Saturday, 24 November 2012

Waffle and waving in Waterstones

Discovered today meandering through the Images for Curd the Lion on Google:
from the website (way back in 2008)


Alan Gilliland
Raven’s Quill, £14.99 or £10.72 on Amazon

Strolling through Waterstone’s on a recent Saturday afternoon, we were virtually accosted by a man waving this book at us. Listening to him, it turned out he was in fact the author of this children’s book. I asked a few questions that revealed he was once graphics editor of The Telegraph. He waffled on a bit about four soft toy animals in search of a stolen brooch and then showed us some quite superb black and white illustrations. We were quite taken by the old fashioned storytelling and the nod towards Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. He signed a copy and I merrily trotted towards the checkout with book under my arm. My daughter Martha (9) has not stopped reading or talking about this book ever since.   John Fountain

What a nice young lady she is, and her father too.

A story of self-publishing – the hard way!

About The Author

Alan Gilliland A Potted History:
Born in Malaya in 1949 and brought up on a garrisoned rubber plantation during the ‘Emergency’, Alan Gilliland’s first, mountaintop, boarding school was reached by means of a 1930’s American armour-plated car, WWII Dakota aeroplane and Saracen armoured personnel carrier. A year later, aged six, he was transferred to a new school, memories of whose white hot sandy beaches were to remain ingrained upon his psyche long after leaving for this drizzly island we call home.
With his departure, Malaysia became independent and its anti-colonialist insurgency lost its rationale. Alan quickly learned the uses of the cricket bat, macintosh and other essentials of integration into English society. Performing passably well throughout his boarding-school years, he fell at the final hurdle, being expelled for revising for his art A-level exam.
Undeterred by this setback, he did not go to art college, preferring devious paths to the realisation of his creative ambitions via film-making, architecture, photo-journalism, newspaper cartooning and news information graphics – with 18 years and 19 awards as graphics editor of The Daily Telegraph – before finally arriving at the decision to write and illustrate fictions less ordinary than his own life.
Casting himself adrift with his long-suffering wife upon a tiny barque of of talent with its pencil-mast, he draws from the very winds the inspiration to fill the sheets and carry them across the ocean of scepticism that lies between hope and fulfillment.  On the shoreline, his six children and three grandchildren, wave their little hankies, litorally wondering if ever he will make it.

Now what happened next?
First he exhibited on a tiny stand at the back of the London Book Fair, to both promote his graphics to publishers and to promote his own work. He found some admirers, including the founder of Alibris, a website for books in the US, and a young lady, daughter of a US publisher.
She was so enamoured of his first book ‘The Amazing Adventures of Curd the Lion (and us!) in the Land at the Back of Beyond’ that she recommended he take the Ms to Cornerstone’s Literary Consultancy to get an in-depth report on it and ever-so-kindly offered to pay for that report.
The report, critical but also very enthusiastic about it, was carried out by a fine author of children’s fantasy. It advised changes which he mostly carried out (saddest of which was the ‘murder’ of one of the characters – in real life, not in the story).

Buoyed by her enthusiasm, and because his financial situation was becoming critical (the consequence of a near-fatal spinal infection that destroyed a disc at the base of his spine and his ‘seed-fund’ by the time he recovered) he decided to throw aside caution and take the plunge, completing the text and illustrations, designing the book with its 80+ pencil illustrations as a hardback and finding a Chinese printer  for the first print run of 1,000 copies, to be sold at £14.99.

Next he persuaded nearly 60 independent booksellers to order a copy in advance of publication, and following that, Gardners wholesalers to order 400 copies.

He went, as a visitor, to the Frankfurt Book Fair and traipsed the stands, trying to sell his graphics to UK publishers (with some success) and his book to foreign publishers (without).
On the Saturday after his return, he did an inaugural book-signing at the Guildford High Street branch of Waterstones and sold, he was told later, more books than many of the authors invited to the Guildford Book Fest that week.
This mild success gained him access to that chain at which he has been assiduously signing ever since.

