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.