Firstly what I'm doing is sorting out the administration of this whole business. I've hooked up with a new company who are taking over the storage + fulfilment of orders + distribution to booksellers etc, and who will also be doing any further reprints.
The arrangement we're going with at the moment for orders from my website is that they are being sent out weekly – I send them a listing of names & addresses on the Friday and they process the orders and get them in the post on the following Monday. That’s the way it’s got to be at the moment in order to try and keep the packing and postage costs down to a reasonable level. Even so, there are costs associated with getting other people to fulfil my orders and so I've increased the price of the book by £1 on my website to try and cover some of this.
I've now put online recordings of my appearances on the Jeremy Vine Show:
- 8th December 2015
(for background see that day's blog post)
- 14th January 2016
(for background see that day's blog post)
- The Sterling/Euro exchange rate.
For the whole of my life up until now I've only really thought of exchange rates in terms of getting money for foreign travel. I've now come to realise what a huge factor it must be for businesses who are trading across borders, how they are just at the mercy of foreign exchange markets over which they have very little control. My books have been being printed in Belgium and if I had been billed at the end of December it would have cost me about £2000 less than when I paid at the end of January. In the first two weeks of this year, the Euro went from being 73p up to 77p, and every penny difference was costing me over £450. By the time I realised this it was too late, and then it was a case of looking at what the markets were doing and guessing when a good time to jump into paying my bill. This was not easy to decide (understatement!), not least because the forecasters really don't know what's going on either. The Governor of the Bank of England announces an unscheduled speech, everyone gets jittery, the pound slides, he says nothing very important, the pound recovers. In the end, it sounded like things were only likely to get worse so I decided to pay as soon as possible - and that has been a weight off my mind (but the predicted dive of the pound against the Euro hasn't happened, even if it is binging up and down between 75p & 77p on a daily basis). I also discovered that there is a way round the rubbish exchange rates offered by the high street banks - I used a foreign exchange dealer called HiFX www.hifx.co.uk and they dealt with things efficiently and securely.
- Problems with Royal Mail delivery.
Considering the thousands of books that have been posted out, it really has gone remarkably smoothly - but even though the number of problems has been small, each of those takes time and energy and multiplied up it takes a good chunk of effort to sort them all out. Royal Mail estimates that 98% of 2nd Class post arrives within 3 days. That's still 2 in every 100 that doesn't and I have to deal with emails from people concerned as to when their books might be arriving (over Christmas, five for Blackburn postcodes ended up taking 3 weeks to arrive), a few books have just disappeared into some kind of postal whirlpool, 7 have come back to me in the last week having not been collected from sorting offices (and in most of these cases the intended recipients have said they didn't get cards put through their doors to tell them there was something to collect - and I then have to pay the postage back to them), 1 was found in a garden shed where it had probably been for a few weeks without any notice from the postman, 1 was found in the dustbin just a day before it would have disappeared in the refuse collection, 1 was left behind the house's postbox where it became rain-soaked, and the winner is 1 which was thrown by the postman over an 8-foot-high gate into a garden where it was shredded by a dog before before being abandoned to the rain (I have the pictures to prove it - I am not getting them framed). And in the end, according to the Royal Mail, if the book doesn't arrive in pristine condition then it is my responsibility to ensure the customer gets another one or a refund, and then I have to make the claim with all the form filling etc that that entails. As I said, it's a small number of cases, but maybe you can detect a hint of frustration at the brain freezes that some postmen seem to undergo.
- Deciding when & how many to print.
OK, so I've now got a stock of books - but how long is that stock going to last? Orders are still trickling in despite the fact that I have done no publicity, but I have irons ready to wiggle in a number of PR fires and once the wiggling happens, who knows what could happen in this Internet Age. 3000 went in a week in December - yes, it was in the lead-up to Christmas (and interestingly a lot of people seem to only buy books when they are to be presents for other people), but with the reviews and feedback I've been getting, I think there are a lot of people out there who would buy immediately if they knew about it. And if I wait until there is the demand, I could be faced with running out again and it'll take 3 weeks to reprint, but if I reprint now I will have a bill for many thousands of pounds and also need to pay for the storage of the books. Hmmm. You can't prepare for everything in life, and it looks like I'm going to be taking it day by day for a good while yet.
I've got a few presentations coming up (see www.groupphoto.co.uk/presentations for the current calendar of events), and once I've got a few more details sorted out with book admin side of things I will be getting in touch with all the people who've expressed an interest to organise some more.
Yet again, I am thankful for the thoughts and support of so many people. I can't pretend I've found this easy and there are times when I'm entirely uncertain of what the best course of action is and whether I'm doing the right thing - and then an email will pop into my inbox that reminds me what this is about. One of my favourites was from an Anglican priest in a notorious loyalist estate in Belfast who plans to use my book in his sermons. There is something I never thought would happen when I set out on this - and maybe it won't have any effect - but you just never know, and if it does, that would be a beautiful thing. This project has never been about the money, and it's certainly not about trying to improve this country's postal service - I just have to remember what it is about for me and what it can mean to other people - and then stick to it.
PS For a fantastic piece of recent inspiration for me see 'The Red Tree' by Shaun Tan