Our marketing consultant has been at it again – feeding us with ideas that involve vast amounts of money and months of development which may or may not pay off in terms of investment. Like the hot air balloon.
“It’s all about branding,” he said. “Companies don’t take it seriously. Imagine a hot air balloon, displaying your logo and your latest publication, flying over London when the crowds are out for the Queen’s birthday, showing yourself to the masses and more people than you could possibly hope to reach by placing an ad in a national newspaper, or even on Google or social media.”
“But we don’t have a logo,” we said.
“Then you shall have one,” he said.
“And we don’t have the resources to pay for a hot air balloon,” we said.
“What about a new website?” he said.
“We’ll think about it,” we said.
But as this conversion progressed, we were somewhat overwhelmed by the range of add-ons and extras which were shown to us as an inducement to spend even more time on the redevelopment, such as slide shows, videos, “transitions and transformations,” animated GIFs and talking text. Interesting, but some of this stuff seemed to be gimmicks for the sake of having gimmicks. Wouldn’t they load a website with a lot of clutter? Were they really necessary?
“It’s all about leverage,” he said.
As a concession, we opted for a logo and an animation that’s displayed on the home page, constructed using a pile of words and techniques that remain a mystery. Which brings us back to the hot air balloon.
Lacking the resources to pay for a real one, we were persuaded to go for a virtual one. And our marketing consultant came up with this:
“It’s totally daft,” we said.
“Show it on your home page,” he said. “The eye looks like a basket. I could add some ropes, make it look even more…”
“Stop!” we said. “We don’t want this. It’ll drive people mad. It’s driving us mad. Look at it!”
And he did. For countless enumerations.
“Hmm,” he said. “You’re right. It’s totally daft.”
So we thought we’d show it here. As an example of “implanting your brand by leveraging your assets to maximize optimum output strategies” when you haven’t got the resources to pay for a hot air balloon.
In July 2014, the ALCS (Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society) published a report on the earnings of professional authors, professional authors being defined as “people who dedicate the majority of their time to writing.” The report was based on research carried out by Queen Mary College, University of London, with the aim of updating previous research on the topic carried out in 2007. About 2,500 writers took part in the research, and the participants included members of the ALCS, the NUJ, the Society of Authors, and the Writers Guild of Great Britain.
In comparing the previous results with the latest results, the research found that “the average incomes earned by both professional authors and all writers have dropped significantly.” The surveys show a drop of 29% in real terms in a professional author’s typical income from writing, comparing 2005 to 2013. In 2005, the median income of professional authors was £15,450. In 2013, the figure had fallen to £11,000.
In tandem with this drop in earnings, the surveys also show a fall in the number of professional authors whose income stems solely from writing. The report states: “For the majority of people, their ‘profession’ and the way that they earn money are one and the same thing. For writers however this is increasingly often not the case. In 2005, 40% of professional authors earned their income solely from writing. By 2013, this had dropped to just 11.5%.”
And what of the digital market? Not much in the way of good news there: “Whilst the amount of money authors are earning from digital publishing has increased, overall, the survey found that authors’ incomes are falling in real terms. Digital opportunities may be out there but authors are yet to receive the full financial benefits of this growing sector.”
More recently on this topic, the ALCS published an article last month on the gap between the UK’s highest-earning authors and those on the lowest incomes, referring to an item in The Times on the marketing priorities of the big publishers, and also to The Bookseller’s Annual Review, “which showed that in spite of the lowest author earnings recorded in a decade, the highest-paid authors are doing better than they ever have, with a record number of billionaires being reported.”
In short, the rich get richer whilst the poor get poorer. A reflection of society as a whole then, one might say.
And on the subject of microcosms, we turn to our “not on the Bookseller’s rich list” author Anthony Bloor, but a professional author nonetheless, and one who has somehow managed to survive on earnings derived mainly from writing. From the horse’s mouth:
“Yes, my earnings have come from a number of sources but, in recent times at least, mostly from writing. For the last couple of years I’ve been writing news stories on environmental themes for a corporate client, and maintaining a couple of websites for them as well. But the company has shifted its centre of operations, installed an in-house marketing team, and decided my services are no longer required. Worse, practically all the stuff I’d written for them has disappeared from the airwaves in a re-branding exercise, so there’s nothing to show what I’ve been doing for the last two years. I’ve now restored all the items on a new website but the work of re-writing and setting it all up etc has taken an enormous amount of unfunded time. If I’d been invoicing for the work, the whole lot would have cost about £3,000. I’m hoping for donations to help me out here. There’s the equivalent of two full-length novels up there; probably more.”
