Tuesday, 27 September 2011

For Women Only.......

Here are the three jackets used for the Corgi editions of the first three books of the saga.  For better or for worse, Corgi decided that the books were going to be read by women only.  Can you imagine a man buying one of these at an airport bookstall and reading it on a plane journey?  I think not........... actually, I agreed with these covers at the time, on the assumption that Corgi were the experts and probably knew what they were doing.  In retrospect, it was a disaster to cut off 50% of the potential market for the books.  I'm much happier now that we are back with the old covers again, and the Corgi episode is consigned to the dustbin of history..............

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Lit Walks News

Just done the last Literary Walk of the season.  Numbers were down on last year, partly because of the very unsettled weather this summer, and partly because cash is tight and people are reluctant to spend money on anything right now!  So next year I plan to change the formula -- I will put walks on, but only on request, if there are at least six people wanting to come, and if we can find a convenient date.  Watch the web site for further info in due course.....

Friday, 9 September 2011

Last Lit walk of the Season

On Sunday 11th September I am doing my last "Literary Walk" of the season -- on Carningli as ever.  Start time - 2 pm.  Finish by 5 pm.  For further details, see the web site:


Forecast doesn't look too good, but we live in faith......

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Greener Grass -- still green?

In 2007 I published the following article in The Author, the house journal of the Society of Authors.  It caused a lot of interest, and gave many self-published authors and small presses great encouragement on the basis that if I could do it, so could they. Four years have passed, and i thought it might be fun to look at the article again, and add some notes explaining what has happened since 2007.  These are added to the article in red.  Enjoy!

Copyright © Brian S John -- not to be reproduced without written permission


Brian John considers the relative merits of self-publishing and selling out

(This article was published in the Summer 2007 edition of The Author, pp 59-60)

I suspect that there is not a self-published novelist anywhere who would not have been flattered by a surprise fax message from one of the biggest publishers in the world which said “Please may we buy your books?”

I also suspect that if said publisher had refused, just five years earlier and in a time of different priorities, to read the first chapter of your first novel, you would have been even more likely to sign on the dotted line. With a grin on your face. Of course, you would have played hard to get, with the excellent assistance of this Society. But your signature would never have been in doubt.

That's all as true today was it was in 2007.  I would probably still sign on the dotted line, if asked....

Well, it happened to me. The coveted books were my Angel Mountain novels, first published under my own Greencroft Books imprint and already best-sellers in Wales. A total of 30,000 copies shifted thus far, without a single review in a quality Sunday or daily paper and without a sniff from either Richard or Judy. No taste, some people. But thousands clearly do feel passionately committed to the books, and this was picked up on during my publisher’s routine trawling of the literary waters on the far-flung shores of the British Isles. The company, to its credit, has an imaginative policy of using its reps to find new authors and new titles that have already been edited, published and market tested; and that is something that many “discovered” authors have reason to be thankful for. In my case, rep Ian Tripp conspired with bookseller Marley Davies to send my books secretly up to headquarters, where the editorial team was discerning enough to fall in love with my heroine Martha Morgan.

The total of books shifted has now risen to about 60,000 -- including about 25,000 of On Angel Mountain.  I was quite surprised myself to realize that I have doubled the sales of the titles over 4 years.  And there have still been no reviews in the quality papers, and the Richard and Judy Show is no more. 

The first three of the five novels were bought for a modest advance, and all three are now published by Corgi Books. Fifteen months have elapsed since the appearance of On Angel Mountain as the first of my titles, and I have had time to assess the relative merits of small cottage and big house. I still ask myself whether I did the right thing by signing on that dotted line, although I am only too aware that without a contract with a big publishing house I would not have had the remotest chance of breaking into the big-time in a world dominated by key account managers, celebrities, EPOS and BookScan, and brutal price competition. For better or for worse, my old editions have become collectors’ items as the Corgi volumes take their places on local as well as distant bookshop shelves. The fans of the series are confused, but they will adapt over time.

I might as well be honest and say that the Corgi adventure was a disaster.  They did publish the three books on schedule, having made very minor textual changes to them, but -- too late -- I discovered that not one of the books had a proper marketing or publicity budget, and that my editor (who was the only real advocate for the books within the publishing house) left before any serious promotion could be done internally -- or to the serious big buyers of books in the UK.  So the books effectively sank without trace -- and the bulk of the selling that was done, was done by me.  I suspect that Corgi knew that that would be the case -- they are not stupid.  They knew that without any effort on their part, I would continue to work with the books, and that they could not lose money on them.  In the event,  On Angel Mountain sold something like 7,000 copies -- which is not too bad, all things considered.

