Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Deciding where to buy books - and their price

Yay, my new book's out in the UK and through online stores - 'Calligraphy for Greetings Cards and Scrapbooking' - and I'm delighted with it. It's been wonderfully produced by the publisher, GMC Publications, but I daren't look for typos. We all tried very hard to locate any before it went to print.

Hands up the authors who read through their book, looking for escaped errors, when it first arrives. How many of you is that?


The book’s available on the GMC website for £14.99 ($23) - the price printed on the cover (I’m not sure if delivery is extra). ‘The Book Depository’ quotes $17.54 with free worldwide delivery. says you can pre-order it and it will be published on October 2nd, $13.57 with free supersaver delivery, but I believe the publishers received stock ahead of schedule from the printer, so presumably it will soon be for immediate sale there, too, as is on

The Australian Distributor's website says it will be available in June, RRP ...da da... $29.99. That's a huge difference to $13.57!

How can Australian stores compete?

I love and do support local stores, and I always ask readers to support bricks and mortar stores when they can because I’d hate to lose the ability to handle and browse through books in shops. More than enough bookstores have been forced to close already. But if there's a choice of buying one book or two, do you support two authors or one store? I guess sometimes you do one and sometimes the other - but it’s not an easy decision. I've a long list of titles that I'd love to purchase. The cheaper they are, the more books I can buy as gifts for children; the more children read the better...

The author will probably get a higher royalty payment if the price is high, with luck 10 per cent of the money the publisher gets from the sale, i.e. before the wholesaler and store have added their extras - not 10 per cent of the selling price to the customer.

The cost of public transport or car-parking is also added to the price a reader pays at a shop – once to get to the shop, often only to discover the book has to be ordered, in which case, then again to collect the purchase two weeks later.

I never regret book shopping in physical stores and spending a little extra - but I do think very long and hard if the cost is over double the online price, and then I invariably end up buying something totally different from my original mission.

But do you, as an author, breed happier readers/customers/loyal followers who spread the word that you are a nice person, who's kind and helpful, if you also tell readers where to buy your books at the cheapest price?

I don't know.

If you want someone to buy you a book as a gift, do you tell them where they can buy it cheapest as well as at the shop price and leave the decision to them? Or if they want to give your book as a gift to someone else and seek your buying suggestion?

I feel deceitful asking people pay top dollar when I know exactly where they can get the book for a lot lot less, even though I’d like them to support a ‘real’ bookshop. There are heaps of folk who struggle to afford to buy books at any price.

When the price of your book is significantly cheaper online than that stated on its cover, do you sell your own book at the cover price? People are happy to pay this at launches and signings, especially if food and champagne are provided, but if you sell privately at, say, a workshop, do readers feel ‘ripped off’ if they later find the book selling at half price (with that vendor presumed to be making a significant profit, even though they are possibly selling in bulk with only a small percentage mark up)? Are you then deemed greedy and obviously making an outrageously huge and unnecessary profit from sales?

Huge profit and greed is, of course, unlikely to be the case, but reputation is about perception, not fact - online discount stores no doubt get a different wholesale price to the one available to the author, as well as being content with a low margin.

How do readers feel about you as a person if they buy at the top price from you, or as recommended by you, and then later find that you knew all along where they could get it cheaper?

How I wish this book was the same price everywhere!

Peter Taylor

PS The best current deal is probably The Book Depository with free delivery but if you'd like to shop somewhere else... I'll keep you updated!

PPS  If you buy a copy of the book and write a review on any website, or in a magazine or newspaper and notify me, I will hand write and decorate a name for you in calligraphy, add a feature incorporating 23ct gold leaf and send it to you.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Love the Margins

I live in a northern suburb of Brisbane. It's pleasant but unremarkable - certainly no haunt of the 'social elite' or 'social climbers'. They only drive through when they're lost. In a quiet back-street there's a block of 6 small run-down shops, and you'd have to think that the rents are mighty cheap for them to make any profit. I don't know how the secondhand book shop remains open - you hardly ever see anyone in there. Their moudering collection is quite extensive - Mills and Boon, food splattered recipe books from the 1960's and craft books with faded pictures that are well past tempting anyone to make macrame owls from string and beads. But seeing they were having a  30% off sale, well, one has to do one's bit to aid the locals.

