Thursday, January 17, 2008

Has my work born fruit?

It seems that all my running around over the weekend in order to drum up book orders may have paid dividends, since there has been no word from Gardners all week as to when I can expect delivery of my books. When I got home from work on Friday night they had 159 copies in stock, and as of tonight the number has dropped to 135. This means that should they still insist on shipping back the 120 copies as planned, it will leave them with just 15 copies in stock. This is the number at which they would normally be re-ordering, so I would not be a bit surprised to find that the shipment had been delayed while they figure out whether or not this is really such a good idea! I can but wait and see.

It has though all things considered, been one very strange week. It has very quiet at work following the Christmas rush, not that I am complaining too much. While it is nice to have the time to catch one's breath, the only bonus we are likely to earn this week is for the store that was the quietest. It is the same though across the board, with even superstores being quiet. In terms of money through the tills, some of them are doing far worse that we are. Our staffing problems do not help, although we have yet another new full timer starting on Monday. He has no retail experience, but that need not be a bad thing, as he will come into the job without preconceptions. Let's hope it will be a case then of third time lucky, and he lasts more than three days. He is a little older, so should in theory at least be more reliable.

Looking at The Bookseller website today though, it seems that the HMV group, who of course own Waterstones, are one of the few retailers to have had a good Christmas at all. It must be due to all those copies of my book that have been flying off the shelves! Like for like sales in the five weeks prior to January 5th were apparently up by 4 percent with an actual growth rate of 0.5 percent. Not bad at all considering.

The same news page details a story about a new Apprentice style TV show for crime writers, whereby six celebrities are mentored by crime writer Minette Walters. The series, which will be broadcast as a series of five 45 minute episodes will pit six celebrities, named as Brendan Cole, Sherrie Hewson, Angela Griffin, Kelvin MacKenzie, Matt Allwright and Diarmuid Gavin against each other.

Walters will set them a series of challenges designed to inspire daily writing tasks. These will include dog tracking, resisting a violent attack, an autopsy (rather them than me), crime scene investigation, interrogation techniques and rapid pursuit of a suspect. Walters will then judge the celebrities' writing efforts and eliminate one candidate per day.

The winner will predictably turn their plot and central characters into a novel, to be published with Pan as a Quick Read on WBD 2009, in conjunction with the BBC's adult literacy campaign RaW. This together with the fact that the proceeds will go to Children in Need, is about the only saving grace that this idea has.

While I would support any endeavour that helps raise funds for charity, especially for children and the literacy campaign, why did they have to choose celebrities as the contestants? There are thousands of talented writers out there who are begging for a chance like this and will never get that lucky break, because unlike these so-called celebrities, they are just not well known enough and their writing is deemed to be insufficiently commercial. High sales is not though necessarily indicative of great literary merit. This can be attested to when you look at the film and art work in general, as well as publishing. The best films are very often those made by the low budget production companies, yet because these do not take the big money and have low marketing budgets, like print on demand and other self published books, they disappear without a trace.

It seems to me then that the only crime that is being committed here is the fact that they have chosen celebrities for this role. Mind you, having said this, I cannot realistically imagine that a struggling would be writer would be happy to hand over the entire proceeds of their book to charity, no matter how worthy the cause, not unless it was the struggling writers benevolent fund anyway ....

Monday, January 14, 2008

Damage Limitation

Now that I know the books are definitely coming back, it is beginning to hit me just what this means and how much work I am going to have to put in on my days off to turn this thing around. Ringing chain stores and getting them to order via the wholesaler and negotiating discount with independents are two totally different kettles of fish, and am I really prepared and ready to be doing this? It seems that I have not been given a choice. I wonder sometimes then whether I did the right thing in going down the POD route after all, and whether I should have just gone for short print run.

It seems that I will be forced to do all that a short print run publisher does anyway - negotiating terms, invoicing and sending the books out, so perhaps I should have just done this in the beginning. I know though that this was not an option, as there is a world of difference between storing 120 books and 3000 of the things! I just hope that I am up to the challenge of this, as the reality of actually doing it is not the same as just talking about it. I suspect it will be an even bigger learning curve that the one I have already been through.

