Review of small press and independent books.
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As a local small press I guess I should have been on here right from its beginning, but I am having such a problem fitting everything that I have to do each day into the time available.
Hastings Press was born in April 2002 when I needed an imprint to publish two local history books relevant to Hastings. Since then I've published 35 titles by nine authors, from a series of 20-page stapled booklets to luxuriously-produced hardbacks.
I run The Hastings Press all by myself, and life is just a whirlwind of non-stop activity, seven days a week. There are so many different tasks to do, including researching and writing local history, carrying out cover design and typesetting, getting myself prepared and organised to give illustrated talks or university lectures or carry out signings; liaising with local journalists, printers, booksellers and authors, updating the website, dealing with many emails and phone calls each day, writing emails, letters, articles and press releases, dealing with general admin, accounts, invoices and chasing up bad debts, and the daily slog of signing, wrapping and, labelling books ~ oh, and standing in the queue at the Post Office three times a week ~ actually, that's about the only time I have to actually stop and think! And the marketing is literally endless: we must always be looking for new marketing and promoting opportunities or our books will just be forgotten like many thousands of others.
I usually start work between 6am and 7am, though in the summer I'm often at my desk by 5am and yesterday I started work at 3.30am. I try to force myself to finish by 6pm, though I have been known to still be working at 11pm or later, especially if I am redesigning a web page or something, because I absolutely hate ceasing work before a task is finished. When I do get to bed I am ~ unsurprisingly ~ asleep the second my head touches that pillow!
I've been reading Kay's articles and comments about trying to market your own books and agree with everything she says. It has now become extremely easy for anyone to publish a book (look at Lulu, for example). And yet, at the same time, it has never been so hard for the indie writer or publisher to market and sell their books, mainly because of the demise of so many indie bookshops, leaving us at the mercy of the giant chains, who force us into a weak position and make us play by their rules.
In some ways, because "every man and his dog" can now self-publish a book, there is a growing contempt for the self-published author. For example, I have been told a few times, rather abruptly: "sorry, we do not sell self-published books!" Partly because of this attitude, I am obliged to waver between being "the owner of a publishing company" and "a self-publishing author" depending on who I am trying to impress at the time! When I need to look bigger, to make booksellers take me seriously, I present myself as a publisher; when there is an advantage to being self-published, that is emphasised.
One of the things I find myself having to do is to find ways of surmounting people's objections. For example, one local history museum won't stock my latest book because they know from long experience that their visitors won't buy a £20 hardback. So I am producing for that museum a related booklet priced at £1.50, which they have immediately ordered 50 copies of, sight unseen. When a journalist on a local Sussex paper (not Hastings) snootily informed me that the paper did not review what she described as "vanity-published books" I hung up, phoned back immediately, asked to speak to the editor, introduced myself as "the owner of the Hastings Press" and told him one of my authors had a new book out. He requested a copy and they ran a glowing review, yes, a glowing review of the selfsame book the journalist had rejected! Similarly, last month the editor of a Worthing-based magazine told me she does not review any self published work. I ignored this and posted her a copy, and a few days later received an email saying "I love your book" and three ideas of how promote the book in her magazine.
Oh, perhaps I should say at this point that I never pay anyone for advertising or promotion. In my first week of trading six years ago I was persuaded by a slick saleswoman to part with £90 for an advert in a local mag. No sales ensued, and I made a pact with myself never to shell out a penny in future. My advertising "budget", such as it is, goes on flyers, posters and a website.
I've taught absolute beginners at a number of self-publishing seminars, some of whom went on to publish their own books (and many did not, having been put off by hearing the stark reality of the business!) and last year (2007) I won the Writers' News Magazine Self Publisher of the Year Silver Cup, and £1,000 in prize money, after submitting my book "Railwaywomen" to the scrutiny of the judges.
However, I still feel I have much to learn about this business, and I am always keen to hear everyone else's self publishing anecdotes, to put in my tuppence worth of advice if I can, but mainly to increase my knowledge base.
I'm glad to be a part of this forum and will visit when I can.
The Hastings Press
Last edited by HastingsPress (2008-07-10 07:44:21)
Hi Helena, you found us! I've had my nose in your 'Notable Sussex Women' for the last couple of weeks and I can't stop quoting bits of it at people. Excellent idea, and I hope it does well. Do feel free to post info about your books on Booksy. I will, when I've finished reading this one.
And - you do have my sympathy. I've been sniffed at by quite a few booksellers who can't tell small press from self-published, which doesn't just annoy me, it annoys my associates who are perfectly respectable and capable self-published authors. I think the shop owners get bullied by big companies and need someone to pass the pain on to!
