Tag Archives: advice

Available as a comedy show consultant or director or whatever you fancy, really

5Stars

The number of unknown unknowns is unknown

In the immortal words of Max Bialystock: “Flaunt it, flaunt it!”

I am available as a Director or Creative Consultant (or whatever words you want to use) on live comedy shows in 2016 – mostly, I guess, for people who intend to stage a show at the Edinburgh Fringe, although I am open to anything.

This can include structuring a show, giving feedback and show notes on performance and presentation, advice on publicity and marketing; whatever you want short of totally writing and performing the whole bleedin’ thing.

I won’t read scripts, because you are not reading out written scripts on stage. I will only advise people or see their live performances or run-throughs or try-outs – even if it’s in a living room! Me just reading words on paper or on a screen is a waste of your time and mine.

I have been going to the Edinburgh Fringe since around 1985 and been involved in the production of various live Fringe comedy shows including ones by Charlie Chuck, Janey Godley, Malcolm Hardee, Helen Keen and Lewis Schaffer. Since 2005, I have organised the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and, since 2006, staged annual variety shows in memory of Malcolm Hardee in London and Edinburgh, running anything from two to five hours. There will be a two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe.

If I give advice on any show that is later considered for a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award, I will opt out of the decision-making process and will bend over backwards not to show bias. So, ironically, if I advise you on your show, you are much, much LESS likely to win a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

2008-2010 I was UK creative consultant to New York’s Bleecker Street Theater and Green Room venue.

2010-2015 I was UK creative consultant to New York based Inbrook Entertainment, including the Gene Frankel Theatre.

I worked in British TV for around 25 years – including peaktime entertainment shows and series with performers including Jeremy Beadle, Cilla Black, Jack Dee, Jonathan Ross, Chris Tarrant et al – as well as directing/producing/writing promotion & marketing campaigns and press & sales tapes for TV stations in the UK, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Holland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden.

In print, I wrote comedian Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography, edited comedienne Janey Godley’s autobiography and edited an anthology of stories by 19 stand-up comics. My blog So It Goes – mostly about comedy – was posted daily 2011-2015 and continues sporadically, with over 1 million hits.

I have also written for Chortle, the Huffington Post, the Independent, Screen International, Three WeeksWhat’s On Stage and others. And been a script consultant for TV’s This Morning, Tricia, Turner Movies and ITV News etc as well as a researcher for BBC TV News.

In 2014 and 2015, I chaired live Grouchy Club chat shows about comedy at the Fringe with Scotsman comedy critic Kate Copstick. This will continue at the 2016 Fringe. We also post weekly Grouchy Club podcasts and host monthly live Grouchy Club meetings in London.

Quotes about me include:
“The Boswell of the alternative comedy scene” (Chortle)
“Fleming knows a bit about comedy’s extremities”(Fest magazine)
“One of the most influential figures in British comedy” (The Skinny)

My charges are:

£50 per hour + (if outside the London Travel Zone area) travel costs, including time taken.
or
£350 for up to 10 hours. For this, I have to be paid 50% up-front and 50% at the end of the consultation.

I know comedians!

CONTACT: john@thejohnfleming.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Performance, show

Revealed: who actually originally said that “comedy is the new rock ’n’ roll”…

Dave Cohen with his new book at last night’s launch

Dave Cohen and his book at last night’s launch

Last night, I went to the launch of comedy writer/performer Dave Cohen’s latest publication How To Be Averagely Successful at Comedy – it aims to be “a practical and funny book explaining how to make a living at comedy”.

If anyone knows how to be more – far more – than averagely successful, it is Dave.

We both worked at Noel Gay Television in 1989/1990. (For American readers… that production company was neither gay not Christmas-related. Noel Gay was a man who wrote a very British song called Run Rabbit Run Rabbit Run Run Run.)

