Thursday, March 06, 2008

If it ain't one thing its another ...

I really have had an absolute gut full today, having faced it seems one setback after another, and really do once again wonder whether this is seriously worthwhile. The problems have been exacerbated by the fact that I have had very little sleep and am just dog tired and really do feel fit to drop. Coran had a bad migraine last night and so neither of us have had much sleep at all, as we had to call the Doctor out at 1am, and then sit up waiting for them to call us back for over an hour until 2.15 am. When they finally did, they told him to take some paracetamol and just let things take their course, which is not what we you want to hear when you are in pain, both physical and emotional, in the midst of a panic attack, and suffering from severe sleep deprivation.

This may sound selfish, but it is not what I needed at all, since now I am working four days a week, and have 71 books to shift from home, I need to utilise every single moment of my days off in order to sell these things, and cannot afford to take days off and take my eye off the ball for even a moment. The universe at the moment does not seem to want to help me at all, as I seem to be continually coming up against all sorts of problems and blocks that hinder my progress. It is almost as if having come so far, I can go no further and seem to be continually coming up against a series of brick walls, which seem to be obstacles in my path. I am just so tired though of this continual battle for acceptance and to get anywhere, and when one repeatedly comes up against this stuff and is given conflicting advice by people who actually work for a certain chain store, well, it just breaks my heart to once again feel that I am getting absolutely nowhere and letting everyone down - including myself. I really do not know what I can do to get past this, and wish I could just wake up on 22nd December 2012 and find it was all over and done with.

First thing this morning, after I had had a strong cup of tea to wake myself up, I started to ring back all those Borders that I spoke to last weekend. I should have realised I was wasting my time when every single one of them told me that the person I needed to speak to was not available and could I call back later on as they were on late shifts.

Undeterred, I rang Blackwells in Aberdeen, as the first of their stores whom I also emailed over the weekend. As it happens, their Manager was a lot more helpful, as she explained to me that although the book did have potential, it would not in her opinion sell without either endorsement from one of the University Professors or as part of a campaign via the buying team. I had to agree with her, as what she had to say made a lot of sense. I just cannot afford though to send books to every Professor in the country, and as she expalined, they would expect that I do. She understood this though and so gave me the name and email address of Katharine Fry, their Trade Buyer, whom I have emailed. I await her reply with interest and bated breath.

I then telephoned Paul and gave him the news, and he in turn gave me the address for the new and soon to be launched X-Books site which he is working on with Derek Reece, Richards business partner at Authors OnLine Ltd. This exciting project, which was discussed at the Authors OnLine 10th anniversary celebration at St Neots in October, is like an X-factor for books, run over the Internet rather than on television, the difference being that the judges are not celebrities, but members of the public.

Authors will download their work to the site for free, and members of the public will then pay £1.50 a time to vote for their favourite work and add comments in the form of a kind of review, thus proving that there is a market for this work. The winner will win a contract with Authors OnLine, whereby a run of 5000 books will be printed (it will not then be print on demand) for distribution in the normal way both online and through book stores. Those who have posted to the website will also be able to buy copies of the books direct at 40 percent discount, the same terms that the stores themselves get.

Derek, whom I also spoke to this morning, chose the £1.50 figure after it came to his attention that more people paid this amount to vote on the X-factor than actually turned up to vote at the last General Election! The site seems to be getting some heavyweight support from what both Derek and Paul have told me - with The Times and The Guardian endorsing it, as well as Writers News (it is set to be featured in the April edition, due out any day now). Jonathon Clifford of course thinks it is a waste of time, but only time will tell. As far as I am concerned, any publicity for Authors OnLine Ltd is also publicity for me, as the more people that go to their site, the greater their profile becomes and the more potential there is that people will find and hopefully buy my book.

After that the photographer from the local paper called round to take some photographs of me looking suitable mournful by a big pile of books. After he had gone I rang the reporter whom I have been dealing with and who is writing the piece, to let him know and confirm the details re the competition I have decided to run. I am offering a free copy to the first reader to contact me and £2 off a copy with free postage to everyone else. After that I had some lunch and went to sleep.