Thanks for buying my book.
Nice to see some other poor sod in Hastings is already at her desk before 8am!
I'm sure you and I can swap a lot of information of use to both of us. You have an open invitation to visit me for a long chat. Also, can you email contact details for the man who owned Boldwood Books? Now the shop is shut I don't know where he is and I want to pick his brains!
Next two days totally frantic ~ I have press cuttings to add to my website (hey, I hit the big time last week ~ an article in the Eastbourne Gazette - whoopee!), a talk to write for Saturday and a million other things.
Like you do!
I should say, on the plus side, I can just take a whole morning, afternoon or even a day off any time I like, without having to ask permission of anyone. The flip side is that when I DO return, the work still has to be done, and a backlog has built up while I was missing, and then I have even more tasks to do when I get back to my desk.
I worked on the railway for 20 years and the beauty of that was that when you went home the railway still carried on in your absence, nothing built up for you to deal with on your return.
Right, I am just about to upload my press cuttings to my website!
I did try for your anthology a few years back.
It was to be about the locality, I sent two about Hastings.
Unfortunately all the 'nutters' came out with nonsense and I assumed you had made haste for Beachy Head!
Oh the joy......
Ah yes, must have seen your name on those, too. I had a professor of English Literature, no less, lined up as judge, but the dire standard of the submissions made me too embarrassed to send the entries off to her. About a half a dozen entries were really good, but that wasn't enough to make an anthology so I just filed the lot away (still got them!) and vowed never again to try to discover Hastings's "untapped talent"!
Anyway, glad to meet you again Terry!
To bed now, having worked 16 hours today!
I have to put in a word for Hastings there! There is a heck of a lot of activity in this town, although there are more artists than writers.
A lot of developing writers use competitions to test their progress so you canít expect all entries to be of publishable quality.
Not all writers enter writing competitions, and of those who do, once they know theyíre getting somewhere they are going to aim for the national competitions with a CV-enhancing reputation
SO to run a local competition and receive six entries of publishable quality is pretty good going. You canít expect one, medium-sized town to fill an anthology.
Yes, Kay, I know now I was in cloud cuckoo land. That's why I now stick to what I know and keep my nose out of what I don't know :-)
I've made contact with Bestsellers Bookshop at Bexhill after reading that they held a book signing last week. I've planted an idea in his mind about opening a local books section and he sounded quite interested. I'm going to leave a mixed box of books with him on sale or return and see how they go. After Boldwood Books next door closed down, maybe he can take over part of the custom. I asked if you had Paul's email address for me ... do you? I've asked the owner at Bestsellers to email Paul my email so maybe that will come to fruition.
I was up at 3.15am this morning, scanning my press cuttings, uploading them to the website, and making and printing flyers for tomorrow (I am going to Brighton for three book-promotion events, starting off with a book signing session at Borders in Churchill Square.) Got to write notes for a talk I am giving afterwards in Brighton Library, then got to put together a CD of music for my appearance on a desert-island discs type radio programme tomorrow evening. I have to collect 400 booklets from the printer (dragging them home on a sack-trolley!) and stand in the queue at the Post Office for half an hour or so. I'm thinking of getting a folding chair to take with me, maybe a packed lunch, a portable TV ....... (!)
Back to work .....
PS Nice to see Kay up by 6.30am! See, I am not the only hardworking author in Hastings!
I think today was really excessive Kay - 3am! I plan to get a nap in this afternoon once I've got the main things done and my train/taxi journey planned etc for tomorrow. I find if I lay on the sofa and put a video on I am asleep in minutes... zzzzz sometimes I fall asleep here at my desk. Once I fell asleep with my thumb on the space bar and woke with a start, horrified to see a blank Word document in front of me, thinking for one horrible moment that I'd deleted all my work LOL.
I've just chosen the music for my "desert island discs" on Brighton Hospital radio tomorrow ~ it's really hard to choose my 8 faves, because I love so many types of music. I've got it down to 15, putting 8 carefully-chosen, mainly comic songs at the top of the playlist to cheer up all the patients.
Talking about small publishers, I was involved in starting a Community Publishing outfit here in Wigan. I wrote a combined history and how to do it booklet that I still have in my system. If anyone is interested in receiving a freebie e-copy, please let me know.
I've just sent the booklet to your address. I hope you find it interesting.
Kay, I don't know where to send one to for you. Please let me have an address.
I've just re-read it and brought it up to date. It's years since I've looked at it, and I was surprised how comprehensive it is, and how much I learned from the experience.