Friday, 24 July 2009

Publishing a Book – Part 2

   Nobody can truly learn from another’s experience in the way that people mean when they say ‘I’ve suffered so you don’t have to’. But by hearing what the person in question has to say, they can, I guess, at least make some kind of judgement. People have asked my advice, or what I think from time to time about writing and publishing a book (or books) as someone that's done so. So here’s a summary. Writing the book is easy. Of course you need to have reasonably mastered a good to excellent standard of spelling, grammar, character, plot, technical or experimental competence. To have an idea, a passion to write, or rather to write actively. And of course to have finished the damn thing. But that part – if you are a writer, i.e. you write because you must – is the simple part. The proof reading, editing, back cover blurb writing, page layout, page numbering, prelims and all the rest is the really dull grinding bit. The printing is the really stressful bit…And the selling is the actual hard work.

   So what does the real hard work that now begins, involve? You ring shops, venues, places that may or should be interested, T.I.s for local interest links, museums if it’s a historical novel; only some are interested, some (overloaded with such enquiries) aren’t even polite! Some will take it, but on terms where you make no profit…You spend the next months delivering books, designing posters, putting them up, handing out flyers, trying to remember to take books with you wherever you go. When the weather’s not too cold or wet and when you’ve time from your other commitments, you hold stalls, make free gifts and give them away, make more signs, outdoor ones this time, put the price up when you realize how little you’re making for the sheer work you’re putting in… You write or e-mail and tell anyone acknowledged in the credits perhaps, for instance thanking them for inspiration – don’t expect a reply! It’s polite to tell them you’ve mentioned them, but well known authors/broadcasters or whoever are notoriously busy, and it could fall by the inbox. A good idea is tell the local rag and write some interesting copy for them – they may well take it. Many say it’s good to have a working relationship with whoever deals with local events news on the said paper regarding any signings and stuff. In my experience though, most of the publicity you’ll have to do yourself, but a mention in the paper does help.

   Next is organizing events at which to promote and sell the book – whether signings and readings at bookshops (if you’ve opted for an ISBN) and have persuaded some bookshops to take it, or events which are basically shows, at which you sell the book at the same stall you have for the programmes and any other merchandise. One writer I know had some fantastic t-shirts on sale for a winter tour of one of his books! So for the event/s in question, there are the tickets – a box office or printing them yourself? Flyers, more posters, cards, rehearsals, checking technical stuff like sound and any lighting…spamming people you know, know of and hardly know, a notebook so people can join your ‘mailing list’ if they wish…and a load of other tasks that properly belong to a performer’s blog. Even after all this – once you’ve put some in shops which take all the profit – and taking into account everything from a folding table to new printer ink at a £160 a shot for a decent laser printer cartridge – you’ll have to sell all of the first print run to break even. The question you then must ask yourself is – can you face a second? Time to sit down and work out the maths of costs; if you broke even, made a loss, or profit… Then looking at the issue of a bigger print run vs. more travel to more events to sell it, and…..

   Remember – the first print run may have been a success, but some at least were sold to people you know…the second print run will be mostly sold to strangers. Yep, that’s right – it’s going to be even harder…the one thing that will make it easier is all the stuff you learned during the first print run.

   I guess that may answer the question - how come the average sales of a self published book are 100-150… And the next question must be not - how come more people don’t publish their own books, nor how come so many do, but how many go on to the second print run…..?

Publishing a Book – Part 1

Rather than – why do more people not publish their own books, especially if they’re not happy for whatever reason with the state of mainstream publishing? surely the question should rather be – how come anyone (who isn’t rolling in cash) publishes a book themselves?

   Publishing a book in one way has never been simpler – there are print on demand and small print run printers and publishers everywhere, all offering different deals and services, from basic binding to ISBNs to listings on Amazon to claims to market them for you – the works. In another way of course, it’s just as hard as it’s always been. The simplest deal of all is just getting someone to print and bind it. That leaves you with editing, proof reading (sensationally dull for a 200 page book), page layout (try it on pirated software! For the full ‘I’ll get a hammer to that machine yet…’ effect), book cover design (if you’ve mastered a graphics programme or are lucky enough to know someone who has) with all the ‘no, left, no I’d like a terracotta wash, can I change this bit?’ ‘NO!’…prelims, page numbers (they’re always good for a laugh!). Next come the PDFs, putting it all, back cover, spine, the works, into two or three Print Ready Files. If the format still looks the same, congratulations! And remember, the cover must be sized to a standard book size like 197 x 132…not forgetting a 3mm ‘bleed’ all the way round for binding – so don’t bother with a border unless you’re feeling sharp as a needle. Then off the PDFs go – after shouting matches, breaking glasses, and if you’re really in mayhem central by then, somebody you know chooses one of the most stressful days of the year to hassle you about something…thereby ensuring you have a seriously memorable day, the first time you send off a book for proper grown up binding…

   Then a bit later on, the proof copy arrives and you see for the first time (all printers being different) that the cover is too dark/blurred/unrelated to the contents of the book…and of course, there’s no time to change it, AND you’d be charged for it, so because you’re doing this with minimum time and a fixed budget, you don’t. But it does show you at least that all your page numbers are all on the right – yes, even the pages on the left…so you sort that out, after more cursing and tearing up paper, and then send it off back again… A couple of weeks later a box of books arrives.