Dave has written for – among many other TV shows – Have I Got News For You, Horrible Histories, Not Going Out and Spitting Image. He was nominated for the 1984 Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe. In 1995, he was a founder member of the Comedy Store Players – the original line-up was Dave Cohen, Kit Hollerbach, Mike Myers and Neil Mullarkey. Dave has also programmed tomorrow’s Big Comedy Conference in London, filling it with big comedy industry names; his only stumble was booking me to be on a panel about the future (or not) of television comedy. Of what was he thinking?

Back in the day, Dave was even a columnist for the NME, The Face and the Guardian newspaper.

In my view, though, his main claim to fame is what he said at (what he says was) a lacklustre gig in the Camden Head venue in Islington one night in 1988. He had a gag which referred to his upcoming appearance at a Kensington venue formerly called The Nashville. He was enthusiastic about appearing on the very stage where many punk rock legends had bounced and spat.

His set-up for the gag at the Camden Head included the words: “I’m being asked to perform at venues where I used to see bands… comedy is the new rock ’n’ roll…”

A reviewer from City Limits (a lefty-wing rival to London listings magazine Time Out) was in the audience. His review of the gig started: “Now that comedy is the new rock ’n’ roll…”

Dave was the rather grandly titled Chief Publicity Officer for the venue and, to publicise their ’new material nights’ he sent out copies of the City Limits article to other journalists. A few weeks later, he stumbled on a TV programme in which Janet Street Porter said that comedy was the new rock ’n’ roll.

In his new book, Dave writes it was:

“A clunking phrase, invented as the set-up of a joke, abandoned, repeated in a left-wing magazine with a tiny circulation, then appropriated by a journalist on a fourth-rate chat show… I laid no claim, she was welcome to it. Sadly I learned that even barely-watched regional TV chat-shows reach more people in 30 minutes than I had managed in four years of stand-up.”

Guns ’n’ Moses were the new schlock ’n’ roll

Guns ’n’ Moses – the new schlock ’n’ roll (Dave is the central semi-naked one)

And so the words of Dave Cohen entered the language and affected the way comedy was seen when, a little later, Billy Connolly and Harry Enfield introduced bands at Wembley Stadium and Baddiel & Newman played Wembley Arena.

How To Be Averagely Successful at Comedy is definitely an under-statement.

Oh… Dave was also 1994-2000 a key member of the occasional piss-take Jewish heavy metal band Guns ’n’ Moses which, at various times, included comedians Al Murray on drums and Jim Tavare on bass.

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Comedy

Nine more answers to questions asked by virgin Edinburgh Fringe comedians

Edinburgh Fringe 2012: an ordinary street scene

What performing looks like at the Fringe

A couple of days ago, I re-blogged some two-year-old Answers to nine questions asked by first-time Edinburgh Fringe performers

Here is a follow-up which I also blogged two years ago. I have made slight updates, particularly in the final answer

1. IF THERE ARE ONLY TWO PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE, SHOULD I CANCEL THE SHOW?

No. Even if there is only one person in the audience, perform the show. You do not know who those people are in the audience (particularly at the Free Fringe and the Free Festival where there are no complimentary tickets). I have blogged before about an Edinburgh Fringe show performed in the early 1990s by then-unknown comedian Charlie Chuck. There were only four people in the audience. He performed the show. Two of the audience members were preparing an upcoming new BBC TV series The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer and, as a direct result, Charlie Chuck was cast as ‘Uncle Peter’ in the series. After appearing in that, he was no longer unknown. The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.

2. BUT IF I GET LOW AUDIENCES, SURELY I AM A FAILURE?

Very possibly, sunshine, but not necessarily. In reality, it means you are an average Edinburgh Fringe performer. Unless you are on TV, you will not get full audiences unless there is astonishing word-of-mouth about your show. Scots comedian Kevin Bridges could not fill a matchbox, even in Scotland. He appeared on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow on BBC1. After that, he was filling auditoriums the size of Bono’s ego. What is important at the Edinburgh Fringe is not the size of the audience but who is in the audience and the perception of your impact by the media. It is not How Many? but Who? which is important. It can also be argued that, if you get an audience of zero then, by definition, no-one knows you had no audience, so there is actually no harm in media terms. The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.

