Saturday, January 12, 2008

When the going gets tough the tough get going

Having thought about the Gardners debacle overnight, I am determined to see this not as a problem, but rather, as a challenge to be overcome. They say that when the going gets tough the tough get going, and I have always been tougher than most, so I plan to get going as of today and turn this thing around to my advantage, so that I triumph over this stupid and biased system that puts both authors and publishers firmly at the bottom of the pecking order.

Normally I have to buy my own books at print cost plus 25 percent, meaning that there is no scope for offering much discount at all to independents. I have not then bothered to contact many of them, since they are not likely to buy from me on such terms. Perhaps now though they will. It will also make the cost of sending review copies a lot lighter. I may also be able to cut the cost that I sell them at from my own website and even undercut Amazon's price.

The timing is not brilliant (is it ever), and it will mean an awful lot of hard work (since when has that changed) over the next few months to pull this off, but i am confident that if anyone can do it then I can. There are ways and means and if I have to I will ring shops in my lunch hour and during late night trading and at weekends. I spent an hour ringing round this morning in fact and managed to get orders from another three Waterstones in Yeovil, Worthing and Worcester Shambles.

I also spoke to Waterstones in Staines, where I did a book signing in October. I was hoping their Manager may be able to give me some information on how well the book is doing, and I was delighted to told that they have sold 5 copies there, and 66 company wide. Last time I asked at the end of November, the figure was 36, so this means that I have sold 30 books through their shops in December alone - one for every day of that month.

I remembered Simon Key's (Big Green Bookshop) comments regarding core stock that he left on this blog site some time ago and this got me to thinking. So I emailed Staines back after I had finished ringing round and have asked her if she would be prepared to recommend the book to the core stock team at Waterstones Head Office. It will then be stocked by default in a certain proportion of all their stores (i.e it will be automatically replenished).

I know I will not change Gardners mind, and I am in no position to negotiate anyway, since the account is held in Richard's name and not mine, but this may help to reduce the number of copies I have to take back and is certain to make them think at the very least. The most annoying thing is though that once the orders do start to come back in, Gardners will pretty quickly once again go out of stock, and I will then have to send the same books back to them - at my expense! This is the thing that stings most of all - mind you, I do take some small satisfaction is knowing that they will also lose the £2.64 per copy that they would have got had they decided to keep my books.

Having now spoken to Richard, he has said that when Gardners do re-order, which they will do much sooner than later, rather than getting more stock from Lightning Source, he will simply copy the order over to me. Richard is going to get back to me on Monday then with some idea as to cost of shipping the books back to me. I will then be in a better position to decide whether to drive down to Eastbourne myself and pick them up or just get Gardners to ship them back. I suspect it may be cheaper to go to Eastbourne myself, and it may also be quite interesting, as I will have the opportunity to have a look around their warehouse and sign the remaining copies that they will keep as stock.

I have no idea though why this has happened - and Richard is as perplexed as I am. He has been dealing with Gardners for over 10 years and assures me that this is the first time that they have done anything like this. I can only surmise that like everyone else too, they have their own problems are are just cutting back on what they believe to be dead stock. This time though they have made the wrong decision, as my books are not dead, but only just beginning.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Gardners are sending back 120 books

When I got in from work an hour and half ago, I checked my emails, as I usually do and was dismayed to find the following message from Richard, the boss at Authors OnLine Ltd.

"Happy New Year - However, sorry to spoil the party but our pushing Gardners to keep ordering stock has come home to roost. It would appear that many of your Waterstones stores never in fact ordered, despite what they told you.

Gardners have done a post Christmas stock take and have 159 copies left in stock and are clearing down. They are therefore cutting back to a stock level which means that they are returning 120 copies. They will continue to order and hold stock from the reduced level. As they have just told me, unfortunately they are not a warehouse. and I'm afraid nor are we.

The options therefore are:
1) We get Gardners to pulp them at no cost to us. But we will of course be deducing all expenses for printing and shipping from any profits before calculating any royalties.
2) They return them direct to you, and you pay us the print cost + say 10% - there is a cost for shipping as well (unless you want to collect them from Eastbourne) and then you can re-supply out of that stock as they need them. You benefit in that you get a better deal when they are sold or you can sell them direct to outlets and individuals yourself making a higher than normal margin.

Sorry but that's the way sale or return works and why we try to avoid it like the plague.

