Week 21 – Return of the Good News

No sales to report on this week, alas, so response time is back to either zero or infinity. However I can now tell you that we hold a signed contract on Penelope Friday’s intriguing anthology Thrace which will be before you in November. I’m not sure whether it quite falls into the category of science fiction, although it takes place on a different planet and features unfamiliar species and technologies; nevertheless the emotions will be understood by all – love, loss, fear and hope combine in three outstanding short stories.

In addition we have the first part of a trilogy by Chris Quinton – a murder mystery set in Barcelona some thirty years from now. It isn’t just the suspect that’s unusual – the cop pursuing him has some rather unique abilities, too.

And then there are two titles by established author Julie Bozza, both of which will take your imagination off in very different directions. However we’ll resist the temptation to give too much away at this stage; full details will be available by this time next week.

Meanwhile we are busying ourselves preparing for the website update and the launch of all four new titles; I’m sure I saw smoke pouring out of our proof-reader’s ears!

Stick around – this is all going to get very interesting again soon!

Week 20

Response time average this week is down to a nifty nine minutes, the inevitable result of being chained to the keyboard 99% of the time!

We have also made a couple of substantial strides forward on the November list, and are beginning to give serious thought to the one after that, but we’re still not ready to announce details yet. We are creeping closer all the time, though!

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!

Week 19 progress report

Average response time this week was a perfectly respectable 2 hours 22 minutes.

During the week we took some major strides forward in preparations for the next list, and in fact the one after that. Contracts have gone out to two authors, but until they have been received back I am not going to make any announcements about the works concerned. (Many a slip, rampant superstition etc.)

I will say, though, that the covers are ready for them, and that our proof-reader – despite being on holiday, bless her heart! – is working very hard to catch up with the workload we have been imposing on her.

The website will be updated on 1 October with details of the forthcoming list, although you will not be able to order until 1 November; there are still all the last-minute jobs to do, which include such minor tasks as layout and making the .pdf/.epub files. It’s going to be a busy month!

Response times for week 18

It’s been a very odd week here at the International Mega-Headquarters of Manifold Press – poor old Hooper was ill, there was a public holiday and the new member of staff (kitten) decided to ‘help’ with the business. Nevertheless we maintained a fairly respectable – if not exactly stellar – response time average of six hour 44 minutes.

In more exciting news, however, we have agreed with the authors of three books – two novels and one anthology of short stories – to publish their work, and the contracts should be going out within the new few days. I am not going to release too many details at this stage – watch this space – but once again I am staggered by the sheer scope of our writers’ imagination; these future offerings will broaden our horizons to include science fiction, a tale of vampirism, and a novel set in the bizarrely attractive world of pro wrestling. Two of these will appear on the November list, with the last-mentioned debuting on the list after that. [ETA: The last-mentioned, HOMOSAPIEN, was in the end brought forward to the November list.]

In addition I have now have the privilege of meeting our illustrious staff proof-reader for the first time – although we have often spoken on the phone. It’s really nice when you have a long-distance professional relationship with someone to encounter them in person and discover that they’re all you’d hoped they would be, and this has now happened twice with significant Manifold Press contributors – which only seems to confirm to me what wonderful people you all are. (And that goes for our loyal readership too.)

None of us are ever going to make a fortune this way, but we are certainly making a lot of friends!

British Library

Confirmation arrived this morning that the British Library have accepted the deposit copies we sent them. At least, the letter refers to SEA CHANGE and END OF THE TRAIL, but it also says that other titles will not be acknowledged individually. Also it’s possible of course that there’s another letter somewhere relating to ALOES and DEAR MISTER PRESIDENT.

The nice part of this is having negotiated the bureaucracy sufficiently well to have our titles accepted by the BL. This, together with the ISBNs, gives the stamp of legitimacy to our little endeavour, small in scale though it is. I know a lot of people have queried the expense both in terms of money and time, and there have been moments when I could cheerfully have agreed with them, but the fact remains that Manifold Press is now established as a legitimate publisher of fiction and will retain a place in the official record for however long the British Library lasts.

The mark we have made on the world may only be a faint one so far, but now nobody can ever rub it out.

We now return you to our scheduled entertainment …

… with apologies for not posting last weekend; a new kitten has just joined the staff of Manifold Press and turned the entire establishment upside-down.

I have failed to give you response times for the past three weeks.

Week 14, when I was away, the average response time was 18 hours 18 minutes.

Week 15, there were no sales – making the response time either zero or infinity.

Week 16, we did a little better, with an average response time of 2 hours 43 minutes.

Also in Week 16, we welcomed a customer from yet another new country, South Africa.

Work continues apace with the titles for our November list; two are currently with our esteemed proof-reader, a third is expected to be completed at the end of this month, and a fourth – which is actually already complete – is in the hands of our in-house reader at the moment. There has also been considerable progress on the titles for the list after that, and we hope to be able to bring you more details about some of these shortly.

The Print on Demand debate

Being a very sad (or is it ‘driven’?) individual I spent a large part of my week’s break reading up about, and doing calculations in relation to, printing on demand.

