A lot can happen in 10 days. Since my last post on this blog, I’ve had a 5-page spread in the Telegraph magazine, organised the first mailout of ‘I Shall Not Be Away Long’, appeared on BFBS radio and RNIB Connect Radio, nearly appeared on the Today programme, been Book of the Week in Country Life magazine, actually appeared on the Today programme, been deluged with a tsunami of orders and brilliant responses from readers, started organising a reprint, and had another champagne moment.
So here it all is. Apologies if the prose is not too polished but I just wanted to give an update and then I’ll need to get back to the nitty gritty of being a publishing magnate and book shipper.
It was brilliant to get the feature in the Telegraph magazine (see https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/authors/shall-not-away-long-tragic-letters-front-line/). It was a pity that it didn’t really show the visual effect of the book but then I recognise that it was difficult to translate that into the format they were working with, particularly given that they had a lot less time to lay it out than I had spent when producing the book. The immediate effect was 80 book sales over the following 4 days, but the bigger effect was that the rest of the media pricked up their ears and started to respond more quickly and favourably to my publicist Angela’s enquiries.
On Sunday evening I prepared the spreadsheets of all the pre-orders and new orders and sent them off to my printers – over 500 in all which then got dispatched at the beginning of the week. And so started a routine of collating all my orders on Sunday, Tuesday & Thursday evenings ready for dispatch on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, which if all goes well will continue until at least Christmas.
On Tuesday 10th November at 9.05 a.m. I picked up the phone on a pre-arranged call from BFBS Radio. After fading out the aptly named track ‘Trouble’s Coming’, we were straight into the interview. Verity & Richard had obviously done their homework on what Angela had sent them and asked the right questions to get things flowing and enable me to give a good idea of the book. You can have a listen here.
Meanwhile I’d had notice that the Today programme wanted to interview me and William Boyd. A researcher called on Monday afternoon and we chatted far and wide about my project as a whole, such that afterwards I thought to myself that I had no idea what questions it might lead to when I got on the programme. The interview was scheduled for Wednesday 11th November and we would be told on Tuesday afternoon what time we would be hooked up. Tuesday afternoon came and then Angela emailed to say it was off, and possibly being re-scheduled for the next week. Well, I’d already told people on my mailing list that it was happening on Wednesday. Those of you who have followed this project from the early days will know that this is not the first time that this sort of thing has happened. Back in 1999 just before Remembrance time I went to the offices of the Independent newspaper up in the tower at Canary Wharf and spent a few hours talking about my project with a hung-over John Walsh (he’d been to some awards do the night before). The Internet was still a new thing and most of the people I’d connected with in my project were not on email so I’d printed and posted out an update to them all saying when it was going to appear. And then I heard from the Independent that they’d decided not to run it after all. I pointed out that I’d just spent a load of money getting everyone to know about it and then at the last minute they reinstated it. Move forward to 2016 and I was told a feature would appear in the Daily Mail I think 4 weekends running until it did eventually come out, but luckily I was able to email everyone to let them know what was going on. And now here I was again with a Yes/No/Maybe situation. I sent out an email but it was late in the day and it appears it didn’t get through to everyone as I later did hear from someone who’d got up early and was not too pleased at having to listen to what was not his favourite programme only not to hear what he’d hoped for.
So again there was uncertainty as to whether anything was going to happen on Radio 4. Saturday Live were also interested but if it was going to be on Today then they couldn’t do it too. Apparently last minute changes are all too common these days. William Boyd was bumped 4 times before eventually appearing on Front Row to talk about his new novel. I think the fact that people are not actually coming into the studio and making arrangements to do so must mean that they feel easier about switching things around at the last minute. If we're being interviewed from home via Skype then we're theoretically less put out than if we're having to do all the travelling too.
What did get broadcast on Armistice Day was a piece on RNIB Connect Radio. I’d been in touch with the RNIB to say that I was going to make a donation to them from the proceeds of this book in honour of Charles Bartlett’s involvement with them. Lynne Morgan then did a remarkable job of editing our hour-long chat on Skype into what sounds like me talking continuously and approximately coherently for about 12 minutes. I’m really grateful to Lynne for all her expertise and hard work and you can have a listen here.
Also on Wednesday the 11th, ‘I Shall Not Be Away Long’ was featured as Book of the Week in Country Life. It was an absolutely tiny piece (especially when compared to their vast spreads dedicated to selling enormous mansions) and was below buying suggestions for Eleventh Hour gin and a very expensive leather dog lead (which caught my eye as the picture echoed the images of the whistle lanyard in my layout of the main letter from the Battle of Loos). The reviewer did do a remarkable job, though, of capturing the essence of the book in the few words she was allocated, including saying ‘Andrew Tatham has produced a remarkable human document’. It’s difficult to gauge how many people read it and were moved to order the book, but I’ve certainly had orders from people living in Farms and Halls, and I’ve had friends who I didn’t even know were Country Life readers getting in touch to say they’d seen it.