I was hoping to exercise some damage control with my efforts this morning and over the weekend, but sadly it seems that Gardners are determined to send back the full 120 regardless of the orders now beginning to come back in. The number in stock has dropped over the weekend from 159 to 155, and today will drop even more, since this morning I have secured orders from another 5 shops - Waterstones in Weston super Mare, Warrington and Tunbridge Wells, as well as Borders in Wimbledon and Same Day Books in Worthing.

It seems that this is actually the second order from Same Day Books, since having spoken to their Buyer, they actually ordered 5 late last year, 3 of which have sold. He has though agreed t0 order 3 more, which he was processing as I spoke to him, and so next time I go to Gardners website I expect the number in stock will have dropped accordingly.

The good news is though that Gardners are not going to charge me for freight, I am not sure why, since this does seem unusual, but I am not going to argue with that and neither is Richard. They will send them back as soon as he gives them my address, which is probably round about now, so I await their arrival later this week. I bet you anything you like though that by the end of the month I am sending some back again!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Good can come from bad

I am still trying to be positive about what has happened, and am pleased to report that I woke up this morning minus the sick feeling in my stomach that accompanied yesterday. It is strange how nervous I seemed to be at the prospect of ringing book stores again after a month long hiatus, but it is like riding a bike really - you just get straight back on again. Securing orders from the first two stores that I got through to certainly helped.

Today was not as successful however - largely because book stores open that much later and there are always other things that need doing - like my weekly trip to the gym. I did manage to get through to Waterstones in Truro, and was promised a call back. It did not materialise but undeterred, I shall try again tomorrow. I do not give up that easily.

I have been doing the sums today though and have tentatively worked out what I can and cannot afford to offer in terms of discount. I won't publish the full details here, as it is subject to confirmation of shipping costs, which still have to be taken into account, but it looks very much as if I will be able to equal what Gardners offer (40 percent discount), or maybe even more as a sweetener for firm sale. Some stores would at least be willing to discuss this I feel, especially given that I am now beginning to chalk up quite a healthy sales history - for a book of this nature that lacks professional sales representation anyway.

I will not start to do deals like this until the books are actually back in my possession, but for the moment at least, I have compiled a list of over 30 stores that I plan to ring tomorrow. Most of these are Waterstones that I did not manage to get through to prior to Christmas (some of whom I wrote to a month ago or more), but also some independents, and at least two branches of Same Day Books. I also plan to ring the national newspapers that I sent review copies to at the end of October and have not got round to ringing back, to see what if any progress they are making and whether or not they are likely to be printing reviews. I shall keep a sharp eye on my inbox to see if I receive an email back from the Manager of Staines.

Sometime in between all of this I need to post some letters to three branches that I spoke to yesterday and also enter The Self Publishing Awards competition hosted by the David St John Thomas Charitable Trust. There are substantial prizes up for grabs and I should stand a very good chance in the non fiction category. The entry fee is only £5 per category and they need 2 copies of your book - I have them in stock so can afford to do this, knowing that I will soon have box loads of them to sell! I won't have to order any more for a while then!

I was pleasantly surprised by the Manager of my local Waterstones I have to say, as I found that contrary to my impression, she is actually very nice and approachable. I wandered in there yesterday lunchtime to see if I could persuade her to order some more. Sadly I did not succeed, since she still has stock, but she did agree (and I saw her do this) to place the copy she does have on a Waterstones recommends stand by the front door with a hand written review. I said that she could use one of the ones which is printed inside the book, or otherwise look on That way the book that she does have has a better chance of selling much more quickly, and once it does, then she is more than willing to re-order now she knows who I am.

I also had the idea to try and get the local newspaper involved by letting them write a piece about me perhaps and run a competition where the first person to write in wins a free copy and everyone else gets to order from me at discount. Hopefully they will be interested in this when I explain. I can walk up there perhaps one lunchtime as they are only a 5 minute walk from where I work.

At the moment then I have all these ideas floating around in my head and can see that in some ways this is helping me to approach marketing in a new and exciting way - interesting how what seems an awful situation can be turned round with the right attitude, to ones advantage.