Sunday, March 27, 2011

Awaiting The Big Break!

It is now about two months since the launch of The Commuter's Tale - and in that time we've come a long way.

I have taken the same approach that my late friend Sam Towers took to his allotment - "Do a little, leave a lot" every day.

Rather than trying to complete everything at once, I have done a little bit, often - trying to do something every evening to push the book.

To be fair to myself, it has gone pretty well.

The Commuter's Tale is now in more than 120 outlets, including around 105 branches of Waterstone's, listed here

It has been selling in Lewes at the excellent bookshop Sky Lark, in the Needlemakers, and at the Runaway Cafe, at Lewes Station, among other outlets.

And Amazon is selling it here with some success.

Moreover, the publicity has been good.

Since my last blog entry, the Metro article has appeared (you need to enter your email address to view).

And my chipping away at the publicity has brought in a wide range of other coverage, such as the Hull Daily Mail and the Scunthorpe Telegraph.

Overall, I have had 11 pieces of tradional media publicity (Metro, Scotsman, Hull Daily Mail, Coventry Evening Telegraph, Scunthorpe Telegraph, Sussex Express (twice), Viva Lewes, BBC Sussex & Surrey and Bright FM), and eight pieces on web blogs) which makes around 20 publicity hits in total.

Not bad at all for a first poetry book, although I have to admit I feel a tad disappointed.

I still feel I am waiting for my book's BIG BREAK!

There was certainly a lot of reaction and interest after the Metro piece appeared, and a sales spike, but it still has not got people really talking about The Commuter's Tale.

I have put a lot of evenings into posting out review copies to the national newspaper, literary magazines, and regional arts editors.

To date, little has come of it. For the nationals, poetry seems to be a total turn-off.

Many of the regionals don't review books - something I really should have known.

I have been having to try to ask favours of old friends to even get it considered for review.

The reader reaction, however, has been excellent.

If only all the book editors and arts editors and booksellers could meet the readers who have enjoyed it.

I am starting to realise just how tough a business book publishing is.

Don't get me wrong, though: I am enjoying the ride.

As I think I have said in a previous blog entry, I promised myself in December last year, when I started doing some promotional work on The Commuter's Tale, that I would not be put off by anything.

But, some nights, when I check my email and get another little knock-back, I can't help feeling a shade blue.

It is particularly irksome when someone promises something and then withdraws it without saying why.

For instance, the guy at the Bow Windows second-hand bookshop in Lewes TWICE promised to put up a poster in the window for The Commuter's Tale.

His shop has a big notice in the window saying he takes orders for new books, so it would be to his advantage.

Two months on, no poster has appeared, even though any tiny event in Lewes seems worthy of his window space.

Why couldn't he just explain that he has no truck with new books and, while he was at it, take down his ORDER NEW BOOKS HERE sign?

Still, it is a very minor matter and I don't let it upset it.

The great thing is that every time there's a tiny set-back with the book, something good happens.

Last week, for example, the Runaway cafe at Lewes Station sold at least one copy of the book every day!

All the same, we could do with something to lift The Commuter's Tale higher in the public consciousness.

I went for a drink with my old friend Matthew Wright, a very decent bloke and now a successful TV presenter for Channel Five, and, while I was with him at his club, the Ivy Club, asked his advice on what to do.

He agreed it was a tough challenge, with little chance of getting the book onto television.

National radio, he reckoned, was a better bet.

He said my best hope was if a famous arts person were to love the book and promote it for me through a well-read blog or other means.

It is so true. The Commuter's Tale needs the hydrogen of celebrity to power it!

But how do you achieve that?

Most celebrities keep themselves busy promoting themselves - and would not spare a thought for an unknown writer.

And, frankly, I don't blame them. Why should they help me? What's it is for them?

Promoting this book is nothing if not character building.

I have learnt not to expect replies to emails sent to booksellers and journalists.

It is a numbers game. And when you do hear back, it is a real delight!

I have persevered with the internet - that great communication democracy.

Now I have built up a Facebook audience of around 600, a Twitter of 420 and still have around 50 on MySpace - making a potential 1,000-strong group for my updates on the book and its progress.

As I mentioned in my last blog entry, Facebook is the most addictive online forum, but also the silliest of the social networks, working on the principle that you are not allowed to make new friends online.