Imagine my surprise when I found ...da, da...

Yes, it's a first edition of Swinburne's poems about children, 'The Springtide of Life', illustrated by Arthur Rackham and published in 1918!

Now, I have to admit that I don't find the poems so wonderful I will read them time and time again, and though I do like these pictures by Rackham that I have posted, he produced many more illustrations in other books that I would prefer to own. But what about the margins! Don't you love them?

Book designers are incredibly important in helping to produce books that sell.

To me, the way a book opens, its margins, the size and style of the print and spacing between lines, quality of paper and its thickness in relation to the page size - all are integral in creating a book that one 'just has to own'.
I love this book!

Peter Taylor

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The New Future of Printed Books?

Have you discovered Blippar yet?  

It’s established in the UK and used by supermarkets, Cadbury, newspapers and more. You just point your smart phone loaded with the Blippar app at the poster, building, product wrapper or page and something happens (you don’t have to take a photo, tap the screen or do anything, as required when scanning one of those QR codes made up of little squares, and you don’t get taken to a landing page).

Your phone may immediately show you a building tour, give you vouchers, a video of a chunk of chocolate leaving the package and aiming towards your mouth (I made that up, I’ve no idea what happens when you aim at a Cadbury’s product – it’s getting late and I’m running low on energy), or for those people who are impatient, deliver the answers to today’s crossword. Of course, as an alternative, you could be sent to a website or provided with other useful information, if that’s the initiator’s choice. Point your phone towards a picture of a watch in an advert and automatically on screen you get shown all the colour varieties, finishes, strap designs, price and a 3D view of the product that you can explore.

And if you are enjoying your Blippar experience, tap the logo on your screen and you will have automatically Tweeted it and sent it to your Facebook followers.

Could this technology be the future of print books – hold your phone over the page and get an interaction with a character, a game, 3D tour or extra action, background information or a video of a craft technique while you still have the whole print page in view? Or hold the phone near to a book’s cover or a picture of it, or your business card, and the phone user immediately gets shown a trailer, given a buying incentive, or taken to your website or a bookstore’s site...

Count me in – I hope it’s soon in frequent use here in Australia and throughout the rest of the world.

Peter Taylor 

PS I understand that at present, Blippar techno-folk build the actions as instructed by the product owners, but plans are being made to enable publishers and self-publishers to build features into their own works.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Printing with a Gestetner - My First Book

Too many everyday tasks don't get described, and it's easy to forget how things were done only a few years ago. Well, 40 years ago. What details will people want to read in our work in 40 years from now?

When I first started teaching in schools in 1970, all school reports had to be handwritten with a fountain pen - no ball-points allowed. And no Liquid Paper. However, if an error was made, you could often get away with it by using 'correction fluid'. This consisted of a 'bleach' and a neutraliser in separate bottles. You dabbed on the solutions with applicator brushes. The trouble was, if you used too much of one of them, the paper dissolved, forming a hole. You then had to go around all other staff, confess, and ask each person who had written on the original copy to fill in a new one. Some colleagues smiled and obliged, while others were grumpy.

At the end of the term, it was also necessary to enter all subject marks on to a large master spread sheet (piece of paper) for each year group of about 120 students. Again, no corrections were allowed. This time, if you did have a lapse in concentration, you had to copy out the full sheet again with every child's name and their marks and position in class for every subject, as well as your own. There was therefore a rush to fill your own records on to the sheet before other staff entered theirs, for there'd be less to copy if you made an error. Stress, stress...

