return, it may take even longer than usual for the money to come in - since royalties are always paid somewhat in arrears. Gardners order books from Richard, and they in turn supply to the book stores. Book stores take 3 months to pay Gardners, with the option of sending them back, after 6 months or so if they don't sell ..... So, then you get the other problem - the possibility that I might actually end up owing Richard money and having to pay back the royalties that I do get .... I don't want to start thinking about that though ....

This morning I actually managed to speak to the New Press Department at Borders ! I spoke to very nice lady called Claire, whom I wrote to in September with some press releases and other information on the book. She confirmed that it has all been received, and that yes, my book is on the system as available for their stores to be ordered. Contrary to what I had been told by the stores themselves, only 2 currently have stock - Lakeside and Kingston upon Thames. She did not mention how many copies though have actually been sold.

She did confirm though that authors are in fact free, once their books are accepted, to ring any Borders or Books Etc Stores, in the same way that they can with Waterstones. Books will then have to be ordered through the Buying team at their Head Office. Most of the time they will order from Gardners, at a maximum of 40 percent discount, which is the terms at which my book is supplied. Birmingham then had no right to demand a 60 percent discount when I spoke to them back in August, or whenever it was.

She also though said, and this is the crucial bit, that she will mention the book to the actual Buying team, with a view to them giving it a bit more of a push to get it into some of their stores ! This is superb news. I asked for her email address, realising that it is very difficult to get these people on the phone, given my previous difficulties, and have made a note of it accordingly in my own little pink book ....

I then started to ring a few of the local Borders branches, starting with Brighton. I spoke to their MBS Manager, Rob O'Connor back in August, and he asked me to send him some information. At the time he indicated that he would definitely be interested in stocking some copies, but I never did get back to him to see whether he actually had. Well today he is not in until this afternoon, and I have that interview to go to, so I suspect it will have to wait for another day.

I then though telephoned Croydon, and they agreed to order some copies. Last time I spoke to them I got a very snooty book seller, who didn't have a clue, and told me they did not sell many MBS books or deal with POD authors. I found this strange when I happen to know that Sue Rule, who has written an excellent fantasy novel, published by Authors OnLine Ltd, did very successful book signing there not that long ago. I know Sue well, since she was the one who tried to get the Authors Direct group going. We had to give the idea up in the end, since we all had such different books, and could not arrange times to get together to discuss anything.

I then though spoke to Wimbledon, and they too ordered some copies. After that I spoke to Uxbridge, under the guise of ringing to check how the sales were going (they told back in August that they too would be ordering copies). It seems though that the books did not arrive, and for some reason, the missing order wasn't chased. Good job I rang then, as they have now ordered some more.

Following that a somewhat less helpful phone call to their branch at nearby Gatwick Airport, and then a somewhat more helpful call to Paul.

He had some bad news to pass on in that one of his other writing friends has passed on after a heart valve replacement operation. They think she contracted a strain of MRSA. He is not in a good way himself, so we couldn't talk for too long - he has a bad case of sinusitis and is doped up to the eyeballs on all sorts of drugs - lucky him!

I wanted though to tell him about Borders, and get some of his newspaper contacts. He was very pleased and willingly did all he could to help. I now have then contact details for most of the book reviewers at our National Dailies and some of the Sunday papers as well - The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, The Guardian G2 Magazine, The Guardian/Observer group, The Sunday Times Literary Editor, The Times Book Reviewer, The Telegraph, The Sunday People and last but no means least, The Spectator magazine.

I need to make sure my pitch is perfected though before I start to approach them, so will work on that this afternoon, and hopefully be ready to start writing and talking some more ....

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Wayne's girl signs £2 million book deal

I had a quick look at the Writers News forum this morning, as I often do, and noticed among the most recent posts, a story about Coleen McLoughlin signing a £2 million deal with publisher Harper Collins to write 5 novels.

Further investigations led me to the Mail on Sunday website, which features a story about said deal, headlined 'Wayne's girl signs £2 million book deal'. According to the article, the deal is not yet signed or sealed, but Coleen is still in negotiations. The article goes on to state that a source close to the couple (Coleen and fiance Wayne Rooney) stated that "Coleen is really excited about getting down to the work of writing these books for the same publishers that Wayne is working with. It is great because she will be writing books about fashion and celebrity lifestyle. It seems that she has been given a deadline for them first to be ready to be published later this year."

