Publish and Perish – the Birth of a Book part 2

My new book is coming out shortly and in the meantime here are my continuing experiences of publishing In Restoration a few years ago.

Rebecca had morphed into Frances and gave the same formulaic answers to my queries.

‘Should I try a launch in Guildford? A scene in the book takes place outside Waterstone’s in the High Street.’

‘Yes. In our experience, the writer is the best person to publicise…’

So I found out who the person was in charge of such events at Waterstone’s, Guildford, asked Frances to contact the local radio, arrange an interview, put an article or review in the local newspapers, all with copy supplied by me. This was precisely the back-up for authors that my publisher’s website proclaimed and contract confirmed. I put my publisher, through Frances, in touch with the Waterstone’s contact – what more could I do?

I was soon to learn.

I arrived five minutes early on the appointed day. No poster in the shop window. No poster inside either. No table with books waiting for me. Nothing, except a friend who had come to buy a book and who looked as bewildered as I was. My contact wasn’t in the shop –it was her day off – and no one else had heard there was going to be a book signing! No books. Nothing.

I went out to have lunch with my friend. She said I was shivering, as if I had a fever, though it was a warm day. Just nerves – or dismay.

In the event, the shop blamed the publisher for not sending the books and the publisher blamed the shop for not ordering them. Amidst this misfortune, it was fortunate that Frances didn’t arrange any radio interview, or put any copy in the local papers – nothing.

As I don’t live in the area, I didn’t try again until some months later when planning to visit friends in the area. This time it would be properly planned. We’ll see.

Needless to say, I have abandoned the first draft of my next book. No time to spare for it. Desperate messages to my current minder, Shannon, resulted in my needing to ‘raise my profile’. So I contacted local organisations to talk about my book, where and why I wrote it and to answer questions. I even worked out a small PowerPoint presentation.

Back in Scarborough, this time the library to talk to the local Friends of the Library, presumably potential readers. This time no seagull chose to impale itself on a lighting conductor, so no distraction from the Fire Brigade. Instead it was a sunny day. Young and old were on the beach or promenading. A few preferred the afternoon calm of a free talk where they could snooze unnoticed.

I say so myself, but it was a rather good talk and the slide show went off without a blip, which isn’t usually the case in such situations.  Often the equipment is dumped for me, a notable technophobe, to set up and use. Oh well, I thought, I’m nothing if not professional. I’ll do a good job even if for the proverbial couple and a dog. As far as I could see there were a few more heads scattered around the room.

At the end I stood by a pile of books the librarian had placed by the door and smiled at people leaving. They shuffled past pretending not to see me. Not one glance, still less a purchase. Not even from the librarian or the man who organised the Friends of the Library.

So I climbed up to the rather magnificent ruined castle and looked out over the tranquil sea with seagulls swooping. A serene late afternoon by the seaside.

Shannon had become quite emaily intimate. Of course, all these interns were taught to be encouraging if I an author made suggestions, but full of excuses if action was demanded from the publishing house staff beyond the basics on the contract. I talked of book prizes to be entered – first novel, Writer in the North awards, and so on. Yes, a good idea, I have entered your book and so on. Then silence. When I asked the date of the prize and when results would be announced, I would be told and never was. A bit of probing on the internet revealed that time had passed, awards made and I doubted whether my book had even been entered. It’s like that. When you doubt, a nasty atmosphere is created. Am I suggesting that someone is misrepresenting house policy if not actually lying? How can one ever find out? Anyway, by this time Shannon had been replaced by Chris – no idea whether male or female as phone contact was definitely not encouraged. I think he was a man. He didn’t last long even compared with the young women’s brief tenure.

All the while I had to find space for the wad of publicity material supplied as part of the deal at about the same time that my press release was being sent to thousands of online ‘contacts’ and my book’s publication notified by e-mail to thousands of bookshops, particularly in my area, for some strange reason. My book had no particular local relevance, except I had to live somewhere.

One click to send the press release and notification out, briefly followed by a click to delete them with hundreds of similar ones from the same sort of publishing outfit. Legally this could be called ‘online promotion and marketing,’ as on their website and contract. They could have saved themselves the useless trouble. Outcome – zero response. According to this publisher’s house style support, about a thousand bookmarks were marked with the name of book and author without any reference to where it could be bought. No reference even to my website or the publisher’s. Strange. The posters were all huge A3 size, with the book cover against its own cover as faded background, a phrase about the book and, on the right-hand corner, a triangle in black with, blazoned in white, ‘20% discount if you buy from the publisher’, followed by the relevant website reference. I asked where they were supposed to be displayed. In libraries and bookshops (with that discount exhortation?), it seems, and inside the window of one’s car. Well…

What could I do with all those bookmarks? I felt embarrassed giving them out copiously to friends. My book club accepted them graciously and opted to read my book for one session – I enjoyed that. How good do you think bookmarks are in construction a literary house of, yes, bookmarks?

Publish and Perish 8 –  Guildford again

A year after the abortive book signing in Waterstone’s, Guildford High Street, I returned and had the books sent from my publisher to take to the bookshop. They were heavy to carry, but at least they were there. The day before, I delivered posters and boards to the shop that could be put in prominent positions. I arrived. Not one in sight.

‘We’re not allowed to put up posters about any books except those published by the ‘Big Five’, I was told. That meant Random House, Penguin (now merged), Harper Collins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster, all international, most foreign-owned. ‘They decide what will go in the window and which book offers are made – three for the price of two,  or a book by a new writer given free if you buy two others, and so on’.

It all began after the Net Book Agreement was abolished by Margaret Thatcher in 1997 to allow free competition. Publishers no longer had the power to fix the price at which the book would be retailed. Now any shop, even supermarkets, could sell cut-price books, for amounts so ludicrous that they can’t have covered the cost of the paper they were printed on. Needless to say, the ones to suffer most were the writers, both at the start and the end of the book chain. Writers who had made their name before 1997 were protected; new ones were not.

‘We only accept established writers,’ became the mantra. New writers had to have a back story, the more sensational the better, that is, if they weren’t a celebrity already with a fan base.  The quality of writing now comes low down the list, and to a certain extent, even what is being written. What matters is WHO writes, and he or she must be young, photogenic and, if not already a celebrity, capable of becoming one. Add to this the online world, and the writer must learn self-promotion.

So what did happen at Guildford Waterstone’s that Saturday?

My latest book, Mastering The Sun, is available from Amazon…