Catch up with what’s happening on our social media feeds, and find out about the latest authors to publish with The Book Guild… there’s also company news, the latest author events and a round-up of our latest reviews and media coverage.
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Daily Mail, Scottish Mail on Sunday, Pi Magazine Tough Choices (Daniel Sokol) Portsmouth News Stoker (Dick Warburton) Conservative Woman Licence to Kill: Britain’s Surrender to Violence (David Fraser) Outdoors Radar Expedition from the Backdoor (Yvette Primrose) Hertfordshire Life Dreamcats (Christopher Best) Kelly Allen Writer (Blog) Legend of the Lost (Ian P. Buckingham) Essex County Standard, Colchester Gazette Mussolini’s Chest (Graham Donnelly) Cambridge News Notes for Singers (Chris Knowles) Jewish Telegraph A Meeting in Seville (Paul A. Mendelson) Japan Reviewer 5 Simple Steps to Saving Planet Earth (Jo Withers) Ruth in Revolt (Blog) Baby Daze (Sarah Davis) BBC Radio Humberside The Blunt End of the Grid (Dave Roberts) Talk Radio Europe Hey Dog! Let’s Talk! (Wendy Keefer) Vet Record The Veterinary Detectives: A Vet in Peru (Roger Windsor) The Tablet Archbishop Benson’s Humming Top (Adrian Leak) Track Stats Magazine Sydney Wooderson: A Very British Hero (Rob Hadgraft)
Church Times Archbishop Benson’s Humming Top (Adrian Leak) All Together Now A Journey with Brendan (Dr May Ng) Hertfordshire Life Legend of the Lost (Ian P. Buckingham) South Liverpool Link, West Liverpool Link Between the Immensities (Doreen Davy) Breakaway Reviewers Stoker (Dick Warburton) Talk Radio Europe Squad Average (Mark Inman) BBC Radio Suffolk, Let’s Talk Devil’s Bridge (Laurie Seago-Taylor) BBC Radio Jersey The Paper Chase (Ron Welling) Breakaway Reviewers, Georgie Minter-Brown’s Christmas Gift Guide The Fourth Victim (John Mead)
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Catch up with what’s happening on our social media feeds, and find out about the latest authors to publish with The Book Guild… there’s also company news, the latest author events and a round-up of our latest reviews and media coverage.
Jane H Wood, author of GoldenEars: The Whispering Mountain and the upcoming GoldenEars: The Pale Skulls shares a short story which raises awareness of Compassion in World Farming:
It was another dark-time; for the lights that glared overhead had, at long last, been extinguished. Long hours of darkness lay ahead. She could hear bodies either side of her shift restlessly. The hours passed in a bored stupor, standing on the hard concrete floor, though she had managed to doze once or twice. They were blissful moments that had been all too fleeting. The ache returned in her feet bringing her fitfully awake. She desperately wanted to turn around to ease the throbbing in her legs and vanquish the ache tearing into her back muscles, but even that small movement was denied her. The moist atmosphere remained a constant where a fug of fresh excrement circulated on the air. She lifted her head, trying to see over the iron railing that surrounded her body. She released a low grunt, sensing a warm body a few inches away. The familiar despondency resurfaced and she lowered her head again. There was no way out, she was trapped, confined as though she had done a terrible wrong. Why was she being treated like this? She thought very hard, perhaps she had displeased the long-shadows that had hovered around her. A shiver rippled down her back, as she recalled the pain and discomfort that always accompanied the long-shadows arrival.
Her tongue slid over her rough teeth. The raw pain had subsided, though they still felt tender after she was so brutally handled by the long-shadows when the last light-time flooded from above. She had closed her eyes as the taste of metal rasped against her molars and dug into the soft flesh on the inside of her cheek. She had tried to move her head, to twist away and cry out for mercy, but it was useless. Her pleas were ignored, the long-shadows continued, deaf and blind to her pain. The blood had now stopped flowing, the cuts beginning to heal in her tattered mouth.
A loud clanking of something metallic stirred the air… then a hum of machinery whirled into action. Others like herself began to wake, the sounds escalating into a hubbub of chaotic noise. As though they had disturbed an invisible power, the light suddenly dazzled from overhead. The contraption in front of her rattled, then a liquid ooze flooded from the tip of the metal pipe, filling the trough at her feet. She watched it flow like she had so many times before; a measured quota of nourishment was allocated her. Instinct drove her to eat. It was expected of her, after all, she didn’t want to feel the hot spike of a metal pole jab at her flank. She had learnt her lesson: retaliation was futile.
Both of her ears had already been clipped when she was but a few weeks old. The notches denoted the litter size, and the ear tag piercing her right ear displayed her identification number. She had cried, but that didn’t matter. The long-shadows hadn’t finished and held her upside-down by her hind legs in preparation to dock her tail… leaving behind a painful and bleeding stump. Then she was cast away from her mother. That was the last time she ever saw her. It had been a bad time when the choking sadness had engulfed her.
