Archive for the ‘Setting up Business’ Category

A Missing Nymph

Monday, January 16th, 2017

‘Have you heard from Peirene?’ I turn to James. He shakes his head.SpiralStairs,ArielRiosBldg

It’s nearly noon on the first day in our new office. Our first proper office. We no longer occupy my front room. No! That’s history. Instead we have converted our loft with desks for myself and James and an intern. We have practical wall mounted shelves for our files, and proper storage space for all our book boxes. And best of all: the printer and franking machine no longer live on the floor.

I thought the Nymph would be up here long before us. Before Christmas she had been so excited, she almost didn’t want to take the break. She continued stroking the freshly painted walls, opened and closed our new drawers and franked a few empty envelopes just because it felt so good standing in front of the machine rather than kneeling on the floor in between boxes. Eventually I had to drag her by the hand out of the door. Her last words to me before we parted for the holidays were: ‘I can’t wait to be back at work in January.’

So, what has happened to my Nymph?

I descend the three flights of stairs. Peirene is not in the front room. I try to call her. No reply. Something is not right. Eventually I find her in the kitchen sitting on a chair as pale as a ghost. In her coat and hat and with her handbag on her knees.

‘I was in the office at 7pm.’ Her voice is shaking. ‘I then came down here to make myself a coffee. I went back up again, only to realise that I had forgotten the milk. So I went down again and up again. Then I had to go the loo, so down again, and up again. Then the postman rang. So down and … well I got half way. And then, I had heart palpitations. An Ancient Greek Nymph is not meant to climb three flights of stairs.’ She pulls a piece of paper out of her bag. ‘My resignation letter.’

I’m so shocked that for a moment I don’t know what to say.

‘You made that decision to move the office into the loft without thinking about my age,’ she sniffs. ‘Ancient Greek Nymphs just don’t seem to be your priority any longer.’

‘Oh, Peirene, that’s not true.’ But I do feel for her. I, too, have noticed how my heart races by the time I reach our new office. I’m sure, though, we will get used to it. And anyway it will keep us both fit.

‘What can I do to make you feel better?’ I pull a chair up and put my arm around the Nymph.

She lifts her head. ‘Well… there is something that would make me stay. A kettle, a tray of mugs and a tin of biscuits to be kept in the office. And perhaps we could make James responsible for opening the front door for deliveries.’

(Image: Spiral stairs, Arial Rios Building, creative commons 2.0)

Transitional Pain

Monday, September 30th, 2013

I knew this would be painful. I knew I would cry and scream and swear. And so for months, in fact an entire year, I put it off. Until I could hold out no longer. Until Typewriter. Image by crafty_dameit just had to be done.

I was going to buy a new computer.

Life was bliss until two weeks ago. For five years I had run my business happily from my PC laptop. To save my neck I had propped the computer on a plastic stand and had bought a separate keyboard and mouse.

I loved my little black machine dearly. Even though the programmes loaded slowly. Even though I could only open one window at a time. Even though the hardware was heavy and gave me an ache whenever I slung the strap over my shoulder.

But I knew that computer inside out. It knew me inside out. And we had experienced much together. We were an item.

But eventually the Nymph confronted me with an ultimatum. ‘Either the PC or me,’ she said, throwing a disdainful glance at the machine on my desk. ‘I can stand it any longer. The noise is unbearable. The start-up sounds like a plane taking off.’

I took the laptop to an expert. He shook his head. ‘I’m afraid your machine is old and tired.’

So two weeks ago I bought a new computer. A big, flat screen desktop. An IMac.

I hated it. I hated the icons on the screen. I hated the way the mouse scrolls. Emails got lost in the transfer. I had to type in all my passwords again. And some I could no longer find. In addition, my neck – despite the big screen  – felt worse because each time I approached the computer I tensed.

I admit I’m a conservative at heart. I don’t like change. And I am no good with transitions. I threatened Peirene to shut her down and send her back to her ancient Greek gods. I told my husband that I would return to pen and paper and stop using computers all together. And if someone wants to communicate with me, they could very well knock on my door. I would start a trend by no longer being available online.

My tantrum lasted a week. And now? I am the happiest woman on earth. My new machine is  so easy to use, so efficient, so beautiful, so fast, so quiet. I don’t know how I managed before.

Peirene’s pleased too. She appreciates the stylish lines and the famous brand. She wants an IMac too. But I told her before we can afford any more new computers, we need to first earn some money. So in the next few weeks you will see Peirene very busy selling books at our roaming stalls.