Then on Thursday afternoon I got an email to say we were back on for the Today programme, this time for Saturday. I thought I’d leave informing everyone of that until I’d had confirmation and then just after lunch on Friday I got a call from the Today producer to say that we would be on at 8.40 a.m. A call from one of their engineers followed to check the Skype connection and then I told my printers to brace themselves as they might have a busy Monday of packing and posting ahead of them. Luckily I held off sending an update to my mailing list until after my afternoon walk because I then got a text from the producer saying that they wanted to bring the item forward to 8.20 a.m. as 'doing it earlier gives us more time for the item'. That sounded like really good news.
I wouldn’t exactly say I ended up having my best night’s sleep ever but at least my head was clear and my voice was working when I got the call on Saturday morning and really I don’t think it could have gone better. I didn’t know that they were going to do the reading of the letter from the Battle of Loos. The reader made Charles sound younger and more conventionally heroic (and less plummy) than he really was but still it was beautifully performed and despite my having read that letter so many times when giving presentations I found myself welling up at Charles’s report of Leslie Berlein’s death. There was no time for that sort of carry-on though as we went straight into the interview and there I was doing a double act with William Boyd despite never having spoken to him before. All our contact has been by email and even now we were talking beside each other but not to each other and still 120 miles apart. One day when the virus has had its day I hope we will be able to meet somewhere more relaxed than on Radio 4 in front of millions of listeners. He has been so generous and kind, not least in getting up so early on a Saturday morning, and none of what is happening with this book would have been possible without him.
The whole piece lasted 6 minutes (you can hear it here) but I think we got a lot across and I instantaneously saw the effect as emails started pouring in telling me of book orders. By day’s end I had sold 700 books. Luckily I was in a far better position to deal with this than after the Jeremy Vine show 5 years ago. I have a plan in place for distribution and even though it has required a lot of burning of the midnight oil collating the mailout lists, I’m hugely thankful for the sterling work of the team at my printers, Healeys, in Ipswich, and my one-man band is just about keeping on top of things even if I can’t respond at the moment to all the kind emails I’ve been getting. The wave continued on Sunday with 200 sales. Most were of my new book but out of 900 from those two days, 120 were of ‘A Group Photograph’. Some people who were obviously new to my project bought both books and I hope that those who only bought ‘I Shall Not Be Away Long’ will come back for the first one once they’ve finished their reading. It seems that many people when looking for books only go to Amazon rather than searching more widely via Google as about 80% of the sales were via Amazon. With Amazon taking £6.01 per book plus a monthly fee of £30 as a professional seller (in addition to a change in the way that postal charges were included which caught me out), it’s not great compared to selling direct via my website where this is only a Paypal fee of £1.16 per book. That said, their way of listing things and promoting currently successful books means that I am probably getting continuing sales in a way that would not be possible in any other way so I just have to wear it and get on with it.
At one point on Saturday ‘I Shall Not Be Away Long’ was up to No 33 in Amazon’s bestsellers list for all books, and it is still No 1 in their bestsellers lists for ‘Military History of World War I’ and ‘World War I biographies’ (and that despite being over 3 times the price of most other books on the lists). The book has its first 5-star review today but that is more for the look of it on arrival than from having read it, and I realise it might be a while yet before there are more in depth reviews from those who have reached the end, given that it is not exactly a short read. I’m hopeful that good reviews will come and am spurred on by the many emails coming in including these comments:
- 'It's a quite extraordinary work of art'
- 'It deserves to outsell Birdsong and all the other books written about The Great War' from someone who had got to p.180.
I have worked on this book for 3 years with basically no income and without knowing what sort of reception it would get. I can’t see it getting anywhere near to outselling Birdsong (and if it does I might have a nervous breakdown from the logistics of organising it) but with only 915 books left from my original print run of 2500, and sales still continuing (80 yesterday and 75 today) I am in the process of organising a reprint to ensure that I have more stock before Christmas and am able to benefit from all the reviews that are yet to come (though I’ve just heard that the Observer have decided not to review it because they’ve missed doing it for Remembrance time). The question is how many to get printed? Again! The minimum necessary to keep the unit price to a sellable level is 2,500 but that is £29,000 again and the whole thing is like a gigantic game of Double or Quits in which whatever I do, Amazon wins! The bottom line, though, is that I didn’t do all this work to produce a book that is read by just 2,500 people and their family and friends. I will do what it takes to spread the word and it certainly helps that I have confidence in my book and that confidence is only growing from the response I’ve been getting. And for that I am hugely grateful.
I am also grateful to Louis Roederer Champagne. I received an email yesterday from their brand manager in the UK who had been asked by Florence in their head office in Reims to send me a bottle Louis Roederer Brut Premier in congratulations for my book. I might just save it to share with my parents at Christmas. Let’s just hope that the general situation improves enough that a Christmas visit is possible and I am able to formally toast them in thanks for all that they have done for me.