Pain was her life; not a moment of kindness or consideration was shown her. She endured it, endlessly, and without thought or malice towards her tormentors.
Each light-time was the same, the incarceration absolute. Her mind had grown slow, but her senses had remained heightened to the hostility that was forever surrounding her.
Then a new occurrence began one unusual light-time. The long-shadows arrived, making much noise and fearfulness. She cowered in fright as many of her kin were herded past her narrow crate, their cloven hooves clattering on the concrete floor. Unseen machinery banged and whirled and a great squealing resounded in the air, only to fade.
It puzzled her. What was in the light beyond? She pressed her face against the bars trying to see further down the passageway that led into oblique darkness. It was impossible to get a clear view, her fat body prevented her from moving but an inch or two in either direction and pressed uncomfortably against the cold hard bars in protest.
Young voices roused her from her inertia. Sensing new neighbours sparked a slight interest and she snorted in response. She tried to manoeuvre herself so she could see their faces. The simple action brought her to a stop as her belly dragged on the ground bringing a new hurt to her swollen nipples, now sore and engorged from the repeated pregnancies she had been forced to endure. Thirst made her seek her drinking spout. She licked the end, but no water came forth. A mounting panic made her grasp the iron bar before her, grinding her teeth upon it. But the bars didn’t yield an inch, but then they never did. It was stiflingly hot in her confined space and she licked her dry mouth as a new panic rose inside her. The air was unmoving, the constant hum of machinery had ceased, and also the long-shadows that tormented them daily were absent. This light-time was different, she hadn’t experienced this before. No food or water came in its usual automated way.
Suddenly a great disturbance resounded from the dark passageway. Then the latch on her crate was lifted, and a gentle hand touched her rump. A soft voice coaxed her, and obediently she began the slow walk down the dark passageway with a group of other sows at her side. Together they ascended a ramp and entered a place strewn with fresh straw and a long trough filled with cool water. Her eyes watered in wonderment as she gazed around. Then the doors were gently closed behind them; unaware that very soon, they were all to begin a new life at the Farm Animal Sanctuary.
Martin Smith, author of Are We Doing the Stelvio Today? shares a short travel story about embracing the pre-adventure:
Pre-adventure is having to make changes on the fly before departure. Is this classed as part of the adventure? If you accept, as I do, that the planning is part of the journey then the answer is yes.
I had been planning for the next trip to the Picos, Asturias, Galicia and Portugal. With the route selected it was time to kick back and enjoy a nice cuppa while admiring my work. That was, until, the email dropped into my inbox like a casually tossed grenade. The email from Brittany Ferries, in relation to my inbound ferry, got right down to business “I’m writing to you today to confirm your sailing on Connemara has been cancelled.” … BOOM!
I had spent so long considering the viral effects of COVID that I had not considered to be blindsided by the economic fallout. I suppose naively I had thought that the routes were viable and, like myself, other bikers had fallen over themselves to book when Europe opened. In my mind, the ferries were booked to capacity. This was a pre-adventure obstacle.
On opening the email, I threw my head back in my chair. I stared at the ceiling, my eyes darting side-to-side as if looking for an answer that would emerge from the white emulsion. I held this posture for a couple of minutes while I considered my options. Initially, ‘right, it’s all off!’ became ‘ok, let’s work with this’. I returned to my upright position and my eyes returned to the screen.
I took a further look at the email. It went on to explain that they would look to offer me an alternative sailing and I would be informed in due course. This was no good for me. The sequential nature of the trip meant there was no hotel I would be at that I could book out of a day early. We would be a day’s ride out of place. Despite being told to sit put I called them.
The line was initially engaged and then I ended up in a queue giving me the impression that there were quite a few seeking clarifications. Eventually, I was connected to a customer adviser and after the initial pleasantries she brought up the details of my booking. I explained that the email said to wait but I wanted to know if I could influence the selection at this stage. I explained my preference to a later sailing rather than one a day earlier. The line went momentarily quiet.
When she came back, she had found another grenade and tossed this into the conversation. “It looks like your outbound ferry has also been cancelled”. Were we edging back to calling the whole thing off again?
Our discussion returned to the inbound journey. There was a later sailing. Sure, it would extend our trip by a day but If I couldn’t find an enjoyable ride in Northern Spain to occupy the time then I shouldn’t be route planning in the first place.
As it turned out it was a better sailing altogether. The timings meant that we would spend most of our time onboard in the afternoon and evening. This would allow us a night’s sleep and to be off the boat the next day with time to ride home.
We moved onto the outbound sailing. I was given two options from my original Tuesday ferry. The first was to Santander on Sunday, but that was too early. My other option was a boat on Wednesday. Ok, I lose a day, but I’ve gained a day on the other end of the trip.
