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.