Archive for the ‘Marketing Pains’ Category

Staff Gossip

Monday, March 27th, 2017

‘Pss, Meike,’ Peirene pulls me into a corner of the office. ‘I need to talk to you, urgently!’ she whispers. ‘Meet me in the loo in five minutes.’ She’s about to head back to her desk. Instinctively, I catch her by the sleeve.8301373473_000f2d3a89_z

‘What’s the matter,’ I ask in a normal tone.

The Nymph’s eyes widen in horror. ‘Lower your voice, please,’ she hisses, throwing an alarming glance over her shoulder towards James and our intern Julia. ‘I don’t want them to know.’ She pauses: ‘I really need to talk to you. It’s concerning the reputation of our company.’ Lines furrow her forehead.

Five minutes later we meet in the bathroom. Peirene’s behaviour in the office was most peculiar indeed. And so I, too, am now slightly concerned.

‘Have you observed James and Julia lately? Are you aware what they are up to behind your back?’ The Nymph is breathless. ‘You know, this desk arrangement in our new office doesn’t work at all. You are sitting with your back towards your assistant and the intern. They could do anything and you wouldn’t notice. In fact: You are not noticing. You are totally oblivious to what is going on in our office.’ Peirene is speaking so fast, I have problems following her.

‘Peirene, what’s the problem?’

She blurts out: ‘They are on their phones ALL THE TIME! For the last two weeks at least. They are not working. They are busy chatting to their friends. ALL DAY!’

The Nymph is now so agitated that she has flushed red.

‘But they are meant to be on their phones,’ I say while I wet a flannel and pass it to her. ‘Here, cool your face.’ Then I explain the phone calls: ‘James and Julia are working their way through all the Waterstones in the country, talking to the booksellers on the shopfloor. To see who has heard about us and whether they would like taster reading copies of our books. They had some wonderful response. Some booksellers are so excited to hear about us, especially in the smaller towns.’

The Nymph’s face has disappeared behind the flannel. I wonder if she is keeping it there for longer than necessary because she’s embarrassed having made such a fuss for nothing.

I’m wrong. When she pulls the clothes away, her eyes gleam with a self-righteous sparkle.

‘I’m pleased to hear that. Although, it doesn’t change the fact that while they are on the phone ALL DAY, I have to do everything else. ALL DAY.

The penny drops. I now understand what’s concerning the Nymph.

‘So, you are overworked?’ I ask. She nods. ‘Fair enough,’ I reply. ‘How about if I ask James to cut the calls short today and help you with other stuff in the office?’

‘Thank you,’ the Nymph sighs and the lines have finally disappeared from her forehead.

Image by Richard, creative commons.

Staying Flexible

Monday, January 18th, 2016

‘I’m not going!’ the Nymph announces from her desk. It’s quarter to six, Thursday evening. We’ve just started to pack up for the day. We’ve been at work since 7.30am with only half an hour for lunch. I’m looking forward to the gym. And Peirene7994290933_5bf4de87a8_z wants to indulge in a long bath, with her new scented candles and a facemask recommended by her beautician.

‘Where are you not going?’ I ask slightly confused.

‘Look at the email that has just dropped into our inbox.’ Peirene points at her screen.

Oh Meike, I hope it’s not too late and you are still coming tonight,’ the email begins. It’s from a reading group in Kingston. The other end of London. Back in October they invited Peirene and me to join them for tonight. Since I didn’t hear again from them, nor did I have their address, I emailed them in the morning, wandering if I was still needed. I didn’t receive a reply so Peirene and I made other plans.

‘I think we should go,’ I sigh. ‘If we leave soon, we can still make it in time.’

‘No!’ Peirene shakes her head. ‘That’s just not a way to treat an Ancient Greek Nymph. I’m now otherwise engaged.’ Peirene is about to walk out of the office.

I grab her by the sleeve. ‘We made this commitment. And it’s just part of our job to go and talk about the books. Anyway, I know you. Once you are there you always enjoy it.’ I let go of her sleeve, adding with a stern voice: ‘We’ll met in the car in half an hour.’