This revised outbound sailing was now to Bilbao. It’s not far from Santander but far enough for me to realise that I had to accommodate a few additional miles. The main change was on sailing times. As with the inbound revision, much of the crossing would be on the previous day meaning we would be disembarking at Bilbao just after midday. We had previously been arriving late in Santander and losing the light, meaning a mad dash to a local destination. Could this now really work to our advantage? This was the pre-adventure I had alluded to. Adapting travel plans with an element of fluidity and thinking on your feet.
The cancellation of Santillana del Mar left us with the challenge of retaining the original route and getting to Gijón. This had now been promoted to our first night’s accommodation. The mileage was within our upper limits, but our departure would be restricted to a start time dictated by ferry disembarkation. We would have lost a good five hours. It looks to be a challenging day. I could look to simplify the route, but this would be at the expense of a lap of the Potes triangle.
Our previous last night of Spanish accommodation had us in sighting distance of Santander and our ferry home. We were still in a good place for a short ride to Bilbao, so the challenge was to find a good day’s ride and a place to stay that offers a similarly easy ride to catch the Bilbao departure.
You only had to open the map for the solution to present itself, or should I say, slap you in the face! Not far from Camasobres was the town of Potes. The opportunity had presented itself to ride one of the jewels of the area again, with a stay in town.
So yes, the adventure is not constrained to the duration of the actual riding. The unexpected events that are thrown in your path that cause you to deviate from the plan and make you think on your feet can happen at any time. This is the pre-adventure.
Somewhere between the overland motorcycle adventurers crossing the wild continents and the motorcycling day-trippers lie a group of adventure bike riders. Are We Doing the Stelvio Today? is a story of one such eclectic group of travellers from across the UK and America heading across the French, Swiss and Italian Alps towards the iconic Stelvio Pass.
Part story and part guidebook, this is a tale to inspire those who have yet to embark on a motorcycle tour of the Alps and shows that you don’t need to cross untamed lands to have an adventure.
Ian P Buckingham is the author of Legend of the Lost. Here, he shares a short story:
“But how can a forest be truly beautiful if nobody can walk through it, even see it or share the privilege?”
The young Prince’s face turned scarlet with rage as he spat those words.
Yet his father’s back was dumb as he walked away.
“My land remains shut. The great cull begins in the morning. Get some sleep boy and be there with your hunting bow.”
Tears blurred his eyes as he stormed from Ashridge house. But his feet led instinctively to the path, through the crisp bracken and jade ferns down to the mirror pond pool.
The birds, for once, held their collective breath. They too knew what the bloody dawn promised.
Slumped against a willow tree, chest-thumping still, his face turned to the warming sun. A heady scent was drawn deep with each angry sob.
Eventually, his lids grew heavy and he crossed into a deep sleep.
After several dark waves of sleep, the boy was gently awoken by the sounds of subtle splashing.
Opening his eyes, his attention was drawn to the shapes of what immediately appeared to be the most enchanting women he had ever beheld. When they laughed, it was like crystal glasses chiming. Their limbs were like alabaster carvings that moved with the grace of moths on the wing. And their faces near burst with ripe joy.
He wanted to cry out, but they were naked and gavotting with such abandon that something warned him to seal his lips, lest his rudeness break the magic of the moment.
His instincts were true. Instead, he blended with his surroundings, like a timorous prey animal and simply watched, his senses crackling.
The nymphs splashed one another, using the tips of their wings like he cupped hands. But suddenly, as one, they froze. Then, in chorus they turned to face him. And he thought his heart would burst.
Without the merest suggestion of self-consciousness, the Fae approached him, now barely rippling the water with their tread. Soon, he was surrounded by a crescent moon of iridescent delight.
They didn’t really speak. It was as if he had invited guests through a portal into his very head, where they quickly translated his thoughts and his feelings. Gradually, their expressions changed from wonder and warmth and delight to what he could best describe as a knowing disappointment, which passed between them like storm clouds blown by the west wind in a blue sky. Then, one by one, they took to the air on butterfly wings.
All but one.
“You smell of sadness. Your head is filled with anger and fear. But every life has a season. Every season has an end. Thus is the cycle. It is Mother’s way.”
He recoiled at THAT word as if stung. Then he saw his flinch echoed in her beautiful eyes. He had not thought about his mother for many years and that wound had clearly still not healed.
“You don’t understand” he found himself shouting. “He will kill them. They will turn the land red. Destroy them all.”
The faerie simply smiled. Her eyes, brown pools, reflecting the water that surrounded them.
“Call them” she whispered, like a pregnant pause.
“Open the way and they will come.”
As she spoke, her features dissolved into the shimmering light. He blinked. She was gone.
The Prince sprang to his feet and waded into the water, but there was no sign of their presence or passing. He did notice that the wild roses on the bank had swollen into bloom as if struggling to contain a happy secret. The flowers were the only indication that the Fae had been here. That and the compulsion in his breast.
All afternoon, down in the village, the Prince busied himself among the artisans, the heralds, minstrels and printers. He knew the simple people well and was greatly loved for his kind manner, tenderness and steady heart. He shared one urgent message with them all. They, in turn, spread their magic in the town.