That is a tall order, since we are already halfway through October, and I don't think that a publisher would or even could work this quickly. It takes three months for even a POD to go through the different stages of cover design, editing and proof reading, checking and making corrections to the proofs, approving final proofs, registering ISBN etc, and most in fact all commercial publishers, like to start sending out advance review copies and hyping a book at least 6 - 9 months before it hits the shops. I think they must mean before the end of next year, 2008 rather than this one.

In any case though, you can bet your bottom dollar (or pound since this is England!) that Coleen herself will not be writing one single word of any of these books. I mean, I know she has a regular column in Closer magazine, which has supposedly resulted in many more sales for said magazine, but if you have a look at this any time (I only look at such things when I am waiting to get my teeth filled in you understand) then it is not exactly what I would call writing ....

It is all so called fashion and lifestyle tips. And this from the so called 'Queen of chav' ....

Well, I suppose it takes all sorts, but seriously what a sad indictment this is of our modern society in that this is what people really want to read, and that a publisher of the calibre of Harper Collins is prepared to chuck this obscene amount of money at such a project.

Of course the critics would say that they are only responding to public demand, since these books do sell in huge amounts of numbers, and certainly this is not the first book she has 'written' since her autobiography has been out there for some time and selling quite nicely thank you. My point is though that this girl, for that is what she is, has no obvious talent, and has done precious little from what I can tell in her own right. She is famous for being the girlfriend of someone else who is famous - and really and truly, what has he done either. My Dad always used to say that he didn't understand what all the fuss was about football, it was only a bunch of men kicking a ball about ....

I have been thinking about this all day long, and maybe I have been looking at it the wrong way. Coleen may not be quite as stupid as we think .... Apparently she left school with 10 GCSE's - including an A star in performing arts. She also does an awful lot of charity work, especially for Retts syndrome, a genetic disorder that her little sister Rosie suffers from. In fact she presented a programme with Trevor McDonald on this very cause just recently.
She has I hear recently been signed by ITV to do a series of other programmes, as they were so impressed by the way that she handled herself. These include a programme where she scours the streets looking for real women who are then given bona fide modelling jobs from which the traditional stick thin size zero models are banned. Given Coleen's high profile in the celebrity mags and gossip columns this is the sort of thing that could just make a very big difference to the lives of a lot of young women, not to mention their families.
There is definitely more to this girl than meets the eye, and I cannot help feel that the public have misjudged her. She was after all a teenager when fiance Wayne Rooney first shot to fame, and so has had to grow up in the public eye, which cannot have been easy for any girl. All teenagers go through that gawky phase where they are finding their style and what works best for them, but Coleen had to do this in public, and was ridiculed until quite recently in fact for pretty much everything that she wore.
The ugly duckling though has turned into a beautiful and self assured swan who does not need to rely on Wayne's money, for she has plenty of her own. Coleen is reported to be worth a cool £6 million thanks to the deal with ITV, her books, the regular column in Closer magazine and a series of advertising deals.
As Layla Smith, Controller of Alternative Series at ITV said: ‘She’s someone who’s found huge recognition and yet remained completely grounded and true to herself'. That is a very rare thing in this celebrity obsessed world that we live in.
It seems to me though on reading up a little about Coleen's life, that this is a bit like a modern day fairy tale, and maybe that is the appeal. Girl grows up in rough area of Liverpool, meets boy from same rough neighbourhood and falls in love. Boy grows up to become talented footballer and earns pots of money. Girl and boy get engaged, buy huge mansion and live happily ever after, except not quite, as like any young couple, Wayne and Coleen have had their share of ups and downs.

This though is part of the appeal, the fact that they have risen above all this and stayed happy and very much together. People these days though, especially young women are looking for an escape from their own humdrum and boring lives and routine, and so grow to idolise girls like Coleen who have managed to escape from all this. It doesn't matter how she managed to do it, only that she has and personally I say good luck to her. It brings hope to these young women that they may too some day meet their footballing prince who will whisk them off to their own mansion in the Cheshire suburbs ....

In the meantime though, I am considering placing an ad in the Times which reads, 'Wanted, one rich footballer to marry aspiring author' .....

Book signing in Staines

I have read in numerous books on writing and self publishing about the infamous highs and lows that all authors have to experience, but I don't think I have ever experienced it to the degree that I did yesterday.

Yesterday was of course my long awaited book signing at Waterstones in Staines. Coran and I went to the shop a few days in advance to make sure we knew where it was, and see if there was anything that we would need to bring with us, and found that it would be a good idea to print some colour flyers, since the store only has a black and white printer (other authors take note) and nothing had been put in the window - just flyers at the tills.