The worst thing was using a Gestetner machine for printing exam papers and worksheets. This used very permanent ?oil-based back ink. Gestetner 'skins' or stencils consisted of a waxed layer of mulberry paper on a thin cardboard backing to help typing. (You first had to remove the ribbon from the typewriter, and as you pregressed, the small hollows in e's and similar letters filled with wax, so you had to keep scrubbing them clean with a stiff brush). If you typed with too much pressure, you completely cut letters or bowls of p's and d's out of the master sheet, so when it was used for printing, the result was a series of black blobs. At the end of creating the stencil, you had produced 'perforated' letters through which the ink would be squeezed. This master was wrapped around a drum on the printer. If you were skilled/lucky you could prime the ink and print without too much trouble - but then you had to remove the inky master from the drum. If you were very fortunate, you could throw it away and avoid ruining all the clothes you were wearing - but if you wanted to keep the master for further use, you could attempt to reattach it to the backing by means of the ink layer. Doing this, transporting the sheets and storing them, and later sifting through your collection, opening them up and reattaching them to the machine, all while keeping yourself clean, was close to impossible.

Photos could be drum scanned on to the master by another machine - one that produced a spark which presumably melted the wax. The printed image was never of the quality you hoped for.

If you wanted to draw or handwrite on the stencil, you had to use a stylus or tool with a small spiked wheel at the tip - tricky, and no result from that prodedure was ever perfect, either.

Ah, the bad old days!

But the ability to print multiple copies cheaply was the catalyst for me to write books. I loved writing and creating information booklets for student use. The school managed a small nature reserve, and my first book was a guide to the distinguising features of the plants that could be found there, and their folklore. It was produced for visitors to the reserve, but was later published by the Hertfordshire and Middlesex Trust for Nature Conservation (1978):

The text was typed with an Olivetti Lettra 32 portable typewriter, the pen and ink drawings for the illustrations glued on and then the printing master created directly from these  ... I love my computer, scanner and laser printer!

Peter Taylor

Boost Your Book's Amazon Ranking

How are your book sales? What proportion are made through Amazon and does your book's Amazon ranking concern you? If your book is not selling in significant quantity, it may not be re-printed when the present stocks are cleared. Hmmm.

How do people find your book? What do they search for in Amazon to be offered your book? Is it the title or your name? Or is it the topic? What can be done to boost your book's ranking?

Now, if you are expecting me to provide clear answers, you are going to be disappointed, but one thing that may just help a little is 'checking the tags'.

Let me give you an example.

Rachelle Burk, a network and SCBWI buddy from the US, has written an excellent book titled 'Tree House in a Storm' that has 8 five star reviews. Like all good picture books for ages 5+, it tells one story but the theme is universal - children build a tree house, but unfortunately it's in New Orleans and in the path of Hurricane Katrina and the tree gets uprooted ...but there's a happy ending - the theme is really about recovery from loss, generally. And it also fits in well with curriculum topics on hurricanes and natural disasters.

Though it was published in 2009, recent sales have not been as high as Rachelle would have liked - no certainty of a re-print. With an increase in hurricanes in the US over the last couple of years, sales might have been expected to improve, but if you put 'hurricane' into a children's book search it has been way down on page 5 of suggestions, or worse. What's it doing down there?

One answer could be that it didn't have the tags added or ticked.

So, this week, as friends of Rachelle, a number of us have been trying to give her book a help along. You could try the same technique:

Log into your Amazon account and go to your book's page.

Scroll down beneath 'Customer Reveiws' (you may have to go even further down, close to the bottom of the page beneath 'Inside this Book' and 'What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item') and you'll find 'Tags Customers Associate with This Product'.

If someone was doing a Google or Amazon search, what keywords might they use and be delighted to find your book as a result? Add 10 such keywords as Amazon Tags (include your name and the book's title as separate keywords). Be sneaky - find the tags that are being used on any high-ranking competing titles, and consider including them, too, presuming they are appropriate. But it's good to have some that are different..

Ask your friends to log into their accounts, find your book and the Tag area and tick the tags they think are appropriate. There's also the opportunity to add others you may not have considered.

Hopefully, some keyword tags are in the book's title, but use a significant number each and every time you have a chance to promote your book - your blog, website, blurb, article, press release, synopsis, on Jacketflap, Goodreads, SCBWI page...

There are no guarantees this will help, but it may be worth a try!

Ticking tags could be something that you should do as a habit whenever you visit the Amazon page of a book belonging to a friend, though they'll probably be doubly pleased if you also make a purchase.

If you know of other techniques for boosting Amazon sales, please share them.