Image by crafty_dame.

Work Experience:Heating up Soup

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

This week we accepted our first work experience student, 16-year old Killian.Soup. Image by  CanadianaCA

I have to admit, a few days before Killian arrived I became worried. Would I be able to keep him occupied? Would he feel bored? How could I ensure that he would benefit from his time with Peirene?

Last year my daughter did work experience in a law court. Apparently she was only given a couple of small tasks to complete. But she was allowed to shadow the barrister and attended a court trial. A real thrill for her.

Killian attended a Peirene Coffee morning. He undertook research on how to improve our twitter and facebook performance. He studied a first translation draft of a forthcoming Peirene title. He read three Peirene books and  understood how we choose and market the texts.

Furthermore: He has become an expert in heating up soup for lunch, laying the table and stacking the dishwasher.

But his claim to fame was still to come. On Friday and Saturday he helped out at our Roaming Store. On Saturday Natalie, one of our new Peirene Ladies and a super bookseller, manned the stall. “Let’s see if we can hit our daily target twice over,” she fired Killian up. By twelve noon I received a phone call: “We are out of Hallands, and down to one copy of Beside the Sea and Pamplona.” Killian ran back to Peirene HQ to get more stock. By the end of the day they hit their target twice over. The young man deserved a tip.

The Nymph is pleased with herself. “I wasn’t able to offer him a gory murder trial. But he received a lot of hands-on experience and a real sense of job satisfaction. I think I’ve done well.”

I raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t see you on the stall. Maybe the credit should go to Natalie?”

The Nymph pursed her lips and avoided my eyes. After a moment’s reflection she announced: “OK, then. But I get the credit for teaching him how to heat up soup, which by the way is far more important than learning how to sell books. His future wife will be grateful to me for ever after.”

Image by CanadianaCA.

Heavenly Sales

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

To sell a book you have to stand. If you sit behind the stall, hardly anyone will approach.

To sell a book you have to talk. No one buys a book without a chat.Book Vendor. Image by drewleavy

To sell a book you have to smile. No one buys a book from a sour face.

Your mouth will get dry from talking, your face will hurt from smiling and your legs tired from standing.

Maddy and I have become experts in stall selling. We’ve started a year ago. Since then we have had good days and bad days. And sometimes the pain was more than the gain.

But we have never had absolutely fantastic days. Until this weekend. Over the last three days we have sold more books than during the last eleven months together. We have sold three-book packs, six-book packs and subscriptions.

Earlier on in the year, selling subscriptions via the stall had proven to be impossible. No surprise really. We were asking people to hand over hard-earned cash without receiving the goods. Readers usually subscribe online. Our 2012 subscription steadily increases in numbers. Two-year subscriptions – for 2012 and 2013 – have been bought, too. But very few so far have taken up our three year subscription.

On Friday I went with our store to a school Christmas fair. When I managed to sell a couple of 2012 subscriptions, I felt proud. But the best was still to come.

“I have just sold a three-year subscription!” Maddy texted me from the stall on Saturday afternoon. A man had bought Stone in a Landslide in the morning. In the afternoon he returned and bought a three-year subscription as a Christmas present for his wife. She also sold some 2012 subscriptions and one for two years.

This is a small break-through. Perhaps people have started to trust the brand?

Even the Nymph couldn’t help but feel pleased with Maddy and me. “I am mightily impressed with the two of you.” The Nymph emailed me tonight. “However, just for the record, I like to put in writing the following: it’s not the brand they trust, it’s me, the Ancient Greek Nymph.  They know I’ve been around since the Gods created Olympus, so I will surely exist for a few more years. I don’t think you could have achieved such trust in your publishing venture without my heavenly support.”

Heavenly support? Perhaps she is right. How else can we explain this weekend’s sales figures.

Image by drewleavy.

The Braun Connection

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

We had our first ever company party last night. The core people, who built  Peirene Press, came to dinner.Dieter Rams. Image by  Andy Field (Field Office)


Tom Elsner, the webmaster. He runs his own company, Bureau for Visual Affairs. He was there at the very beginning. After I registered the company, I knew I needed a website, as a sign to the world that Peirene existed. Tom invented the logo and created a publisher’s website without a single book in the catalogue.


Sacha Davison Lunt, the designer. I wanted a strong branding for Peirene. But had no idea what it was supposed to look like. Tom recommended Sacha. I haven’t looked back since. She understands how to combine quality and elegance with individuality and has created a beautiful image for Peirene.