Need a rely in the next 24 hours or option number one will automatically apply.

Kind regards


To say that was not pleased by this was an understatement of the grandest proportions. Having worked out the sums, to buy them back at print cost plus 10 percent is going to cost me £535 and that doesn't include the cost of shipping or petrol either, not to mention my time. I am loathe to allow them to be pulped, since they will have to paid for regardless, and that is not why I chose print on demand. On the other hand as Richard says, I may be able to supply some independents direct, as by buying the books at effectively print cost it will give much more leeway to offer them a greater discount. I know at least 2 shops that will definitely take some, and hopefully others on the list that my friend who runs that spiritual magazine will also oblige.

It is just that now I am back at work, working four days a week, I do not have the time to physically go to Eastbourne and get the things and then send them out to book stores, drawing up supply terms and conditions and send them out via the Post Office. The most annoying thing is that once I do get ringing again, which will hopefully be next week, I will start to get some more sales, and within another couple of weeks I will be forced to pay all over again to send them back to Gardners! How much this is likely to cost is anyone's guess - I don't have an account with a courier firm and I wouldn't have the first idea about opening one either or what the cost is likely to be of sending such things. Gardners would be ordering in bulk after all, at the rate of 30 maybe 50 books maximum, and that would be far too costly to send via the mail.

I don't see though that I have much choice than to buy them back and do it this way as I am really not prepared to let them be pulped. I am not going to pay for something after all that is going to be thrown away, it just does not make sense.

Richard tells me though that I am not the only one of his authors that they are doing this to - Gardners have stock of another of his books that has been gathering dust for a year now, after the author said he was going to do a big marketing campaign and then didn't.

I don't know what I have to do though in order to get this book really off the ground - it just seems that I am continually taking one step forwards and three back. Cygnus Books do not seem interested as they have not got back to me, none of the newspapers I have sent copies to seem interested in reviewing it either - I just wish I knew what was going on.

As it stands I am going to have to shell out all this money for someone else's mistake - I know they ordered more because Richard asked them to, but they ordered far too many, and not that long ago either. It is all because for the past month I have not been able to make calls to any stores a) because of Christmas and b) because of my new job. I just really despair sometimes about this industry is run, it just seems utter madness and so biased against everyone except wholesalers and chain stores. This is not what I published my book for to be treated in this way in such a cavalier fashion as if I just don't exist. After all, if people like me didn't write the books then these wholesalers and the like wouldn't have a business in the first place! Pity there isn't a Writers Guild in this country for self published authors, so we could go on strike and see how they like it here!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Print on Demand comes to Borders

My lovely boss was in an even lovelier mood today, since he said I could go home an hour early at 4.30 instead of 5.30 (5.45 by the time we get all the customers out and the shop locked up). I would have gone to the gym had I had my gear with me, but I didn't, so I came home instead and thought I would use the time to do some online research into different things. Along the way I found an interesting news story re Borders.

It seems that they are piloting a print on demand scheme in their Oxford Street store starting in February 2008, in yet another sign of how the publishing world is at last beginning to embrace this technology and see its benefits.

Customers will have access to a database of around 1500 items of software (not books) like games, music and video. They are hoping to introduce the ability to actually download films to DVDs as well as spoken word CDs over the next few months.

The items available will be listed in either an e-catalogue or a printed one available in store. They just take the empty case over to the cashier who then places into a console, so the software is pressed into the disk while they wait, complete with inlay card and user manual. The entire process is designed to take a matter of minutes.

The company behind this service, Tribeka, has agreements with more than 225 providers including the BBC, Dorling Kindersley, Lego, McAfee, Sage, and Britannica. The advantage to the retailer is of course that they will not have to physically hold stock, (or for that matter count it) thus reducing overheads.

Borders are also looking at ways to sell audio books in a similar manner. Where's my voice recorder ? !

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Poison Pen Letters

After I got home from work last night, I found Coran had placed 2 letters of my keyboard which arrived in the post. When I opened them, one was a crossword entry for the village newsletter, and the other a letter which I shall print below (omitting the senders name):

Dear Editor

Before the next edition goes to press, we would like to object to your misuse of the editorial page at the beginning of the December 2007-January 2008 issue. Has it never occurred to you that most people in the village do not really care how dramatically your life has changed or how many copies of your stupid book you have sold?

