A spot of trouble in my waterworks




So there I am sitting on the floor with my head under the sink.

The question: what am I doing there? is the wrong question. The answer is plainly obvious, since I am surrounded by the bowels of plumbing: two outlet pipes and a u-bend.

The question: what am I doing there at eleven o'clock at night? is also the wrong question. And, had it been asked at the time, I would have said, it is also somewhat irritating. It is quite obvious what I am doing: I am cleaning the drain.

However, the question: do you know how to fit these pieces back together again? That question - however hurtful in its tendency to cast aspersions on my mechanical ability - is entirely relevant to the problem in hand. Bulls-eye!

You could then continue and ask: But shouldn't you be in bed?  Or: Won't you get cramp sitting on the floor like that?

However relevant such questions might be when you are in a tight spot (as I was, crouched on my side with my head jammed inside the cupboard under the sink), such perception, however kindly meant, does nothing to resolve the jigsaw puzzle in my lap. And however much I lecture myself that I have done this before (several times) and have profited by having clean smelling drains for yet another six months, the pieces fail to gel: for I simply cannot remember.

Was the u-bend under this drain or indeed under that?

Have I lost a piece?

I rush outside and examine the spot on the ground, where I had tipped the disgustingly gruesome water. No! There are no misplaced pieces of pipe … only an inquisitive cat.

So if it is all here in my lap, why does this pipe have three outlets? I'm positive it had only two before I washed it. I scrutinise the pieces. Honest, there really are only two bits of pipe into which it can fit.

So how come I also have three washers left over?
And: where the hell did I hang my rubber gloves?

Visualisation of the drainage system fails to produce an image of the piece of pipe on which my rubber gloves have, in fact, hung for the past five years. Instead, it produces cramp, my toes curling up like slices of stale bread, causing me to screech in agony and hang on to my toes until the spasm has passed.



I glance at my watch. One o'clock! I look outside at the peaceful square, neighbours on all sides sleeping soundly, the square cocooned in a haven of blissful quiet.

Nothing for it but to give in. And yet …

'Tomorrow,' I say aloud, my tone as sorrowful as a solitary nighthawk over Kurdistan, 'the moment I awake I will call the plumber and that will cost me at least a hundred pounds.'

It is amazing how the threat of unwanted expenditure clarifies the aging mind.

Instantly the pieces make sense, the long white tubes clipping neatly together to form two drains, one horizontal bar (on which my rubber gloves hang), and a u-bend, each piece clean and sweet-smelling and designed to carry, without leaking, waste water into the municipal drain. 

One last job to be done: I stick my head back under the sink, working my way along each pipe inch by inch, trying to memorise where each piece lives in relation to the next.

'Well' I say, glancing at my watch and a silently sleeping square. 'At least I've saved myself a ton of money.'

And on that happy thought I take myself off to bed.

Age and the Antique Sideboard Augut 2017: Copyright Barbara Spencer 
Published by Troubador

How much can I charge?





How much can I charge?


I was at a book launch last night. It was most enjoyable until it came to the chosen price for the paperback. The author explained the £14.99 price saying Amazon took a huge chunk and she needed to make a profit.

I sympathise.

The problems for new writers are many, and among them is often a total ignorance of the real cost of selling books.

If you are going to pay a publisher to bring out your book, you are unlikely to get any change from £2,000 - £2,500 even if you choose ‘print on demand.’ There is an upfront fee that cover ISBN etc, typesetting and their profit. No doubt both professional editing and proofreading will be offered, as are marketing services. If you accept any of these, £3,000 is a more likely figure. 

Now for the bad news: don’t expect to make a profit. You may well recoup some of your losses but to make a profit you need at least a second print run of say 300 – 500 books at a time. 

And you may never make a profit on your book if the paperback edition is sold through Amazon because in the UK (I don’t know about America but I guess it’s the same) Amazon take 60% of the retail price. On a £7.99 book this amounts to £4.80. The publisher also wants a percentage for getting your books to the public, usually 15%, which on a £7.99 book amounts to £1.19. Quick calculation - that leaves £2 a copy. And very possibly, if you used POD, (printed on demand) your book will cost you between £3 and £5 per copy to print.

A substantial loss. 