I woke up around 2.45 pm and set to work ringing all those Borders back, and it was then that the problems really began .... They all back tracked on what I had previously been told - namely, that they only order books by local authors and everything else has to go through Head Office. Their Head Office though will not stock books by unknown authors without a sales history, and you cannot get a sales history if they refuse to stock your books .... This is what I mean about hitting a brick wall ...

After this happening with around half a dozen stores, in desperation I rang their Head Office and somehow or other got through to the Buying department, a minor miracle in itself given that they normally only deal with authors and publisher via email and snail mail. Again I was told conflicting things - that books are ordered for the most part centrally, but that authors can contact stores direct and talk to them if they wish (Books Etc stores are often more open to this, as like Ottakars they are traditionally more used to dealing with authors). Stores can make decisions at local level re stock, but the orders have to be passed to Head Office for them to actually carry out. They were able to tell me that 3 stores have stock - Kingston, Lakeside and Llantrissant in Wales, but Kingston are the only store to have sold copies - a total of 9 of them, since I happen to know that they ordered 20 for my talk there in January 2007.

The Bookseller in the meantime, I noticed today, have an article regarding both Waterstones and Borders which states that Paul Smiddy, an 'influential' market analyst from HSBC believes that Waterstones are better placed to capitalise from a loss in market share by Borders, especially once their centralised warehouse starts to be rolled out towards the end of May.

According to the article, the report states that the current retail supply chain is "more akin to the 19th century than the 21st". I think I, and most other self publishers and small presses would agree with that! Smiddy believes that the Waterstones distribution centre, due to go live later this year, could lead to other parties trying to simplify their own supply chains. He told The Bookseller: "Waterstones is in the vanguard of what could be a change that impacts the whole retail industry." Change that in my opinion is long overdue and can only be a good thing.

From my experiences at trying to get my book into both of these chains, these 2 companies could not be more different in their attitudes towards authors. Waterstones are a delight to work with, with Managers who are not only willing to talk, but also listen and take the trouble to explain things to you, and also perhaps more importantly, don't fob you off, but tell you the truth. They have clear buying policies which are easy to understand and work with, and even have an independent author advisor, who like their Managers, for the most part at least, is very approachable and listens to the needs of independent authors and publishers, helping them to get into the stores and giving support where needed.

Borders on the other hand are a nightmare - the buying team do not talk to people at all, but all business is done by mail. There is no information on the website re buying policies, meaning that you are forced to either guess as to what the polices are or deal with answerphones. They do they told me though, plan to publish guidelines on their website soon. The stores themselves give conflicting advice - some are happy to talk and will order copies, but the majority do not have a clue and simply refer you back to Head Office, insisting that everything has to go through them. The left hand then does not know what the right is doing - I have had staff blatantly lie to me, telling me that they are buyers and managers when in reality they are just weekend staff and students with part time jobs who don't have a clue. My point is though, that if you cannot talk to a person on the phone in the Buying Department, how can you build up a relationship with the company - this is not communication, but wanting things all their own way to the detriment of those that provide them with jobs and a livelihood in the first place.

As I said before, it is catch 22 - they will not stock your book centrally without some healthy sales figures, but you cannot get these if the stores will not talk to you and act like human beings. I have given up even trying now then and will concentrate on those who are willing to talk and do not insist on ridiculous discounts either. It's about time in my opinion that they realised that without authors like me there would be no books for them to sell in the first place, and they would all be out of a job ! What a way to run a book shop !

It seems a pity to me that they don't take a leaf out of Waterstones book, or some of the independents, like the Big Green Bookshop which is due to open this Saturday at 11am. I wish I could be there to cheer them on, but it would be the one Saturday that I have to work, so it will have to wait for another time.

The shop will stock 8,000 titles, which will include a multicultural section to reflect Wood Green's diverse population. The children's section will be age-ranged between pre-school, primary and secondary. They also plan to focus on science fiction, which was it seems a very popular genre at the old Waterstone's branch that Tim and Simon, their new managers used to manage together.

For the moment though, dinner is calling, and I have written quite a tome, so it is time to sign off and find the nearest brick wall to bang my head against ....

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