His micro-publishing company, Raven’s Quill Ltd., joined the IPG and PA and then exhibited under their aegis at the Frankfurt and Bologna (children’s) Book Fairs, receiving UKTI grants. Through these he acquired a South Korean agent, Amo, who immediately sold Curd to a publisher there, a Spanish/Portuguese agency, Ilustrata, and a Far East agency, Big Apple, who have just sold translation rights to a mainland Chinese publisher. At Bologna his exhibit was seen by an Israeli publisher who subsequently bought rights to Curd, and by Kassie Evashevki of United Talent Agency in Hollywood, who subsequently acquired the rights to Eat, Pray Love, the Twilight Saga last film and Stieg Larsson with the result that Curd was relegated to the twilight zone.

Meanwhile, back home in its first year, Lovereading4kids (the children’s bookselling website) discovered Curd and made it first a ‘Book and Debut of the Month’ then ‘of the Year.’ This drew the attention of a Fox Films executive who asked for it – but this was stymied by Disney announcing Toy Story Three the week it arrived there.

I had forgotten to mention Curd’s first positive reviewer was the political philosopher, John Gray (Emeritus Professor of European Thought in the Department of Government at the London School of Economics) who wrote an incredibly kind appreciation (link at bottom of article).

He made mistakes. The first print run of Curd the Lion had the two characters, Sweeney the Heenie (a hyena) and O’Flattery the Snake talking phonetic Oirish, which he had probably been advised against and which annoyed the pants off certain adults, though it seemed to affect children, with their more malleable English, not at all. Secondly, he enthusiastically put that first version of Curd up on an Amazon Vine program (whose reviewers receive free copies of any book they choose to review) and discovered exactly those people intolerant of phonetic Oirish. (For my own thaumaturgically therapeutic response to such rude reviews, see link at very bottom of this piece)

So he changed that and has received no negative reviews since then (touch wood) but has slowly acquired appreciative comments from book bloggers, academics and media people (see bottom link) along with a host of fantastically enthusiastic reviews from kids themselves, including some which can be read on this Lovereading4kids page,
and this lovely response to my half-term signings:

"Dear Alan,
I was thrilled with meeting you today in Bishops Stortford. 
My teacher, Miss Jones, really enjoys reading 'Curd the Lion and Us' to my class. All my friends love to listen.  
I wish I could be you. I can't wait to tell them I've met you.  
When Mummy finishes reading the book to us I'll e-mail again and let you know what we all thought.
William Shields (6 years old)"
(and mum's follow-up after I sent a pdf of a drawing)
"Dear Alan,
Thank-you for the picture that you drew for William. 
He was absolutely thrilled and we'll get it printed professionally and put it on his wall.
Thanks again for making a little boy very happy and for helping him develop a love for stories and reading.
Lesley Shields"

Curd has been through five print runs (up to 3,000 at a time) and has now sold 9,000 plus copies at £14.99, with 42.5% - 57.5% (through Gardners – self-supplied at signings) return to the publisher.

In publishing his second book, ‘The Flight of Birds’ – a Gothic ghost tale – for which he confidently ordered 3,000 copies as a paperback with French flaps to be sold at £9.99, he made a second slip. The copy editor he thought had done the final edit before going to print left before doing so and that print run had its fair share of typos. He failed to double-check and the book went to print. He only discovered this mistake when a very literate teenager pointed it out, adding the rider that though she abhorred any typos in books, she adored the story.

This has now sold out of its first run and the author has introduced a ‘White Edition’ – which version has a different beginning and (happier) ending and was written at the same time as the original dark version – after receiving many reports from ladies who loved the story but were serious upset by the tragic ending. This version – and the Black – is being printed in digital short runs that are relatively unprofitable in response to an edict by James Daunt, head of Waterstones, that threatens the very continuance of his book-signings and the introduction of his books to new readers. See his BookBrunch article on that draconian edict here:

Until it becomes clear whether or not Alan may continue his business conducted through Waterstones so successfully to date, a decision to print the more profitable litho runs of thousands cannot be made.

This is a shame, since the author (of both) has personally put £140,000-worth of books (10,200+) through the tills of Waterstones and yet still finds himself under threat under this new regime.

For reviews of both books and a more factual analysis of Alan’s progress, see this earlier blog post:

My own therapy, fresh from the South of Ireland:

Oh, and a piece pertinent to the pervasive uninhibited vitriolic outpourings of some internet reviewers: