I always thought it was something leafy and twiggy we were hidden under but it turns out it’s a kind of bowl.
Bushels (or in some translations, ‘vessels’)
“And no man, when he hath lighted a lamp, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but putteth it on a stand, that they that enter in may see the light. For nothing is hid, that shall not be made manifest; nor [anything] secret, that shall not be known and come to light. Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he thinketh he hath.”— Luke 8:16-18
No, I haven’t gone all religious unless that really is the bit in the Bible where Jesus is telling everyone about how small presses work. It’s a huge task, bringing a new title to the public. It’s not just that you can’t afford the posters on the railway stations, the stand at the London Book Fair and all the rest of it – it’s also that distributors and corporate bookshops tell lies about you.
Yes, all our books are available through the standard supply chain as well as from our friends, the local indie bookshops but if you look in the big online bookstores, they tend to be labelled ‘unavailable’. They may even be missing the cover image. And if you go to closed-system shops like Waterstones and ask for one of our books, the staff may not even admit they exist.
The reason for this is distributors. Big businesses don’t like ordering from little businesses, they like ordering in bulk from big distribution companies. We little presses do supply the distributors, but if they don’t happen to have a pallet-load in the warehouse, their automated system punches out that word ‘unavailable’ – not true. My own little press is particularly bespoke here because we happen to be just a few miles away from one of those gargantuan book warehouses so every week, our Jim bravely goes over there on the train, clutching a weeksworth of individual shop orders – sometimes even just one book – and weaves his way through the security gates, the articulated lorries, the pallets and the forklifts, and hands his little packet over to the giant, book-munching system. That means that even if the great big store labels one of our books ‘unavailable’, you can still order it, and you’ll probably get it within a week. Indie bookshops generally do this willingly. Even Waterstones do, if you can convince the innocent person behind the till that the stock list they are logged onto is not the be-all and end-all.
So why do they say ‘unavailable’? It’s because they’re all – knowingly or not – part of a big global plot to get everyone in the world reading the same hundred books. It’s so much easier to manage, if everyone’s reading the same hundred books. ‘Unavailable’ means ‘we’d have to make a small effort to order this so why not save us the bother and buy one of this week’s top sellers instead?’
The Good old days
What used to happen was that we’d go to all the local events and exhibitions, and do our own marketing.
Here I am with Lesley Samms at one of her amazing Pure Arts Festivals, with our Hastings Modern Art Beach Book, and What’s the Story? – a beautifully illustrated account of some of the artists and printmakers at work in their studios in and around Hastings.
Unfortunately, recession came along, closely followed by COVID and Brexit and – how long ago did I last do a real world book event? They are starting to happen again now. They’re few and far between, though and in the meantime, we really need to tell you that we are NOT UNAVAILABLE!
Here I am at FantasyCon – oh, feels like decades ago! With the glass-twiddler from George Street, Kate O’Hearn, Terry Pratchett and er… the Green Knight.
All being well, Earlyworks Press and Circaidy Gregory Press will be out there again in due course. It’s vital, because once people have actually seen and handled a book, maybe had a chat with the author, it becomes familiar and once the book is familiar, people will go into shops and order it. If the distributors get orders for a book regularly enough, they will actually stop pretending they’re ‘unavailable’, take in some stock and admit they’re ready to take orders. That’s how small press titles ‘break through’ to the level where even Waterstones will admit they exist.
Meantime, I tend to put Foyles links in blog posts, for people to buy their books because Foyles are the best known of the stores that are pretty good at ordering small press books without making a fuss – or else I put local indie shop links such as Printed Matter and Bookbuster in Hastings. If you’re not in Hastings, the chances are, the indie shops where you are will be just as good so please ignore those ‘unavailable’ tags. They are telling Porkies.
Buy What’s the Story? and Hastings Modern Art Beach Book
Both books, direct from the publisher, delivered post-free to UK addresses for £26