He also shared his passionate secret with the small animals of the hedgerows and the fields. For he also knew them well, having rescued many from cold winters, cat’s claws or the raptor’s grasp.
He slept badly that night, racked by self-doubt, fear and insecurity. Still, he was up and dressed in his hunting clothes, when the King’s cold messengers arrived.
The pomp of the hunting party was as brash as the pageantry of its train and the excitement of the hounds terrifying. But he took his place by his father’s side, his black pony dwarfed by the King’s mighty war horse, that snorted like a dragon exhaling hot air into the morning mist, like fire.
The plan dreamed up by his generals was to start with a perimeter patrol, to check that the boundaries were all secure. That nothing could leave the estate. Or, just as importantly, no trespassing poachers or pleasure-seekers could violate the monarch’s land.
Sensitive to the mini-dramas paid out in the lives of the worlds between nature’s veils, the boy could see and feel the hairy and feathered families fleeing this four-footed mob. They took to the highest trees or the deepest dens, muttering a silent prayer to the old Gods as they fled.
Upon completion of their first brutish circuit, they approached the ancient oak that marked the boundary gate. It was rumoured that it was beneath these same mighty boughs that he had been conceived on a night when the silver moon was at its most proud.
He looked up. Could that be the hint of a smile on his father’s face?
That thought didn’t last long as the expression changed from something approaching vulnerability, to what appeared to be if he didn’t know better, a look of… awe.
The Prince followed the beam of his father’s gaze, noticing that the army had now been stunned into silence. And there, framed by a golden glow, walked what appeared to be every humble peasant from the village. Furthermore, they were being led, guided, inspired by a great, enchanting white deer, thousands of woodland animals and a bewildering procession of the Fae.
As they approached, the sharp fences inevitably dissolved and the heavy gate towers crumbled.
And there was no need for words as soon, tears became the one universal language.
The results are in – 2019 was the ‘biggest year for publishing since records began…
Last week saw the publication of the Publishers Association Yearbook – an annual ‘state of the nation’ view of the UK publishing industry, in which Stephen Lotinga, the Publishers Association Chief Executive, hailed 2019 as the ‘biggest year ever for UK publishing.’
The report looks at publisher revenue for consumer, education and academic books and journals and finds that in 2019, the total publishing income for the UK was 6.3 billion – an increase of 3.5% from 2018.
Stand out areas were non-fiction and reference – up by 5.6% on 2018 – and audiobooks, which continue their stellar rise – with a reported 39.3% increase in downloads in 2019.
However, while 2019 was a boom year in publishing, and publishers started 2020 on a high, Covid-19 and the continuing uncertainty around Brexit have already had a significant and negative impact on the industry.
This mirrors our own findings, where digital remains a strong growth area for books sales, and non-fiction sales are increasing year on year. In fact, our own assessments for the first 6 months of 2020 are an interesting snapshot of a country in lockdown – and it’s fascinating looking at the books that have been the strongest sellers. In normal times, we have some key business titles that we can barely keep in stock, and demand for those plummeted. On the other hand, books about relationships boomed. As did most titles related to walking and getting outside. Dystopian fiction, however, was not so much in demand by a public that was already living the plot! As the book trade shut down in March, April and May, digital sales tracked upwards. Our own online bookshop remains very busy after a surge of orders during Amazon’s restricted supply period. Books are always resilient in troubled times, offering hope and escape for readers.
Even with bookshops open again, sales via the trade still remain subdued. However, it is encouraging that the publishing industry went into 2020 in the strongest position in its history – which bodes well for the future.
Funnily enough, I didn’t set out to write a book, let alone to do so while on maternity leave. Like all new mums, I was generally busy or exhausted and usually both. So, no-one was more shocked than me when poems started popping into my head while up for the 3 am feeds! I wrote them down and by the time my son was eight months old, there were forty poems – reflecting the rollercoaster of parenting a newborn. Maybe I’m naturally most creative at 3 am, but I put it down to hormones, the peace and quiet, and my brain trying to make sense of my new life as a mum.
Back then, I had no idea that the birth of my baby boy would lead to the birth of a book. Friends and family suggested getting the poems published, but I was busy being mum. I kept the poems to show my son, tucked away in a folder for five years before one day I decided I would approach publishers.
It was soon after that I got an offer from the Book Guild. I entered into a partnership publishing contract. The book as I now know it began to take shape, with the cover design, the blurb and the print layout. My husband and I went down to Leicester to meet with Philippa to hear all about her marketing strategy for Baby Daze. We came home buzzing with positivity and excited about this new venture.
Working with the Book Guild put Baby Daze in front of booksellers and the media and got it out there to the public. Mother & Baby magazine recommended Baby Daze in their ‘3 of the best funny books’ feature – a huge accolade. I did an eight-minute interview live on BBC radio and other radio interviews. Articles appeared in the local press and on-line. I remember the buzz I got when I put Baby Daze in a Google search and it showed as available from on-line booksellers in places like Singapore and Australia. I still get excited walking into a bookshop and seeing my book on the shelf.