The Nymph eventually arrives at the car ten minutes late and decides to sit in the back listening to her music. As I park, I turn around, pull the headphones down from her ears and tell her that perhaps it’s better if she waits here. But she ignores me, opens the door and is already ringing the bell before I have caught up.

‘What an interesting reading group. What a wonderful evening.’ The Nymph’s cheeks are glowing in the dark on the passenger seat as we are heading back home. ‘And they wanted to know about ‘breach’ and editing and publishing and translating. And everything.’ She hasn’t stopped talking since we left. ‘We should do this more often.’ She lowers the window, hangs her head out and shouts into the starry night: ‘Hello, London reading groups, can you invite us, please.’ Finally she calms down.

‘You are really something,’ I say, tired but also pleased that the evening went so well. ‘If people only knew what fuss you made beforehand.’

Peirene looks a bit sheepish. ‘Well, I’m an ancient Greek Nymph and inflexibility comes with age. But luckily I have you,’ she squeezes my left cheek, ‘someone who keeps me agile and young.’

Image by Larry Lamsa, creative commons.

Wardrobe Debacle

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

‘Don’t!’ I hear Peirene shriek from inside the room. I have just put my hand on the handle, wanting to open the door to the office. ‘Don’t!,’ she shrieks again, ’push the door open.’5423374464_3f7e0eb850_z

I squeeze in nevertheless. ‘What on earth is happening here?’

I’m not impressed by the scene. When I left work on Friday, everything was tidy and in its place. Now, on Sunday evening, the table is pushed aside and the entire floor, the sofa, the chairs are all covered with Peirene’s clothes. I realize quickly that there are a number of outfits. In the left corner a summer dress is laid out, complete with sandals, cardigan, sunglasses, sunhat and sun cream. Over at the right we have a pair of jeans, her blue polo neck, winter coat, woollen scarf, hat, gloves. On the sofa she has displayed wellies, her red rain jacket, umbrella. And on one of the chairs is her brown blazer with a matching skirt and blouse, tights and black shiny boots.

I pick up the boots. These are very nice boots. ‘Are they new?,’ I ask, barely able to disguise a tinge of envy.

‘Yes,’ the Nymph replies distractedly, running her hands through her hair. ‘I’m in such distress. I have to be ready by tomorrow morning 7am. All my outfits are incomplete and the shops are now closed. This is a total disaster.’

I don’t really understand what Peirene is talking about. ‘What is a disaster?’ ‘Don’t you know, I’m going to distribute newspapers with Clara and Clare tomorrow and I have nothing – absolutely nothing – to wear.’

That’s news to me. The Nymph usually has one hundred and one excuses why she can’t help with distributing our newspaper at tube stations. I know that secretly she feels the job is too unglamorous for her.

‘Did you volunteer?’ I ask in surprise.

‘Of course I did. This is our best literary newspaper ever. Hot off the press. I have to be there when it hits the London streets. But I don’t know what the weather is going to be like. It’s far too warm for the season. But then again it might suddenly turn. So I have to get at least four complete outfits ready.’

I begin to laugh. I just can’t take her too seriously. ‘It doesn’t matter what you wear. Clara will be honoured by your presence. And so will the commuters. It’s rare that they receive a paper from the hands of an Ancient Greek Nymph. Just dress warmly.’ I pause, then I add: ‘And if you don’t wear the black boots, perhaps you would let me borrow them.’

Image by Steve Johnson, creative commons.

Impressing Young Men

Monday, September 28th, 2015

Parents and teachers listen up. Peirene’s books are trending with 16-year-old boys. They belong to a group that is notoriously reluctant to be impressed by literature. Their busy lives of sport and parties and music and Facebook don’t leave them 15853564422_58a27117b4_ztime for reading. Indeed I can personally vouch that at least one of them – my son – has struggled to see the merit of any book for a couple of years. But now, all of a sudden, Percy and his friend have reformed. They are spearheading a movement that promises to revolutionise the reading habits of an entire male generation.