Margaret Bluman, my contracts advisor. For 30 years, Margaret was director of contracts at Penguin. She retired two years ago and took a shine to Peirene. Thanks to her infallible advice my negotiation skills have improved and our contracts have become fool-proof.


Maddy Pickard, Peirene’s marketing director. Maddy came on board a year ago. Her enthusiasm, professionalism and dedication have ensured the Peirene Salon funding from The Wine Society and our 2012 grant from the Arts Council England. She manages to sell books in places where other publishers rarely tread – places such as twitter.


The party also included Sacha’s and my husbands and Maddy’s boyfriend. The Nymph wasn’t there. A few days ago she discovered the Book Barge, a floating independent bookshop that travels the English canals and rivers. At the moment the Barge is mooring in London and has taken our books on board. The Nymph is thrilled. She texted me an hour before the dinner: “Sorry will have to cancel tonight. Can’t tear myself  away from the Barge.”

After all, water is her natural environment.


 Soon the wine and conversation flowed. Maddy described our successful Peirene Experience event at the Bookshelf designer Vitsoe on Monday. I backed up the story by adding  that they had called me a couple of days later, ordering our 3 book set of the Female Voice to give as a birthday present to Dieter Rams wife. That was the moment, Sacha suddenly stared at me from across the table.

“Oh! I am going to cry!” she gasped. I must have looked at her in total bewilderment, because she then asked, slightly incredulously: “Don’t you know who Dieter Rams is?”

“He designed the shelves for Vitsoe,” I said, shrugging my shoulders.

“He is THE industrial designer of the 20th century,” Tom informed me. “Coffee makers, calculators, record players, the Braun alarm clock, so much is influenced by him.”

Sacha had a proud glow on her face for the rest of the evening.


P.S I will take a week’s holiday and be back with the next update on Peirene Drama in two weeks time.

Image by Andy Field Field Office.

Floor Scrubbing and Other Visions

Sunday, September 26th, 2010


Two events will occur this week. webite-home-145


Firstly: The announcement of the winner of the eight cuts gallery Prize will be made this coming Friday.


In case you haven’t heard: Peirene features on the short list. The panel in their nomination described Peirene as not only publishing wonderful books but also having “a quietely confident vision that extends beyond the individual titles through to building a community.


I must pause for a moment and apologise on behalf of the Nymph. She does not care about the vision and the community, she told me. In fact, all she wants is to drag me down to the West End today, on a Sunday!, to buy a new cocktail dress in anticipation of the big Prize Gala reception.


I, on the other hand, feel thrilled by the text of the nomination. I’ve printed the article and hung it over my desk. To remind me of the vision. A nymph might not need a vision. But a woman definitely does. For running a company. And having a son.


And here we come to the second major event of this week. My son’s birthday. On Thursday he will be born exactly 11 years ago. The story of his birth has some relevance to the prize nomination.


I wanted a home-birth. I had a precise picture in my head. I wanted to give birth in the kitchen and afterwards serve tea and home-made cake.


So, throughout the pregnancy I baked a lot of cakes – plum cakes, cherry cakes, cheese cakes  - and from the 37th weeks onwards I scrubbed the kitchen floor every evening. Moreover, numerous obstacle were put in my way. At some point my iron level sank so low that home birth looked unlikely. I then drank disgusting fishy Spirulina by the liter and it worked wonders. At 41 weeks the hospital wanted to induce me. When I asked why, they said because they like to induce at 41 weeks. I refused. And at 42 weeks there were still no signs of the baby ever leaving the womb.


He finally made an appearance at 42.5 weeks, at home, in the kitchen and cake & tea served afterwards at 4.30am in the morning. I was in seventh heaven.


The moral of the tale? The vision of course. I believe that I ( with the help of my son- in-utero) overcame every obstacle and kept on scrubbing the floor because I had a vision to guide me, an image in my head that I wanted to materialize.


And what applies to birth giving applies to running a publishing house. When I sat up Peirene I had a vision too. But the gritty chores of running a company can blur the eye. And that’s why it is so thrilling when someone else picks up your vision and holds it close in front of your gaze. Of course I hope we will win the prize but even if we don’t, I will be grateful for the nomination that reminded me why I set up Peirene in the first place.

Sweet Talk Sweet

Saturday, March 13th, 2010


Over the past few weeks I have started to receive a steady flow of unsolicited CVs from University students looking for work experience. I takewebite-home-119 each request as a compliment and a sign of Peirene’s growing status.