So there you have it. The author’s new website, comprising news stories on environmental and sustainability issues (fact not fiction), is up and running and called ENA UK, which stands for ‘Environmental News Archive (UK).’ Please take a look at the website and, if you recognise the value of words, please make a donation for the work of our “getting poorer by the minute” author. There’s a PayPal link for making donations on the ENA UK website.
In the world of book publishing, the publication of a new title is usually announced months before its official publication date and promoted through a series of trailers, press releases, news stories, launches, book signings and author appearances. However, we are not a conventional publisher. Details of our most recent title were circulated through the usual channels three months in advance of the official publication date but three months short of the six-month period that publishers are advised to allow. And its official publication date was not celebrated with a launch or a book signing whilst our suggestions for public appearances were greeted with the somewhat perfunctory response of “Later!” from its author.
It goes without saying that we are pleased to announce the publication of Anthony Bloor's third novel, titled The Messenger, but as four months have elapsed since its official publication date we do feel that the book-buying public deserves an explanation for the delay in making this announcement.
The basic problem we face is a staff shortage. We do not have the resources to employ a team of marketing specialists or social media enthusiasts and consequently our marketing efforts are largely dependent on the willingness of our illustrious authors to engage fully with promoting their work. And herein lies a further problem. Four months since The Messenger first became available to the book-buying public, its illustrious author says he's still suffering from an acute attack of that modern epidemic, the CBA syndrome. In short, “he can't be arsed.”
To be fair, however, he also says this is not because of apathy but wholly due to time. With the author's permission, we quote from a recent email: “I am not refusing to take part in public engagements, but my diary is full for the next three months and I simply do not have the space for further commitments. My writing life is very busy for one, and when an essential hallmark of civilisation is threatened with eradication one's feathers are ruffled to the point of distraction.”
The author goes on to talk about cuts to public services, the rising number of public library closures, the barbarian hordes that are destroying the history of civilization in the Middle East, and Shropshire Council's proposal to close Church Stretton Library and, as the only alternative, relocate public library facilities to the Church Stretton branch of the South Shropshire Academy Trust.
As a publisher of the printed word, we share the author's concerns. Libraries are an important sales outlet, so from our perspective any closure represents a shrinkage in the global market. And for many readers, public libraries are a million miles away from a “student learning environment” and are frequently the place that first stimulates a love of reading, as Anthony Bloor relates:
“I remember vividly my first trips to a public library. It was a family outing. We all went, me and my younger sister, mother and father, and we all returned with half a dozen books each or more. It was like a treasure hunt. We walked through Ward End Park to get there and took flasks of tea. Then we had the treasure hunt, followed by another walk through the park. When we got home, we unpacked our treasure and shared our discoveries. We were all curious to see what we were all planning to read. It kept us going for three or four weeks, till the books were returned or renewed and more treasure unearthed. Christmas every month.”
Moves to close Church Stretton Library have met with fierce opposition from the local community. Residents of the town have set up a support group and presented alternative proposals that would secure the library's future in its current location at the heart of the town. At the time of writing, Shropshire Council has yet to make a decision on the library's future, but we fully support the campaign and hope that the Council will allow the group's plans to bear fruit. For further details of the campaign, see the website of the Church Stretton Library Support Group.
Returning to the question of promotion, can we look forward to a more proactive engagement from our could-be-more-illustrious-if-he-tried-a-bit-harder author? We have received some encouraging signs. We have managed to extract a few words for a press release for local distribution. We have learnt that the author has completed an induction course in ‘How to do a book signing,’ kindly organised for him by our local bookshop, Burway Books in Church Stretton, and is now fully aware of the gloom and glamour associated with such an event, possibly in equal measure. And, despite his involvement in a number of “burning issues” as well as a hectic writing life, he states that public appearances “of a sort” are being planned and in fact have already taken place without his being aware of it. All of which will be revealed in due course.
