Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Buzz of a brand-new Book

There is no doubt about it; the thrill of opening the first box of a new publication.  You slave over its creation for months or even years.  You pull the files together and allocate the ISBN number.  You send it off to the printer and the proof arrives in a couple of days.  Then comes the frantic correction of the odd typo, page layout, illustration contrast before re-submitting it for production and delivery!

This week, the Itinerant Poet is working down in London and the first box of the new children's poetry collection had to be delivered directly to him at the school for a Book Launch, so I have had to miss out on the pleasure.  He called me to let me know that the entire school - staff and pupils - was in that same state of excitement and anticipation of the book's arrival.  There is a certain magic within that printed page...

So here it is!  The first collection written specifically with younger readers in mind, aged 5-8 years.  All the material has been written, tried and tested with audiences before making the cut for the book.  I had great fun experimenting with full page illustrations for every poem.  I have set them behind the text which meant I had to amend the contrasts and positions of key features of each picture.  I also found I had to put a white glow on the black text to make the words stand out.

I spent so long on the internal pictures that I almost forgot the cover.  We had a pretty good idea what to put on it as the book's title was pretty specific.  The ever-popular Mr Smile features alongside a late addition - a cartoon of the Itinerant Poet flying an aeroplane (this was the suggestion of son Rory who then criticised me for not making it a very realistic biplane!)

It is now listed on the Inspire to Write website Book Shop for sale and I have sent off the files to Nielsen to register the ISBN and images so it should appear on Amazon in the next couple of weeks.

This shortly to be followed by a collection of poems on school.  It is currently in production at Orbital Print Services and will also be delivered directly to the school in Essex where the Itinerant Poet is working next week and doing another book launch.  It is the only opportunity he will have to sell books at the school so time is tight.

I spent more time on the cover for this than on the book above, it ended up being a MASSIVE file as I had started it in 600dpi.  It even blew the memory on my iMac so I had to scale it down.  The proof looks great but we discovered a little oversight.  I started the book way back in January then shelved the project for a few months.  In that time, we had decided to revert to A5 size publications after a brief flirtation with smaller sizes.  Unfortunately I forgot this and the entire internal pages appear in the smaller size but printed on A5 paper.  In actual fact, it doesn't look too bad so, bearing in mind the tight deadlines, we left it as it was.

A5 is just so much easier to both hold and read.  You can use slightly larger font sizes and spacing so it is more child-friendly too.  In the end, the cost was not much more than the smaller books.  I am listing it in our Book Shop whilst I remember to do so.

Examinations Ahoy!

Next week sees our two teenagers sit their IGCSE English Language examinations.  Quite apart from all the book-related work, there is a lot of study support going on in our house.  I think that English is probably the subject that requires the most background reading and coaching of all the IGSCE subjects we take.  It is not just a case of correct spelling and grammar, it is also having the ideas and being able to express them clearly, concisely and eloquently.  As ever, the crucial part is being able to deliver the goods on the day (to use a couple of cliches) in order to sail through the stormy seas of the examination sitting (metaphor with alliteration) and within the allotted time.  I wish them both the very best of luck.

The Call of the Open Road

As the Spring still refuses to arrive properly in the UK, we can hear the distant call of the open road drawing closer to us.  Our original European travel plans were thwarted after my accident last September but now the Itinerant Poet and I are dreaming of the green hills and valleys of the Dordogne,  the pine forests and oceans of Les Landes and the azure of the Mediterranean.  We are trying not to recall the mosquitoes, humidity and difficulty sleeping in the heat.  Soon I will find myself investigating the prices on the cross-channel ferries and the world beyond this sceptered isle.

On the other hand... perhaps a UK tour?  Oh, the (in)decision!  What fun!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Maintaining Perspective and Setting Achievable Goals

Learning means experiencing quite a few "fails".  When you are self-employed and self-publish, the internet is always there to help you but it doesn't necessarily mean you make the right decision every time.  You just have to accept the outcome and try a different tack for the next project.

Our Case Study

Our first CD of children's music was produced in 2001.  The Itinerant Poet and his brother (a professional musician and music producer) turned the most popular poems into songs.  The resulting album was a great success and we sold over 2000 copies in 5 years mostly through direct sales to schools.  In 2010, we started on a new album - "Do the Dinosaurus".  It took two years to make and even has a music video on YouTube to promote it.  Click on the highlighted text above or the picture and see for yourself.

Hundreds of teachers had expressed their wish to buy a copy once it was released.  We were on a high and idly imagining a financial success.  Then reality struck: the teachers didn't buy, the video didn't go viral, the CDs didn't fly out of the door - they trickled. What went wrong?

Our major mistake was not to realise the truly massive change in listening habits in the ten years between the albums.  People had moved away from physical media to digital media far more than we thought.  We made digital versions available on the internet but people also preferred not to buy many albums that way either.  Even direct sales in schools were nowhere near what they had been in the early years of the first album. 

The lesson learned?  Be realistic and try to not to get carried away.  The fact that you are working your socks off to make a quality product doesn't mean it is bound to succeed. 

That's it for albums for us - we will switch to basic videos of the Itinerant Poet performing his most popular works on the YouTube Channel and forget about making a fortune - it's all about entertainment these days!

Knock-on Effect

One unfortunate consequence of the slow sales, is that it has affected the charity project we are supporting with the proceeds.  For many years, we have always wanted to provide clean drinking water for an African community.

We met Rob Scammell in 2011.  He had set up two charity shops in our town to raise money for the Kitale Orphan School in Uganda founded by himself and a friend.  We discovered that our dream could be realised at the school because the labour for the project could be supplied for free by the on-site maintenance team.  Our target was an achievable £600.  We were thrilled.  We reached our goal in March this year.

The Disaster

Everyone was very excited both in the UK and at the school.  Work could start as soon as the survey had taken place.  We then received a huge blow.  The survey revealed that the borehole would have to pass through 60 feet of rock to reach the water source, not through earth.  The estimate has rocketed to £4,500 to pay for the machinery needed to dig.  Though we could put the £600 raised into other projects at the school, we feel that clean, fresh water on site is important in so many ways and do not want to give up without trying for the big one.

So this week sees me trying another project for the first ever time and willing it to succeed - the Big Media Pitch.  The motivation is financial but none of it comes to us - ALL of the proceeds now go to the Kitale Borehole Project.  So, if you are reading this and want to support it - BUY A CD as a present for a child, grandchild, nephew, niece, neighbour... it's great music and you won't regret it.  Play before you buy. 

Message from the Frontline

Finally, here are some pictures and words on the importance of the borehole, directly from the manager at Kitale Orphan School:

“Kitale community school is located in an area endowed with sufficient amount of rainfall. However, availability of water for domestic use is a big problem for the kids and the community.
The girls and boys walk 2kms daily to get untreated water from stagnant well/pool (Ndodoli) this directly impacts on education of student population; hygiene, sanitation and increased water borne illness. Water scarcity continues to be burden regardless of the season dry/wet. Given an opportunity for a borehole kids will be able to stay in class/school instead of spending their time walking long distance to fetch water. This will also enable then gain access to natural underground water supply thus reduce on water born illness. It costs 
18M shillings to construct a 
borehole at school. Thanks”