But I don’t often find a good fit. A surprising amount of applications fall at the first fence  – the ones who didn’t bother to research my name, the “Dear Sir/Madam” – ones, because after all it really isn’t hard to find out my name, a bit of initiative, a couple of clicks on the website, that’s all what is demanded. Then there are the ones who found my name – well done them – but clearly didn’t tailor their email to Peirene Press itself and write lines such as “to gain work experience in a long-established publishing house like yours”. These don’t progress too far either.


Every now and again, however, there is a gem. “Dear Meike” or “Dear Ms Ziervogel”, either is fine with me, followed by a beautiful email expressing the applicant’s long cherished desire to gain work experience with a small, exquisite, personal company like my nymph, whose website looks so stunning, whose first book reviews are so impressive, whose editorial choices are outstanding. Nothing but sweet talk, but – I hope you are with me – well researched. And, guess what, it works. I am susceptible and click on the CV. Immaculate. I return to the email, read on. “I love reading and books are my passion. I am a creative person, who speaks three languages fluently. To make full use of my skills I ideally would like to work in your editorial department.” My heart sinks. Everyone wants to work in the “editorial department”, no one wants to work in marketing, accounts, contracts or Salon organizing (such as cooking potato salad). No one expresses passion for going to the post office, photocopying, filling out prize application forms, grand application forms, updating website and publicity sheets. Yes, I am waiting for an applicant to write: “I am highly intelligent, well-organised, motivated, I have no illusions and I love never-ending admin.”


Hasn’t happened yet. Not a single applicant has even got close to it. Am I waiting for the impossible? After all, I founded Peirene not out of an interest in contracts but from a love for books. I guess I ought to grant the students the same rights. Enthusiasm for the “editorial department” must probably be the starting point, the less glamorous stuff creeps up soon enough. And the good ones will learn. They have learned the sweet talk already.

Bag Lady

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010


Parents are an embarrassment to their children. Always have been, always will be. And often poor parents need exert nowebite-home-083-small special effort. Merely exist, that’s enough. I remember when I was ten, walking passed our home with my school class. And there was my mother in the window  - waving. I wanted the earth to open up underneath me – how did she dare to behave in such an appalling manner. I pretended I hadn’t see her.

Things have changed since then. Now I am the waving mother. But – and here comes my claim to fame – I don’t just wave with my bare hands – oh no – in one hand I hold the Peirene catalogue, in the other Peirene Title No 1.  And I don’t just wave at my children – no way – I wave at anybody and everybody in the hope they will notice the fab products in my hands. Or at least that’s how I am perceived by my 10-year-old son.


On Thursday evening, as I was about to go out, to join other mums from his class for an annual dinner, he suddenly flung his arms around me. Don’t go, he pleaded. – Why, my darling, is something worrying you? –  Do you have any catalogues in your bag? – Yes. – Mum, you don’t know how embarrassing it is that you always talk about Peirene and want everybody to read your books. And no one wants to. None of my friends at least. – That’s ok, they don’t have to, I calmed him down, gave him a kiss and went my way.

I am pleased he didn’t insist to look in my bag. Because it’s not just catalogues (at least 10) and business cards (at least 20) and newly printed Peirene Title No 1 bookmarks (30!) I am carrying around with me nowadays. I have truly become a walking talking  Peirene advertising campaign – my son is right there. I now also carry the real book wherever I go, to show people, to let them touch it so they are encouraged to own one themselves. It’s my latest proud sales idea. As of this week, when I discovered that amazon has already started to sell the book. Last week’s Madam Serenity, or whatever was left of her, flew out of the window in a split second. The world needs to know, the first Peirene book is out there, I can’t afford to miss a single trick.

Did you give your catalogue to anybody last night? my son asked me the next morning. – Yes. –  And? Did they mind? – No, in fact I think they were delighted. Two of the mums belong to reading groups and they are keen now to read Beside the Sea in their group.


Of course I am dying to know if they already have ordered their books from amazon. I still can’t totally believe that anyone will. I’ve ordered one myself this morning. Just to see if it actually arrives. I won’t tell my children though. I might as well spare them that embarrassment.

Baby News

Thursday, November 26th, 2009


A beautiful baby has been born – it came out of that box which arrived last Friday. I couldn’t tell you the joyous news until now as I had to webite-home-046smallrecover my health and strength after the difficult birth. There it is – so utterly gorgeous – I could eat it.

