The Prospect Behind Us
Part 2, page 4

We liked the idea of having one of our authors handle royalties for the others; it was reassuring for them. We always prided ourselves on being good about royalties. Well, we had to be, I suppose, since we never provided advances (mainly because our authors had already written their books when they arrived on our doorstep, but also because there were no funds with which to do so). What we could and did do was to pay royalties at quarterly intervals in the first year of a book's life, and twice a year there- after. And we did our calculations promptly and paid the sums due within a few weeks, rather than the months which are, or were usual.

But, however enlightened we were about this sort of thing, this was of relatively little consequence to our authors by comparison with the bottomline question: how many copies of their books were we selling?

The main sales problem which faces any small British publisher is of course selling to bookshops in the UK. Broadly speaking, British bookshops, with the exception of big ones in London and one or two each in places like Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow and Bath, are unwilling to buy books for stock unless they can be expected to melt quickly off the shelves. On the whole, our books did not meet this criterion. So, although we conducted various experiments in trying to sell books outside London, for example in the Midlands and in East Anglia, through freelance reps, none worked. The clear lesson of twelve years was that the one thing which did work was having our own amateur rep go round the main outlets in London at fairly frequent intervals, keeping up a direct relationship with whoever bought books for the cookery section.

This sort of established relationship was not always necessary. Lucy Brazil (sister of Candida-the-apprentice) once took a few weeks off from preparing to be a doctor to be our temporary rep; and her results were brilliant. So were those achieved by the insouciant Harriet Jaine, willing to tread where no rep had trod before, in the winter of 1992/93 (But on the whole we did better with a long-term rep, and for many years this was Marcus Bell, described by Patience Gray, whose book he indexed, as 'the poet and bibliographer', occupations which are no doubt compatible with repping but which would not normally be seen as leading to a successful sales career. In fact, what they ultimately led Marcus to was running a sugarcane plantation in Queensland. However, while he worked for PB, Marcus demonstrated that his unusual credentials, buttressed by an unaggressive manner and infinite patience, plus an intimate knowledge of our books (he helped in editorial work too and knew all our authors) and a real interest in food history, could be highly effective.

However, shops were not our only outlet. We made a lot of sales directly to PPC subscribers, in Britain or abroad, at full or almost full retail price; and this was a huge advantage. I remember a Penguin potentate saying wistfully that she envied us this - making a sale at retail price is almost unheard of for big publishers.


The Prospect Behind Us - Part 2, page 5

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