Being an author is not just about taking opportunities but also about making opportunities. Having a publisher behind me and being stocked in Waterstones and approved by Mother & Baby magazine gave me the credibility to approach places like Mamas and Papas and Mothercare. They invited me to their Expectant Parents events to talk about an aspect of parenting and to read some of my poems. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sharing my experiences with mums-to-be and my talks and poems were well-received by mums, midwives and staff at the events. I spoke at the prestigious launch event of Baby Week Leeds 2019, in front of an audience of councillors, medical professionals and parents. Speaking in front of large audiences at events has been new to me, it’s taken me right out of my comfort zone, but it’s also been exhilarating and confidence-boosting. I’ve also written many guest posts for parent-related websites.
The most recent exciting development has been a large pregnancy subscription box company choosing to include Baby Daze in their boxes – so copies will be going across the country to new and expectant mums.
It’s been two years since Baby Daze was launched. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and I’m looking forward to where my book adventure will take me next…
Baby Daze is available to buy here!
No doubt the dream of many independent writers – and fledgling writers, in particular, is to walk into Waterstones to see their book boldly displayed on one of the prominent tables, grabbing the attention of every browser and customer loitering in the shop. I must be a real writer – a professional! the feeling would surely be.
But the dream is entirely misplaced. It’s an aspiration that should be redirected away from the giants of the book trade and onto the independent stores.
After all, as an independent writer – the focus should be on the markets and outlets that best accommodate and reflect that status.
The independent bookshop is a place to treasure. And in spite of the difficulties of actually surviving financially, given High Street rents and associated costs with such a presence (let alone our current crisis), it appears to be thriving. And so it should. After all, who does not want to walk into a shop run by people passionate about books, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and welcoming? People whose working day is driven by a commitment to the stock they have selected and for whom the loyalty of their customers is key?
As independent writers, we need to value what these bookshops can offer us and in turn realise how we can serve them. A two-way process, as it were.
Recently (just before lockdown when we were still naively anticipating the seasons of spring and summer obeying normal rules of engagement…) I went to a local writers’ event at the wonderful independent bookshop, BrOOK’S in Pinner. Run by local residents, husband and wife team, Peter and Sarah Brook, the shop also sells coffee, snacks and wine in comfortable, relaxed surroundings so it is much more than just a business. It is part of the community where friends can meet, socialise, browse and share in the world of books. Although I am no longer local to Pinner, I grew up there and still have strong ties with the place and there are references in my two novels to the town – I was therefore considered sufficiently legitimate for inclusion in the local writers’ event!
And what a great evening it was – ten or so writers all of different genres, reading extracts, talking about our books, in a supportive and warm atmosphere, making connections with readers. The evening provided a platform for us writers to communicate in person – something that cannot happen with online sales, however riveting we try and make ourselves sound on our author profile.
For writers of non-fiction and local history, the independent book shop is, of course, a gift. What better place to seek out a readership than in the locality with which the book is concerned? And however long people have lived in an area, unless they are local historians, their knowledge of the region is so often woefully lacking, a vacuum that they may be all too willing to fill if there is a relevant book on the shelves.
Fiction writers too can exploit a local shop that links with the settings of their novels. People like reading fictional stories about places they know. There is even an element of flattery in seeing their village or town featured in a story and it provides the bookseller with a hook to encourage a sale. Last winter, I went to a book fair in Brighton and was among twenty or so writers marketing and aiming to sell our books. On that desperately wet and dark late November day, the author who writes crime stories set in the Brighton area was the one who gained the most attention and sales from the drowned rats of potential customers who came in to shelter from the torrential rain.
As independent writers, we know that writing our books is the relatively easy part. It’s finding outlets to sell them, to seek out and communicate with a readership that so often entirely baffles and bewilders.
That’s why we need to connect and befriend our local independent book stores. Surely, as writers and readers, we applaud everything they stand for – a love of books, a belief in the power of the written word to entertain and to communicate, a desire to reach out to the local community with more than just an eye on profit. Of course, as businesses, they have to make a profit to survive – no good being ingenuous about that. But if we as local writers can be part of that process, by offering to take part in author and reader events to increase sales, by befriending the shop and encouraging our friends and family to do the same, the healthy survival of our vibrant and proudly independent bookshops will be helped.
So in Independent Bookshop week, let’s make sure that any book purchase we make in the next seven days is from one of them – and keep the habit going.
After all, we need them just as much as they need us!
Jonathan White, Troubador’s Sales and Marketing Manager was recently at a virtual publishing conference where James Daunt, the Head of Waterstones, Daunt Books and Barnes and Noble spoke.