I have to admit, my fears from last week haven’t totally evaporated yet. True, no monster came out of the box, rather a perfect little book, absolutely touchable and readable. But like any new mum, I now have to learn to let my little darling go, hand it over every now and again into the arms of strangers. Can they understand my baby just the way I do? Will they pick up on the signs, know how to hold it?

Ok, let me cut the sentimentality. Of course I manage quite well to put copies of the book in envelopes and send it off to various lucky journalists, critics, academics, anybody who might perhaps say or write something publicly about it. I even sign the copies, put personal little notes. Love and kisses and hugs. What however proves much more painful is handing it over personally. It is nearly unbearable. When I sit opposite someone at a lunch or a coffee or just a plain meeting and I get the book out of the bag. I put it on the table and push it across with my eyes fixed on the cover. I see the other hand touch it. For a second the fingers just lay there, then they curl around my darling and lift it up. My eyes follow, see now two hands leafing through it. Utter silence. Some smell it, too, put their noses between the pages – beautiful pages no sick toilet paper – oh no – but real quality. Still no word. They put it down again, lift it up, look at it another time. And? I say with my heart in my mouth. Very nice, comes the answer. I get a smile. Thank you, I say, I bend over the table, take the book, open it, show them the flaps. I really like the flaps, I say, they look so beautiful. Yes, they are very well done. That’s it. Nothing else. They take the book, put it into their bag. Mission accomplished. The book is in somebody else’s bag, so it has a fighting chance to be read and even commented upon, too. I should be happy, right? I am not. Each time I struggle with a sense of disappointment because I want the other person to continue to talk about the book, to continue to stroke it, to tell me in the most elaborate terms – for an hour or so – what amazing product I have produced. But no one does it. After all it’s just a book. And there are 60,000 born in the UK alone every year.

So I go home, take another copy of my little darling out of the box, dress it all up nicely in a darling little hat and take endearing pictures to show my grandchildren in some distant future.

Voodoo Words

Saturday, October 10th, 2009


Ever heard of Sabon and Bembo? Really? Then you are – in my eyes at least – an interesting person, a valuable contact and skilled in typesetting.webite-home-026 I now also have something to do with typesetting – I am a publisher, aren’t I? – but until a couple of days ago I had never heard of Sabon and Bembo. I truly believed that a beautiful, readable text just appears on the page. Abracadabra – and that’s it!


The new-born publisher is very excited, her first text will be type-set today. She takes her beautifully designed cover, the preliminary pages, the layout and the text to the typesetter. The typesetter throws a quick glance at the stuff brought to him. “Bembo is a particularly tricky font, we might have to deal with a lot of gappy lines.” The new-born publisher, who has just arrived on planet print, never heard of gappy lines. And Bembo? All she can see are normal letters and that’s what’s matters. They look pretty similar to Times New Roman in her word documents. She shrugs her shoulders and thinks: Bembo? Some typesetter jargon, surely nothing she needs to worry about. She goes home, with a smile on her face, soon she will have a beautiful text ready to go to the printers.

Little does she know that her peaceful nights are counted.

The next morning she finds on her screen the type-set text, it looks odd. Some lines have more gaps then words. She e-mails back: We need to adjust those lines. The typesetter obliges. The gaps disappear but now the lines look cramped. Words run into each other. She spends a sleepless night. Surely it must be possible to just put a text normally on the page. She rings the typesetter the next morning. “I told you,” he replies, “that’s what you get.” Despair descends upon her. Again, she hears him mumble this Voodoo word, Bembo. She has absolutely no clue what he is talking about. “I’ll send you the text in Sabon,” he then adds with rising frustration. SABON?  There are just too many bizarre words around for this new-born publisher and she is overcome by an immense desire to crawl under the duvet covers. In the meantime the Sabon text arrives. She opens the file – the last act she will  perform before ending her life  – and Abracadabra the text problems have disappeared.


So, did she that night sleep safe and sound, with sweet dreams about Sabon on her mind? No! She woke up at 2am and laid wide awake until 4 am, worrying now about the book’s size. It’s a small book – because her texts are short. But is the book perhaps too small? Will people like the fact that in the bookshelves the spine will be shorter? And will the die cut on the book sleeve work. It’s a stunning idea but will it tear too easily? At 5 am she decides to get up. The least she can do is write her blog, a blissful simple task in comparison to her Voodoo publishing world.