Celebrating 100 years of poetry: Kathleen Jones on Norman Nicholson

This week is the centenary of Norman Nicholson’s birth. ‘Norman who?’ I can hear people ask. I wonder how many of you recognised the name of the most celebrated Lake District poet after Wordsworth - a writer whose work has suffered undeserved neglect since he died in 1987?  I'm guessing very few. But, hopefully, all that is about to change.

Today the BBC are broadcasting a documentary about his life on Radio 4, at 4.30pm.  'Provincial Pleasures' is narrated by Eric Robson (moonlighting from Gardener’s Question Time) and contributors include Melvyn Bragg, fellow biographer Grevel Lindop and myself. There are also going to be lots of activities defying the notorious Lakeland weather throughout January.  On his 100th birthday, the 8th, I’m going to be at a ‘party’ at Carlisle Library - where the speakers will include some of his surviving friends and relatives.

Researching and writing an ‘Indie’ biography from start to finish has been an interesting - often challenging - experience.  No publisher with a solid advance to subsidise all the travel for archive research and interviewing.  No editor to read and reassure you that you’re going in the right direction. I’ve been grateful for good friends and Nicholson buffs who’ve been willing to read the manuscript and give me their honest comments (some of them very blunt!) It’s too easy, on your own, to make blunders.  At one point I had Sibelius down as a Norwegian composer - actually he’s Finnish (Finlandia should have given me the hint).  You need someone to spare the blushes.  You can alter an E-book and upload it again overnight, but once something is printed in ink, your typos go down in history.

E-books with references are a very special task for whoever is going to do the conversion. The html has to take the reader from the reference number to the end notes and then back again without interrupting the flow of the book. There are also illustrations to place.  It’s not a straight-forward job. The print edition was also a steep learning curve and most of the self-publishing options (Create Space etc) simply don’t deliver the kind of quality that you need for this type of book.  My partner learned how to use In-Design so that he could design a book to professional standards.  Fortunately, the trade printers - CPI Antony Rowe - are very Indie Author friendly and they gave us lots of very patient advice.

This is what 1000 books look like. 
Unable to afford a hardback edition, we went for a compromise; enhanced ‘trade’ paperback with stiff cover and fold in flaps, good quality paper and glossy illustrations. We were terrified that we would hate the books when they arrived, or find some massive error that we’d overlooked, but (big sigh of relief) we’re both very pleased with the result.  A print book has to look good in your hands - it has to make you want to pick it up and browse.  An E-book has to look good on several different types of screen - Kindle paper-white, Kindle Fire, Kobo, i-pad etc.  Book design is an essential part of Indie publishing and it can be costly.  I’m lucky to live with an artist who is good at graphic design.

All editions of Norman Nicholson; The Whispering Poet have been registered with Nielsens, using our own isbns and under our own imprint The Book Mill.  This is now technically a ‘micro-publisher’ as we publish three other authors besides me.  That, I think, is the way to go to avoid the Self-publishing label.  If three or four authors band together to share expertise and costs, a publishing co-operative can work very well.  The Room To Write imprint in the north east of England publishes a number of authors including Wendy Robertson and Costa-winning Avril Joy.

Marketing a print book is very different to E-book distribution.  Even if I was living in England, I don’t think I’d have the nerve to approach bookshops and reviewers and persuade them to take the biography.  Fortunately I have a good friend who was willing to take on the job of publicity and distribution for a couple of months.  She has been sending off fliers and press-releases to all the likely periodicals, contacting book-shops and libraries, as well as literary festivals.  The result has been good.  We’re selling a few boxes of books through the big distributors, Gardners and Bertrams, and lots of smaller orders to bookshops in the North.

Initially I simply added the biography to our ‘seller’ account on Amazon, but then realised that my friend was having to trot down to the post office almost every day with packages, so I began to investigate selling directly through Amazon.  This was complicated, so I’m going to be doing a special ‘how to’ blog shortly, for anyone else who wants to join the ‘Fulfilled By Amazon’ mob.  My books are now in the Amazon warehouse in Dundee and whenever anyone orders one, Amazon pack and send it.  They make a small charge, but it’s actually less than it was costing me in postage and packing.

Writing the book and printing it has been expensive, and it will be interesting to see how long it takes to get the money back.  Costing is the most difficult aspect of book publishing.  Factoring in all the various discounts (wholesalers 50%, bookshops 40%) and the cost of couriers and postage, stretched my little brain to its limits!  Whatever one thinks about traditional publishers - they really do earn their money.  Going Indie is not an easy option.  But it’s very satisfying.

You can check out Norman Nicholson: The Whispering Poet here.
Just for his birthday week, the Kindle edition of the biography is on offer for only £1.99.

Kathleen blogs at ‘A Writer’s Life’

and her website is http://www.kathleenjones.co.uk



When a palet is needed to hold the books, no-one can doubt the seriousness or momentum of the operation!
This phase of Mr Nicholson's legacy is in good hands and obviously the BBC realised this, too.
Good luck, Kathleen, and Happy New Year!
Susan Price said…
I second John's good wishes, Kathleen - and admire your determination and courage. Looking forward very much to that How-To - and buzzing over to Amazon to buy the book!
cally phillips said…
So interesting Kathleen, we are on very much the same path - though instead of a biog I'm republishing 32 volumes of fiction. But it's nice to know someone else has been going through the same experience. I'm currently trying to work out the best way to get print/distribution for all32 titles so I'll be very interested in the fulfilled by Amazon - though I'm POD at the moment as I can't afford stock copies of 32 titles!! I wish you all the best for the anniversary week and hopefully I'll pick up some tips for you before my anniversary week in April! And yes, I think micro-publishing is the way to go. Hard work though, but very satisfying! All the best for Norman's anniversary.
julia jones said…
You might like to try adding freelance book reps to your micro-publishing package. I use Signature Books 10% of invoice value and well worth it. I distribute via wholesalers and agree that there's not a lot of money in 'trad' publishing. best of luck forthe centenary
Jan Needle said…
luck from me too, kathleen. keep punchin'!
Kathleen Jones said…
Thank you all for your good wishes - I need all the luck I can get!! Julia, thanks for the Signature tip - I will check it out.
Happy New Year to you all and good luck with writing and publishing in 2014. Here's power to our pens!!!
Dennis Hamley said…
Brilliant, Kathleen. Your NN bio is a lovely, lovely book and yesterday's Radio 4 programme was a complete delight. I love Nicholson's reflective, evocative, low-key poetry. Thank you also for the account of the tribulations of being a micro-publisher. Invaluable. As a few of us here struggle towards the realisation of our own little dream I shall make this blog compulsory reading.

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