James Daunt must easily be the most powerful figure in traditional bookselling in both the UK and the USA. With his position as head of both the Waterstones book chain in the UK, which now also includes the Foyles bookshops, and the Barnes & Noble chain in the USA, and not forgetting the fact that he also independently owns the Daunts bookshop chain, if anyone can speak with complete authority on the realities of operating bookshops on both sides of the Atlantic it is he.
James was appearing, via video link, at the IPG Conference and was going to shed some light on what the current situation was for these bookshops – in both the current climate and the future.
Barnes & Noble are beginning to open their stores in the US, as the lockdown is easing much more quickly in the US than it is over here. The first Waterstones shops are starting to reopen shortly in the UK too – but with a range of measures that will make the art of bookselling very different from what it was.
James Daunt, as always, spoke with complete honesty about both the problems that bookshops are going to face in reopening their doors to the public and how much market-share they will now have lost to the internet book retailers. Internet retailers have also faced considerable difficulties during the recent period of lockdown, but they, at least partially, been able to operate. On top of this for many during this period the idea of buying books on the internet, as with everything else, has become the complete norm.
Daunt’s argument is that bookshops have always been able been to sell themselves as a very safe environment for buying books where booksellers put together a curated selection of books and encourage customers to browse through these before making their purchases. This is now going to be one of the most difficult things for them to maintain during the Coronavirus fears and restrictions. Daunt spoke about how Waterstones will likely introduce some kind of ‘quarantining’ of the books which customers have handled to make sure that customers can feel completely safe in handling books in bookshops. As with other retail staff will be in PPE and shop layouts will change to assist with social distancing.
As customers, we have already had to start getting used to retail staff being protected by screens and masks. The idea of browsing in shops, picking up the merchandise and then putting it back down again if you decide not to buy it, is only now having to be considered – and most readers buy books by engaging physically with the product on the shelf.
The concern remains that if customers do not feel safe they will no longer come into bookshops and then you might just as well buy all your books on the internet. Similarly, bookshops work best when booksellers can recommend, and hand-sell titles to readers – and they will also have to significantly change how they interact with customers. Separately, many indie bookshops break even from extra activities, reading groups, author events and via their coffee shops – none of which will be returning any time soon either.
Having said that, it is very good to know that the book retail business will be opening up again. Already we believe there have been some major casualties within the UK book world, and no one can doubt that this is going to be an extraordinary Summer for the bookshops.
Daunt always comes across as someone with a huge passion for selling books and a complete belief in the importance and viability of bookshops both now and into the future. During his keynote, he was very successful at showing that bookshops are very seriously looking at how they can reopen safely and successfully and bounce back from the horrible Spring they have had. He did though sound cautious in a follow-up article in The Bookseller, where he urged publishers to not expect a quick bounce back on sales. We’ll end with his words: “For us and most independents the end of the March, April and May sales are gone, and that’s a huge financial hit. It’ll also take a while to get back to normal so there will be a further loss through the following months.”
As part of our membership with the IPG (Independent Publishers Guild), we are invited to attend their many publishing events across the year. IPG conferences are renowned throughout the publishing industry and their two-day conferences boast presentations, training and discussions across the publishing sector. This year, however, the current circumstances have meant that physical events are out of the question and the IPG Spring Conference was therefore taken completely online.
Using a state-of-the-art platform, members of the IPG came together to celebrate the rich and vibrant culture of the publishing industry. The IPG kindly opened up attendance to all staff of member organisations, which meant that many members of the Troubador team who don’t usually get to experience the conference were able to for the first time. Looking back over the event, we thought we’d share our thoughts and experiences of the first virtual IPG conference.
Our Sales & Marketing Manager, Jonathan White has attended many of the previous conferences and was interested to see how a virtual conference would work. Jonathan says, “The IPG has always managed to put together a good selection of the important personalities from the publishing and bookselling world for their conferences, and they very much did this again. The best of these was an interview with James Daunt – mainly about the situation with Waterstones in the UK but also about Barnes & Noble in the USA. Against the odds, the IPG did still managed to put together a very interesting two-day conference on the state of the book world at the moment. Let’s just hope we can do it in person next year.”
Also in attendance was our Operations Director, Jane Rowland. Jane says, “From the Operations side of the business, I am always looking at workflow, finance and better ways to do things. I enjoyed the talk on productivity – and also the references to the challenges publishers have faced working differently and remotely during the pandemic. It’s also reassuring to see other Indie publishers reaching the same conclusion as us… We can no longer see this as a temporary emergency that needs to be managed, but must embrace the reality that everything we know about life, publishing, consumers and the workplace can/will be changed, reimagined or improved – rather than staying firmly fixed to how things used to be.”
For the first time, three members of our Digital team were able to attend the event. Megan Lockwood-Jones (Digital Manager), Stephanie Carr (Digital Marketing Controller) and Andrea Johnson (Digital Production Controller) looked forward to seeing what they could take away from the event and implement within their team and the services they offer.