Recently I was in the "sin bin" for seven days for the FaceCrime of "being over-friendly".

Ironically, the Geek Cops arrested me while I was befriending someone I actually know.

FaceBook is like an enormous practical joke that precocious American teenagers have played on the world.

MySpace, on the other hand, has been completely shafted by them.

It is like a theatre where the show's still running but the audience has gone home.

It hardly seems worth posting on it. The MySpace auditorium is so empty, when you speak you can hear the echo!

Twitter could still be useful. I have been pruning down the 2,000 people I follow, removing the scribes of the more ludicrous or uninteresting tweets.

I shall then invite some more bookish types who might be interested in The Commuter's Tale.

I have yet to experiment with sending people direct messages - I don't want to be serving two social concurrent gaol sentences!

For all this, publishing a book is a reward in itself.

It is wonderful having it out there, and knowing that at least some people are reading it, and judging from the feedback enjoying it.

A lifelong ambition achieved!

Because of The Commuter's Tale, I have been in touch with old friends and met some great new people.

In Lewes, the bookshop stocking it is Sky Lark where the owner, Matt Birch, has been very supportive.

He suggested I should enter The Commuter's Tale for competitions because even a short-listed poetry book is suddenly taken seriously by the media. A good idea.

But, perhaps, I should not worry. I have a great list of promotion and distribution work I am doing for book and should just keep chipping away at them in my spare time until one of them - or a combination of several - sets the snowball a-rolling.

My latest endeavour has been to go on a one-man, two-day tour of bookshops, signing copies of The Commuter's Tale, and getting the booksellers to turn them face-out, which makes a big difference, particularly with a small book.

The first leg of the London tour was on a very wet day indeed when I was feeling a bit queasy.

I trudged from Trafalgar Square, where I was well received in Waterstone's (thanks for your help, Dawn), to Blackwell's in Charing Cross Road, where Lachlan ordered a copy.

Then several times to Foyles on Charing Cross Road, where, eventually, I met the poetry buyer, who, bizarrely recognised me, and ordered a copy, and Gower Street Waterstone's, where Damian was very friendly and helpful.

I was feeling quite ill by this stage. Soaked to the skin, with a very sensitive stomach and a painful right knee which made me limp.

Exhausted, I sat in a cafe on Tottenham Court Road and drank a coffee and took painkillers.

They had a bookshelf with donated books for the customers to read, so I gave them a signed copy of The Commuter's Tale, hoping a Hollywood producer might drop by and pick it up!

My strength slightly regained, I traipsed down Oxford Street to sign books in Waterstone's Plaza and Oxford Street branches (thanks, Steve and Bridget).

Then to the big one - Piccadilly Waterstone's where I signed the books with the incredibly helpful and pleasant Laura who must be one of Britain's most adorable booksellers.

Always so upbeat and affable. Thanks, Laura, you're a diamond - and with a lucky name!

I sat on a sofa for a long time in Waterstone's Piccadilly reading a John Betjeman book. Then I walked through the driving rain to Covent Garden Waterstone's, where Cat allowed me to sign the book and turn it facing out.

On then to Fleet Street, where I once worked as a journalist, to see Ed and sign and face out my books, and then again, with Charlie, just down the road at Ludgate Circus Waterstone's.

Finally, I walked into the City, checking out Daunt's on Cheapside, where the manager Ben was very friendly but explained the book hadn't come in yet, and then Leadenhall Market Waterstone's, where they couldn't find it, even though it was in stock.

It is surprising how often this happens. Apparently, shoppers often take the books out to read on the sofas and then put them back in the wrong part or store, or, worse, just purloin them.

Still, a dozen shops in one day was not bad going. I returned home absolutely drained.

On the second leg of the tour, it was really hot and sunny. Rather than getting cold and wet, I ended up sweaty and sunburnt.

I started in Notting Hill, signing at the Waterstone's (thanks, Sula) and then searching for a long time for the posh bookshops I had read about in a Sunday Times Magazine article.

After what seemed like a hell of a long walk, I found the famous Lutyens and Rubenstein, where Claire, every bit as wondrous as described in the article, took five signed copies of The Commuter's Tale.

She directed me on to the nearby Travel Bookshop, where the helpful Saara took three copies and I bought a George Orwell book for a fiver.