The Nymph is in seventh heaven. All red-cheeked and giggling, she flits around the office. ‘I wonder if I should update my wardrobe. It’s all so dowdy. I need to wear something cooler, trendier when I next meet them. And how about cutting my hair short? It will make me look younger. What do you think?’

‘You are a good looking, clever Nymph,’ I tell her. ‘But sadly I don’t think that’s what stirred the boys. I believe they are after the money.’ I hate to disappoint Peirene. On the other hand I just can’t let her live an illusion.

‘The money?’ Peirene stops dead in her stride and stares at me in disbelief.

Two months ago I mentioned to my son and his friend that we are looking for more booksellers at our stalls, and that they could work as a team. Their eyes lit up at the possibility of earning cash. Then I told them they would first need to read the 18 Peirene books, i.e 9 books each. My son rolled his eyes and left the kitchen. His friend, however, said: ‘Ok. Give me the first three books.’  I selected Chasing the King of Hearts, The Brothers and Tomorrow Pamplona. Three weeks later he told me that he had read them. We had a chat. I was impressed. His favourite of the three: The Brothers.

The performance of his friend put my son under pressure. Charlie has now read six titles, Percy three. Charlie’s top book so far: The Dead Lake. Percy’s: The Mussel Feast. ‘I really enjoyed it,’ he admitted, slightly surprised.

‘The possibility of earning money might have given them the initial incentive,’ Peirene now says. The shock has disappeared from her face and she has recovered her rosy complexion. ‘But I can’t help feeling that our stories have their approval .’ Her face once more takes on a dreamy expression. ‘And from there it’s only a small step to admire an Ancient Greek Nymph. I can’t wait to be taken out by two handsome, young men.’

Image by Phil Galdys.

A Delicate Constitution

Monday, June 1st, 2015

My husband and I spent a week on a Scottish island. Just the two of us. It was bliss, not least because the cottage had no internet connection and received no phone signal.13629817404_da83b43b0c_z

Not even the Nymph could get hold of me. She saw me off with a smile. ‘Don’t you worry. I have everything under control. I hope you and your husband have a wonderful time.’ She blew me a kiss.

On the ferry heading back to the mainland, my phone signal was restored. I found ten missed calls and seven messages, all from Peirene. The first one said: ‘Ring me back. I’m exhausted. I can’t go on.’ The last simply announced: ‘I’ve been advised to take it easy. So I’ve delegated the work and will spend the rest of the week in bed.’

I called her immediately, suddenly feeling guilty for having turned my back on her for an entire week.

Peirene answered in a perky, cheerful voice.

‘It’s me,’ I said.

Her voice changed straight away.

‘You left us all alone with that stall.’

Last Sunday Jen, Gianna and the Nymph had indeed run a very special stall. We put stickers over the prices on the books and asked people to pay whatever they liked. It was an experiment. We wanted to see how much readers think literature is worth, and we also wanted to test if we can attract interest from passer-bys who would otherwise ignore our stall.

The day was a success. Jen had already briefed. The three of them made more money than we anticipated and spoke to over a hundred people in five hours, many of whom then bought their first Peirene book and, quite possibly, their first book of foreign literature.

‘But some people were so negative.’ Peirene sighed. I could hear her swallowing her tears. ‘ Someone said that he thought indie publishers take advantage of pretentious customers and charge too much for books. So he gave us 50pence for a copy of Tomorrow Pamplona. Someone else said that he thought our books should cost under £5 as we don’t have a shop so our overheads should be low. When I tried to speak about translation expenses and printing costs he simply said “Ok then I’ll give you £2.” Can you believe it?’ she sobbed.

I let the Nymph cry for a moment, then I interrupted her flow of tears: ‘But from Jen I also know that you had some very encouraging conversations.  For a start, any one who had bought books from us before, paid the full price. What a vote of confidence. And then there were a couple of people who only had £2 or £3 left in their wallets and hadn’t brought cards to the market. They actually refused to take a book, saying they wouldn’t take advantage but would come back in June to pay full price. And one guy said he had often passed our stall but that he was on a tight budget and so could never afford them. He paid £4.50 – all the money he had left! That made Jen’s day.’