Megan says, “The conference opened my eyes to further audiobook marketing opportunities. Whilst we don’t currently offer an audiobook marketing service, we are trying out techniques to help push our audiobooks and we have always focused on pushing the Amazon, Audible and Apple links. However, the conference inspired me to think about this differently and I have since thought about using social media in different ways to help promote the less commonly-used YouTube links for our non-exclusive audiobooks, as YouTube can be used by anyone rather than us relying on authors having an account/subscription or signing up for an account with some of the bigger audiobook retailers.”
Chelsea Taylor, Production Manager and member of our office’s ‘Mental Health First-Aiders’ team attended sessions specifically on wellbeing and mental health in the workplace. Chelsea says, “My main take away from the wellbeing talk was that we’re doing all the right things at Troubador, not just saying wellbeing is important to us but having tools and activities available for staff, and running whole weeks to shine the spotlight on the importance of looking after your mental health and wellbeing. Two of the stand-out statistics from the session were:
- 1/3 of job performance is dependent on the wellbeing of staff members, so it has a direct correlation
- Companies that promote an openness re. mental health and wellbeing have 28% more productive staff, and 34% more creative staff
It’s good to know that we are implementing the right things in our company and this session provided further insight and knowledge on this important subject.”
Our Assistant Marketing Manager, Philippa Iliffe was also able to attend the conference for the first time. Attending many of the talks and delving into discussions, Philippa says, “The wide range of talks meant that there was something for everyone and the digital format allowed you to catch up on talks from previous sessions – something you couldn’t do in real life. One of my highlights from the event was attending the breakout session on ‘Agile Marketing in Lockdown’ with Louise Dickens and Alison Middle of Kogan Page. This session looked at how indie publishers could use their agility to respond to shifting habits and develop their marketing and promotional strategies to make their books as visible as possible, particularly on digital platforms. This is something that we have been working on since the start of lockdown and it was refreshing to engage in a positive discussion with other indie publishers.”
Overall, the event came off as a great success. Whilst we enjoyed everything the digital conference had to offer, we are very much looking forward to attending in person sometime in the near future.
At the end of last year, I was commissioned to write a chapter about book production for the Writers’ and Artists’ Guide to Self-publishing (published by Bloomsbury), an accompanying title to the perennial bestselling writers’ bible, the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. The chapter covers a vast array of topics, from choosing a self-publishing company to looking at methods of print, making the right choices for your book in terms of format (paperback/hardback, size, materials), how to format and produce an ebook – all in just 9000 words. This book has just been published and it is now available. We thought it would be interesting to look at key take-outs covered in this chapter.
Different ways to self-publish
The way you choose to produce or print your book will determine how it is distributed to retailers, and the sales and marketing opportunities your book will have. You can go for a print run (printing copies upfront) or Print on Demand (POD) – where copies are printed as ordered – or an ebook. Within these models, you either use a company to help you, go it alone and do it all, use a platform (like Amazon) to produce or sell your book, or buy in services as you need them. But, do you understand how the method you choose to self-publish impacts on the availability and sales opportunities for your book?
How you begin your book production journey will depend on the route you have chosen for self-publishing – using a POD provider often means you are creating and uploading your own files to a POD supplier’s specification. Using a full-service company means you will be working more in partnership as the book comes together. If you are buying in services as you need them, then your timeline will be influenced by the external suppliers you have chosen.
I assess the pros and cons of each route in Writers’ & Artists’ Guide to Self-publishing – but here are the key points to consider when starting out.
Why are you self-publishing?
Knowing what you want to achieve with your book should dictate how you produce it. Skills, budget and aspirations all come into play. Some authors advocate that it is not ‘true’ self-publishing unless you do everything yourself. My take is that writing and producing a book is a liberating experience, and each author should produce their book in a way that best suits them – and is right for their market.
Aspirations – if you want your book on the shelves of every bookshop in the UK and with a poster on the side of a bus, you have to make sure you have put the money into the marketing and distribution, and POD won’t give you the results you are hoping for! If the book is for family and friends only – then do you need an upfront print run? Full colour books for younger readers are not always successful as ebooks… Understand what you want from self-publishing at the start to help you make the right choices.
Budget – using a propriety platform that is free to access (but might limit your distribution to a wider retail market) or invest upfront in a print run? What is your budget? Know exactly what is included in any contract – including payment schedules.
Skills – be honest. What skills do you possess and how can you leverage those in the production of your book? If you don’t have the skills to produce your book, then consider a more full-service option.
The Right Book for the Market
Once you’ve understood the difference between print and distribution models and assessed your aspirations, budget and technical skills, you should be in a better position to move forward with your production, which means considering the more physical aspects of how you want your book to look.
For retailers and readers, a book has to be right for its market. This means making sure the book is the correct format (size, price and medium) for the audience and looks right for the genre. If you are publishing a cookbook, the market will expect professional-looking photos of delicious food. A crime or thriller reader usually expects a book to be a familiar size and have a ‘genre look’. Don’t put unnecessary obstacles in your path by trying to be clever with your book production. Consider the following:
- Paperback or hardback? What would your readers expect for this kind of book?