3. BUT I AM GOING TO THE FRINGE TO GET SEEN BY AUDIENCES, AREN’T I?

No you are not. You are going to the Edinburgh Fringe to lose money. A comic whose name I have tragically forgotten, so cannot credit, likened it to standing in a cold shower tearing up £50 notes. You may have sold your grandmother into sexual slavery to afford this trip to the Fringe, but you are not in Edinburgh to perform shows to ordinary people. If you wanted to do that, you could have gone to the Camden Fringe or down the local pub on a Friday night. You are going to Edinburgh, the biggest arts festival in the world, to get seen by critics and, with luck, by radio and TV people, all of whom can boost your career. If you can create good word-of-mouth among the small audiences who do see your shows at the Fringe, then that may attract a few of the influential people. And, if the media perceive you as being successful, then you ARE successful even if you are not. The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.

4. I AM A COMEDIAN. AUDIENCES ARE NOT LAUGHING ALL THE WAY THROUGH MY SHOW. WHY?

Well, probably because you have a shit show, so tweak it or consider a career working at a call centre in Glasgow. There are some comics who should reconsider their lifestyle and bank balances. On the other hand, most comics are insanely insecure for very little reason. I have sat through many a show where the comedian thinks the audience did not like part of the show because it did not get enough laughs but I know for sure, because I was in the audience, that the punters enjoyed the show tremendously. They were just mesmerised in rapt attention during the quiet but important bits. It is all about perception.

Street art at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012

Street art truth at Edinburgh Fringe in 2012

5. BUT WHY DON’T AUDIENCES LAUGH AT EVERY LINE?

Possibly because a good comedy script is not 100% laugh-at-every-line. Not over a whole hour. If you think your show is that funny you are either deluded, on cocaine or have a serious psychological problem (not that the first or last is any drawback in comedy). Watching a man take 10 seconds to jump off a cliff 66 times in a row is not exciting; it exhausts and bores the viewer after a while. What is exciting is a rollercoaster. A build-up followed by an adrenaline rush. Excitement followed by relief followed by excitement followed by relief followed by a climax. Ooh missus. An hour-long show is about pacing. If you remove the build-up before the punch-line, you will lose the laughter on the punch-line. Of course, the highly-experienced comic can get three subsidiary titters in the build-up followed by a big belly-laugh at the climax. Ooh misses. Ooh missus. Even (billed in alphabetical order) the brilliant Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine, who mostly deal in one-liners, have pacing where their audiences can relax amid the laughter. It is all about perception.

6. SHOULD I WORRY IF I DO NOT GET REVIEWS?

Yes, but it is largely a matter of luck. I always tell people they have to play the Edinburgh Fringe on three consecutive years. The first year, no-one will notice you are there. The second year, you have some idea of how the Fringe works. The third year, people will think you are an Edinburgh institution and the media will pay some attention to you. You have to go for three consecutive years. If you miss a year, when you return, you are, in effect, re-starting at Year One. It is not just audiences but critics who change year-by-year. Critics reviewing shows at the Fringe may not have been doing it two years ago. The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.

7. I ONLY HAVE 30 MINUTES OF GOOD MATERIAL. WAS I WRONG TO ATTEMPT TO DO A 60-MINUTE SHOW?

Yes. You are an idiot. You should have delayed your trip to the Fringe and gone next year. Going before you are fully ready is never a good idea. Yes, go up and play a few gigs on other people’s shows. Yes, go up as part of a three or four person show. But, if you are doing your first solo 60-minute show and you have anything less than 80 minutes of good material, you risk rapid ego-destruction.