‘Ok, if you say so,’ Peirene sniffed a couple more times. ‘But for me it was a very hard day indeed.’ Then she finally calmed down.

‘So, who advised you to take it easy for the rest of the week?’ I was dying to know.

‘Jen and Gianna. They recognise my delicate constitution,’ the Nymph replied and then added:  ‘I wish all the women at Peirene HQ could be so understanding.’

Image by simpleinsominia.

Storm in a Teacup

Monday, January 12th, 2015

‘Ohhhh! I’ve had enough,’ Peirene throws the paper she’s been reading straight across the room. ‘How stupid do they think I am!’1998379409_810472752a_z

I look at her in bewilderment.  Peirene had been leafing through the Times Literary Supplement which features a review of The Blue Room.

‘Is it that bad?’ I asked, slightly surprised.

‘No it’s excellent. Very insightful,’ the Nymph confirms. But her body language expresses something different – her arms folded, chin on her chest, lips tight.

‘So? What’s the issue?’ I enquire.

Peirene gets up, walks across the room, picks up the paper from the floor. At my desk, she opens it up and with a finger shaking with rage follows the line as she reads out loud: ‘The publishers do Ørstavik few favours by billing her novel as the unsung precursor of Fifty Shades of Grey.’ She inhales deeply. ‘Yet another critic who has misunderstood our introduction.’ She looks at me with gleaming eyes. ‘And all because of you,’ she then adds. ‘You… you insisted on mentioning Fifty Shades.’

She marches back to her desk, while I read the article. In the background I hear her continue her tirade:

‘I warned you, didn’t I?! I said don’t mention Fifty Shades of Grey, didn’t I? People see theses words and think they know what you are saying without actually reflecting upon your statement.’ She pauses and I take this opportunity to interject.

‘The misunderstanding is fascinating, especially since it was so obvious to me that The Blue Room certainly doesn’t resemble Fifty Shades. Instead our book provides an explanation of why some women enjoy degrading sexual fantasies as portrayed in Fifty Shades.’

‘Oh listen to yourself! You think you are so clever! But clearly not clever enough to explain so everyone understands. Instead you totally embarrassed me.’ Peirene gets up and walks towards the door.

‘I will hide in bed until I can face the world again,’ she says and leaves the room. But already half an hour later she is back.

‘That wasn’t long,‘ I can’t help teasing her.

‘I thought about what you said,’ She settles back in front of her desk. ‘If readers and critics misunderstand but still read the book… then I guess we’ve done a good job.’

‘That’s right,’ I nod enthusiastically. I knew the Nymph would get what I was playing at when I decided to mention such evocative title as Fifty Shades of Grey.

‘And…,’ a wicked smile appears on her lips, ‘I am of course completely innocent. The whole introduction bears your name.’

Image by Marcie.

Back at the Stall

Monday, November 10th, 2014

I did not jump out of bed with joy in my heart yesterday morning. In fact as my husband and son left the house for a football match, I 12585975954_9447ca337e_zcontemplated faking a migraine so I could stay in bed for the rest of the day.

‘Will you get up!’ The Nymph eventually pulled the duvet away from me. ‘The taxi will be here in half an hour.’

If I want to glamorise my condition yesterday morning, I’d say I suffered from stage- fright. However, if I want to be honest, I’d have to admit that the source of my attitude was slightly less admirable. I am the CEO of this publishing house. I ought not to stand in the freezing cold selling books at market stalls. Such were my thoughts as I tried to hold on to the duvet.

‘Yes, you certainly ought to sell books at market stalls.’ The Nymph stood next to my bed tapping her foot impatiently, her arms crossed in front of her chest. ‘A good boss leads by example,’ she stated.  ‘ Jen and Clara – plus a number of interns – run stalls throughout the year – in the rain, the heat, the cold. When did you last work on the stall? I think it was Christmas a year ago.’

‘That is precisely my worry.’ I moaned as I dragged myself out of bed. ‘I don’t know any longer how to set up the stall. I can’t think of what to say to people. And I have forgotten how to keep smiling when they treat me like thin air.’