- What kind of paper? All papers are not the same, some papers are more suited to novels, others to illustrated works. There are different ‘weights’ of paper, measured in GSM (with lower GSM more prone to ‘show through’) and different textures (coated, uncoated, etc.).
- Colour or black and white printing? What are the cost implications? And what does a reader expect?
- Size… Look at the books on your shelves, certain genres have more ‘standard’ sizes, again, often unconsciously realised by readers.
- Cover – can you enhance the cover with foil, lamination, textures, embossing of fonts etc? Most of these are not available if going down the POD route but adding such touches will make your book stand out to buyers.
Not one method or route to publication will suit every author, and there is no one-size-fits-all option either. It’s important to enjoy the process – take time to prepare your manuscript and cover, leave time for proofreading, get everything together before you start; it will make the process smoother and more enjoyable.
Self-published books can be let down by poor production. I regularly see self-published books that have been poorly realized, be that a weak cover or text design, the wrong choices of format and size or poor-quality printing. Producing a quality book requires skill, knowledge and an understanding of what you are trying to achieve. Getting your production wrong results in a book that won’t reach its potential – regardless of the quality of the writing.
This is a whistle-stop tour of my chapter on book production in the Writers’ & Artists’ Guide to Self-publishing – which is available now!
Jane Rowland, Operations Director
As someone with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, part of my ongoing therapy is to keep a log of distressing feelings and link them to the thought or event that triggered them. The physical act of writing them down helps to empty the brain and reduce their power. Nowadays, this is called therapeutic journaling. In my day, it was called “Dear Diary.” Expressing these feelings is like unburdening yourself to a good counsellor whose job is to listen without judgement.
My writing career began as a trainee journalist on Vancouver Island where I covered local events and small-town news stories. When I returned to the UK, I became a training consultant and wrote my own materials, some of which were published by Management Pocketbooks Ltd in the 1990s. On retirement, I needed something to occupy my over-active mind, so I decided to have a go at a novel, not realising that this was to bring its own mental health challenges which I shall mention shortly.
On the plus side, it meant I could indulge in fantasy for a few hours a day which took me away from the flashbacks of the original trauma and made me focus on characters of my own creation. Through writing the story, not only was I able to write from the inside out – my first novel was in the genre of domestic noir – I was able to work through some of my own issues, more so because having some distance between the events and writing the book provided me with the necessary objectivity.
A word of caution: writing painful memories, other than for personal reference, can be cathartic, but the end result – won’t necessarily be publishable.
A standard novel of around 80,000 words, from the first draft to the final edit takes about a year. Make no mistake, it is very hard work so it’s important to set a word or time limit for the day or week. It’s important to break a work of this size into bite-size chunks: a section or two, then take a twenty-minute break. Stretch, do a bit of gardening, or clean out the cupboards! This is especially true for people who class themselves as full-time writers.
Take walks, meet friends for coffee, have fun because it is so easy for the work-in-progress to take over your life to the extent it stops being beneficial to your mental health and starts to damage it. The isolation is one of the worst things so I limit my writing time to mornings only as that works for me. In the afternoons, I go out, swim, paint, dog walk or whatever takes my fancy.
A better way of writing for mental health is to focus on shorter pieces. Flash fiction is between 500 and 1,000 words and there are lots of openings for publication. Poetry or verse is a great way of letting your imagination run wild and you don’t have to follow any rules. There’s no stress involved as with a novel and if you have a website, you can make your work available to readers at no cost.
Recently, I was a judge for an acrostic competition. I’d never come across it before but now I play around with them when I have a few spare minutes. They are great fun.
A more recent addition to the writing world is blogging. I love it. It can be an opinion piece or sharing interesting information about where you live, your travels, pets, gardens, etc. I suggest keeping blogs under 1000 words and break up the text with pictures.
I’m working on a full-length memoir at the moment which I hope will help other people. It’s tough going but it’s a good way of processing life events and putting them into context. We often think we are alone in our struggle, so when we see a blog or an article from others, we feel supported and inspired to overcome our problems.
In life-writing, the main thing is to express feelings honestly and allow yourself time to explore the meanings of the words. Don’t get hung up on grammar or punctuation until you come to edit. Let it flow and don’t judge yourself.
“Writing about an emotionally charged subject or an unresolved trauma helps you put the event into perspective and give some structure and organization to those anxious feelings, which ultimately helps you get through it.” – James Pennebaker.
I don’t let anyone read a first draft or even a second one of any of my books, because I know I would lose confidence and feel dispirited if they turned their nose up at it. I don’t beat myself up if my first or tenth attempt is rubbish, but let it my writing flow like the river which ultimately finds its own way around the rocks and rubble.
The main thing is not to put yourself under any stress. It’s not the writing that’s the problem. If you are looking to be published, that’s when the hard work begins.
Angelena Boden. Author: ‘Edna’s Death Café’ and ‘Love Bytes Back’!