My first year of book producing and selling was a massive, enormous learning curve, and I suspect will continue to be so for some time to come! As I approach the anniversary of the logbooks’ inception, I wanted to share some of the things I have learned since this idea germinated last March.
This has been relatively straightforward since I first developed Town & Country Garden Birds as it’s a case of replacing the birds and copy but the template remains the same. I have published 13 titles now, although one is a life drawing booklet, and another is one for a distinct wildlife group so is not for general retail. I am now reaching a point where I can order larger numbers from Newman Thomson so that brings the unit cost down, and I am also usually able to pay for the new order with the proceeds from my previous sales. Of course I am always going to be needing to hold stock but being able to order 600-800 booklets at a time is well on the way to the magic 1000-book order where my cost per book is below £1. Now that I have had a few runs of all the titles I have my ‘master PDFs’ which I know are clean and typo-free, consequently I am happy to order them in quantity. I am itching to do another book as I love the process of putting them together, but I need to make sure I find a location I can properly work, as my Birds of Westminster are still pretty untouched, regardless of how much I love them! I need to repaint some of the birds as they’ve not scaled down very well, so that is a way to satisfy the artist in me without committing to another title. The problem is, I have a load of ISBNs waiting there, tempting me. I am considering the New Forest, or possibly branching out in to types of birds, so Birds of Prey or my original favourite, Black & White Birds. I do feel a Red List Birds would be a sad but necessary addition.
sales and marketing
Since my Damascene moment when holidaying last year, I have done my best to promote myself and my Sussex connections as much if not more than the books themselves, and when I write prospecting emails I give a little bit of detail about myself and my proximity or connection to the place I’m approaching with my enquiry. I tend to use Ecosia to search out independent gift shops as these are my best stockists, especially if they have a nature or eco section; my books are plastic-free and printed here so tend to tick some of those boxes. I have learned that if a response is lukewarm it is simply not worth going ahead, even if they offer to try them, as the seller needs to be engaged with the booklets as I am not there to promote them, and the logbooks are still too new a concept to be ‘known’. As time goes on and sales and stockists increase, this will obviously become easier as I will have data to show; this is beginning to be the case.
For bookshops I tend to attach an Advance Information Sheet for the booklet, like this:
If I am contacting a non-bookstore, I attach a photo of the booklet so they can see the size/style:
Instagram has been a remarkably rich hunting ground and I have been approached by a few people who have seen my account and asked to be stockists. If folk are keen on their look and size, and will work with someone’s store aesthetic they sell steadily. These outlets also focus on showing the booklets off to best effect. This has enabled me to get my books in to areas that I wouldn’t otherwise target so that’s been really helpful.
Charities – particularly bird charities, bizarrely – seem underwhelmed. Sadly, with the exception of Sussex Wildlife Trust who have hopped on board thanks to the success at Rye Harbour, the RSPB have not replied, and the WWT have been disappointingly lacklustre. I developed the Birds of Arundel on the grounds that they would sell well at Arundel WWT but in fact I have sold many more to other places in Arundel and its surrounds, and the Visitor Centre which is family-oriented so they ought to sell well, are still limping through their first order of 20 which they have had over 3 months. Charities are businesses after all but it’s made my dim view of some of the larger environmental institutions even more dim. I am not smarting because they won’t stock my book (honest…) but more because they are happy to stock landfill fodder such as plush toys made with fake fur in the name of raising money.
I am waiting to hear on the South Downs National Park who sounded keen for their new Centre at Seven Sisters which is opening this year, and I did make contact last year with the Wildlife Trust overseeing Rutland Water with their ospreys.
Having thought this would be my great saviour and an essential part of the marketing strategy, I have sold hardly any through distributors. The logbooks are really not Gardners’ bag as they want high volume from known publishing houses, and I have realised I would much prefer to work direct with my suppliers anyway; if someone orders through them I send the books and invoice Gardners not the buyer, so I have no clue who or where the logbooks are. Working directly with independent shops means we can collaborate on social media posts, and I can give and get given feedback. Freelance and self-employed creative work can sometimes be a little lonely and I like the connection with the shops that stock my work, as they are all shops I would love to visit myself! The other consideration with Gardners is that because the booklets are a Special Order Line, even if the bookshop can order them, I have to pay a flat fee – not a percentage! – to Nielsen for the privilege of them telling me Gardners want my book, on top of the larger discount I need to sell to Gardners in order that the bookshop ultimately makes sufficient profit to want to buy my titles. Because the books retail at £5, I would have to sell thousands to make any clear profit, so now that my confidence has grown I am not bothering to mention distributors.
I now have about 20-23 stockists who are definite repeat buyers with about 30 in total. I am looking forward to seeing how the spring and summer seasons go, and my aim is to reach 100 stockists this year.