Archive | March, 2014

Season of growth

26 Mar

There are a couple of houseplants which are blooming. One is more expected than the other. In the living room is a Peace Lily which we must have had for at least a decade. It blooms occasionally, but it is always good to see. The other is an Aloe Vera plant in the bathroom which we have had since it was a diddy little thing in a plastic pot. Now it is almost big enough to harvest. It sends up shoots from the roots occasionally, but has never before produced a flower spike. This is just about to hit the ceiling, and this photo is the last before it does so.



What is a Real Job?

21 Mar

The Budget was delivered by Chancellor of the Exchequer this week and I saw Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander on Question Time last night. Such quaint and historical names for finance ministers. Both men were banging on about how many jobs were created by the coalition government in the last four years. The main trouble with these figures is that the vast majority of these jobs do not pay a living wage. The coalition spokespeople bang on about how a job is a job. But with many jobs being part-time, on zero hours contracts or other loopholes allowing employers to pay a small fraction of a living wage, how can we regard them as being proper jobs?

We already have a measure of what the minimum wage should be, £6:31 per hour. It is estimated that a living wage should be £8:80 ph in London and £7:65 elsewhere. Prosecutions for failing to meet the current level of minimum wage are almost zero. In fact the instructions appear to be not to prosecute. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage.

‘The approach previously taken by HMRC was not to pursue criminal prosecutions as enforcement powers and penalty notices available under the legislation have in the past been seen to provide sufficient sanction. However, upon investigating employers found to be paying less than the minimum wage, approximately 45,000 since the act came into force, it has been discovered that a small number of employers failed to comply with the penalties enforced. As a result of this research HMRC reviewed its default position of non-prosecution.’ (Solicitor’s site, 2007, bold done by me. This figure is way too low now, and prosecutions are virtually unknown)

The result is that bad employers are only forced to change in very rare cases where there is pressure from the Trades Unions in regulated industries. Outside of these, well, forget it.

Real Jobs

What I suggest is quite simple. We take a living wage to be 40 hours per week at the minimum wage. 40 x £6:31 = £252:40 per week. Let us call this a Real Job. If a job pays less than that, it is regarded as a percentage of a job, so £126:20 would be 50% of a job. It would be more accurate if the improved minimum wage were used.

With this simple measure it would be possible to determine the true value of the government ‘Jobs’. With a cost of living crisis affecting many poor families to the extent that they are having to make use of food banks, to suggest that because they have one earner on 15% of a Real Job they are fully employed is an added insult. I have nothing but contempt for politicians who spin and dissemble when the poor are going hungry in a supposedly civilised country. Shame on you.

Micro-publisher enabling potential novelists to get into print

21 Mar

Over the past decade it has become increasingly difficult for potential authors to get their work published. If you do not have an agent you cannot get your work considered by publishers. Agents are only likely to represent people who fit a profile, one major part of which is ‘celebrity’. Talent no longer matters much. If you are obscure or older than forty, you are very unlikely to find an agent to plead your cause with the major publishing houses. We live in a time where the publishing houses are not interested in nurturing potential talent. They want an instant financial hit. Many will say that it has always been thus, and many examples can be found of books which were rejected by dozens of publishers before going on to be classics or best sellers. These days there are fewer, bigger publishers and they seem to be run by bean counters rather than people of judgement and patience. Because of takeovers, failures and amalgamations there are fewer targets for authors to aim at and the ones that are available seem to build obstacles to prevent outsiders getting in.

The reaction to this situation is the rise of the micro-publisher.  This is not about vanity publishing or even self-publishing. These are small publishers struggling to promote perfectly good commercial fiction, well designed and well written. It is possible to produce books for very little money by using a print on demand service from a company such as Lightning Source. Bought one at a time these books are quite expensive, but the publisher can order them in small batches at a commercially viable price, but then has to distribute them.

There are fewer bookshops than there were even last year. Other than Waterstones there is no national chain. If you cannot get your books displayed by Waterstones you end up trying to persuade local bookshops to sell the books as by a sort of novelty, like locally made sausages. It is impossible to sell commercially viable numbers of books this way. The costs in petrol alone outweigh any profit from sales. As to the buying process within Waterstones, I cannot comment.

Sales have fallen in bookshops due combined pressure from other outlets, such as supermarkets, and due to online sales from Amazon and Play Books. Supermarkets will only handle already best-selling authors and ghost –written nonsense from the aforementioned ‘celebrities’.

I heard a great story from the green room of a daytime television programme. One guest was Katie Price. She was asked by another guest why she was appearing. The answer came that she (Katie Price), was promoting her autobiography. ‘Yeah,’ she said, ‘I’m looking forward to reading it.’

The only sure way out for the author is to become a celebrity in their own right, devoting all their time and energy into self-promotion rather than writing. And even then you need to get lucky.


Selling the stuff

5 Mar

I’m sat in the Starbucks in Hereford drinking a ‘tall americano’ (black coffee and the smallest size they do). I have just been to see the manager at the local bookshop and try to get her agreement to put my books into her shop. I hope to have an agreement in a fortnight. For the time being I will have to supply the books, and do more orders from the printers.

At two o’clock I am giving a talk to the reading group at the Hereford library, and though I do not expect to sell any there, I may try to get them to read it before one of their monthly meetings. Also, it is additional publicity and that can’t be bad. The big push for sales is on!

More signings and other things

3 Mar

I had a book signing over the weekend. Rather more than that, in fact. I helped to man the bookshop at Berrington Hall over the weekend, and spent most of Thursday working to set it up. The books are housed in the Old Stables, which are heat free. Saturday was a sunny day, but the small high windows in the stables only allow light in after three pm at this time of year. The outside temperature was 5 deg. C, and the inside was barely warmer. After three hours I was struggling to feel my feet, fingers and nose. My head was alright as I was wearing the famous hat.

One of the few local celebrities, John Challis, a well-known TV actor was signing his books in the mansion yesterday and did quite well. He is a charming man, and I have met him on a few occasions. There were queues of people waiting for him to sign his books for them. I don’t begrudge him the attention, but it does show that a few appearances on TV will help shift thousands of books. I was in the stable, not mentioned in the publicity and was struggling to sell twenty copies. And I was helping out and I was contributing to the National Trust for every book sold. These days, it seems the only way to get a literary agent is to have a presence on TV.

On the plus side, I had my photograph taken by a local newspaper, The Shropshire Star and I managed to give out flyers, promotional material and business cards to various people, including a few involved in the media and publishing. I have cast by bread upon the water and have ended up with soggy bread. The Hereford Times did not run my press release (bastards) and I may now have to beg to go back on the local radio. Tomorrow I am going to talk to a local book group at the major library in the county, but I think more direct sales are unlikely. I have a cunning plan! More on that later. Buy the books at an amazing discount