8. IF I GET REVIEWS, ARE THE NUMBER OF STARS IMPORTANT?

In Edinburgh, absolutely. The stars are everything – provided you get above three stars. Put four or five stars on your posters and flyers – with short quotes – immediately. All your competitors – and, in Edinburgh ALL other performers, however seemingly friendly, are your deadly competitors – will be using the number of stars on a review to boost their own ego or to try and deflate yours. After the Fringe is over, the stars mean bugger all. They are unlikely to bring in crowds on a wet Thursday in Taunton. But their real value lies next year at the Fringe when you can quote them and they will have some effect. And always remember the admirable enterprise of the late comic Jason Wood. Highly influential Scotsman critic Kate Copstick gave his Fringe show a one star review. The next morning, all his posters in Edinburgh proudly displayed a pasted-on strip saying “A STAR” (The Scotsman). The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.

9. WILL I WIN THE PERRIER PRIZE?

No. Partly because it no longer exists. The name has changed several times. But mostly because you just won’t. Don’t be silly. Fantasy is a valuable part of the performer’s art, but never fully believe your own fantasy.

You stand a better chance of winning one of the increasingly-prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – the longest-running comedy awards with the same name at the Fringe. And, unlike their insignificant competitors, the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are guaranteed to run until the year 2017 because we have already had the trophies made.

It’s all about publicity and ramping or maybe camping it up.

It’s all about publicity and ramping or maybe camping it up.

I allegedly organise them, but intentionally try not to be too organised as that would be lacking in respect to Malcolm’s memory. Do not bother to apply to me because there is no application process, plus it interferes with my chocolate-eating.

Your show format is probably neither that original nor, frankly, that good and we will almost certainly hear about anything which actually IS that original. In Edinburgh, word-of-mouth is the strongest thing after a deep-fried Mars Bar soaked in whisky for 20 minutes.

The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.

To quote Max Bialystock in Mel Brooks’ movie The Producers:

“When you’ve got it, flaunt it, flaunt it!”

A good show will not necessarily get noticed amid the adrenaline-fuelled mayhem in Edinburgh.

A well-publicised show will get noticed.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, PR, Theatre

The man with advice on how to make an Edinburgh Fringe show successful

Mark Fisher: the man who knows about Edinburgh pitfalls

(This piece was also later published in the Huffington Post)

I have occasionally blogged advice on the perils and pitfalls of staging a show at the Edinburgh Fringe. But it really requires a whole book – which is what Mark Fisher has now done with The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide – How to Make Your Show a Success – published today.

In 1983, Mark appeared in a Fringe show called Shubinkin, which The Scotsman described as weaving “a Coronation Street idiom on a Miltonian frame”. He took part in the Fringe as part of a student production in each of the three years of his undergraduate life. In 1986, he returned to Edinburgh to work at the Fringe Office and he is now Scottish Theatre Critic for the Guardian and Variety, a judge for the annual Scotsman Fringe First Awards and much else.

There are many ways to get a book published. In 2002, I approached Random House with an idea for a book to be written by comedian Malcolm Hardee and me. They turned it down but suggested we instead write a book called Sit-Down Comedywhich a new Random House editor had been thinking about. It was published in 2003 and was recently brought out in Kindle and iBook editions.

Rule One of writing books: never stop publicising them.

Mark Fisher’s book came about in much the same way. It was not his idea. He got an email from Anna Brewer at Methuen Drama. She did not know him, but she had come across his theatreSCOTLAND website and she asked him if he would like to comment on a book idea she was developing: how to put on a show on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

“She had lots of good ideas,” Mark tells me, “but she couldn’t decide how it should be written – whether it should be a Fringe Office insider or lots of people writing different bits or someone else entirely. My reply was: Not only do I think there should be a single author, but I think it should be me. That got me the gig. Brass neck. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

And, pursuing the importance of publicising your book, Mark is now thinking about staging his own Fringe shows this August: “I’d like to do a series of chat shows that cover the same territory as the book, so I’d have different sessions with producers, publicists, critics, actors, stand-ups and so on. I’m in discussion with one of the big venues about it.”

