It’s Friday, and time to take stock of the first official week of “Heir Apparent”. It’s not an exact science (well, it probably is, but I don’t understand it) but according to Amazon/KDP/Book Report, I have now sold twenty-one copies of “Heir Apparent” (plus the previously-reported nineteen to bookshops and four direct to friends). I’m very pleased with that, and will have a celebratory Jaffa Cake or three. So that’s the up.
Now for the down – or maybe it’s an up, but I can’t quite tell. Last Saturday I went to London to take part in the People’s Vote march (we’re campaigning for a vote on the Brexit deal, in case you’re wondering). By chance, the friends I was meeting had decided to gather on Piccadilly, outside Hatchards. Now, Hatchards is among the spiffiest of bookshops: it’s been selling books since 1797 and sitting at the heart of Piccadilly for over two centuries – and although it is now part of the giant Waterstones family, it still retains its elegant independence. Suffice it to say that I would love to see Sam and Martha swanking about the place. Back in my more innocent days, I breezed into Hatchards and spoke to the manager, saying that – as Sam is a local – the books definitely belonged on Hatchards’ shelves. The manager kindly explained that he could stock them only if they were listed on the Waterstones buying system – which of course they were not.
Nothing daunted, I decided to get them on that system – how hard could it be? Now pay attention. In order to be listed on the Waterstones system, a book has to be available through one of the book wholesalers with which Waterstones deals, such as Gardners. So I contacted Gardners and asked to be put on their system. They explained that they don’t deal with authors – only publishers, and only publishers recognised by Nielsen BookNet. So I contacted Nielsen and asked how I could be recognised as an independent publisher. It took some time and lots of forms, but I managed it. So now: Nielsen recognises me as an independent publisher, which means that Gardners is listed as my wholesaler, which means that the Waterstones catalogue (both internal for stores and external for customers) features my titles. Hurrah! And if anyone orders my book through Waterstones, the order goes from them to Nielsen, and from Nielsen to me (as an indie publisher). I pack up the books and send them to Gardners, who deliver them to Waterstones, who get them to the customer (or put them on the shelf). Simple.
Back to the march last Saturday. There I am, standing outside Hatchards and gazing through their lovely window, when I spot the manager standing alone at his till. I wander in, all casual-like, and go up to him. “You may not remember me,” I say, “but you once said that if my books could be ordered through your system, you would give them a go”. “Are your books marvellous?” he asked. “They are,” I confirmed, and he went to his computer and ordered – he said – two each of “Fatal Forgery” and “The Man in the Canary Waistcoat”. I was floating on air for most of that march – Sam and Martha, in Hatchards! And to think, she couldn’t even read much apart from bottle labels until she met Sam.
This week, I waited patiently – hah! – for that order to come in from Nielsen. And yesterday I contacted them, and Gardners, to check that I hadn’t misunderstood the process. But no, no trace of any order from Hatchards or Waterstones – not a one. After pondering what to do, I’ve gone passive-aggressive: I sent an email to the manager saying “I cannot tell you how thrilled I am that my books will be on the shelves of Hatchards – I shall tell all my London friends to come in and buy them”. So near, and yet so far…