Monday, 24 November 2008

Every year at this time..

It’s the same around this time every year – we get calls from clients complaining that they have been told we take ‘at least twelve weeks to deliver any book’.

When we ask them where they have heard that, invariably they have been into the major High Street Bookstore and Newsagent chain or their sister organisation to order one of our books, only to be told that is ‘the delivery time their system says’. It has happened three times today already

Perhaps you do or do not know how the book ordering system works here in the UK. You go into a store, and ask for a specific title, perhaps you also know the author as well – you might even know who published it. The assistant will look it up on their computer using – more likely as not – something called ‘PubWeb’ that is a book-store only website that carries details all the books currently in print, filed under the International Standard Book Number – ISBN. It also contains the retail price and contact details of the publishers. If they place an order on this system, it takes about a day for your order to reach us.

If you are going into that High Street chain the system will also tell the assistant if the publisher has an account with them. If they have, it usually means the publisher is prepared to be dictated to. The last I heard from them was that this chain wanted 90 day sale or return, then a 120 day invoice at least a 60% discount and free shipping! When I declined this ‘offer’ I was told somewhat abruptly that ‘you cannot afford not to do business with us – we’re nationwide’. My reply, after I got over the shock, was ‘Just watch me!’. That was ten years ago, and we’re still in business!

So what's the reason behind it? - we dont really know, but we suspect that the store does not want to be seen to be declining an order, - and they certainly dont want to take an order which means accepting OUR terms of a 33% discount on a 30-day invoice - so they trot out this excuse, know that you as a customer are not prepared to 'wait that long', especially if it is a Christmas present!

For the record, for at least 95% of all our orders we despatch within 24 working hours on receiving it – the remainder go out within 48 hours. So the solution is this – either order from us direct – or support your local independent bookseller!

Monday, 10 November 2008

No such thing as a bad review?

It's often said there is no such thing as a bad review of a book, but sometimes reviewers comments can cut to the bone - especially when THEY get it wrong. So often there is no way to make any comments back - until now that is!

It seems in recent years that reviewers think it almost obligatory to make pithy, 'put-down' comments about books they review. It's like they feel they have to say something nasty about it. I really don't mind any reviewer making constructive criticism - as long as they are accurate!

A few years ago we had one reviewer in Aeroplane make some very picky, pedantic comments about one large book we had published. He then went on to say that this book had, in his words, a 'four part index' that he thought was strangely structured. Only problem there was, we had put an index that was divided into Part A through to Part E sections, and where I went to school A, B, C, D and E makes a FIVE part index!

Recently I had a similar thing in a review in Flypast magazine in which they reviewed my 'Memphis Belle - Dispelling the Myths'. Overall, it's a good review; but... see for yourself!

Memphis Belle - Dispelling the Myths, Graham Simons and Harry Friedman, GMS Enterprises, 536pp. illus, hbk, £60.00 - On the inside of the dust jacket, the authors pledge that their book is free of "sloppy journalistic practises" [sic] and then issue their own tosh: "Memphis Belle was THE most important aircraft of World War Two!" (Their capitals...) Put this behind you and this blockbuster of a book deals in exceptional detail with the many facets of the Belle', the wartime bomber, the 91st Bomb Group and Bassingbourn, the morale-boosting US tour, the William Wyler 'documentary' of 1944, the David Puttnam movie of 1990 and the politics of the surviving airframe. (She is now where should be, a national icon in the care of a national institution - ED.) The amount of material presented here is exceptional and the book is an unprecedented homage to a single aircraft, stacked with documents, illustrations and diagrams, and at just over a penny a page, it represents very good value.

From that - I make two comments; firstly the 'Tosh' allegation. If they had actually read the book, they would see why we said in our opinion we regard the Memphis Belle as the most important aircraft of World War Two. The discussion of that point starts on page 504 - as a conclusion of 503 pages of cold, non-opinioned primary source documentation - but I suppose that the reviewer thinks that as researchers and authors we are not allowed an opinion!

The second point is the reviewer arithmetical skills - the book is £60.00 and has 536 pages.... how I was taught that is just over 10 pence a page - 11.19 pence per page to be precise - not 'just over a penny a page'!

Ah well, those that can, do - and clearly those that cannot become book reviewers!

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Behind the scenes of 'Airfield Focus'

Over the years I have often been asked how the 'Airfield Focus' concept came about and what happens 'behind the scenes - well, like many things that happen at a Bar, it seemed like a good idea at the time!