I am not quite sure though what happened, but the crowd that I had been promised did not materialise. A friend of mine teaches meditation in the town, and also runs a dancing school. She could not attend herself, since she has dance classes on Saturdays, but told a lot of her students who all said they could not wait to get a copy - one in fact didn't want to wait and ordered one from the store a couple of weeks ago. You can imagine my disappointment then when not one of them turned up. I don't know what the problem was, whether it was a mix up over dates or times maybe, but have emailed her to find out and see if she can shed any light on what may have happened. So far I have not heard back and I don't expect to until Wednesday when she has her next group (assuming they meet during half term week).

I was hoping that as the day grew nearer, they would put at least something in the window, but when Coran and I got to the store around 10.25am there was still nothing. I though had printed some myself using one of those £10 DTP things that you can get from Staples, and as it happens they looked very good and eye catching. These were duly posted then in the window and at various places around the store (including one which was bluetacked to the front of my table!).

I found that they had given me a small round table right by the store entrance, underneath a lovely wall heater. They had arranged the books neatly on top, and so I covered the table with my Egyptian white and gold scarf and rearranged the books on top with postcards, business cards and pens. I also brought some cards with me from the recent MBS weekend of quotes from the book, as I thought that that might add a little something.

Although Rebecca had organised the event, a lady called Fran was in charge of the two of us, and made us both a lovely cup of tea while we set up, which was most welcome!

The books themlesves only arrived on Thursday, so there had not been time for much of a display in the days and weeks leading up the event which was also rather disappointing. They only ordered them in fact 2 1/12 weeks before and it was touch and go as to whether they would even arrive at all, since I had had a really good week and Gardners sold out of stock. Normally this would have been good, but with a book signing coming up, in this instance it wasn't....

I though had also brough a large batch of postcards with me, which I get printed free of charge from VistaPrint, and so once I had finished my tea, I left Coran sitting at the table keeping an eye on things while I walked round the store and acosted people ! Some came over to look, remarked that it looked interesting and then promptly walked off again - I am getting used to people that do that. Some who were browsing the MBS section took postcards and thanked me and then didn't come and say hello either.... One very nice couple though bought a copy for their son who has recently graduated from university with a philosophy degree. This is just the sort of person I am trying to reach.

I was in there then for a total of around an hour and a half and in that time, despite my best efforts sold just the one book - very disappointing indeed. The photographer from the local paper though, the Staines edition of the Surrey Herald turned up though and took some photographs, which brought some more very strange 'looks interesting but not enough to buy' types over to the table to look. The picture will be in next weeks edition and he gave me the number to ring for them to send me a free copy, so it can be added to my portfolio.

Before I left the store asked me to sign all the remaining copies, which hopefully now means that they can't be sent back .... They shall then remain in stock until sold. Quite a lot of people did take postcards, so you never know, plus those girls who didn't show can still this way get their signed copies without my having to come back again (it is a 56 mile round trip). The local paper coverage will hopefully generate further interest as well.

Afterwards Coran and I went to Pizza Hut for lunch, and talked a little bit about what had happened and the importance of approaching these things without expectations. How though are you supposed to do that when you have been assured that people will be there? I compared it to one of Coran's clients telling him that they would call at a certain time and then not doing so, or even the experience of waiting in for a parcel. When someone tells you to expect something, you do wonder why when they don't follow through on that, and personally (I know this is probably my ego talking) I think I deserve an explantion. I am tired of being let down by people. I don't behave this way and so don't expect others to, maybe though I have higher standards than other people, I think sometimes I must do.

After we had finished lunch, Coran wanted to go and have a look round the shops, but I just wanted to get home. I went back to the car then and waited for him there, and it was just about all I could do not to burst into tears. I do find it very hard though to do this and let go, especially in a busy car park with kids bouncing around in the car next to you (the dad had actually left them unattended in the drivers seat can you believe).

I have learnt several things though from the day - firsrly that you can't rely on people you don't actually know to turn up, secondly that you can't assume either that the store will pull out all the stops to help you, and contacting the local newspaper is not sufficient publicity. Next time I will contact more local media (in particular radio) at least one month to six weeks in advance and send the store publicity materials for their displays (and ring to make sure they are received and being used). It is though all a learning experience, and one more hurdle that I have overcome. Now I have done a book signing I will be better prepared for the next one and know what to expect.