Books, eh?

Today is a diabolical-but-groovetastic day. Absolutely chucking it down, in Pembs, with a gale blowing but also PUBLICATION DAAAAY for my new book, ‘The Dots Will Not Be Joined’.

Am going to write about the process that’s gotten that baby out there: a) because somebody asked me about it, b) because it’s too crappy a day to go out for a celebration walk and c) in the full knowledge of this writer’s ver-ry personal circumstances. That is, my extreme, unhelpful kaleidofunktatious niche-dom. Meaning I know exactly how out there my book is, and my approach is.

Lockdown Project. That what it was. Had sadly separated from my wife – amicable, but not, frankly, my call – and had chosen to move out so as to avoid disruption for the two gals in my life. Was fortunate to have a friend’s caravan to shift into. (Was actually like a small apartment: all mod cons and then some. Some space and time, in fact). So wrote.

There is actually an e-book of my blogs already out there but this was the first Proper Job. As always, it started with anarchy and stories rolling out. (I know some will say that this is how it finished up! Fair enough). I knew I wanted to write about the stuff I care about and can trust myself to be honest with. Believe me, I work as hard at this as Proper Writers but the difference may be that I am both letting things flow – i.e. I suppose, not over-thinking – and then re-writing heavily and honourably but without being intimidated by judgements from out there.

I do not care about the perceived wisdoms of the publishing industry or the What Constitutes Real Writing Industry. Experience – and the experience of brilliant but ‘ordinary’ friends – tells me that there’s a whole lot of private school twattery wafting around those corridors. There is, of course, also plenty genuine diversity, too but broadly – c’ mon – publishing is controlled by more or less posh (or privileged) white people. Like most of the universe. In my daft way I oppose that, and therefore this hugely contentious paragraph is in solidarity with a flimsy but heartfelt notion that things need to be more open.

But enough politics, for now. I began to gather a collection of stories – memories, mainly – which felt true, and which sang the same love-song to sport, transformation, growth. Short chapters seemed right but then the core (maybe) needed to be big, hopefully strongish chapters where I was coaching in Primary Schools. (For ten years, this has been my life). I wanted mischief and I wanted to annihilate that obsession with a single narrative so (absolutely) I welcomed in the music, the art, the philosophical ‘diversions’. My lawns aren’t ordered; my matrix isn’t serene and elegant and sharply-honed. The world is madness. So, the material was gathered: trust your instincts.

Not entirely sure how early I knew I was writing a book – as opposed to blogs – but it was early. I started to look at modes of publishing, and spoke to people. Advice was very much to try to get an agent; some publishers simply don’t read unless you have one. Also approach publishers, get somebody behind you.

I tried both, possibly a wee bit half-heartedly. A) Because low expectations of success (because I’m me). B) Because quite clear I didn’t want some over-educated Herbert encouraging me to tone this or that down, or ‘be mindful of running ahead of your audience’. C) Because that all takes many weeks, and the nature of the writing is kinda urgent. *Also*, this idea that it still typically takes you a year or more to get a book published, in 2021, is plainly laughable. Soonish, for this latter concern – and in the surprising absence of interventions from Penguin or Noel Gay – I resolved to go the self-publishing route.

It’s been brilliant. For me, anyway.

Not sure where I plucked Grosvenor House from – could have been some recommendation (hah!) in The Guardian – but they’ve been excellent in every respect. Timely, clear, helpful. Me and the teamster Julie have become email compadres because she’s been on it in a friendly and really efficient way. When I unloaded My Particular Angle on her she was ver-ry clear that although the world and his wife has written a book during lockdown the process could be complete in X months – forget how many.

(I repeat that my strong conviction was that though there is airy/longish-term philosophical meandering in the book, it is largely a thing of the now; therefore time felt important. Generally, if you do all the editing/checking – and of course Grosvenor House offer all these services, which I politely declined – then you can get a book out in close to a month, in Normal Times. The Dots Will Not Be Joined took longer, in the Covid log-jam but but the time-scale was still good).

Let’s wind back a little. Costs. I am medium-skint so both wanted and needed to avoid ‘extras’. Like editing and all those things that most writers think – or are led to think – are essential. Of course they are essential; the careful, careful, more-or-less brutal cutting and looking and feeling-out. That is essential. Whether you feel comfortable doing that yourself is an important personal choice. But for me it is/was a choice. I didn’t just choose not to have ‘professional help’ there because of the relatively minor amount of money it involved. I wanted the book to sound like me, being honest, maybe with some edges unsmoothed.

It cost me £795 to get the Publishing Agreement. This provided for all services to get the book out there, including;

Provision for ISBN number – crucial, I’m told.

All typesetting, including to-ing and fro-ing of sample pages until the author is satisfied: an electronic full proof to be achieved within 30 working days of receipt of author’s approval… before continuing to complete the printing process.

To manufacture copies on demand, having supplied Amazon and ‘all major retailers and wholesalers in the UK’ with the book’s metadata – i.e. essential blurb.

To list the book with Nielsen Book Data.

To make two royalty payments per year: one in June, t’other in December.

To provide 5 copies free of charge to the author and place copies at the six national libraries of the UK. Also, at the Publisher’s discretion, to distribute free copies ‘as the publisher deems necessary’. (Hopefully to stimulate interest).

This isn’t, for obvious reasons, the whole document but in short you get your book out there, for £795. If you want a hardback, there is a further charge (around £100, from memory). Images a fiver each. I opted to swerve hardback but to produce an e-book – I guess for environmental reasons – costing a further £200. (I know I’m not likely to retrieve that money from that source but it did feel the right thing to do). I have also ordered some copies for myself – to place in local independent bookshops – at a cost of just over £4 per book, delivered to Pembs.

If I have understood it correctly, the split goes like this: if the book is a 250 page black and white paperback, costing £10, the publishers will get £4.15 and the wholesaler/retailer £4.00. The writer will get £1.85.

In my case I set the price at £8.50 originally, because that felt right – meaning a royalty of £1.20-something per book sold. I have recently been informed that this figure has been reduced, just a little, by increasing production and publishing costs. Fair enough. In response I have increased the book price to £9.00, because I reckon I deserve (and will need) the increased royalty of £1.70-odd.

So that’s the nuts and bolts of it. About a thousand sobs to get your book out.

I knew from the moment of inception that I would very unlikely to make that money back: do the math, in my case that’s 600 sales, give or take. But this has never been about the money. Nor any distant possibility of fame. It has, of course on one level been about the possibility of some kind of breakthrough… though into what, who knows? But friends I can look you in the eye and tell you that I may be the least materialist(ic) guy you’re gonna meet this week. This has not been about that. It’s about contributing to the bantz; sharing some stories; making a real, honest document, however wild and indulgent it may seem to some. I’ve loved this process so far. And I really do recommend self-publishing, and Grosvenor House in particular.

Finally, daft not to include a link to book sales: though of course I wish it didn’t have to be the way of the monstrous online retailer. (Predictably, the Publishing Universe is tilted every bit as much towards the rich and famous as the Capitalist Status Quo: those with resources get their books into shops. The rest of us need benefactors – in my case the Twitter Bighitters that may possibly lift sales towards that trigger-point which releases, via algorithm, copies into Waterstones and the rest. We deal-less, agent-less plebs can only hope to break through into shops if plenty folks buy early, on-line).

So. Wish me luck?

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