Superficially at least, the numbers did look moderately encouraging at one stage. The set-up costs are minimal and you pay as you go, which means no initial capital investment. Also, if you set everything up properly in the first place, you can tie-in to the Amazon distribution network and have them accept your payments and forward you the proceeds on a monthly basis. In fact, once you have set it up, other people do nearly all the work which is undoubtedly an attraction.

However … Amazon are not a charity. They take a discount on the sale price. This can vary, but in our case it was likely to be 20%. We would not find out for certain until we had everything set up, unfortunately, so we had to operate on a worst case scenario. Since the authors, too, would still be getting a royalty, and since there would be a printing cost per copy based on the page count, this would have one of two effects; either it would reduce the ‘bottom line’ figure, i.e. the Press’s share of the proceeds, to an unacceptably low level – between 3 and 11 US cents per book – or it would make the sale price of the book unacceptably high – ‘Sea Change’, for example, could not be sold for less than $14.50/£9.50, upon which the buyer would also have to pay postage and packing.

(You may ask why we don’t bypass Amazon and do the print-book sales ourselves, but it simply wouldn’t be feasible. For a start it would involve massive capital investment, which we can’t do, and then a huge amount of time devoted to processing and dispatching orders. We’ve done that – many years in the zine business are behind us – and we have no wish to do it again. Lugging armfuls of parcels to the Post Office is no longer for us. Thirty years ago it was fun; now, not so much.)

The only way it could possibly work – and that only marginally – would be if the authors agreed to take a 10% cut in royalty. On three of our current titles that would not make a huge difference, but one author would be significantly disadvantaged by it. Nevertheless we would have put the suggestion to them if it had not been for a couple of other random factors.

Remember I said that there would be no capital outlay involved in PoD publishing? Well, there would be one item and it’s a biggie. Each book would need a new ISBN for the print edition. It’s not a big cost, but if your sales are only clearing a maximum of 11 cents it’s going to take a hell of a lot of them even to recoup the initial outlay.

The other thing is currency fluctuations. It wouldn’t take a massive fluctuation in the world’s currency markets to turn a 3 cents profit into a 3 cents loss, and then you’re actively praying that you don’t sell any books – but Amazon is an ocean liner and it doesn’t turn around quickly. And if they aren’t a charity, even less so are we; our capitalisation is meagre, and we need to think carefully about every penny we spend. Nevertheless we could probably ride out minor fluctuations … but what if we found ourselves giving away 25 cents a book or more? In that case, this Press would be doomed; it simply wouldn’t be worth continuing.

Most of the above is strictly financial. None of it takes much account of the extra labour involved in preparing PoD editions and the ancillary paperwork and then actively marketing them via Amazon. There is a certain amount of follow-up effort required, a constant monitoring of sales, and more active participation than we are able to get involved in at the moment. We don’t have an extensive staff team; essentially there are three of us plus a few who help out from time to time. Nobody is paid, and we all have other responsibilities. We all, also, write. If administrative tasks were to get in the way of the writing, this Press would simply not be worth continuing with; administration is a fine and worthy activity, but writing is far more important to all of us. If we’re given the choice, none of us is going to choose extra admin work over time spent writing.

So, all things considered, we have reached the conclusion that PoD is just not for us. Our authors’ contracts are finite, however, and if an individual author would like to arrange a PoD edition of their own work once it’s out of contract with us we will be very happy to support them and make available our own text-PDF and layout file if it would be helpful. Not the cover illustration or the ISBN, however; the author would need to make separate arrangements for these him- or her-self as the ones we have are not transferable. However the author would then be able to keep the whole of the proceeds of the sale and would be able to set the price to suit their own requirements, which seems to us far the best arrangement.

We have told the authors of our decision but wanted to explain in full here exactly why we had reached it and what the considerations were. We cannot afford to get involved in anything at the moment which has the potential to actively lose us money; it isn’t just a question of not making as much as we would like … we are on very narrow margins here and a wrong decision on something as important as this could be disastrous. Therefore, for the time being, we will stick with what we know, and try to do it to the best of our ability – even if it does limit our potential for sales.

NB: despite being a UK-based operation we found it easiest to do the calculations in US$ for these purposes as we would largely be dealing with the US operation of Amazon and with US-based suppliers. The dollar, on the day we did the calculations, stood at roughly 63 pence.

Apologies for absence

Having only just got back from a week in the Wild North-West, whilst a legion of demon plumbers tore my house to shreds in my absence, it’s time to catch up on a little bit of business. I apologise for not posting on Saturday as usual but the conditions were unfortunately less than ideal. This was particularly disappointing as a really fine review of Chris’s excellent SEA CHANGE was posted to Three Dollar Bills during that period. It’s nice to know that some reviewers appreciate the time and trouble authors take to build up their characters over a longer and more calmly-paced story; I know we all appreciate ‘quick fix’ fiction which can be undemanding and refreshing, but there are days when you just want to get your teeth into a long and satisfying narrative and immerse yourself completely in its world, and it’s nice to know that we have books available to meet both types of need – as well as reviewers capable of relishing them!

Response times were down this week, as a result of my absence, and averaged out to 18 hours 13 minutes. Not ideal, but the best that could be managed in the circumstances.