Chat shows seem to have multiplied at the Fringe in the last few years – I even did four evenings myself last year, but surely only comedy really sells at the Fringe nowadays?

“Well,” says Mark, “you see some extremely inventive examples of comedy at the Fringe, so I’m not inclined to complain that it’s doing well. Even though I earn a good chunk of my income as a theatre critic, I find it hard to despair about the rise of comedy as some people do. However big comedy is, there are still 80 pages of Theatre listed in the Fringe Programme – and that doesn’t include categories such as Dance and Physical Theatre. Does anyone really think 80 pages of Theatre is too little?

“One reason comedy has proliferated on the Fringe, however, is that it’s the cheapest type of performance you can do: one comic, one microphone, one spotlight and you’re away. For the same reason, you see a large number of one-person plays on the Fringe. Many of these are very good, but often you feel artists are limiting their imaginations because of the budget. Comedy is not to blame for this, but its proliferation is a symptom of the same financial pressure that affects theatre.”

But, I suggest to him, surely the Free Fringe(s) are now the true spirit of the Fringe and the paid-venue Fringe tends to rip-off performers? It is a point I’ve made in several blogs. Mark disagrees.

“It is hard to argue that paid venues are ripping artists off,” he tells me. “On the whole, the venue managers are in it because they like the art and what they charge for are the professional facilities that you don’t necessarily get in the free festivals. Most of them tell you that they’re lucky to break even themselves.

“I love the way the Fringe always seems to balance itself,” he continues. “So just as one end of the market appeared to be getting ever-more commercial, with major TV names playing to big audiences… up popped the PBH Free Fringe, the Laughing Horse Free Festival and the Forest Fringe to make more room for artists at the other end of the scale. So, yes, in one sense it does feel like that is the true spirit of the Fringe. But, in reality, the Fringe has always been a mix of the amateur and the professional, the new and the established, and you could argue that the spirit of the Fringe is actually in its diversity. Anything that keeps that diversity as broad as possible is good.”

So who, I ask him, was the best act he ever saw who never got famous by performing at the Fringe?

“I suppose the Doug Anthony Allstars did get famous,” he says, “but nobody seems to remember them now and I had some of my best Fringe experiences in their company. I remember following them out of the theatre into the women’s toilets of Teviot Row House (now the Gilded Balloon) where they crawled over the cubicles and sang Christian songs. Then there was the time we ended up round a bonfire at the back of the Pleasance and the audience started voluntarily throwing their credit cards into the flames – I think even the Doug Anthony Allstars were surprised by that one.”

Mark Fisher knows his Fringe from the inside out and the outside in. And, with quoted advice from comic Phil Nichol, actress Siobhan Redmond, actor/director Guy Masterson et al, his Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide may even tell you, as claimed, How To Make Your Show a Success.

Yesterday evening, I was having a drink with Italian-born stand-up comic Giacinto Palmieri. By bizarre coincidence, this book came up in conversation. He had a copy of it in his bag; he had bought it from Amazon; it had arrived the day before – two days before publication – and he was already well into reading it.

“There is so much love about Edinburgh in the book,” he enthused. “It really tries to convey the idea of how mad and intense and crazy the Fringe is. So much good advice and full of interviews with people who brought shows there. One of the very first sentences is from somebody (playwright and director John Clancy) who says of the Edinburgh Fringe It’s like sex, it’s like having children; there’s no way to explain it to anybody.

So Mark Fisher had a bit of a challenge writing the book, then.

But he seems to have succeeded.

Where the Edinburgh Fringe is involved, anything is possible.

Leave a comment

Filed under Acting, Books, Comedy, Edinburgh, Theatre

August is a wicked month: the misery and joy of the Edinburgh Fringe

Last year, there were 2,453 different shows in the three-and-a-half weeks of the Edinburgh Fringe. Just getting any show noticed is a marketing nightmare.