Peter Taylor

PS You may find Rachelle's 'Resources for Children's Writers' useful, too:
It's in the Writer's Digest list of "101 Best Websites for Writers".

Monday, April 02, 2012

In 150 Years’ Time, Your Most Valued Writing Will Be...

150 years from now, what do you think people will most want to read from all our output?

My great grandfather was a printer, poet, theatre authority and writer, with his major work ‘The Folk Speech of South Lancashire’ (northern England) being published in 1901 – a very substantial glossary of old dialect words, local slang and sayings. But as much as this, his poems and other published works are all treasured possessions, I most value his diary of the week of his wedding in 1866 and a small 16 page book he wrote and printed (probably just for the family record) of ‘A Christmas Party at the Old Home at Cheadle’ – a reminiscence of a family gathering held on December 26th 1854. Family events and family trivia. But I wish he had provided a little more detail about some of the people he mentions. Who were ‘The Sutcliffes’ he went to visit the day after his wedding? Who were Mrs Shaw and Miss Kinsey who came to the Christmas party? Next door neighbours?

In the future, I’m sure our families will most want to know about the small things of our life, recollections of of our homes, happenings and anecdotes about the people with whom we interact.

A useful activity for all ages is to construct a ‘card’ or artists book to look like a building, then write something about the person who lives/lived there and attach it inside. In writing workshops I lead, I suggest people construct a ‘model house’ of one of their near or past neighbours and write about a humorous incident in which they have been involved. This not only starts building the family record, it can also help in developing characters for a story being written, or a future one, and it can also help break ‘writer’s block’. Most people find writing about their neighbours is easy, and having started, the words can often flow more freely in other projects.

At the end, we line up the houses to make a streetscape, and people are encouraged to share the anecdotes they have written.

‘Fred and Gwen lived next door to us for over 30 years. All the other houses down the street just had numbers, but theirs had only a name – ‘Hale End’. Each Christmas we received a card from them signed 'The Wing Commander and Mrs. Toone' (even though he had retired from the Air Force years before moving there) - just to remind us that we were 'inferior beings'. Their house and garden were immaculate. She sifted the soil to make it appear better than anyone else’s, fresh flowers were kept in the windows, and Gwen, who we called Mrs. Red Legs because of the stockings she wore, even swept the road outside each day to make it clean and tidy. And each day, heavily made-up and wearing an enormous hat fit for race-day, she would cycle into town on her ancient 'sit up and beg' bicycle.

'Mrs. Red Legs loved her home, but also going to town to escape her husband's formality and miserly scrutiny. She smiled at each person she passed and gave them a 'Royal' wave. Wing Commander Toone hid in the house. He had risen through the ranks from being a boy-entrant, and learned, in the main, to maintain a demeanor of superiority - but Mrs. Red Legs couldn't keep it up for long. For hours on end she gossiped with all her shop owner mates and swore and cursed with the market-stall holders. Though she would initially greet us with her 'posh voice', within five minutes would always revert to her ‘agricultural' voice. She pushed her face within millimeters of the person she was speaking to, and it was hard not to laugh at the way she had applied her make-up, her eye-lids being splattered with huge boulders of mascara, and eyeliner was always applied everywhere it shouldn't be.

'We also found it difficult not to laugh when she misused words. Forty years later, I still haven’t worked out what she intended to say when the said the local vicar was a ‘fornicating man’. At least, I don’t think he was that way inclined!

Sometimes, for no reason we ever discovered, she'd give us the 'cold treatment' for weeks on end. Glares designed to pierce armoured vehicles from 1000 metres away. Then, when we were least expecting her, she'd come round to visit us every few hours, bringing gifts – but we were always instructed, "Don't tell Fred!"

'But his reclusive nature didn't stop The Wing-Commander from borrowing things, particularly tools from my father - and Fred was really really chatty and friendly when he needed something. As soon as the job was finished, however, he ignored us - or at least, tried to. When he was in the garden and obviously knew that my father was standing less than 8 metres away, my father would say, “Good morning Mr. Toone!”, and if he didn’t reply, my father would call louder and louder until he did.’

Peter Taylor