Peirene showed no mercy. ‘I’ll be waiting downstairs for you. And,’  she turned around in the door, ‘if you continue whining I’ll join Clara today at Richmond market and will leave you alone at the Ally Pally Farmer’s market.’

I stopped. I wanted the Nymph by my side after all.

My worries, though, were justified. I was rusty at the beginning. As we were setting up the stall, I didn’t know how best to display the books and took a lot of time shifting them around. I also lost a couple of sales straight away because I just didn’t hit the right note with the customers. I was too eager to sell, rather than sharing my enthusiasm for our books.

Still, as the hours went passed, I got back into my stride. I made eye contact with passers-by. They approached the stand. We chatted about Peirene, foreign literature and the novella.

I was yet again reminded what contradictory emotions go through me when I look after our bookstall. It is hard work – both physically and mentally, and the prospect of a day’s market duty often feels daunting. However, selling books next to cheese and fruits and vegetables makes so much sense – one is nourishment for the body, the other for the mind. And there was a moment in the afternoon when suddenly I was overcome by a beautiful calmness. I knew I was doing just what I meant to do.

And I managed to sell a fair amount of books, too.

‘Not at many as Jen usually sells at this market,’ the Nymph mumbled as I was cashing up at the end of the day.

‘Jen is our star bookseller. Hard to beat her, ‘I replied.

Not even my ancient Greek Nymph could disturb my inner peace.

Image by Holiday Gems.

Malone’s Return

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Peirene and I are presenting the 2015 titles to our sales reps. They will start selling the books to bookshops straight after our meeting. We need to give them enough information about the stories and fire them up so they in turn can excite our Beckettbooksellers.

I mention the new series title – Chance Encounter. All eyes on me, interested nods from everyone around the table.  I move on to the books. White Hunger and Reader for Hire go down like a treat. Then I come to the third title, The Looking–Glass Sisters. ‘It’s about two middle-age sisters,’ I say. Juliette, one of the sales reps, begins flicking through her notes. ‘It’s about physical disability within a family.’ Jim is checking his phone. I pretend I don’t see and continue: ‘And how to cope with it.’

Then I stop. And stare in disbelief at Peirene next to me. She has slid down into a lying position on her chair. Her head rests on the back, her face turned upwards, her eyes starring at the ceiling.

I kick her foot under the table. ‘Sit up!’ I hiss. She turns her head slowly towards me. ‘This is so boring.’ she yawns. For a moment I am speechless. I glance around the table. Have the sales reps noticed the Nymph outlandish behaviour? Not really. Because no one is looking in our direction. They too have lost interest.

‘I told you,’ Peirene whispers. ‘You shouldn’t give some phony reason why you publish this book just because you think that’s what sales reps and booksellers want to hear.’

‘But the real reason is too academic for the Anglo-Saxon bookmarket,’ I reply. ‘Well,’ Peirene returns her face to the ceiling. ‘You’ve got very little to lose.’

I take a deep breath.  ‘Has anyone read Beckett’s Malone Dies?’ I ask. The Irish sales rep nods. That’s all the encouragement I need. ‘For me Malone Dies is not about the death of the plot, but the inevitable and necessary death of the male ego before a story can emerge. The Looking-Glass Sisters offers the female version of this narrative. The sisters are the two sides of the writer. One who can’t move, who can’t look after herself, can only read and write. And the other half needs to care for the first one but she is desperate to get away and revel in a purely physical existence. They will never be free of each other, unless they acknowledge their mutual dependency. This story is a brilliant tale about the creative writing process,’ I conclude.

‘That sounds fascinating, ‘ Jim says. His phone is back in his pocket.

‘Put that onto the Advance Information Sheet,’ Juliette says.

‘But isn’t it a bit too high-brow?’ I ask.

‘That’s what booksellers expect from a Peirene book.’ Mel says.

‘We’ve made it!’ The Nymph smiles at me out on the road. And then to my surprise give me a hug ‘How many publishers quote Beckett to the sales force?!’ she asks. ‘And have the sales reps excited by such literary reference.’