A couple of months ago, I blogged answers to nine common questions asked by innocent first-time performers at the Fringe and yesterday I went to a Fringe event in London giving advice on how first-timers (or indeed anyone) can market their show in Edinburgh. Part of it will appear on the Edinburgh Fringe website as a podcast.

On the panel of experts was suave British man-about-the-Fringe Stuart Martin, director of operations for New York based entertainment company Inbrook, who imparted words of genuine wisdom but, to get the full wisdom of handling over 120 shows at the Fringe over ten years or so, you’d have to employ the fine services of Inbrook. I should obviously mention at this point that I am allegedly a UK talent consultant for Inbrook. No bias there, then.

At the event yesterday, one very sensible piece of advice was that, if you get a reviewer coming to see your show (a mountain to climb to begin with) you should arrange that, when he/she picks up the ticket from the venue’s box office, the staff also hands him/her a press release or press pack. This assumes, of course, that the venue’s box office staff can be relied on which, at the Fringe, can be an assumption too far.

But the most interesting insight into the Fringe yesterday was a comment I heard in the bar before the event started. It typifies the Fringe. Two people were talking behind me. One said to the other:

“We’ve always made financially suicidal but artistically fun decisions.”

Now THAT exemplifies the misery and the joy of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, PR, Scotland, Theatre

Advice on how to get a book published…

Someone asked me yesterday how to get a book published by a reputable publisher in the UK.

My answer was to get a ghost writer – me – and pay me £156,000 + 98% of the royalties plus all the chocolate I can eat.

Sadly my offer was turned down, so my edited advice was this…

The conventional wisdom is that, to get a publishing deal, you need to have a literary agent but, to get a literary agent, you need to have a publishing deal.

In fact, you don’t.

It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction.

Fiction sells better than non-fiction, but it is even more difficult to get published. Almost bloody impossible, in fact.

Either way, the best thing to do is this…

You need to write a one or two page outline synopsis of what will be in the book – beginning to end – so the publisher knows what he/she is actually going to get.

And write perhaps a 20-page extract. This does not have to be the first 20 pages, but it might as well be. The reason for providing this extract is twofold. It shows the publisher that you can write. And it shows them the style your book will be written in – the same facts can be written a million different ways. An extract gives them a feel for the suggested book’s style.

Plus you need to include a biography of yourself – maybe half a page.

You are a good prospect if you are young (ie under 30), attractive and already have some track record in some creative area. And it helps massively if you can speak fluently. Being dead is not a good selling point if you are trying to get a publishing deal unless you are Jane Austen or George Orwell.

I know someone who was a ‘reader’ for Penguin Books. He was given a translation of a Japanese novel which Penguin had been offered. After reading it with growing excitement, his report to Penguin said that it was the most brilliant novel he had ever read and they would be mad not to publish it.

They told him: “We are not going to publish it.”

The author had, unwisely, just died and would be unable to do any publicity for the book.

Publishers want someone, preferably attractive and certainly alive, who can do publicity interviews for the book and who is ideally young enough to provide them with maybe 40 more years of books. They seldom want a one-off wonder unless you have an absolutely cracking story like being held as a sex slave for 14 years by Prince Philip in a secret cellar under Buckingham Palace or cutting off your own leg with a fish knife while being held hostage by Saddam Hussein in a Paris brothel.

When you have your idea, outline, biography and extract together, you should then go to a bookshop and see which publishers are selling the type of book you want to write and approach them one by one, having looked in a copy of the annual Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook which gives contact names, addresses and publishing requirements.

One thing you do not do is this…

You do NOT write the book first and then approach a publisher.

You want to screw an Advance out of them.

That way, even if the thing sells no copies, you have earned something for your talent, time and heartache.