You need to be prepared for this and only go ahead if you can afford it, or you are determined to see your book in a bookshop or if you are able order a sizable print run because you know for definite it will sell loads. Unfortunately, I heard of one writer who convinced her book would prove an instant success, mortgaged her house. I didn’t hear the outcome and I wonder to this day, if she eventually sold loads of books or her house!

But don’t let that put you off, because I know of one author who did sell loads and loads. He ordered a second print run of 5,000. With those sorts of quantities, the cost to drops to less than 50p per copy. The book was aimed at children and was about the Jurassic coast and it fossils. It went down a storm in schools and he sold every copy. He did offer me some good advice: If you want to make a profit from self-publishing, don’t write fiction. He happily confessed he wasn't a great writer but had hit on a subject of great interest. When visiting schools, he took with him a suitcase full of fossils, including the jawbone of a whale. His book also had an index of fossils to be found on the beach of Dorset.

Ebooks can also make a substantial loss if they are uploaded and controlled by a publisher – again unless you sell hundred. The actual cost of conversion from paperback is about £300. The publisher takes 15%, and with some sales companies demanding above 50% to showcase them, profit is difficult to find. 

I did try this one time – The Amazing Brain of O C Longbotham, a children’s novel. Bad idea, and before I learned that sales of children’s books are mostly in paperback – at lest mine have been. But it did teach me a valuable lesson. Learn to upload onto KDP and publish yourself. With Ebooks Amazon are okay – depending on the price of the Ebook, they offer 35% or 70% royalty. They are amenable to changes to text and pay 2 months in arrears. Great!

Now, I am perfectly aware there are many different ways to become a published author and doubtless this article will provoke a storm of rebuttals. But, it has been my experience, that if you are a writer seeking to get your book into Waterstones, you should know that are chary about taking in books that are not from a recognizable publisher. If they are going to take a chance on you, you need a good publishing house behind you – which takes us back to the opening paragraph in this article, about how much it costs. Even then, with area ordering rather than shop managers, you will also need to register upfront orders before they will stock your book – 1 copy!

It all sounds so dispiriting but remember there are authors who buck the trend and their book flies off the shelves: my futuristic thriller for YA’s, Running, did just that. Ten years later, Waterstones still list it.

Okay – onwards and upward. Back to the RRP.  
If you want to go the traditional route of self-publishing, accept the loss factor. If you sell loads and loads, that is wonderful – marvellous and should be celebrated. But what you can’t do is increase the price so that you make a profit on each sale.

Book pricing is a highly sensitive area and there is a definite ceiling unless the book is a hardback, factual or totally out of this world. Why else have so many bookshops closed, because people won’t buy unless they can afford to do so. In supermarkets, cheap editions sell for £3. So, prices in bookshops have to be comparable – even for popular authors. Prices have to be set so as tempt customers into the shop. Waterstones: buy one get one half-price, works a treat.

For children, prices have always ranged from £3.99 to £6.99. Young adults £7.99 is the most usual price although, depending on word count and popularity, some are now £8.99. (Harry Potter began life at £7.99; Hunger Game £8.99.) Other genres up to but not more than £10 unless you have millions of friends and cousins who will rush in and buy your book, the moment it is published.

More recently, I have seen articles about pricing because Amazon charge postage on under under £10, which means £9.99 is a short-sighted price. But £10.99 increased resistance to buying. (A case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.)

I have been published in paperback for thirteen years and the pricing has never varied: under 5’s £4.99, for younger children, ages 6-8 £6.99, £7.99 for the 8-12s and Young Adult. ‘Age and the Antique Sideboard’ which is ‘humour’ written to an older generation is my first experience of pricing higher – at £8.50. 



And I have gone one-higher with my new novel simply because it has 112,000 words and is a big read. £9.99.







Nevertheless, putting aside pounds shillings and pence for a moment, it is without doubt the greatest feeling in the world to walk past a bookshop and see your book on the shelf … but please remember it comes at a cost.

PS: If you are sitting on a best-seller and don’t have the money to self-publisher, don’t let that stop you. Amazon KDP prove a good and cheap alternative. The standard is fine, but you are limited as to design and font. And it won't get you into shops and libraries in the UK, unless you hawk it around each one.