Friday, 19 October 2012

Promotional tours of authors - get real!

You learn something every day.  I have recently found that unless you're already a wealthy best seller writer, your publisher doesn't pay for promotional tours - you do!

Is it just me or isn't this a tad counter-intuitive?

I mean, if an author sells thousands of books, the publishers benefit, right?  An author who's willing to travel, stare glass-eyed at every fan as they answer the minutae of their characters life which the fan is sure they're the ones right, to get RSI from signing books (even the ones fans haven't purchased then but dragged along with them) is worth supporting, aren't they?
An approachable author is a popular one and again, this increases sales.  Each event is - in effect - an advert for the titles and the publisher.  So why do publishers demand that this advertising is free?  They benefit if the author flourishes so why shouldn't they at least pay for travel expenses?  When the senior directors get the firm to fund their little jaunts to conferences, seminars and holidays ... er ... fact-finding missions, I'm sure it ends up costing more than sending one author tourist-class to another country.

But they don't and popular authors that deserve more exposure than on t'internet are left to fund their own book tours which, I must stress, aren't tourist holidays - it's work.

I declare my interest:

One of my favourite authors, Jeri Westerson, has just released her fifth novel Blood Lance.  I've reviewed it on Amazon, I've reviewed it on Goodreads ... but I still feel I can do more.  Jeri usually tours around California - her publishers refuse to back her to do more.  Not even in different states!

Now in her Medieval Noir series her protagonist Crispin Guest walks the dangerous streets of medieval London - well written with humour, pace and depth, Crispin could do with more coverage in his "home" town.  But the above situation stands - if they won't let Jeri tour the US her publishers certainly won't foot the bill even for a short signing tour of London!

I think this is disgraceful.

So ...

I've decided to get the ball rolling and get Jeri over here - if only so I can swap taste notes on mead.  Before anyone wonders at my qualifications for such a task, I'd like to point out that once I helped organise a major role-playing games club including national branches and a major convention.  Let me tell you, organising RPG'ers is like herding cats!
After years of reviewing and publishing articles and books, I think I can get a line on what makes a business tick: after all, I'm a partner in a small firm myself.  I'm also it's book-keeper/accountant; I know what costs and where it can be offset.
Finally, I'm so confident in the quality of Jeri's writing - her product, if you will - that I think my time and effort will be well-spent.

Hell, if I wasn't as poor as a Dickensian hero sent to the Fleet for his debts, I'd foot the bill myself!

So - please heed this bugle-call!

I'd like suggestions along the lines of who might be interested in sponsoring her a short tour in the UK.  I'm looking at July 2013 to culminate at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate (and yes, I'm approaching the organisers with respect).  A short stop in London - say a book signing and publicity photos at The Clink or The London Dungeons - but possibly a short trip to Bristol (a major port in medieval times) and either Nottingham or possibly York.

I'm looking at no open cheque - this will be flights to/from the UK, accomodation, travel within the UK and some expenses.  This is no "pot" which money gets put into and drawn out - we're looking at accountable figures, with one firm picking up the travel tab, another the accomodation and so on.  What do they get out of it?  Publicity.  Lots of lovely publicity!  I can even interest some medieval re-creation types in staging displays at said events.

So,  how about it?

Jeri's Website 

Blood Lance on Amazon 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A bit of advice - helpful, I hope.

Going self-employed?  Got a small business and need tips - on any related subject?

There's plenty of web sites, pundits, official online sites and books out there but there's nothing like experience.  Now I'm no expert - far from it - so I'm not going to charge for any advice or suggestions.  I don't earn from this.  But, after a few recent experiences I decided I could use my blog to give a couple of tips to prospective business creators.

My background.

Just to let you know my "qualifications" to pass advice.  Almost three years ago, after a lifetime of working for others, my wife was made redundant.  She decided that there would be nothing to lose and, taking an existing idea, made it her business ( 

I decided that I couldn't keep on my regular job as well as support her in her business so ... took the big step and registered as self-employed.  We've been working for ourselves and - just about - surviving ever since.

Self-Employment, it's feckin' scary!

You get no sick pay, you get no holiday, you do your own taxes and if you bugger that up then you're the one to sort it out.  You've got to be careful you don't take work home - keep an imaginary boundary between both.