Scientists, so we have been told, have developed a new theory which takes into account the latest findings of particle physics. Known as Bling Theory Mark Q (not to be confused with the countless other bling theories), the new hypothesis suggests that matter should be viewed as an intricate system of beads and bangles, jostling each other for supremacy, much as celebs attempt to outdo each other in their choice of fashion. The physicists also argue that the universe began, not with a big bang, but with a big slap. All is revealed in a forthcoming edition of The Sunday Particle…
However, this item of news is hard to verify as no one we have spoken to has ever seen or heard of The Sunday Particle, apart from our dubious source. But on a more realistic note, while still in the realm of fiction as it were, we are very pleased to announce that Simon Siabod Publishing will be publishing a new novel by Anthony Bloor later this year. The novel, titled The Messenger, contains an element of science, though nothing so technical as to frighten the faint-hearted. The plot partly revolves around a team of scientists who are working on a remote island in the Atlantic and are using technology to simulate the brain of Karl Marx. The technology involves bio-computing (also known as molecular computing or DNA computing), a form of computing that uses enzymes rather than silicon and is still (in reality) in its infancy.
So much for science, but there is more to the story than that of course, and all will be revealed shortly. For a glimpse of the cover, see our New Title page.
(Our dubious source: a man who said his name was Brian Cox, April 1st 2014.)top
As a publisher, much of our work is spent on typesetting and design. Transforming those designs into a physical object still seems to us to be an act of magic, akin to giving birth, and is well beyond our capabilities. For this act of transformation, and the quality of the finished article, we are dependent on the capabilities of our printers and their technical expertise. MPG Biddles was chosen to print two of our publications and we were very pleased with the results. We have always been impressed by their high standards throughout the process, from the responses to our queries to the quality of the final product.
In December 2012, we were on the verge of sending a new publication to MPG Biddles. However, in the process of discussing paper stocks, printing presses, and other technical details, we became aware that things were not quite right with the company. The work was temporarily shelved. Unfortunately, our suspicions turned out to be well-founded, but it came as a great shock and with much sadness to hear of the depth of the problem and the fact that the company had gone into administration.
Could it be saved? What would happen to those new printing presses? Would a saviour step in and salvage the company?
The story, as documented in The Bookseller and PrintWeek, continued for six months. We followed developments with hope and anticipation, but the final outcome was negative. 200 employees have lost their jobs, and we would like to offer them our commiserations and our very best wishes for the future. We do hope that they will all find another opportunity to perform their magic.
For the final outcome, see the following articles:
PrintWeek, 18th June 2013 – "MPG rescue plan fails"
The Bookseller, 19th June 2013 – "IPG offers support as MPG rescue plan fails"top
Our marketing consultant has been working overtime again (see the item ‘Adventures in Marketing’ below). His latest plan was revealed to him in a dream, he says. He was given a book – non-fiction – which had been printed on a toilet roll. The book was sealed with a strip of masking tape which you had to unpeel to begin reading. The dream turned into a nightmare when he felt compelled to consult the index. This meant unravelling the entire roll as the index, following the natural order of things, was situated at the end of the book. He woke up feeling thoroughly disgusted with this new development in publishing.
On reflection however, he now considers this novel mode of presentation to have great potential, especially in these times of austerity. It could be a way of recycling out-of-print fiction, he says, and an even more economical method than print on demand – because the end result would have a dual purpose, being a useful commodity for the illiterate as well as the bookworm. Fiction has no need of an index, so there is no need to unravel the entire roll. Readers will be encouraged to read through to the end, avoiding the sneak preview of how-it-all-pans-out. Our entrepreneurial colleague is very excited about the idea and is now trying to persuade us to pursue it.
Is this the future of publishing? Read and wipe, disposable fiction, savour a chapter whilst enjoying the pleasures of a squat? Our consultant admits that the health and safety aspects of a print-ingrained toilet roll have yet to be considered, but didn’t folk use newspaper in the quaint old days of the outside loo? So it can’t be that bad, he says, and modern techniques are obviously capable of producing something better than newsprint. But he also concedes that there may not be a printing press capable of producing such items in quantity, satisfying both hygiene and legibility standards. Not yet, anyway.
Interesting it may be, but we can say here and now that Simon Siabod Publishing has no intention of pursuing this idea for future publications, though we do however have plans for e-books. All will be revealed in due course, as they say.
