It’s just over 12 months to the day since I launched my self-published epic Life of Pies and I’d be lying if I said things had gone exactly to plan. I’ve not had the best year to be perfectly frank, in fact in a literary sense, it has been something of an unmitigated disaster.
Schoolboy errors, naively getting carried away with myself, administrative nightmares, IT mishaps and finally getting dumped by the BBC after four months of them leading me on. A mix of not having much luck and some downright stupidity from my perspective implies that my next book, if I were ever to write one would be called “How not to write a book”.
1. DON’T MESS WITH THE CUSTOMS OFFICE
The tale of woe starts in October 2014. With a book launch planned in a week’s time and 130 pre-ordered customers waiting on tenterhooks, I get the message that my books are stuck in Liverpool Customs.
Now I’ve used this company to print my books in the past and they’re very good but it’s been a few years and in that time, they have offshored printing to Hong Kong. Now is not the time to pore over the moral implications of this, let’s just say that even though it took ten weeks to deliver instead of four, the price was an exceptional one, a highly important factor when you’re stumping up the cash out of your own pocket.
However, with five working days to go and no change given from HMRC, panic set in. I couldn’t have a book launch without books could I? So I found a small run UK book printer who would run me off 300 in a few days at a price of £5 per head. Yes, in addition, to the 1,000 winging their way from the Far East. And of course both turned up within an hour of each other, more out of luck than my openly weeping down the phone to the Customs Officers at Liverpool. Trust me, that doesn’t work. Oh well, it’s OK, I’ve got a GREAT BOOK here, I’ll sell them easily or so I thought…..
In truth, half of the combined total would have been more than adequate and I’d have been sat at home now typing up my “Project Closure” meeting without 20 boxes of books festering in my garage. Not to mention being a couple of grand out of pocket. Oops.
2. ANOTHER BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE
Why didn’t anyone tell me this? Looking at the twelve months younger version of me, walking starry-eyed around bookshops, farm shops, gardening centres and pie shops I didn’t see any other books, just a vision of my own nestling on the shelves. Tunnel vision ahoy!
Yet even though my garage was full of books, I had the solution in my head, I simply created a list of fifty bookshops. Load up the car. Drop a box of 20 in each, negotiate on margins hard, like wot they do on The Apprentice and bingo, my stock has become someone else’s stock; and the book, what with it being brilliant an’ all will simply fly off the shelves.
“Do you know how many people walk in this shop every week with self published books insistent that their effort deserves shelf space?” was one particularly incisive, hurtful yet no doubt commercially astute response from a snooty lady in a bookshop on the Wirral.
Yeah, but my book is brilliant, not like theirs…..
At one of the first places I went in St Helens I was mortally offended because she said “I’ll take five” and not a full box but unbeknown to me, that was actually a great result and they have actually been brilliantly supportive. Not only that but the pie shop across the road (Burchalls) is a blinder.
At another well known bookshop on the Fylde Coast, the lady gave me some great advice, as they all do but yet again only took one copy (still unsold), barely enough to cover the petrol. “Look around you”. The cafe was full of pensioners sipping tea but hardly anyone perusing the books.
Life’s hard for independent bookshops you see, they don’t sit there just waiting for numpties like me to walk into their shops and make them an offer they cannot refuse.
“They’ll learn,” I fumed, “they’ll be ringing ME up in a few months when my book goes global!” One stop short of a barely concealed Partridge-esque “Needless to say, I had the last laugh!”
So, I’m still waiting. Don’t expect them ever to ring back, or answer emails. To them, I am a nuisance in what appears to be already a perilous enough world to stay afloat sadly. The best advice I received was “you should put your book on Amazon” Yep, that multi-national tax avoiding company that has probably put paid to dozens of bookshops up and down the country. If only there was such a thing where you could print on demand…….
Oh and by the way, if you didn’t have Lord Sugar behind you, you’d probably get the door slammed straight in your face, budding business protégés.