   For extra added enjoyment, sorry nightmare, get 10 ISBNs – the majority of which you don’t need right now, give away some free copies to copyright libraries and fill in forms for Nielsen BookData… But for smaller print runs, and especially ones which will mainly be sold at events, opinion is divided about whether an ISBN is worth the bother or not. I’ve heard some writers say they wouldn’t be without them. Some say it helped promotion, if not actual selling of copies. But others I’ve spoken to have said it was a waste of money and did no good at all. Take your pick. Think about what it is, who and where it’ll be sold to and at.

   And THAT’S just the beginning. Because it’s at that point that the real work begins – that of selling it. Now you’ve got the box of books, you’ve got to get rid of the contents…..

Thursday, 9 July 2009

A Day in the Office of...Part 2

  Taking a day this week - the Financial Times Magazine e-mails wanting to get in touch with Wayne about Van-tastic and his van conversions, people who've had them and live in their vans. The Sunrise e-mail wanting Wayne to give a presentation for their traveller festival goers about van customization, do something like workshops; and they've seen Jo's and Mel's pages and want eco-building. Immediately we try to get in touch - not long after (and it can take a while - he lives in a van without reliable mobile or internet signal) we make contact. He's up for doing both, and then we discuss the fee split for Dorchester Play Day who've asked us again this year. Meanwhile Mel says she's up for being interviewed as well (the landscape designer who lives in a van!) and is up for doing the eco-structure/den building part of the Off the Grid event by the Sunrise, as she's done loads of eco-builds as part of the sculpture park, and Jo is in NZ. The Sunrise also book us to storytell. While talking to the Sunrise; 'we want a van conversion' 'what - actually a van converting during the festival? do you have one, would it be a festival goer's? or would he have to bring one? or -?' 'oh we hadn't thought of that' - I suggest a van surgery, where people come in with questions about how it's done, problems they've encountered, like 'I've built a bookcase, but how to I stop the books falling out?' (answer - strap a bungee across on two hooks), and stuff. Then he asks about a presentation and showcase - I suggest one or two vans to show people round, Wayne's own amazing vehicle (the cooker is a lovely old bureau in dark wood), and another...he likes the ideas and books it.  

  Next day the morning, and early afternoon and evening are all spent filling in a form for the Autumn Festival (for a storytelling show), and a query arrives from the Woodland Trust in Hertford wanting a willow artist. Thinking that I too should have gone to Bicton College while the now-legendary degree in Environmental Arts and Crafts was running, we again e-mail Mel, who later e-mails that yes, she'd like to do the event in question. It's great to be appreciated, and good to see the website working for the artists it supports. 
   No two days are the same (though some are crushingly boring - copy and pasting days for instance, filling in too many hit and miss forms for money or other stuff you may well not get, proofing copy, updating the hyperlinks, uploading a far-too-big-website on software not made to deal with it and.....- yes REALLY boring). 
   Why do we do it? The insecurity, the...reminds me of that wonderful quote from Dario Fo's 'Accidental Death of an Anarchist' about touring theatre - 'the nylon sheets' 'the greasy breakfasts'...One reason might be that some people are just too pig headed to not be self-employed... Another might be what Jarvis Cocker once said - 'You're talking very unimaginative people here...just couldn't think of anything else to do...' I think I'll go with that one.      

A Day in the Office of...Part 1

When people ask what's a typical day for the Collective, I can't answer. Things I do or have done at different times include; being an Editor, of course, researcher (of history, folktales, Spoken/Written stuff and more), administrator - dealing with e-mails and enquiries for the whole Collective, passing on details, contacting potential leads, writing up descriptions for brochures or schools, artists dictating details of their workshops or diary dates over the phone, writing lists of keystage requirements for education workshops and events, sometimes negotiating fees (I hate that!), filling in forms, designing posters, flyers, programmes, cards, leaflets, making signs. For the leaflets and posters I haven't designed, proof reading them, writing copy for the website or proofing the pages I haven't written copy for (when there's time!), designing webpages, doing photography for the website (my pride and joy are probably Sonia's Market Stall tiaras and Wayne's Pavilion Hire pages), assistant leather workshop host, willow workshop helper, typing invoices, rehearsing for shows, keeping the site map updated for the 500+ page website (and failing dismally of late), stall-keeping stalls for Spoken/Written and 'Porlock', making free gifts, helping design the book and chapbook covers, if only by attending to the lining or spacing, writing blurbs, prelims, bios, co-wrestling with the nightmare of PDFs for the printer, replying to subscriber enquiries and signing up new subscribers, copying out incorrectly formatted entries for Spoken/Written (!), thanking donors, requesting donations, chasing up PayPal, clearing up the mess of plaster, tape, leather bits, wire, holly (ouch!), ivy, willow, pastels, paper, card, etc., of the Studio where much is made including bodymasks and smaller masks for storytelling, gauntlets, etc., so that the stock keeping of books, chapbooks and pamphlets can be done...packing props safely, unpacking them again, repairs to damaged ones from time to time where possible, folding covers for stapling, editing page layouts, dealing with shops regarding books, proofreading the Rants of the Week on the website, arranging photoshoots (like when Devon Life ran a piece on Mel's willow sculpture and fencing) or video stuff (like doing a basic video for Ben's juggling) or images for festival brochures, helping set up the Pavilion now and again, and clearing up after workshops, collecting materials for workshops like gels from the Northcott Theatre, setting up performance spaces and of course performing/storytelling.....and as so many say, writing comes last - squeezing in poems at odd moments or a strict hour set aside to write prose to continue a novel...

   Well this is an answer to what's a typical role or day, and an answer to - you've not done x? sent 100 submissions in a year? been to z event? Why not? The above list is why not...