If you approach a publisher with a completed book you cannot, by definition, get any Advance from them to tide you over while you write the book. You would have worked for perhaps two years for no money and you may have written what publishers don’t want.

Also, publishers like to feel they are controlling the creative process. Most publishers I have encountered are wannabe writers who cannot actually write creatively themselves, so they want to write and/or re-write through you while getting cultural kudos with their friends at dinner parties in Islington.

Never believe that publishers know anything about creative writing. If they did, they would be writing books themselves.

Those who can, do.

Those who can’t, publish…

…and try to interfere with your writing to give themselves a creative hard-on.

The thing to remember is that, up to the point of signing the contract, they can cast you aside and they have all the power. But, after signing the contract, you have most of the power. Under a standard publishing contract, they control the cover, but they cannot change a single comma of the text without your permission and it is unlikely (unless your book is utter shit) that they will throw away the Advance they have paid you. So listen to their advice but stick to your creative guns if you disagree.

If (just to use round numbers) you get a £9,000 advance, you would normally be paid £3,000 on signing the contract. You then have to write the entire book with no more money coming in. You then get £3,000 on delivery of an acceptable final manuscript. And you then have to wait for 6-9 months and get £3,000 on publication. So any ‘Advance’ tends to mean you only get one third up-front in advance of writing the book.

The thing to remember is that it highly unlikely you will make any significant money from your book. Literally hundreds of books are spewing into existence every month to try to find space on the same limited shelves. It is like playing the Edinburgh Fringe. You are unlikely to get noticed and it is like standing in a cold shower tearing up £50 notes. In the case of writing a book, these are the £50 notes you could have earned by stacking shelves in a supermarket rather than starving in a small room earning no money while you toil away at your creative keyboard.

If your book is a paperback, you are likely to get a royalty of only 7.5% of the cover price. So, if your book sells for £10, you get 75p per copy sold. Roughly.

I believe most books sell well under 10,000 copies in the British Isles and fail to make a profit. Publishers live on their rare big buck-earners.

When approaching a publisher nowadays, you also have to take into consideration the new phenomenon of eBooks. Random House recently signed a big deal with Apple to put their back catalogue and future publications onto iBooks.

My 2002 contract with Random House for the anthology Sit-Down Comedy specified a 50% royalty on any future e-book version. A fortnight ago, they sent me a letter saying they want to only pay 25% instead of 50% on any eBook version because the contracted 50% royalty rate “was arrived at before the UK eBook market had begun to develop and before the extent of our digital investment was known. Since this royalty was agreed, the eBook market has moved on greatly but, in the process, we have found that 50% of net revenues is no longer viable”.

Well, lovies, my tendency is to say, “Tough shit, life’s a bitch and a gamble, ain’t it? Don’t come whining to me if you mis-calculated your own business.”

But, with Sit-Down Comedy, in fact, it doesn’t much matter because, although the contract was with the late Malcolm Hardee and me as editors of the book, we agreed to split the royalties between ourselves and the 19 contributors to the anthology. So we are talking miniscule sums even if it sold loads.

However, I know another author whose book has been in print for quite a few  years. It may soon go out of print. Under a standard contract, if a book is out of print for two years, all rights return to the author. So, for example, Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was out of print for two years and now 100% of all rights have reverted to me and to the estate of the late Malcolm.

However, if this other chum of mine’s book becomes an eBook, my understanding is that it will, in theory, never go out of print – the file will still be available for download from the Apple/Amazon/publisher’s computer – and so the publisher will retain the rights until 70 years after the author’s death.

If my chum, on the other hand, refuses to accept a royalty cut from 50% to 25%, then it will presumably not become an eBook, the paperback will go out of print and, two years later, 100% of all rights will revert to my chum. And there would then be the possibility of negotiating a new publishing deal or publishing via some print-on-demand operation like lulu.com

We live in interesting times and that, of course, is the ancient Chinese curse.

8 Comments

Filed under Books, PR