(Publisher’s note: Our latest offering – Anthony Bloor’s Larry’s Lessons – was printed by MPG Biddles as a B-format paperback on an 80gsm bookwove with a 10pt font and is a pleasure to handle, to look at and to read, wherever you happen to be sitting. Readers are encouraged to confirm this for themselves by purchasing a copy, which can be done easily and securely via this website.)top
We at Simon Siabod Publishing are always amenable to novel ways of marketing our mouth-watering products. So when our marketing consultant explained the significance of the QR code and suggested that we make use of it, we leapt on the bandwagon with growing excitement. The QR code is that enigmatic quadrangle which now appears on everything from crisp packets to rail timetables. Scan it with a smartphone and you can visit a web page where your desire for more crisps or more train times can easily be satisfied with a click on a button or two. So, we reasoned, surely it can be no great shakes to produce a t-shirt emblazoned with such a code, advertising our latest publication, Anthony Bloor’s Larry’s Lessons, and tempting potential punters to buy. The Hay Literary Festival was in full swing: what better opportunity to test it in real time?
The design, however, presented a problem. As a two-dimensional piece of artwork, on a flat and static surface, all well and good for scanning the code. (As an example, see our latest flyer on Anthony Bloor’s Larry’s Lessons.) But on a t-shirt, to be flaunted at a literary event to total strangers, the size of the graphic is trapped between two constraints.
If the graphic is too large, there is every possibility that the code will not stay flat long enough to be scannable. Its success would depend on the size, rotundity and movements of the person wearing it. The ideal wearer would have to be flat-chested (and here we stand accused of being sexist because this cuts out half the population for obvious reasons) and remain fairly inanimate. In fact, he might as well be wearing a sandwich-board.
On the other hand, if the graphic is too small, then in order for the code to be scanned by a typical mobile phone, the proximity between scanner and scanned would need to be shrunk to such an extent as to suggest an intimacy in which the QR code is the last thing on one’s mind, and the wearing of the t-shirt totally redundant.
Having received a design proof from the t-shirt manufacturer (too late for the Hay Festival), we presented this dilemma to them and received a stony silence in return as to the best way of resolving it. So we decided to go with the flow, to accept the proof as was offered, and to tackle the size dilemma head on by testing the t-shirt in real time.
Initial tests on the item have in fact confirmed that the size dilemma is unresolvable.
The graphic is both too large AND too small, and the problem can’t be resolved by expanding or shrinking it. It’s too large to avoid curves and crinkles even when the person wearing it is static and merely breathing, which makes the code unscannable. And it’s too small to be scanned at a distance with the wide-angle lens of a typical mobile phone.
Having this marketing tool in our hands now, we have turned our thoughts to the profile of the typical punter who would be tempted by it. Yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing! Anyway, leaving aside the size dilemma, those thoughts have cast serious doubts about the potential success of this seductive device, success being measured by the ultimate goal; namely, selling our books. In other words, success means that the typical punter is a person who buys a copy of Anthony Bloor’s Larry’s Lessons as a result of seeing the t-shirt. And for this to happen, there are six essential conditions that this person would have to meet. (In web-speak, for the person to be converted.) He or she would need to be someone who:
1. Attends a literary event with an open mind, curious for new reading material [which seems a reasonable assumption]
2. Attends such an event with a digital camera, either sporting a telephoto lens or not adverse to approaching someone with a view to taking a close-up [yes, but also…]
3. Has the appropriate application on his/her camera allowing it to scan QR codes [hmm…]
4. Is of such a disposition as to want to scan a QR code and is likely to scan a total stranger wearing a t-shirt on which a QR code happens to be displayed [a QR code collector? Isn’t that a bit like train spotting?]