The pros and cons? Self-publishing is a grind, but there are great joys too. Once you have been rejected by 53 publishers and just as many agents (as I was) you are driven by the desire to show them all how wrong they were. You can create without constraint, to your own timetable. Writing, editing, format and cover design remain under your own control. You need to organize refereeing, if you are not to slip into the shadowland of vanity publishing. You have to do all of the publicity yourself, and force yourself into the terribly unBritish business of self-promotion. You must choose a printer and work with him. Then you must use the house as a warehouse, and try, under pressure from your loved ones, to move the stock fast into whatever outlets you can find so as to recover your living space. Paperback novels are the bane of self-publishers, since they are light and bulky and may be packed only fourteen to a box. Gain some comfort from the fact that boxes stored in every spare space will make your house cosy at a time when we are all exhorted to improve our domestic insulation. Eighteen months ago I had five Angel Mountain novels in print, and around 1000 full book boxes in the house. Thankfully, most of those have now gone, and my wife is recovering her sanity.

That is all as true as it ever was. There are now seven novels in the series, and each one has to be kept in print.  That means that every now and then another 120 boxes of bulky books arrive on a pallet, and have to be manhandled into the house, to be stored under beds, in the attic, and wherever there happens to be a bit of space.

As a self-publisher for 33 years, I have made a reasonable living. I know my local readers, book trade and media well, which guarantees press coverage and also rapid sales through visitor centres, gift shops and other “non-trade” outlets whose owners have never even heard of Nielsen BookScan. My five best-sellers have not registered on any system other than my own sales record -- if they had, each one of them would have made an appearance on the Fiction Heatseekers lists. I’m not complaining -- it’s fun to be a big fish in a small pond.

Still true, although I am just as hard hit by the recession as everybody else, and sales are not as fast as I would like them to be.

But self-publishing is undoubtedly a lonely and vulnerable business. You spend long hours in the car on delivery runs, and make many sales journeys which are fruitless. You have hardly any money for advertising. You have to budget for the payment of hefty printing bills, and that involves careful planning. I have done that without ever taking a loan, always using part of the income from one book to finance the printing of the next. You can become isolated, and unless you make an effort to involve family and friends in refereeing, editing, proof reading and delivery runs you can become discouraged by your failures or deluded by your little successes.

All that is still true.

Life with a big publisher is very different. For a start, you get paid your advance up front. You deal with an experienced editor, proof-reader and publicist, and work with reps who know the trade better than you ever will. The feedback between you and your team is stimulating and creative. Your book is professionally produced to an exacting standard, with (as in my case) a wonderful jacket. You do not have to worry about holding stock, and are relieved that somebody else looks after sales and record-keeping. Weeks pass. With the book in print, and in the shops, and with initial signing sessions and author tours out of the way, you can get stuck into the next book. That’s the theory, anyway.
That's still the theory.  On the matter of jackets. I did think the three jackets Corgi designed for my titles were wonderful, but I have now changed my mind.  All three were aimed straight at the female market, and not one of them had a hope in hell of being read openly by a bloke on a tube train.  That was their marketing strategy, such as it was -- aim straight at the female market.  Not quite the chick lit one, but maybe a bit above......   The feedback I have had from readers is that almost without exception they prefer my A5 format and my somewhat quirky jackets -- especially the jackets designed by my son Martin, with the constant themes running through all the reprint covers.

However, there are several interesting things that emerge over time. First, that if your book has been bought cheaply less money is spent on promotion, with little trace of a publicity “campaign”. Second, that in some areas of publicity, particularly at a local level and outside London, your own knowledge and contacts may be greater than those of your publicist. (That may be unfair -- the truth may be that publicists are rather good at their job, but that they are also publicising 30 other books at the same time as yours.) Third, that the post-publication promotional effort (which you want to last for ever) actually lasts for maybe a week or two, after which time your publicist has become preoccupied with the next blockbuster. Fourth, that ongoing publicity work is really down to you as the author, and if you are of a retiring disposition that may cause considerable stress. Fifth, that you are not always as well informed about strategies and developments as you might wish to be. Sixth, that the publishing house has bought your books because they were local successes, and because it assumes that local sales will continue at an acceptable level. Your publisher can settle into the comfort zone in the knowledge that the company is unlikely to lose money if you, the author, continue to work the sales network which you have already established. To emphasise this point, my first novel in the new edition has now sold around 5,000 copies, and I have personally sold 1,000 of those to non-trade outlets. 

