For the most part, self-publishing is a grand adventure and to be recommended. But there are some regions of the publishing world that are very hard to navigate solo, and one of these is legal deposit. Back in the mists of time (OK, it was January 2017), I had a brainwave: I would get myself registered as a publisher with Nielsen. Nielsen is the key book distributor here in the UK, and when a bookshop wants to stock a title, they generally order it through Nielsen. Nielsen then contacts the publisher and orders the copies to be sent on. In theory, if I was listed as a publisher, a customer desperate to get their mitts on a Sam Plank novel could go into any bookshop in the country and place an order which would make its way from bookshop to Nielsen to me. What could go wrong? Well, I have indeed been listed as a publisher with Nielsen for eighteen months now, and how many orders have I received? Not a single one. Hey ho, as they say.
But it’s worse than that, my self-publishing friends. My books – the five Sam Plank novels and the dozens of non-fiction titles that I produce in my day-job guise as an adviser on money laundering – are all published as print-on-demand paperbacks by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. In South Carolina. In America. Not in the UK. Here in the UK we have a regime called legal deposit. It’s been around since 1662, and the current legislation – the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 – requires that “a person who publishes in the United Kingdom a work to which this Act applies must at his own expense deliver a copy of it to an address specified by any deposit library entitled to delivery”. Fair enough. But a few weeks ago I received an email from the legal deposit people asking for one of my non-fiction titles – which are, as I said, published in South Carolina. In America. I explained all of this, but they insisted and so I sent them a copy. A week later another demand arrived, for another book. I bleated “South Carolina” again, and this time they said that perhaps I should have a word with Nielsen, who supply them with their data on books published in the UK.
Heavens, Alex at Nielsen is a nice chap, and I got the impression that he likes nothing more than a mystery. The two titles in question have ISBNs which show that they are indeed American publications – South Carolina, don’t you know – but the spreadsheet showed their place of publication as UK. Hence the legal deposit demands. Alex was on the case, and within a day emailed me to say that they had tracked down the error, worked out had gone wrong, and rectified it. My publications now all show – correctly – as being American in origin and therefore beyond the grasp of legal deposit.
I’m not being mean about it, and of course I support the concept of legal deposit to preserve the nation’s published output (as the British Library would have it). But if I have to source and supply a copy of each of my books “at [my] own expense”, that’s quite an outlay: each has to be ordered from CreateSpace and shipped to me before I send them on to the five legal deposit libraries – each copy would cost me about £15 in total, and I have nearly forty titles! (Forty titles times five libraries times £15 is a staggering £3,000.) It’s not something that occurred to me at all when choosing my print-on-demand publisher, but I’m now thanking my lucky stars that I opted for one in South Carolina rather than Southall or Southampton.