5. Is sufficiently curious as to not only scan but to visit the web page in question [well, why stop at 4?]
6. Is a person who has always wanted to read a novel about an ugly mathematician’s adventures on a storytelling course [even assuming that they meet all of the above, this one does seem a step too far]
Given the remote possibility that there is such a person, our excitement over this marketing tool has dissipated somewhat, especially having received a report from our marketing consultant following his recent inspection of the Hay Literary Festival (without the t-shirt). On arriving at the site, he felt as if he was “in the departure lounge at Heathrow Airport, with monitors displaying the arrival and departure times of well-known figures from the BBC.” These announcements prompted rapid comings and goings of the assembled masses, all of whom were clad in waterproofs and winter clothing and moving at great speed, and not a t-shirt in sight. So was there anybody there who appeared to satisfy the six conditions as outlined? Even the first condition seemed dubious, we were told. The crowds were there for the familiar, to see the faces and hear the voices which they knew already from screen and radio. Celebrity is a great crowd-puller: would such a crowd be interested in a novel that is rather satirical about celebrity culture? We doubt it, but watch this space.
For our next marketing ploy, we are planning a competition. We are sending our marketing consultant out into the world, wearing a t-shirt that displays a QR code and an invitation. The first person to send us a photograph of our man clad in said t-shirt will win a free copy of Anthony Bloor’s Larry’s Lessons. Good luck and happy code-spotting!
(Publisher’s note: Our marketing consultant works in mysterious ways and the only thing we know about his whereabouts at present is that he’ll be visiting the Manchester area in July. However, potential punters can avoid all the hassle of code-spotting by buying a copy of Anthony Bloor’s Larry’s Lessons from this website. It really is that simple!)
“Put your sweet shirt a little closer to the phone…”
T-shirt design by Inky’s (graphic supplied), promoting Anthony Bloor’s Larry’s Lessons
(With apologies to Jim Reeves and the Allisons for the lyric)
Cash-starved academics in the UK have recently been spotted in Poundland stores, scouring the racks for hardback books costing no more than one pound sterling (less than the price of a bag of chips). One professor, who refused to be named, was seen leaving a store carrying four, with a copy of Anthony Bloor’s The Big Wheel tucked under his arm. When quizzed as to where Anthony Bloor’s novel was to be found on the shelves, he is reported to have said: “That was a birthday present mate; I didn’t buy it here. Times are hard, believe me. I can’t afford to buy books at their RRP and the library can’t afford my journals. But let’s be positive about this. I came here looking for crisps and I ended up buying books. And since I’ve been shopping in Poundland, my reading tastes have broadened considerably and my shelves are now well-stacked with hardbacks, thereby impressing the girlies. Obviously I am concerned about the big stores ripping off authors and publishers, but if I didn’t buy them somebody else would. And besides,” he chortled, “I never miss a bargain.”
(Source: local gossip.)
(Publisher’s note: Anthony Bloor’s The Big Wheel is available at a bargain price from this website.)top
A reporter from the Brentford Bugle happened to be in his local supermarket when he witnessed a strange scene: a long line of people, heading for the same checkout, each holding one sprout and nothing else, and all wearing T-shirts featuring the rock star & comic sci-fi novelist Robert Rankin. Chaos ensued when the checkout girl broke down in a fit of hysterics after weighing the seventh sprout. Fighting his way to the checkout, this astute reporter managed to interview a spokesperson for the group, who call themselves ‘Sprouts For Justice!’
“We’re a flash mob with a message,” said the spokesperson. “The message is for the good people of Brentford, and we are here today because we want to draw their attention to a major omission. As one of our members put it, Did you know that if you visit the website of Robert Rankin’s fan club – www.sproutlore.com – you can buy all manner of merchandise featuring Roberto as the Sproutmaster General, but you can’t buy a SINGLE SPROUT.”
Sprouts For Justice! are a militant offshoot of the Vegetarian Society and are planning more protests about sprout discrimination, including bombarding the BBC with letters in the run up to Christmas.
“Verbal attacks on the sprout are always on the increase during the festive period,” said a member of the group, “and the BBC are a prime mover in promoting anti-sprout jokes. They should take seriously the urgent need for a more positive image. Sprouts have suffered social exclusion for too long.”
(Source: a leak from the Brentford Bugle.)
(Publisher’s note: Sprouts For Justice! have awarded Anthony Bloor’s novel The Big Wheel a sprout rating of +0.004. The group’s statistician, Carol Forderwoman, explained: “Sprouts are mentioned only once in Bloor’s novel, so a higher rating could not be justified. But the mention is favourable, so we’ve given it a plus rating.” No author has ever achieved the highest rating of +1, which would require a positive mention of the vegetable on every page.)top