3. DON’T LET YOUR ANTI-VIRUS SUBSCRIPTION RUN OUT
Yep, you know what’s coming. A bleary eyed Sunday morning in March and as I log on to my laptop, I notice that all my desktops have a strange .ecc style extension and Excel and Word files don’t have the familiar X or W on them. Nope, they’re not opening. Bloody hell, my anti-virus only ran out last week.
I’m met with a charming message telling me that all my files have been encrypted FOR MY OWN SAFETY and I can have them back for a mere five hundred pounds. Or was it dollars? Either way I mulled it over and thought, hmmm, this seems a little like blackmail to me. And from my incessant subsequent googling, it turns out there’s no actual guarantee I’d get my files back. Still, at least I do regular back ups, don’t I eh? And I keep most of it on a pen drive anyway.
4. ALWAYS BACK YOUR FILES UP AT REGULAR INTERVALS
Sound advice. That’s what you should do. DON’T carry your life’s work on you on a tiny pen drive that fits easily in your pocket. Don’t take it to the park with you on a Sunday afternoon and put it in the same pocket as your mobile phone, which you are continually getting out of your pocket to take photos of your daughter going down a slide or checking the football scores. Don’t get home later that evening and realise that you can’t find that pen drive. And most importantly of all, don’t forget to back up that pen drive for over fifteen months.
If you do this then you are a complete numpty and fully deserve a full two weeks of sinking regret, bewilderment and outright denial that you chose to put all the writing you have done in the last year and a half on a little two inch piece of plastic that you thought was the eighth wonder of the world. It’s not, it’s a very naughty boy.
It’s been a month now and I’ve still not come to terms with it, I still keep excessively ruffling cushions and peering under the bed waiting for that little glistening bit of metal to gleam back at me. It’s gone, let it go and learn from it…..
5. DON’T RELY ON THE MEDIA
Again, the utopian voices in my head told me that promotion would not be a necessity. My book is great, people will buy it and then through word of mouth, other people will buy it. It will all just happen naturally via the process of osmosis.
I did a little piece with the Wigan Evening Post the week before the book launch after contacting my good mates at the paper. Then, the next minute, a reporter turned up at my house wanting a scoop and some photographs. The only problem with this is that I was at work in Manchester thirty miles away.
They rang me incessantly but as I explained, I had a full time job and only did this book as a hobby and didn’t really want to be plastered all over the tabloids as the man who ate 400 pies. And anyway, I don’t need this publicity, my book is BRILLIANT and will make it to the top of the bestsellers solely on the merit of its content. Of course it will.
I can’t remember the reason why, though I suspect it was something to do with British Pie Week, but in March 2015, the news agency came back, and this time, with a garage full of books to sell (etc etc you know the score by now…..) I mulled it over and agreed to do it. I was so paranoid about it that I didn’t sleep a wink the night before.
The whole issue of my mugshot being in the paper and what the reaction would be from my work colleagues or fellow commuters on the train staring at me quizzically had me shaking like a leaf, but I turned up at The Crusty Cob in Ancoats and spent a good hour and a half grinning till my face hurt. The photographer Tom was great and come the next day, I started getting a few emails from workmates. The Daily Mail of all papers! Soon to be followed by the Sun, The Star and (at last) the Mirror.
Meanwhile, my phone is buzzing away. Emails telling me people have ordered my book, great news and the whole reason for sacrificing my internally perceived dignity. Bit harsh that, I’m the sort of person that always fears the worst but people at work seemed unequivocally delighted and amused by my hobby, nay achievements.
At the time, it felt like hundreds of people were ordering the book, but when I totted up a few days later, it was maybe 50 tops. This didn’t feel like much for hawking myself through the four biggest selling daily tabloids but hey it was 50 I wouldn’t have sold had I not done it and I was grateful for the publicity. I’m still waiting for the Guardian to return my calls mind you.