Way back in 1992 John Hamlin, Aldon Ferguson and myself met up to discuss the possibility of my publishing company producing a series of booklets, each one looking at the history of a particular airfield. They came up with a good sales pitch to present to a publisher - a 24 page booklet, similar to the old aircraft ‘Profile’ series containing much more information that the little ‘thumbnails’ as contained in ‘Action Stations’ but at the same time way cheaper than the specialist hardback airfield histories. I bought into it, and ‘Airfield Focus’ series was born!

Originally the idea was to target the aviation enthusiast with a standard format - 24 pages, 20 pictures, detailed of united flying from each field and at least one map. We were - and still are - more than happy to take ‘authors’ who have never written before, for if they are interested in a specific airfield they are more likely to have detailed information and pictures that have never been seen before than someone we just contacted!

For the first twenty-five editions or so we stuck to the original format, but it was clear that things needed to be more flexible and that our target demographic was too specialist and restrictive. More and more people were getting into local history and, although many of these potential readers would not know a specific aircraft type if hit them between the teeth, they were interested in what happened ‘...on that large area of land just down the road’. They did not know the difference between a T2 or Bellman hangar, but they were interested in what was there! Market research showed that use of aviation ‘jargon’ scared people away - fill the pages with OTUs, BSTUs, Type 2548c/55s, W451/42s, FCCRS’ and SofAC/SACs and most people ‘switch off and head for the hills’, which meant that we lost a sale!

We changed from conventional to digital printing which allowed more flexibility of print-runs and although we went smaller in page size, we went larger in number of pages - by settling on an A5 format we can now go up to 56 pages - and still manage to keep the price under £5.00!

Our big problem was that while encouraging interest in airfields we could not be seen to be encouraging our readership to actually go wandering all over airfields willy-nilly. This we did in two ways; firstly by arranging our own access in advance. Sometimes these negotiations takes months - especially as many former airfields now seem to be game reserves of one kind or another! We always re-assure the landowner or their agents in the form of their Managers or Gamekeepers that we ALWAYS print a ‘warning’ about trespass in every edition. Once permission is granted for us to enter a site, we then set out about getting current pictures - and we prefer doing currently active airfields in the summer because of the better light, but disused and abandoned ones are reserved for photo-shoots in the winter, for that is when there is less undergrowth around. The reason?... it’s easier to see where all the holes and trenches are! We also never enter a disused airfield on our own - just in case there are any accidents!

It’s amazing how fast mother nature is reclaiming the abandoned fields - and it’s happening at an accelerating rate. We’ve discovered much on the old military bases - such munitions of just about every calibre - we’ve not found any bombs yet, but who knows! The biggest ‘danger’, and believe me there are plenty, can be just sheer deterioration - rotted away (or stolen) manhole covers in technical and domestic sites that create deep traps for the unwary and buildings, such as the old Control Tower at Kings Cliffe, that are now so fragile they shake if you walk in them! One of the worse hazards are the semi-underground structures such as ground defence sites and Battle Headquarters. Often these are flooded by water several feet deep and are usually full of junk of all kinds - not a good place to enter, no matter how interesting!

One question we regulary get asked is ‘Seen any airfield ghosts?’ Our answer is always ‘No’, but there have been a number of unexplained events - all of a positive nature! There have been many times when we have thought we have been guided onto things, as if someone or something is saying ‘just come here and look at THIS!’

Back in the office it’s then down to bringing all the strands together. We take text from authors in just about every form but handwritten notes - typed, or direct from a computer, we don’t mind! Pictures we also take in any form - more and more people are providing images already scanned for us, but we will not accept anything with a resolution smaller than 200 dots per inch, preferably greater for better quality. We also have access to two very large private photographic collections - those of Peter Green and Simon Peters. This means we stand a fair chance of coming up with at least something representative of any missing images!

Then the text is edited, images scanned, maps prepared and all is assembled using Quark Express - and out pops the latest ‘Focus’! We get asked ‘Do you have a schedule?’ Unlike other publishers, no we don’t - we never know what will be the next edition, for as we are often dealing with newcomers to writing, and a lot cannot work to deadlines, no matter how hard we try - and in truth, we really don’t mind!

To date, we have produced 76 standard ‘Focii’ and 7 of the larger A4 sized wire-bound versions. Thats an average of about 6 a year. One thing we have learned is that no matter what airfield or airport we cover, it’s NEVER the right one, so if you fancy having a shot at getting your favourite airfield in print, get in touch with us!