Sunday, 17 January 2016

Another chat with Jeremy Vine

Well, Thursday was another one of those days where the World stands on its head. In the morning I went for a meeting with the manager of Jarrolds, the biggest independent bookshop in Norwich. That was very encouraging and gave me some insights into the book trade, which is still a very new business for me. On leaving him, I was walking towards Norwich Cathedral (he'd mentioned they had an exhibition space, and I thought I'd check it out) when I discovered that someone had left a voicemail on my mobile. It was very difficult to hear the message but I picked up something about wanting me to ring the Jeremy Vine Show. I had not a clue about what it might be for and I couldn't hear the number clearly enough to ring back (and the number wasn't on my phone because he must have rung when I was in one of Norfolk's many blank spots). So I thought I'd continue to the Cathedral and have a look (nice exhibition space, but too small and too difficult to black out for my installations) before heading back to check my home phone. I'd started walking along the river to where I'd parked my car when my phone rang, and indeed it was a researcher from the Jeremy Vine Show - they were doing a feature on internet businesses and knowing that I had had a bit of an overwhelming demand situation (!), wondered whether I might come on to talk about how I dealt with it. This was just before midday and they wanted to talk to me at 1.30, so I continued the walk back to my car, calmly drove home and in arriving back at 1.10 I was able to get a bite to eat and listen to a bit of the show before they rang.

The show is up on iplayer at and the segment that involved me starts at 1:39:08. And having been talking about dealing with a rush of orders, I then had to deal with a rush of orders. I sold out of what was left of the 1st reprint, and changed my book web page to show that it was now going to pre-orders for the 2nd reprint: the 2nd reprint is arriving on 2nd February and being posted out in the first week in February. This second interview has also led to some national press interest. That, and the fact that I am getting the most amazing emails from people who have read the book, tell me that there are still legs in this yet.

I've also been getting emails asking about arranging for me to give presentations. I've now got 41 requests and I'm just working out how to handle that, given that I'm not entirely in control of my calendar at the moment, and also that these requests are coming from around the country, including many places that are not exactly close to my home in Norfolk. I want to be able to keep costs down for people booking me, so I'm trying to formulate a plan that involves me doing mini-tours in various areas - and I will be getting in touch with everyone about that soon.

This week I've got a meeting with the company who've been sorting out the packaging and posting out of my book orders and I hope we are going to come up with solutions as to how to handle everything better - and then I'm heading over to Belgium with a van to pick up everything from the take-down of the exhibition. Here's hoping that it doesn't end up being too much of an adventure, but with all this snow about, it may be that providence has different ideas from me as usual!

Sunday, 10 January 2016

All pre-Christmas orders out - and the next phase...

The most important news is that I am very pleased to say that all pre-New-Year orders were posted out by the fulfilment company by 7th January, and I've been getting some fantastic emails from people who received their books yesterday. It is a relief to have been able to deliver on my promise to everyone who had faith in me with their orders, and also a spur to get the idea that this is not a one-off peak that is just going to fade away, as can be seen from these testimonies:
  • "I feel that I am 'living' your book not just reading it."
  • "There are hundreds, if not thousands, of new publications for the Great War centenary and very few of them stand out as innovative and different.  One that does is Joe Sacco’s 'The Great War — An Illustrated Panorama',  a sort of ‘Bayeux Tapestry’ (a 24 foot long cartoon panorama) of the First Day of the Battle of the Somme, folded into book format, accompanied by historical notes and observations, and another is your 'A Group Photograph'. Both are superb ‘one-offs’."
  • "It is fascinating. My husband hasn't put it down since it arrived." 
  • "The only thing on the radio that has ever inspired me to buy something was when I heard you on the Jeremy Vine Show. No regrets. Great value for money considering the years you put in to creating what I can only describe as a work of art." 
  • "My husband has been reading it since he opened it and it's been page by page, cover to cover. ( I've never seen him do this with a book before, normally it's flicked through then read when he has time)."
I've still got a lot of work to do to get on top of everything and this has not been helped by various real-world practicalities that do not get instantly fixed however much one may wish them to:
  • I've ordered the 2nd reprint but with all the printers and paper mills having been shut for 2 weeks over Christmas and then needing time to get going again, I'm going to have to wait till the beginning of February for it to arrive - meanwhile I have 100 books left and it's not going to be long till I'm in the situation of having to take pre-orders again (but this time everyone will know from the outset).
  • In order to be able to sell through UK bookshops I have needed to take over publishing of the book from the Museum (who were the original publishers). To do this I've had to set up a publishing company, register with Nielsen Bookdata, and get a new ISBN for the book. This also means that I'm having to deal with the practicalities of organising all the printing, storage & distribution - and paying for it all! It's just not as simple as saying "I'm going to get an enormous print run" - especially if one has no idea of how many are going to sell, and whatever is printed has to be stored somewhere whilst it's waiting to be sold.
  • I'm also discovering the realities of the book trade - that a lot of booksellers order from publishers via distributors (who take a 10-15% cut), and then the booksellers expect to take from 30% (for some of the independents) up to 50% for Waterstones or 60% for Amazon. It's a wonder that anyone bothers writing or publishing books when the returns are so meagre. I've just read of an author who had a US bestseller and his paycheck at the end of it was $12,000. It's shameful that the big name sellers don't realise that their profits are based on the creativity of their authors and that they need to do more to support them.
  • It's very difficult to plan ahead at the moment when so much is up in the air, and I'm having to handle such a large amount of email. I'm having a meeting with the creative agency who have helped sort out the fulfilment of my orders to see how I might do things better.
  • I have various ideas for further publicity, building on my appearance on the Jeremy Vine Show, but I'm holding off doing anything major until I've got a decent stock of books and a plan to handle any further surge. The funny thing is that I am still very much under the radar - if I had sold all these books via normal retailers my book would have been right up there in the bestseller lists over Christmas, but actually I'm only really known to Jeremy Vine's listeners and otherwise I've not heard from anyone-else in the media or publishers or agents.
  • A number of people have been asking me about doing presentations and I'm working on a plan to be able to handle the fact that most people are a long way from where I am in Norfolk and I don't want to end up charging the Earth.
  • I'm also getting offers to host my exhibition but a lot of people don't seem to realise just how big the exhibition is. In its current form it fills an area 2 full tennis courts in size, and it is not something that can easily travel about - not least because I would not get permission for loan of all the families' memorabilia for such an undertaking, but also because two of the most important parts are large installations that take some building. That said, I am working out a plan for doing something smaller and more transportable that still contains the essence of what makes this project original and unique.
The last month has been quite extraordinary (certainly a Christmas I will never forget). It's rather caught up with me in recent days and I've just had to spend a lot of time sleeping to get over some seasonal lurgi, but I'm starting to come out of that and I'm looking forward to finding solutions to everything and getting my work seen and read in 2016.