So what's so good?  Well the biggest benefit is that whatever you put into your business, you get out.  Say you were sitting on a stall, selling widgets.  It's great - your sales skill means Widget Ltd. makes £500 in one day.  At the end of your day, you give Mr Widget the £500 ... and he says "Well done - here's £20 for your days work!"  You're Mr Widget and you've spent a whole day selling stuff.  At the end of the day, you've made £500.  Everything else has to come out of it but, bottom line, you know that every penny you worked for, you've got!

Minor benefits.  You make your hours:  You know when you need to earn, you decide how much you need to work.  You make the rules:  If you don't think a way to do something is right then you can change it.  If you think something is pointless, you don't have to do it!

I didn't say the scary bits were less in number than than the good bits.

But the good bits count for a lot!


Keep records.
Record everything, written!  Get strange about demanding receipts, keeping odd tickets, collect anything to do with your business, even if you don't think it's useful.

Be strict with yourself.
Just because you don't have a "Mr Jones" to hassle you if you don't turn up for work, you can't slacken off.  You must BE the Mr Jones!  Remember, if you don't work, you don't earn.  If you don't earn, the bills won't get paid, you'll get hungry and cold and your kids will question why you sold their PS3.  And - no - benefits aren't a wage and you'll be knackered if you think them so.

Have confidence in what you do!
It's not enough to know what you have is good or you enjoy what you do - if it is to sell or earn you a fair wage, you must treat it as a business.  Be hard on yourself!  Have confidence in your creation ... by treating it professionally!

Research, research and ... research all over again!

Google, while a darlin' little thing, isn't the end of research.

"It isn't enough to be allowed free in a research library - you have to know what questions you want answered, which subjects it relates to ... and which book is worth reading to find the answer."
 As an example, our business is making dog treats.  You can Google dog treats and get recipes, rivals and some good ideas but it takes deeper digging to find the actual legislation concerning pet food production, labeling and the respected Trading Standards authorities.

You're a plumber.  Fully trained, qualified and experienced.  You want to set up on your own.  Look into it.  How many other small business plumbers are in your area?  What do they offer?  What can you do that attracts customers?  I use this noble (and actually ancient) trade as an example and to demonstrate how much background research to do!  Never assume you know all the ins-and-outs ... you have to use a bit of imagination and be nosy in everything!

Don't Despair - There is information for business out there!

Do a bit of digging and you can find help, even if it's not immediately helpful.  Even Mr Taxman (otherwise known as the HMRC) is happy to give free help!  There are a few places to look for aid ...   This site takes a while to navigate but, in the end, you can find plenty of advice and suggestions, including free training!

The Federation of Small Business   While they're at their best when you are a member, they'll still give advice for basic problems.

Don't Accept First Opinions.

Two real examples:

We wanted a Chip and Pin terminal.  Y'know, one of those handheld do-hickeys!  We understood we had to pay a basic set-up fee, a fee per transaction etc. etc.  We talked to two different companies - and continued with the one with the best rates.  After eight weeks of us supplying all the necessary documents and them asking for other documents, I called to find out the progress; they said they couldn't continue because we hadn't supplied ONE particular document.  I said "We can't get one.  Even the HMRC don't issue one!"  Ah, we were told, without it our application couldn't continue.  On talking to the affiable salesman, to wonder why he'd not said this, he said "It's industry standard - all firms banks require this document!"
Talking to another business owner, they recommended another, third, firm.  We applied, talked to a salesman, asked about application documents ... and within three weeks we'd been set up for chip and pin sales, the machine delivered and the whole kit ready to use!

Second Example.

We needed a regular dispatch firm.  In my own experience, I avoided some then applied to one which was dead keen to take our account.  Getting all the required information to them was a nightmare - they could only accept original documents scanned and emailed or posted then, hopefully, returned.  After a few weeks of "just one more thing you need to send us" then they finally stated they couldn't do business.
On that same day, a rep came into our shop and asked if we'd be interested.  We asked what documents we'd need to give and how long would set up be, she said "Being here, I know your business exists.  You tell us the kind of traffic you'll give, I'll email you the prices per consignment.  You tell us you want to use us, we'll send out your parcels.  You pay the bill, we see how much business you give us and we'll talk about better discounts later."
We're using them and have (so far) been served well.

The lesson?

Don't assume things are "the norm".  Question it.  Think about what needs doing and what might be required.  But don't take first (or second) opinions on services and what is required.  Persist.

Finally ...

It's a big and scary world out there and being self-employed is bloody scary ... especially after years of working for someone else.  But if you have a great idea, it's worth struggling for!

Just to see where I come from:
Mrs Bishop's Doggy Deli