That's all true still -- although in the event the sales of the first title got up to c 7,000 in the end.  The sales of the other two titles were very poor -- maybe 2,000 copies of each.  That is the fate of second and third volumes of a series in which number one does not make it into the big time.

Finally, the matter of finance. When I self-published my novels and distributed them myself I cleared £3 per copy sold, on a £6.99 cover price. With the “big house” editions, I now earn an average royalty of 50p per copy sold. That is down to the pressure of massive discounting. You do not need to be a genius to work out that I need my publisher to sell 36,000 copies of On Angel Mountain to give me the same earnings as I obtained originally on 6,000 copies of my self-published edition. The new edition has already earned out its advance, which is I suppose something of an achievement, but the quantum leap in sales which I hoped for has not happened, because the publisher is concentrating on selling into precisely the same market as that which I originally carved out as a self-publisher. That is a disappointment to me, since I had hoped for something more imaginative. 

That confirms what I said above.  After three years of increasing frustration with the Corgi operation, I was driven eventually to ask for the rights to be returned to me.  To their credit, they agreed without question, and the transition was made seamlessly.  I immediately issued new editions of the three novels under my own imprint, and sales immediately shot up.

But I went into this with my eyes open, and one has to take risks in writing and publishing as in any other field of human endeavour. I was probably right to sign on the dotted line. One day Judy (she of the TV show) will have On Angel Mountain pushed under her nose, and she will become entranced by Mistress Martha Morgan, super-heroine, just like everybody else. Look out, Lizzie Bennett and Dan Brown.
BRIAN JOHN’s three titles published by Corgi are On Angel Mountain, House of Angels, and Dark Angel.

Well, the TV show is no more, but I suppose Judy could still fall in love with the books if she ever gets round to reading them.  In the meantime, I still wait for a TV or film producer to decide that he or she wants to take possession of the story, and that they will come to me with a contract to sign on the dotted line......... 

Brian 's Words and Music -- this Friday...

 Here's the press release put out by Theatr Gwaun concerning the event this coming Friday...

Brian John's Words & Music at 4U, Fishguard this Friday!

Local author Brian john is the latest under the spotlight in 4U's Word & Music season. Born in Carmarthen, Brian graduated from Oxford and has worked as a field scientist in Antarctica and eleven years as a Geography Lecturer in Durham University. He also began writing text books, many on the Ice Age and glaciers – on which he is an expert.

Since moving to Pembrokeshire he has concentrated on writing and is now the prolific author of more than 70 books of all shapes and sizes, covering a wide range of topics. Perhaps his best known is the historical fiction series, the Angel Mountain saga, which now runs to seven volumes.

At 4U however he will be sharing with the audience the work of other writers, choosing six pieces of work that he most admires, together with the six pieces of music that mean most to him. The audience will be able to listen to the music, together with poems and extracts from his book choices read by two actors. And, in conversation, learning more about his life and passions.

Brian John in Words & Music is at 4U, Fishguard on Friday September 9 at 8pm. Tickets are £6.50 (FOTG members £5.50) from the box office on 01348 873421 or on line at:


Saturday, 3 September 2011

Technicolour mountain

April has to be my favourite month on the mountain -- when everything is fresh, and spring flowers are bursting out on all sides.  There is also something about the incredibly bright fresh green of the bilberry on the higher slopes of the mountain that adds a magical quality to the light.....

BUT August is actually not too bad either.  The gorse on the higher slopes is in full bloom (it's a different variety from the gorse that blooms in April and May on the lower slopes) and is complemented by those lovely pastel shades of purple and mauve from the heather that has spread everywhere above the bracken zone -- especially on those areas burnt within the last few years.  On the highest heath areas the grasses are turning white and buff.  Lower down the deep green swathe of the bracken covered slopes is breaking up as the bracken starts to die back -- and patches of foxy red are beginning to appear and spread.  By the end of September the browns and reds will have replaced the green, and suddenly it becomes easy to walk anywhere on the common.  Among the crags and scree slopes on the mountain, the extraordinary bilberry green is also beginning to wane, and some leaves are turning to red and even yellow.

The subtlety and range of colours at this time is extraordinary -- and that's not even counting the colours of the old grey and blue rocks, which change subtly as the slabs and boulders get wet and dry out, and as they are illuminated by the sun as cloud shadows drift across the landscape.

Not a bad old place.....