The editorial column should be about what it says on the cover - village news and not you. Sincerely (she then lists her own name and those of 6 others).

This is the second time this person has written to me, both times I hasten to add, anonymously. The first time she was telling me how awful she thought my book was after she had read the free copy that I can only surmise she won at last summer's village fair! She also criticised the quality of the pictures that are reproduced in the newsletter - as if I have any control over this!

This though really takes the biscuit. I see nothing wrong with what I wrote on the editorial page in question, where I was commenting on the fact that I have lived here for a year now and how much things have changed for both of us during that time. She is wrong when she says that the editorial page is for village news, as most magazines I buy have much more personal comments that this on the editorial page. The editorial page is just that - a space for the editor to make his or her own comments on what has been going on for them since the last issue.

Knowing that the former secretary for the neighbourhood council knows so many people up here, and given the fact that this lady (if that is the right phrase to use) was not courteous enough to provide me with contact details, so that I can discuss this with her in person, I discussed it with her (the former secretary that is), and she didn't have a clue who any of these people are either. However, she does know who might so said that today she would make enquiries. In the meantime, she also suggested that I print the letter in the February edition, to make these people look even more silly than they already are, naming and shaming them as it were. Having talked this over with my predecessor, he agrees.

They will all be in for one hell of a shock then when they get their February edition and see their names in print! If they think I am going to just roll over and take this then they will have to think again. After all, my predecessor was advertising for almost a year for a new editor before I contacted him, and at the time I didn't even live here, so if they think they can do a better job than I am then they should have applied when they had the chance.

The plot though thickens, as having now spoken to the former secretary of the local neighbourhood council, she has checked with the District Counsellor and informs me that none of the names on this letter are registered on the electoral roll - I can only surmise then that they are fictitious. Only a coward and bully behaves like this - as they know that they are in the wrong and if challenged their arguments would not hold sway.

It has though really upset me, since I happen to think that I am going a bloody good job, especially when ones considers that I also work part time (full time for the last month) and run my own business. Like I said, my predecessor was advertising for a replacement for almost a year before a friend got in touch and told me about it. At the time I was not even living here, as we had only just had our offer accepted on the property we are now living in, and since I did take over the editors reins this is the first such letter I have received - most people in fact are full of praise for the changes I have made, and say how much better the magazine now is!

If she doesn't like it then, she should have applied for the job when she had the chance - not that she would be any good at it anyway, since her letter is littered with basic proof reading errors.

Having slept on it though since yesterday and been mulling this over all day, I am still undecided as to what to do for the best and so I asked my pendulum. It confirmed that that I should indeed print the letter, and I should also reply - in the nicest possible way (this will be difficult). As tempting as it is though to let rip and say what I really think, it would not be professional of me to do so. This way though, she will know that her letter has been received and the comments noted. I will also publish any letters of support that I get in response to this in future editions which will wipe the smile right off her stupid cowardly face.

On another professional note though, my boss has agreed to let me work four days a week starting next week. He offered me the chance to work full time, which ordinarily I would have taken, but having come this far with the book he understands that I cannot just throw in the towel, but have to continue working hard at promoting the book as much as I can. It will be difficult being back at work, and I will feel torn in two, but the sad reality is that I can earn more from selling their stuff than I can from selling books.

We have already earned £200 in bonuses this month as the store that had the greatest trading margin in the week preceding Christmas, and the store that sold the most clearance lines last week. This week the bonus is also based on clearance lines, and we are on target to win it for the second week in a row, which will not be bad with a team of three full timers (I count myself in this category unofficially) and two weekend staff. I would have to sell 72 books in order to earn £100 in royalties, which is the equivalent of a whole months work. I wish it were different, but this is the world we are living in, and I have to pay the bills and keep a roof over my head.

David R Wright writes in the February edition of Writers News that the Society of Authors are currently debating moves towards an minimum hourly rate for non fiction writers who submit articles for publications and also write books. By this he means that the advance of one off fee paid to such writers for publication of their work should be the amount of hours it took to write, edit and research multiplied by the current minimum hourly wage (£5.50 an hour). If I were to be paid this in the form of an advance for my book I would have received an advance of around £8000! Chance would be a fine thing! I can't see this catching on fast, although it would be nice if it did. It would prove very difficult to enforce, since writers would need to meticulously record every minute they spent writing, which most would be loathe to do - we have enough to do keeping the Inland Revenue happy as it is!