Delighted by this progress, I had coffee at a pavement cafe where I fell into conversation with a couple of Icelandic lawyers, called Siggi and Helga, who bought another copy.

On to Chiswick Waterstone's by bus where they had plenty of the promotional Commuter's Tale bookmarks but couldn't find the book.

I gave the lovely Lara a copy to review and she ordered more copies for stock, and I had a very pleasant chat with Eleny. Chiswick Waterstone's is a store well worth supporting!

Onto the Tube and the long journey to Wimbledon, where I signed the book at Wimbledon Bridge Waterstone's (thanks, Patrizia!) I already felt like I'd been travelling for days but had hardly made any headway with my schedule.

So, I skipped lunch and took the train to Kingston, where after a long search my book was found by staff at the Waterstone's in the Bentall Shopping Centre - quite a place!

They offered to move some Larkin out of the way to face out The Commuter's Tale! Thanks, Ralph!

It was getting late now and I hurried, as fast as the train would allow, to Richmond, where I signed in Waterstone's, and then Hampstead, where the charming Elle-Louise, took a signed copy at Daunt's.

In the street I bumped into her old friend Jeremy Austin, a former Stage journalist, who had become a dad and a house-husband. Great to see him and his baby!

And, when he heard what I was doing, he offered to buy a book.

There was a real buzz about Hampstead Waterstone's, with real good buskers at the doors. I signed a copy of the book (thanks, Sorelle) and felt quite sad to have to head home.

On the way back, I dropped in at a packed Friday night Camden Town and signed at Waterstone's (thanks, Andrew), rounding off my day.

Rarely have I felt so exhausted. Even two days' later, I am in pain!

Sometimes I think this entire book thing is mad. One has to work insanely hard to sell a few poetry books!

Readings are just as bad. You can travel hundreds of miles to perform in front of an audience of six, go down well and still sell no books!

It's a crazy world - but I still enjoy it!

Anyway, I have still enjoyed the experience, particularly going to parts of London I would not normally visit. And meeting all the good people in bookshops.

Hopefully, next time I blog I will have some excellent news!

If you fancy getting the book, visit Waterstone's or here's the link to The Commuter's Tale page on Amazon.

Or come to Lewes Poetry, at the Lewes Arms, from 8.30pm on 28 April and get a signed copy straight from the horse's mouth!

Some comments about the book are below.

What the readers say about The Commuter’s Tale:

‘An uncompromised work of genius’ Chris Mason-Felsin
‘A brilliant and truly stunning piece of work’ John Eckersley
‘Had me hooked and wanting more’ John McJannet
‘Clever, witty and kept surprising me’ Juliette Mitchell
‘Made me roar with laughter’ Elizabeth Darcy Jones
‘A book like no other’ Tom Quinn
‘Absolutely superb’ Sarah Crouch
‘Good fun – I really enjoyed it’ Chris Fowler
‘Very absorbing, gripping and engaging – a great read!’ Amanda Banks
‘Gozzard is cooking on gas in this vibrant odyssey’ Roderick Spode

What the famous say:

‘Shows initiative and a sense of humour’ Joanne Harris
‘I just couldn't do it justice!’ Jeremy Paxman
‘Very entertaining – chunters along like a train’ Matthew Wright
‘A rollicking odyssey of joy’ Radio 4 poet Elvis McGonagall
‘Belloc meets Byron meets Chaucer’ Veteran poet Attila the Stockbroker
‘I support The Commuter’s Tale and wish it every success’
Transport Minister and Lewes MP Norman Baker

What the media say:

‘A thriller in verse’ Metro
‘A dramatic yarn’ Tim Cornwell (John Le Carré’s son), The Scotsman
‘Poetry in motion’ Sussex Express
‘Loads of pace! I read it in one sitting on a train and really enjoyed it!’ Kenny Farquharson, Deputy Editor, Scotland on Sunday
‘Neatly calls to mind the reassuring rhythm of the railway’ Alex Leith, Editor, Viva Lewes
‘A page-turner’ Artists and Makers
‘Highly acclaimed’ Scunthorpe Telegraph
‘Poetic thriller by poet who knew Philip Larkin’ Hull Daily Mail
‘The ideal read for a train journey’ Splash FM

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