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Sunday, 17 July 2011

0835h. It’s just touching 80 degrees out there, and they’re forecasting 100, with the media’s beloved ‘heat index’ reaching 120. I might be cooler than I am had I not just spent an hour vacuuming and cleaning; and having the oven on doesn’t help. But… the place was looking pretty squalid, and I was out of bread. I’m still doing five or six loaves at a time and they’re lasting me up to three weeks. They’ll be out in a few minutes, thank goodness.
Yesterday I was up at five-thirty and on the road a little after six. With a bit of cloud cover the weather was more or less tolerable on the outward journey. I got to Valentine in time to grab a breakfast and then saunter round to the venue where the River City Writers were gathered to hear Duane Gudgel talk about marketing – which was the main item on my agenda. He focussed on self-publishing, on the basis that if you have a publisher they will sort out all that on your behalf.

I must have been too busy digesting my breakfast, because I didn’t manage to gather my thoughts in response to that assumption, and now I wish I had done. I’ve had experience of self-publishing (one book, a long time ago, on the subject of Britain’s best supported and most hated soccer team, Manchester United) and of working with publishers. My advice would be, do not bank on support; get out and promote yourself a your product. With vigour.

Some years ago I ghosted an autobiography, Brim Full of Passion, for Wasim Khan, a professional cricketer. He was not a big name, but he was special: he grew up in inner-city Birmingham of Kashmiri immigrant parents and was the first British-born Asian to play the game professionally in the U.K.  He’s now a very high-ranking administrator and promoter of the game through schools.

In 2006 – or it may have been 2007 - the book was selected as the Cricket Book of the Year. We were jubilant. But not for long. Within months it had disappeared without trace. I have twice had royalty payments of less than £1.00 (from which my agents dutifully and unflinchingly deducted their 15% take). The reason for this failure? A small publisher with little or no sales force, no promotional budget, and little real enthusiasm for the book. Personable and articulate as Wasim is, he was tied up with his full-time job and unavailable for promotional work.

The same could be said for the mid-sized publisher who took on Now Then, Lad, the first book I ghosted for Mike Pannett, which came out a little over three years ago. I don’t think they ever really believed in it, and all our success was due to Mike’s prodigious and tireless efforts to promote it (plus the fact that it ain’t a bad book!). He went to bookshops in person. He called local radio and TV stations and talked them into putting him on air. He affected accents from other regions, telephoned bookstores in those areas and asked why it wasn’t in stock. And he called me – still does – two, three, four times a day to update me. What we have is a unique partnership, I suspect: a full-time author and a full-time publicist, personality, activist. Plus Mike’s wife who, with him, vets everything I write, provides new material on audio tape, advises on and corrects all aspects of police procedure to ensure 100% accuracy. One day, I have often said, the story of our success will be told. It is unprecedented. We are now with a much bigger publisher, Hodder, and with Britain’s biggest agency, Curtis Brown, and that first book has continued to sell steadily, with noticeable surges every time a new book comes out. (Just the Job, Lad is released Thursday 21 July.)

I could say more – about the times I stood outside soccer grounds and sold my Manchester United book like a street hawker – but my point is that even if you publish with a mainstream company you should be out there hustling as much as you possibly can. Ask anybody in the world of books. Publishers, agents, booksellers, they all want visible, available, pro-active authors.

Right…. Back to the here and now. I am under siege – or about to be – by these little buggers. I’ve been coming across grasshoppers for a few weeks now, initially tiny little ones scuttling across the range as I hiked hither and thither. Suddenly they are fatter, more numerous, and are investigating the vegetable garden. I’m afraid I am going to have to spray around the house again today – after I’ve cut the grass.

I mentioned the other day that I’d taken a video recording of the hill-climb that I make every day. Fingers crossed that it comes out okay – and apologies for the unscripted commentary.


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