In Bed With A Stranger

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

Books are not judged by their covers. They are judged by their titles.IMG_0385

Our Roaming Store is heading into its fourth summer season. And while punters are attracted by our beautiful design, it’s the titles that determine which books they pick up first.

The top hits at our stall throughout the year are: Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman, The Murder of Halland  and Mr Darwin’s Gardener. Why? Because the titles sound familiar.

In the winter The Brothers is a great seller too due to its Russian echo of The Brothers Karamazov and the wintery image on the cover.

In the summer Tomorrow Pamplona conjuring up images of Spain has been our seasonal bestseller for four consecutive years.

Sea of Ink, The Mussel Feast and Chasing the King of Hearts attract attention too.

In fact, the only title which causes us agonies is Next World Novella. Even though it is one of Jen’s favourite Peirene books. But she too struggles to persuade readers to hand over their money for it.

‘The title is too abstract.’ Peirene shakes her head when ever we discuss the dismay of the poor title. ‘I told you this from the beginning, didn’t I.’ The Nymph throws me a disapproving glance.

I admit it. Next World Novella was the fourth book I published. At the time I worried that the title might be too abstract. But I was less experienced in persuading author and translator to agree to a title change and so we stuck very closely to the original. That was a mistake. And now I know: if we ever going to reprint I will change the title.

‘In Bed with a Stranger.’ The Nymph beams. I furrow my brow as I don’t immediately understand. ‘The new title of the book, ‘she explains. ‘After all, the story is about a couple who’ve been married for decades only to discover that they don’t know each other at all.’ She pauses. Then she breaks into an even bigger grin. ‘And how about an alluring young couple posing on pink silk sheets for the cover?’

‘Peirene!’ I can’t believe my ears. ‘I really thought you had more class than that.’

She shrugs her shoulders. ’Whatever pays the bill is fine with me.’

Well, luckily I am the boss and such decision can’t be made without my approval.

A Flippant Nymph

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

‘Do you think I am flippant and shallow?’ A little tear shows in the Nymph’s right eye. I shake my head. ‘Of course not.’ ‘But I think others think that.’ ‘Who The Thinker. Image by karen_neohprecisely?’ I enquire. She shrugs her shoulder. ‘Others. Everyone.’ She hesitates for a moment and then adds: ‘And it’s your fault. When others talk about deep thoughts, you praise pretty pictures.’

Ah! I suddenly understand where she is coming from. She is worried about the impression we gave last Friday.

We were invited to the British Centre of Literary Translation industry day. I shared a panel with commissioning editors from Harvill Secker and Granta and the publisher of Comma Press. So, four high class literary publishers on one panel.

Trainee translator pitched at us books that they wanted to translate for the UK market. We commented on their choices and their presentations.

My colleagues and I agreed on much. But there was one subtle difference in our argument. While the others emphasised the importance of innovative thought in a narrative, I insisted on strong images – pictures if you will.

I’m a busy woman and my attention span is limited. If you pitch a book at me, you have three seconds to grab my attention.  It’s the same amount of time we have when we are selling a Peirene book to a new reader outside Budgens supermarket.

‘God is taking a sabbatical’ immediately caught my curiosity. On the other hand ‘This is an important book by a famous Belgian writer that feels very modern but who has been neglected over the last half a century,’ did not set my imagination on fire.

An image is full of contradictions and possibilities which reveal themselves in the story. If a book can be summed up in a powerful image, it usually means that the author has succeeded in ‘showing’ us what concerns her or him rather than ‘telling us’ or ‘talking at us’. And that for me suggests good and exciting literature.

I look at my little drama queen. ‘I thought you agree with me about images?’ I say to Peirene. ‘Yes, of course I do. And a successful literary image always implies complex thought, while it’s not necessarily true the other way round.’ ‘Good.’ I reply. ‘But I also want to be acknowledged as an amazingly intellectual and intelligent person,’ she pouts. I laugh out loud. ‘Well, that’s impossible. You’re a Nymph not a person.’ But then seeing her face cloud over I add, ‘but a very clever Nymph indeed.’

Image by karen_neoh.