However, there was another grand tale of woe, a sting in the tail if you will. I had piqued the interest of none other than the British Broadcasting Corporation and after much arrangement and dialogue, it appeared that I was to be the subject of a short film. I’d go to Barrow, Morecambe and Adlington, visit the pie makers that featured in the books and tell the nation a tale of where to buy great Northern pies.
And I did, I booked the time off work and once more stepped in front of the camera in June 2015.
And you know what? I loved it. Not necessarily the being in front of camera bit but meeting again Paul Bowen of Bowens Pies, Graham Aimson at Morecambe and David McArthur of Greens Pies. People who make fantastic pies and have such a great passion and work ethic about what they do. I was told that the film was great and they couldn’t wait to get it online.
It was next to go online after the current feature, a lady from Aberdeen who had created adult colouring books. That film had received 250,000 hits and counting. It’d go on the BBC website in the video section and also probably feature in one of their shows: BBC Breakfast, The One Show or Victoria Derbyshire perhaps.
Surely now my garage would be free of multiple boxes of books blocking out the sunlight? It would only take a measly 0.2% of the prospective viewers to be interested in learning more and spending a mere tenner on 380 pages of pie based reflections and I’d be in the clear. A doddle. Finally!
Then, nothing. The days of me walking around with a paper bag ready to put over my head in case of recognition turned to weeks and then ultimately months whilst I started to get concerned. I’d even spent thirty quid on another 100 parcel envelopes in anticipation of the deluge of orders (that’s another even larger box now festering in the garage) and still nothing.
The initial “it’ll be on in the next 7-10 days” gave way to “it’ll be next month, the Beeb is just doing some history stuff at the minute but it’ll be on after that”, to then silence until finally an email “Martin, they’re not going to run the pie thing. Sorry, these things happen.”
Now, I can’t complain too much as the BBC is not a commercial enterprise and I should have never relied on free advertising from an organisation which proudly claims to have none but nevertheless I shudder to think what it cost only to not bother putting the finished product online, let alone the fact it cost me a day’s pay and a precious day’s holiday, and of course the time of the numerous other people involved who were hoping to be featured.
I’ve still had no explanation as to why it got pulled, albeit it there are one or two conspiracy theories doing the rounds from my cohorts (collar me in the pub for more details). All I know is that I foolishly sat and waited for this to go online in order to give book sales a much needed shot in the arm only to be let down and now I (still) have a garage clogged full of boxes of books and I’m only now surfacing from the dark tunnel of the last month after losing my pen drive wondering “what do I do next?”
Well, if you’ve read this far you may either be feeling a small shred of sympathy or laughing heartily at my inherent stupidity. You may ever be considering buying a copy of my book either for yourself or for someone you don’t like for Christmas. That would be nice, but based on current sales I doubt it will happen. That was so blatant, I’m not even going to put the link in.
I needed to write this piece as a bit of therapy to get it out of the way to stop feeling sorry for myself. As life is treating me well generally, I feel a little cheeky whinging about things, many of which were my own daft fault. However, the last 12 months have been something of a disaster for me on a literary front and I’ve still got a fair bit of debt to clear to break even (erm about £50 if you’re reading Emma). Nevertheless I’ve still achieved something and now the wallowing phase has been concluded, I’ve started to fightback.
Last night, fortified by 8.5% Belgian ale and a positive attitude, I wrote out a long list (ON PAPER = NO COMPUTERS INVOLVED) of around fifty things I could do to promote book sales between now and Christmas.
I only actually got to 41 last night, the last five of which are barely legible, but as of this morning the list is now at 57 and by publishing this blog, I can now tick off number one on the list.
So just for once, I’m not going to finish by asking anyone to buy my book. I’m asking if you can help me sell it. If you are well connected, or have any great ideas or even want to petition the BBC to get my video put online, well, I’ll thank you very much and reward you handsomely (once my garage is clear of books and credit card bill is cleared obviously….) Get in touch via the link above, email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me.
And if you don’t want to help me, well I’ll be helping myself, guerrilla marketing style. Learning all the time from life’s harsh lessons. Or maybe not.
Financial Reset indeed…….